June 04, 2020
Written by Vicki Kemper
But Moses said to Joshua, “Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” - Numbers 11:29 (NRSV)
The formerly enslaved people, led by Moses out of Pharaoh’s Egypt and through the Red Sea, will not stop complaining about their wilderness diet of dewy manna that appears every morning sure as the sunrise. The only thing more constant than manna is the people’s incessant demand that Moses give them meat. Burned out and bereft, Moses asks God to kill him.
“I am not able to carry this people alone,” he wails. “They are too heavy for me.”
“Of course they are,” God says. “No one can carry a people alone – not even you. I’ll take some of the spirit I put on you and give it to 70 of your best folks. They will lighten your load.”
And so it goes. But there are these other guys, Eldad and Medad, who don’t get chosen as part of the 70. And yet they, too, speak the word of the Lord. “Make them stop!” Joshua tells Moses.
“Why would I do that?” Moses responds. “I wish God would anoint everyone with the Spirit!”
And so God has.
The Pentecost season is a great time to acknowledge that we can’t do it all – love God, eradicate racism, welcome the stranger, lift up the lowly, nurture beloved community, reinvent church for a pandemic, and more – on our own. And Pentecost is the perfect time to celebrate that we don’t have to. Because there is more than enough Spirit to go around. Because a people empowered can always do more together than the most gifted leader. Because a Spirit-filled church can change the world.
That the load is not ours alone to bear, and that your Spirit carries us all, we praise you.
How Small the Regard of the Lord?
June 03, 2020
Written by Waide Harris
June 3, 2020
How Small the Regard of the Lord?
Quinn G. Caldwell
O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
- Psalm 104:24 (NRSV)
If the works of the Lord are manifold, so are the mysteries they engender. For instance: is a sparrow the smallest God’s notice goes? Does God see and care for the fates of smaller lives as well? Field mice? Worms? Fleas? Does God’s regard extend all the way down to...viruses?
I ask because some of us work hard to see the world in terms of systems. Predator and prey equally important; microbes and maggots mattering as much as seeds, for themselves and for the roles they play in the system. All beloved by God.
That which humans consider pathogenic often has other functions in the world beyond its effects on us. How does God think about the tiny bits of life that make us sick?
Does God hate them? Were they created by the Adversary?
Does God love them as much God loves as us, but is just sitting back and waiting to see who wins?
Is it possible that God created them, and loves them – and sent them at us?
The options are all grim enough to put you off God altogether. So maybe – bear with me here, you’re not going to like this – maybe these questions aren’t for us. Maybe they’re beyond our knowing, at least until we’ve mastered other mysteries first.
I think I’ve decided I’m not yet ready for the mystery of whether God loves everything in the Creation as much as God loves humans. Because honestly, the mystery of how God loves me and the person next to me equally is more than enough to be getting on with.
For a love that is so much bigger than my comprehension, thank you. Amen.
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No Justice, No Peace
June 02, 2020
Written by Kenneth Samuel
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” - Matthew 10:34 (NIV)
The lethal asphyxiation of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, is just the latest in a series of black fatalities brought about by overzealous policing, racial profiling, and white vigilantism. When peaceful protests of Black people against racial injustice turn violent, pastors and public officials are called upon to counsel Black people in the merits of nonviolence.
But we often fail to acknowledge the double standard that America holds for Black violence as compared to White violence.
Last month hundreds of angry White protesters, carrying guns, wearing MAGA hats and draped in American flags, stormed into the Michigan State Capital in protest of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Coronavirus stay-at-home order. Governor Whitmer received death threats, and Michigan state lawmakers were forced to adjourn their meetings.
Yet, not one pastor or public official was called to counsel angry white protesters to put down their weapons and protest peacefully.
A gun in the hand of a White American is a badge of freedom. A gun in the hand of a Black American is a license to kill or incarcerate. When are we going to condemn systemic racism with the same moral urgency that we condemn riots? When are we going to become as passionate about the endangerment of Black lives as we are about the protection of American capitalism?
We may try to limit the Prince of Peace to our conceptions of law and order … but God knows that where there is no justice, there will be no peace.
Lord help us to realize the peace that is not the absence of tension, but the presence of Justice. Amen.
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Written by Matt Laney
I said to myself, “Come now, I will make a test of pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But again, this also was vanity. - Ecclesiastes 2:1 (NRSV)
One year, long before COVID-19, I decided to limit sweets to once a week. I was not only defying “dadbod” and aiming for the abs of a GQ model half my age, I thought it would be a good spiritual practice – a sort of long-term Lent that would make me more self-aware and less self-indulgent.
And, on dessert days, I would only have one bite of a dessert. I figured the fleeting memory of a sweet is the same whether I take one bite or twenty. And if I ate my “one-bite-once-a-week” with outstanding mindfulness, it was as good as eating the whole pie! What a revelation!
It wasn’t so wonderful for those eating with me. Turns out, people notice how much dessert you don’t eat. My abstinence was noted after dinner with a group of ministers and their spouses. When I shared my “one-bite-once-a-week” experiment, a colleague pinched his husband’s stomach and said, “We should totally do that!” Husband’s dagger eyes made me grateful for the table between us.
While I did not get perfect abs or become super spiritual, I can tell you this: With all due respect to Ecclesiastes which sees every sensory pleasure as a fleeting vanity, denying oneself can also be vanity.
In pandemic, my kids have been baking and I’ve had more than a few bites. When so much has changed in their lives, enjoying their gifts is a tasty act of love and gratitude.
God, vanity is a sneaky devil. Help me to vanquish it with humility, gratitude and maybe another brownie.
