Blog
Daily Devotion – August 31, 2016
08.31.16

Rooting for Gladness
Kaji Douša

“I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord.” – Psalm 122:1

Hovering at the entryway, she stretched out her foot, as a cat might before stepping into a pool of water. No sooner had she begun than she retracted, recoiling with an electric-like jolt. “Are you sure it’s ok?” she asked.

No wonder she was unsure. Attempting to step foot into a space that claimed to be a sanctuary is a spiritually risky endeavor. She did not know if she had what it took to engage that battle. The sanctuary was more than the smiling face greeting her inside. It was the home to quiet, untold saints and the claims they made and the people they embraced or sent away. She did not know where they were or what they would think of her. Without knowing this, she was not ready to go into the house of the Lord with gladness.

A person should not have to feel that they embark on a battle of spiritual warfare each time they come into our church. Yet, this is precisely what they do as they confront unseen spirits, assumptions, pronouncements. They are bringing their very souls for comfort and refreshment. Again and again, however, they receive the opposite.

No matter who we encounter, it is our work as followers of Christ to exorcise the spirits of unwelcome from the spaces we inhabit—to tell them, in the name of Jesus, that those spirits of unwelcome have no place in the House of the Lord. It is our work to make glad all of the saints so that when they dare to come forward for the succor they desperately need, no unchecked, lingering evil may step between them and their ability to proclaim gladness in any space we would claim as holy.

To those who have hesitated at the gate: trust your instincts. Ask more questions, especially of God, who will meet you anywhere.

Prayer

Root out those spirits and practices that would do harm, O God. We all need a space to call holy and safe. Amen.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kaji Douša is the Senior Minister of The Table, United Church of Christ of La Mesa, California.



Daily Devotion – August 30, 2016
08.30.16

Luke 8: 22-25

Jesus Calms a Storm

One day He got into a boat with his disciples, and He said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side of the lake.’ So they put out, and while they were sailing He fell asleep. A gale swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. They went to Him and woke him up, shouting, ‘Master, Master, we are perishing!’ And He woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’ They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey Him?’

 

Reflection by Monty Wyne

I recall a time when I was 10 or 11. My family had a cottage way up in Northern Michigan, not far from the Straits of Mackinaw. It sat on a commanding wooded ridge that overlooked Lake Charlevoix. A beautiful inland lake that had 56 miles of the most extraordinary natural shoreline you’d ever seen. It was a summer afternoon and my dad and I were fishing on the far side of the lake in a small boat and we’re a good distance from the shore and the cottage.

It was warm. We hadn’t had much luck and were heading for Hemmingway’s Point. It was a rocky shoal that jutted out into the lake and harbored several indigenous pines and some good-sized bass. As we crossed the lake, I turned to look at my dad who was driving the boat. The expression on his face told me he was worried. Then he nodded upward toward the sky. As I looked up, big black clouds loomed overhead and the winds were beginning to pick up. A storm was coming in and it was coming in fast.

Here we were in a 12-foot aluminum skiff with a 10-horse outboard, a raging thunderstorm, and the waves were quickly growing in size and force. Every time another wave came our way the boat would rise up and then sink into the trough below and all I could see was a wall of water above us. Dad was concerned about capsizing, leaving our fate to the roiling waters. He asked me to move to the middle seat so we could get the bow up in the air and better tackle the waves that were tossing us about like a kite in the wind. My heart was pounding. My mind racing. Would we make it to shore? Would we be safe? Or would the storm and turbulent water overtake us?

Looking back, I don’t remember praying. Dad’s hands were full just trying to get us to safety. If he was praying, it was a silent prayer for I am sure he didn’t want to alarm me. He wanted to reassure me and strengthen my confidence in his ability to get us to dry land. I am sure the disciples felt much the same way. They too, were fearful of falling prey to the storm and the water. But Jesus was their pilot, their strength, and their reassurance. As He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They sat in amazement and wonder. “Who is this that commands the winds and the water,” they asked.