All Together Now
May 31, 2020
Written by Molly Baskette
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. - Acts 2:1 (NRSV)
The beloved Pentecost story starts with the disciples all gathered in one place. Does that give you the shivers, having by now engrained the habit of social distancing?
I don’t know about you, but if I even see people embracing or standing too close together in a (fictional, prerecorded) TV program, I feel the urge to yell at the screen for them to leave room not only for the Holy Spirit, but an additional 6 feet for the Coronavirus.
There are two big Bible stories that indicate the gift of the Holy Spirit to the followers of Jesus, and in both, the people who receive that Spirit are huddled up close together. Can the Spirit only be conferred when we gather together in physical space? Probably not – but it helps.
“Zoom church,” for all its creativity and flexibility and fun, leaves something to be desired. Among the things it can’t transmit: pheromones, including the oxytocin boost of a six-second hug. The poignancy of holding the warm frail flesh of a nonagenarian hand in yours in the receiving line for a minute. The eye-twinkle split second exchange between two worship leaders riffing, or a restless three-year-old flirting with the people behind them in the pews. The ineffable energy exchange of embodied worship that happens in a hundred different ways.
It may be months or (gulp) years before we can all safely be together in one physical place again. We can’t wait that long for the gift of the Holy Spirit to return to us – today on Pentecost Sunday and every day, because we need that Spirit every day.
The poet Rumi said that the longing for God is God. Even if it pangs, let’s not give up wanting that holy huddle. There’s so much Holy Spirit we’ll only get when we are together again.
God, thank you for online church, a decent understudy for the real thing. And thank you that someday we will be able to embrace again – and the Spirit will shower us with power, and sighs too deep for words.
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I Will Not Leave You Orphaned
May 30, 2020
Written by Lillian Daniel
“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.” - John 14:18-19 (NRSV)
A childhood fight with my mother sent me swirling to the attic where I madly searched for documents that would prove I was adopted. I had no evidence of this, other than my incensed conviction that I could not possibly be related to this woman. When I found no actual papers, I forged some by stuffing an old legal envelope and marching dramatically into the room where my mother was, saying, “Here is proof that you’ve been lying to me all these years!”
In another childhood fantasy, I had an identical twin who had been adopted by another family at birth. In real life, I was an only child, often lonely, so in this fantasy I would one day locate a twin who would know me, love me unconditionally, and complete me because there would be no misunderstandings between us twins.
“Have you ever met any twins?” a friend later asked me, when I confessed this romantic dream. “My twin sister and I fight all the time!” And later my childhood friends who were adopted set me straight on what made someone your “real” parent. It was love, care, struggle, and time, not biology.
Yes, my mother and I were very different people and we often clashed. But after decades as an adult orphan, I can still hear my Mama’s burst of laughter that day when I dramatically presented those false documents, and how I just had to laugh too.
So whenever another Mother’s Day rolls around without her, I take comfort in Jesus’s words, “I will not leave you orphaned.” I imagine a day when we meet again, when all the real and important mysteries will be revealed.
Thank you, Jesus, for not leaving anyone of us orphaned, and for the mothering love we can all share with each other, here on earth, in this our human family.
What Am I to Do with My Anger?
May 29, 2020
Written by Elsa Cook
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” - Matthew 5:5 (NRSV)
Every morning, when I open my eyes, it’s there again. It’s kept me up half the night, but in those few hours of slumber, I hoped that it might disappear. But there it is.
I’m still angry.
I don’t need to hear the news for the day. I’m still furious about yesterday. I can’t believe that this is happening, and I’m livid. It’s anger that makes me act. It spurs my resistance, but it is where my faith falters.
Faith requires meekness, not fury. We are to live by the Spirit, Paul writes, not by those opposing desires of the flesh where anger is lumped together with quarrelling, strife, and dissensions. The strife is over. A song of triumph should be sung, but I have no alleluias to give.
Jesus only gets angry once. He flips a few tables and goes right back to being meek and mild in every version of the story I’ve ever heard. So, what am I to do with my anger when the battle is not yet won?
Who will teach me that meekness is not passivity but proactive generosity? Or must I remind myself every morning that this is what it means to live my faith?
It’s not only to give honor to the most persecuted, but to hunger and thirst for change. It’s to be generous with myself and others so that we are blessed to turn this world upside down with our protest. This is my faith and it is full of rage.
Help me, O God, to find the right road to live out this faith that gives honour to your people and your hope. Use the flesh you gave me to change the world.
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May 28, 2020
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in God’s word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
- Psalm 130:5-6 (NRSV)
Maybe it is my empathic spirit, but I can literally feel it in my chest as the psalmist waits with bated breath, as she tries to be non-anxious and fully present.
Perhaps like me, you too need an image reminding us that our waiting on God is not in vain – even as the entire world watches and waits for the end of the daily terrors caused by Covid-19, inhumane policies, and the ever-present evils of racism, greed, and militarism. Perhaps like me, you need reminders about how God has equipped us to co-create the kin-dom.
“Lord, hear our voice!” we cry with Psalm 130:2.
The Holy Spirit conjures up in my memory a response to verse two written by Rev. Jennifer Garrison Brownell in The Words of Her Mouth:
leans in. …
I speak, one word or
She hearkens. She hears.
… Remind me that I have the voice
to speak words that bring down and build up
I am grateful for reminders of God’s faithfulness, for words that linger with me and keep me company while waiting. I am grateful for Sophia – for Wisdom – who leans in and equips us.
I remember, O God. I re-member, O God. Thank you for waiting and listening, too. Amen.