Today, I ask “Who was it that commanded the winds and the water for us?” Was it Jesus? Was His hand on the tiller of our motor, steering us to safety? Was He there with Dad and me holding back the wind, steadying our boat, and asking, “Where’s your faith?” I’m sure He was a commanding presence that day. How many times and how many challenging situations since that time have I asked myself, “Where’s your faith?” Not enough. How about you?

 

Prayer:

Dear God,

Remind us of the strength and everlasting faith of your son, Jesus. Without faith, without belief, we become vulnerable to the turbulent waters that threaten our complex world.      Amen



Daily Devotion – August 29, 2016
08.29.16

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?  I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them.  That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built.  But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.”  Luke 6:46-49

Reflection by Matthew Alexander

This lesson of Jesus seems pretty straight forward.  These are the concluding words of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.  After the Beatitudes, after giving his woes, after telling us to love our enemies, after he tells us not to judge, and the warning about being a bad piece of fruit, Christ ends his sermon by offering words to encourage those listening to do as he is telling them to do.  Sounds so simple to love and not judge, to be peacemakers, and to have a generous heart yet it is so difficult for us to actually accomplish.  Christ knows this.  He knows that is why he lays what it means to follow him out simple enough for us to understand.  Those who do as he says will have a strong foundation that cannot be shaken.  A house built on the virtues of love, peace and generosity will be strong.

So why is it so hard to listen to Christ? What keeps us from falling into the arms of love, peace, and generosity?  Why do we feel the need to judge others? Is it because we find it hard to forgive? Whatever the reason or the question, I believe what Christ wants us to do here is to think about those parts of our lives that need the peace and love of Christ.  Only through our searching, reconciling and restoring we will draw closer to being true followers of Christ.  Only by knowing ourselves more deeply will we truly discover what it means to have a foundation that cannot be destroyed.

Prayer:

Search our hearts, O God.  Show us our ways.  Show those ways that bring You joy and peace.  Show us those ways that need to be refined so that we can follow You more closely.  Show us the parts of ourselves that need forgiveness so that we can find peace.  Show us the parts of ourselves that need more of Your love so that we can be free.  Amen.

 



Singing the World into Wellbeing (8/28/16)

This summer, we’ve been exploring what it means to act the world into wellbeing.  As I contemplated how to engage that theme on this last Sunday in August—which has become a singing service—I thought about Pete Seeger.  Pete believed—really believed—that the world would change if we could just sing together.  At Pete’s concerts, more of the singing was done by attendees than by him.

Desmond Tutu At Columbia University

NEW YORK, NY – MAY 20: Legendary folk singer Pete Seeger encourages the crowd to sing at Teachers College, Columbia University commencement convocation May 20, 2003 at St. John’s the Divine church in New York. Singer and two other men were given awards and honorary degrees during the ceremony. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

 

Something happens when we sing together, doesn’t it?  In a seminar I took at Emory with Don Saliers, Emily’s dad, the worship and theology professor, bemoaned the fact that concert-goers’ responses to Indigo Girls concerts were much more impassioned than the responses of worshipers to liturgy he created.  For those of you who are into the Indigo Girls, singing “The Power of Two” with a couple thousand other people—it kind of is a holy experience, isn’t it?

 

indigo.girls

Indigo Girls

 

As I thought about singing the world into wellbeing, I began to wonder:  How does music inspire us to live God’s love in the world?  What songs inspire us to act the world into wellbeing?  I heard back from a few of you.  Today’s service includes at least one suggestion from everyone who made submissions.

A few thoughts about how to get the most from today’s service.

 

So often when we think of music, we think, either:  I like that, or, I don’t like that.  With today’s music, we know that every one of these songs was chosen because it’s vitally important to a member of this community.  Each of the songs we’ll sing or hear today inspires someone to live God’s love in the world, to act others into wellbeing.  (Below, you’ll find the stories of why folks chose the songs they did.)

 

So….If you know and like a song, sing along!  If you don’t know–or don’t like–a song, do a little research.  Listen to the song generously.  Hear it as the offering it is from one of our fellow community members.  See what it might teach you about your own practices of acting the world into wellbeing.

 

And if in the midst of our singing together this morning you find yourself thinking, “Man.  I wish I’d contributed a song or two,” room is provided on the insert for you to begin creating your own playlist.

 

In fact, you might like to create an actual playlist…on Youtube, or Spotify, or your iPod, or your Hi Fi, or your Victrola…Create a playlist that will inspire you to act the world into wellbeing.

 

With that, let us now sing the world into wellbeing.

 

******************

 

Stories about why each song was chosen:

 

GOSPEL MUSIC;  NEGRO SPIRITUALS.   I love this music! The tempo, the words, the rhythm. I feel like the Holy Spirit is running through me! My heart pounds , I wanna move, get down and get jiggly with praising the Lord ! Act the world into loving Jesus?  Amen . This music can do it!  (June)

 

HUMBLE AND KIND  (Tim)

Simple lyrics that we all need to hear again and again.  In this crazy busy, violent and harsh world, we need to listen to this song.  Really listen.  Great thoughts for this world and for individuals to remember that even a small gesture of kindness can make a huge impact on someone.  And then that someone can pass it on.  Words to live by, be humble, be kind, go to church, visit your grandpa, say please and thank you. All simple things, but much needed in these times.  (June)

 

IMAGINE  (The Beatles)  I loved them all and all their music! As a teenager, I had posters all over my bedroom walls and all their records, yes records!  Later, in College, I was a hippie, a flower child with jeans, gauze tops, sandals and flowers in my hair protesting the war.  “Make love not war” was the bumper sticker on my VW.  I was all about love, harmony and peace.  This song just got into my head and into my soul.  It moved me then and I cry when I hear it today.   (June)

 

MAN IN THE MIRROR (Michael Jackson)

I’ll start by saying this song gives me chills and the end makes me cry (no surprise there).  This is one of those songs that has a singable tune, relatable lyrics and a personal message for each of us. This song says it all.  Like putting your oxygen mask on in the plane before you ever try to help someone else.

It all starts with each individual person and their own internal search for what moves them in the world.  Your passion may not be the same as my passion, but that’s great!  That’s how all causes get attention, from people who care about them. We should never belittle someone’s belief in a charity, a cause or a political stance, because we haven’t walked in their shoes to be able to understand their point of view, which is as valid for them as our own are for us. “That’s why I’m starting with me!” is a line from the song, and the place where we should all start.  Explore yourself, implore God for guidance, and you will know when you are doing the right things for yourself and the world!  (Carol)

 

ORDINARY LOVE  (U2)  My songs are about peace and hope. “Ordinary Love” by U2, tells me how simple it is to love one another.  (Noel)

 

ONE DAY  (Matisyahu) tells me that most of us want peace and hope that one day, that will be possible. Sadly, reality and history tell us that will never really happen, but if people keep writing songs of hope, living a life of love and giving to mankind, the example will be set for future generations. Our actions speak loudly against hate. I do my little part when and where I can, be it hosting charity events, giving to Missions, helping a friend or neighbor in need, it’s something we all can, and should do.  (Noel)

 

PATRIOTIC MUSIC    I am so grateful to the Almighty God that I was born in this country instead of a third world or Middle East country that is ravaged with war, poverty, disease and hopelessness. Hearing a patriotic song makes me feel safe and warm. My Dad WWll veteran and my Gramps WWl veteran flew their flags 365 days a year. They were proud, they were brave and they loved this country. Hearing a patriotic song makes me think of what men and women have given for us to be free.  (June)

 

RING THEM BELLS  (Bob Dylan)  Several years ago, my son gave me a four disc collection of Dylan songs, performed by various artists, with an Amnesty International label on it. This song is meaningful to me because, shortly after the Orlando tragedy in June, my son, who also inspires me, put up a Facebook post with the song, “Ring Them Bells”. I just happened to be listening to that CD in my car during that same time frame.

The recording artist on this particular CD is Natasha Bedingfield. The song suggests ringing bells “for the child who cries” and “when the innocents die”.  It also states to ring the bells “from the sanctuaries, from the valleys and streams”.  Several more references include ringing bells “for the poor man’s son, “for the blind and the deaf” and “for all of those who are led”. All of these references speak to acting the world into wellbeing.  (Diane)

 

SKIN (Sixx A.M.)  When my daughter was having a very hard time with anxiety, serious mental health side effects from ADHD medication, and problems with kids at school, this song really spoke to her.  She made me play it every day for quite a while and we would sing it together.  When you listen to the lyrics of the song, the message it gets across is that you are more than what people see, you are more than just your skin, you are more than just your scars.  Show your heart and people will see…You are wonderful and beautiful.

 

If you are unfamiliar with the band, it is composed of three musicians, James Michael, DJ Ashba, and Nikki Sixx. Nikki Sixx (as some of you probably already know), is also the bassist for Motley Crue. He was a terrible heroin addict (he seriously overdosed twice and technically died from one of the overdoses for a few minutes and they got his heart beating again). He has been clean and sober for 15 years, and is a very vocal proponent of the sober life and very supportive of folks fighting addition and mental illness battles. So, this song would have ties to acting both mentally ill folks and folks suffering addiction into wellbeing.   (Trudy and Emily)

 

WAITING ON THE WORLD TO CHANGE  (John Mayer)  The lyrics of this song say that the younger generation is waiting on the world to change, and it’s hard to make a difference, about their feelings that the older generation doesn’t think their ideas are worth much.  To me it’s more of a wake-up call to get out there and do something. He covers a lot of topics like war deaths, the powerless feeling of the young to fight the establishment (sort of the opposite of how the younger people felt in the 60’s and early 70’s), the spin the news outlets make on current events, etc. To me it says, listen to what the young people are saying – they have ideas that ARE worth hearing! (Carol)

 

WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD (Bob Thiele and George David Weiss)

I had only been a pastor 3 months when September 11th happened.  New to ministry, I called a couple of colleagues to ask what they would do in worship the following Sunday.  Neither of the folks I asked was currently in a pastorate.  Both said:  “I’m glad I’m not preaching this Sunday.”  I knew I was on my own.       The Monday following that Sunday (9/17), I saw in the paper that at Sabbath services that week somewhere in New York, a rabbi led his congregation in singing “What a Wonderful World.”  My first thought was, What was he thinking?!  After what has just happened, how can he possibly sing “What a Wonderful World?”  Then I got it.  It is a wonderful world.  Terrible, traumatic things happen sometimes, but if the world is to be a place worth living, we have to believe in its goodness.

Even to ask the question of how we might act the world into wellbeing is to assume that it isn’t yet well, it isn’t yet whole.  As we continue to seek ways to act the world into wellbeing, we might do well to remember what that rabbi remembered:  that the world—as it is—already is wonderful.  (Kim)

 

WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW IS LOVE (Burt Bacharach & Hal David)

This song came to mind because we truly do need more love in the world. If we show others kindness and reach out to others, one would think it would bring good to the world and act the world into wellbeing.

When I was in high school, I remember leaders from various schools playing a recording of this song for a “Human Relations” group.    (Reese)

 



Daily Devotion – August 27, 2016
08.27.16
Luke 6:41-42

Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, “Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye”, when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.

Devotion by Julian Shiver

Have you ever driven with someone (no names, please!) who gets really irritated at other driver’s infractions, only to turn around and do the same to someone else? And be totally unaware of what they are doing? If I find some behavior in others really “pushing my buttons,” it is usually a good sign that I need to take a good look at my own actions.

So the next time someone cuts you off in traffic, take a moment to reflect. We are often blind to what is right in front of us, even in our own eye!

Prayer:

Dear God, Thank you for the moments of awareness of my own misbehaviors. Help me to be more aware of the log in my own eye. Amen.


Daily Devotion – August 26, 2016
08.26.16

Luke 6:39-40

39 He also told them a parable: ‘Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? 40A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher.

Devotion by Lynne Buell

I used to think that being more of a follower than a leader was a sign of weakness.  But it isn’t like that at all.  I recently read through a website (http://www.fastcompany.com/3029840/bottom-line/5-ways-being-a-good-follower-makes-you-a-better-leader) which is about 5 ways to be a good follower by Barbara Kellerman, a leadership lecturer at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and author of Followership:  How Followers are Creating Change and Changing Leaders.

As I continue on my faith journey, and after reading this website as a result of this journey, I discovered that I’m pretty sure I am a person who practices awareness, diplomacy, courage, collaboration, and critical thinking.  I don’t deny that I need to continue to improve myself, but I can confirm that I am a much better person now than I was when I began this journey.  I also learned that it’s okay to accept my limitations—that it’s okay to set boundaries.  I’ll tell you, this awareness came at the beginning of this year, and it’s probably one of the best lessons that I have ever learned.

 

Prayer:

Gracious God, thank you for showing me how to accept things that I cannot change and understanding to know the difference.  Amen.  (Taken in part from Reinhold Neibuhr, 1892-1971)



Daily Devotion – August 25, 2016
08.25.16

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”  (Luke 6:37-38, NRSV)

Devotion by David Burns

Some years ago, a friend introduced me to the writings of Eckhart Tolle.  For whatever reasons, I have been most nourished and challenged by his book, A New Earth. There is a brief section in that book that comes to mind every time I read the above slice of scripture.  I share it with you today.

“If the thought of lack – whether it be money, recognition, or love – has become part of who you think you are, you will always experience lack.  Rather than acknowledge the good that is already in your life, all you see is lack.  Acknowledging the good that is already in your life is the foundation of all abundance.  The fact is: Whatever you think the world is withholding from you, you are withholding from the world.  You are withholding it because deep down you think you are small and that you have nothing to give.”

“Try this for a couple of weeks and see how it changes your reality:  Whatever you think people are withholding from you – praise, appreciation, assistance, loving care, and so on – give it to them.  You don’t have it? Just act as if you had it, and it will come.  Then, soon after you start giving, you will start receiving.  Outflow determines inflow (A New Earth, pp.190-191).”

O generous God, what a wonderful joke to learn that I find myself by giving away all that I don’t think I have!  Thank you for the privilege of your gracious provision as it flows out and comes back again.  Help me to remember!      Amen.



Daily Devotion – August 24, 2016
08.24.16

Luke 14: 12-14

He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’

 

Reflection by Duke Yaguchi

My parents were a picture of contrast. My mother was always the picture of repayment. She kept mental scores on everyone. She would size up the value of dishes brought to a potluck, or know the number of times someone picked up or didn’t pick up a tab. In any case whether she was ahead or behind in the value given or received, it caused her stress. She would always fret over whom she owed and who owed her. She was always wound up tighter than a drum.

My father was the opposite. He once rode a train while on vacation in Japan next to a complete stranger. He heard the stranger’s story of a daughter running out of money for college back in Houston. A few weeks later, my dad wired money to the girl so she could stay in college.

Once, a so-called friend of theirs scammed them out of thousands of dollars. My father chalked it up to experience. My mom had the woman write an IOU. Even though they never got repaid on the “loan”, my mom has asked me to keep in touch with the woman so I can collect on the debt after my mom passes. I guess there’s three things that are certain in life: death, taxes, and having my mother know the “score”.

My father led a fairly carefree life. My mother continues to lead a life full of worry. Strange that my mom continues to outlive my dad. I guess he’s even more carefree in heaven.

 

Prayer:

Dear God, I thank you for the examples shown by my parents. Continue to teach me through scripture the value of Your love. In Your name I pray. Amen.



Daily Devotion – August 23, 2016
08.23.16

Luke 14:7-11

 

Humility and Hospitality

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

 

Devotion by Rochelle Lofstrand

Pride and status are social issues in any culture, and the ancient Jewish culture was no exception.  With the status of power often comes pride.  Jesus remarked that both of these attributes were destructive to the spiritual health of any person.  Jesus tells this parable to his disciples that even though the place of honor is near the host, one should not assume that they are the most honored guest in the room and out of inflated pride take that seat.  Instead, they should take the seat of lowest honor and wait to be invited to a more distinguished location.  How much different would it feel if a guest was invited to a position of honor by the host instead of assuming that is where they belonged to begin with?

When I was working in Africa for the Peace Corps, I had an experience during a meal that reminded me of humility and hospitality.  The guest of honor at a braai (South African cook-out generally with goat meat) was given the liver of the animal to eat.  It was customary to not ask for the liver meat but to wait until the host served the meat to see who was considered an honorary guest – the oldest invited guest.  I was always a little bit thankful that I attended the celebrations with another (much older) volunteer teacher who was always considered the most honored guest!

 

Prayer

God, I ask for humility today.  I want to be your servant and to serve others.  If some honor me as their guest that I will accept the honor with grace and love for the giver.  AMEN.



Sermon: Acting the World into Wellbeing through Politics (8/21/16)
08.22.16

donkey-elephant.jpeg__800x600_q85_crop

Rhetorical question:  Who are you going to vote for in November?  How do you feel about folks who’ll be voting for the other person?

At the beginning of the summer, neither today nor last Sunday had a theme.  I invited you to offer suggestions.  Christian Ed reminded me that one of the days needed to be Rally Sunday.  We did that last week and focused on “Acting Children into Wellbeing.”

I got a lot of other suggestions for today.  Interestingly, a couple of those focused on growing older–either acting the elderly into wellbeing or acting ourselves into wellbeing as we age.  Having recently relocated to Over-the-Hill Town, I fully plan to come back to that theme.

No one suggested today’s topic.  I’ve gone rogue.  I did it because of the increased rancor of the current presidential campaign.  Don’t get me wrong.  Past political campaigns often have been rancorous, but the current election cycle….  Does anyone else find the things being said distressing?  Do you ever find yourself longing for a candidate with no dark clouds of questionable ethics hovering over them?  Are you giving serious thought to not voting at all?

Had I asked that first question–For whom will you vote?–non-rhetorically, I suspect we’d have seen hands raised for both candidates.  If I mentioned either candidate’s name, an equal number of eyes likely would have rolled.  Some of you might not have raised your hand at all.  Did you know that, that there are Republicans and Democrats in our congregation?  For the longest time, I’ve avoided acknowledging our political diversity, thinking that to do so would only invite the rancor out there into the safe space of our sanctuary.

Recently, though, I’ve come to realize that I haven’t given any of us enough credit.  On every other issue we’ve discussed together as a community, we’ve done so with respect and grace, even when we disagree.  What’s so scary about acknowledging our political diversity?

In many faith communities, a majority of congregants identify with a single political party.  That’s fine, but it doesn’t really encourage discussion, does it?  If we only talk with people who agree with us, we don’t have to engage in critical thinking.  Nothing invites critical reflection like disagreement.

So…I have an idea.  It might be crazy, maybe even scary.  But here goes.

If you know someone here today who plans to vote for a different candidate than you’re planning to vote for, why not invite them out to lunch for some conversation?  Note that I said “conversation,” not “conversion.”  Ask your dining partner their reasons for voting for that candidate.  Then listen generously to their response.  By listening generously, I mean listening simply to hear the other person’s story, to hear things from their perspective.  Don’t listen to analyze, criticize, demonize, or proselytize.  Simply listen.  And receive.  Then say, “Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.”  And since your table-mate also is hearing this sermon, perhaps they will listen generously to your reasons for voting the way you do.

Can you imagine having that kind of conversation?  I wonder what might come of it?  What might each of you learn?  How might each of your own commitments deepen as a result of listening to each other?  Maybe the best way to live our faith with integrity this election season is to refrain from vilifying candidates or their supporters and really listen to each other.  If you do spend some time talking together about politics and you want to report back, we’d love to hear.

It’s true that we are all over the map when it comes to political commitments.  There is one thing, though, that all followers of Jesus share.  Those of us working to establish God’s kin-dom here on earth as it is in heaven, those of us who believe in Jesus’ call to stand in solidarity with the least of these, those of us who seek to act the world into wellbeing…

As people of Christian faith, all of us—no matter who we’re voting for—are called to engage public and political systems.  Our faith isn’t something we tend to only in church on Sundays, or during times of personal trial.  Taking our faith seriously requires complete submersion.  The life of faith calls us to view every aspect of our lives through the lens of our Christian faith… even our political life.  Perhaps especially our political life.  How can we hope to act the world into wellbeing if we don’t engage political and public systems?

Today’s Scripture lesson recounts the call of the prophet Jeremiah.  The writings of most prophets in the Old Testament begin with the story of the prophet’s call.  That’s to let folks know that it’s not the prophet’s fault he or she has to say all these difficult things.  “I don’t want to say it!  God’s making me!”

The job of prophets is to poke the beehive, upset the status quo, speak truth to power,  proclaim that the emperor has no clothes.  If the social systems currently in place allow for the oppression of some, then the system must be changed.  Jeremiah describes the prophetic task this way:  “to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

The image—which would have resonated well in an agrarian society—is of what happens at the end of the growing season:  plow it all under so we can start again.  If current systems aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do, if the current crop isn’t nourishing the people it’s meant to feed, it’s time for an overhaul.

We’ve seen the positive results of people of faith engaging political systems in our country– the 14th Amendment, ensuring that no person can be discriminated against because of their race; the 19th Amendment, ensuring women the right to vote; the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Voting Rights Act of 1965; the Americans with Disabilities Act; Marriage Equality.

The UCC often has been at the forefront of acting the world into wellbeing through public and political processes.  The work of Everett C. Parker, head of the UCC’s Office of Communications in the 1960s is a great example.  In 1962, when WLBT in Mississippi refused to air the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Everett filed a complaint with the FCC.  The FCC refused to hear the complaint.  Parker appealed the decision.  In 1966, the Supreme Court determined that WLBT had violated its public trust by depriving large sectors of citizens—particularly African Americans—of news coverage that affected them.  That decision was key in creating fairness in journalism in our country.

Another example of people of faith actively working in the public/political arena is the work that was done here two weeks ago.  Through the auspices of Faith in Public Life, some of our folks participated in a phone bank.  The purpose of the event was to educate voters in Cobb County about so-called Religious Freedom legislation, in particular, what it could mean for LGBT folks.

We might be voting for different candidates this election season, but as people of faith, we all are called to live our faith with integrity in the public sphere.  We all are called to take our faith with us into the voting booth.  We all are called to vote in ways we believe will act the world into wellbeing.

As you contemplate how your vote might act the world into wellbeing, I invite you to think about one group, in particular; it’s a group neither of the major political party’s candidates is talking about.  It’s a group on which both Old Testament prophets and Jesus focus:  the poor.  Some call this concern for those living in poverty “God’s preference for the poor.”  If God is so concerned about the poor, mightn’t those of us who worship God and follow Jesus do well to share the concern?

Matthew Desmond, a Harvard professor of sociology acknowledges that from neither presidential candidate do we “have a full-voiced condemnation of the level or extent of poverty in America today.  We aren’t having a … serious conversation about the fact that we are the richest democracy in the world, with the most poverty.”

The article that quotes Dr. Desmond goes on.  “The silence [about poverty] is particularly striking because the problem is growing.  There is not a single state where a full-time worker earning the minimum wage can rent a market-rate one-bedroom apartment for 30 percent or less of their income, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.  And more than 11 million households spend more than half of their income on rent.”  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/12/us/politics/trump-clinton-poverty.html?_r=0

We heard from Christy Stanley last week about the large number of students in her school who, were it not for free and reduced breakfasts and lunches, would not eat those meals.

Can one vote erase poverty?  Of course not.  But what might happen if, when we cast our one vote, we bring the poor with us into the voting booth?  I’m not a big fan of what would Jesus do, but I think that’s what Jesus would do in November.  The root of the word “politics” is power.  As you cast your vote in November, I invite you to look at things through the lens of power.  Who wields power in our country?  Who benefits from the status quo?  Who gets lost in the shuffle?  Who gets forgotten?

Here’s one more invitation.  At lunch today—after you’ve listened generously to each other about your political views—I invite you and your table-mate to talk together about those for whom the prophets and Jesus were so concerned:  the poor.  How might each of you use your vote to advocate for those with little power?  How might the two of you together work within the public and political arenas to advocate for the least of these?  How might you—how might we all—engage public and political systems to act the world into wellbeing?

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  © 2016