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Sermon: “Humble Saints” (All Saints, 11/5/17) Matthew 23:1-12
11.06.17

Who are your saints?  Who’s inspired you to live your life with authenticity and generosity?  Who, by their actions and words, has made God present to you?

What do you imagine contributes to their saintliness?  Kindness?  Integrity?  An unwavering commitment to caring for the least of these?  Joyfulness?  Teresa of Avila, 16th century nun, once said, “May God protect us from gloomy saints.”  Yes.  Please.

Who are your saints?  What makes them your saints?

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus isn’t talking about saints.  This is way before the concept even existed.  But in talking about the kindom of God–God’s dreams for the world–he addresses a key characteristic of those most adept at creating God’s kindom:  humility.

What is humility?  Sr. Joan Chittister characterizes humility as a profound sense of authenticity.  It’s having a clear sense of your place in the universe.  You don’t think of yourself more highly than you are, nor do you think of yourself as more lowly than you are.  You simply are who you are.  She writes:  “Humble people walk comfortably in every group. No one is either too beneath them or too above them for their own sense of well-being. They are who they are, people with as much to give as to get, and they know it. And because they’re at ease with themselves, they can afford to be open with others.”

Sadly, I don’t think Sr. Joan is talking about the Pharisees in today’s Scripture story.  Matthew tells us from the get-go the Pharisees tried “to trap Jesus in his words.”  In an attempt to discredit him in front of the faithful—or get him imprisoned…that would work, too—the Pharisees pelted Jesus with manipulative questions.  Finally, an exasperated Jesus asked a manipulative question of his own.  He asked it to show just how manipulative the authorities’ questions had been.  He asked it to shut the others up.  It worked.

THEN, once his detractors have been silenced, Jesus preaches a sermon.  Let’s call it “Beware the Hypocrisy of the Pharisees.”   He proclaims:

‘The religious scholars and the Pharisees have succeeded Moses as teachers; therefore, perform every observance they tell you to.  But don’t follow their example; even they don’t do what they say.  They tie up heavy loads and lay them on others’ shoulders, while they themselves will not lift a finger to help alleviate the burden.  All their works are performed to be seen.  They widen their phylacteries and wear huge tassels.  They are fond of places of honor at banquets and the front seats in synagogues.  They love respectful greetings in public and being called ‘Rabbi.’ 

 

Back in the day, the role of religious leader came with lots of perks.  The Pharisees liked their perks; they liked their power.  But exclusive power, by definition, “excludes” most people.  For a few people to hold the bulk of the power, the rank-and-file have to give up most of theirs.  This disproportionate divvying up of power created an unjust system, one that was the opposite of what Jesus imagined the kin-dom of God to be.  Here’s how Jesus imagines the kin-dom:

But as for you, avoid the title ‘Rabbi.’  For you have only one Teacher, and you are all sisters and brothers.  And don’t call anyone on earth your ‘Mother’ or ‘Father.’  You have only one Parent—our loving God in heaven.  Avoid being called leaders.  You only have one leader—the Messiah.  The greatest among you will be the one who serves the rest.  Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves with be exalted. 

 

Jesus isn’t just calling for a redistribution of power.  He’s calling for a whole new kind of power, one that isn’t hoarded by some, but rather, is shared by all.

I suspect all our personal saints lived out of this understanding of power–that we’re all in this thing together, that we’re all stronger when we support each other, that lording religious authority over people doesn’t usher in God’s presence nearly as well as loving our neighbors as ourselves.  If we’re grabbing for power, we’re trying to reach beyond who we are.  If we allow others to grab our power, we’re dismissing our own agency in the world.  But when we all simply are who we are, we discover a profound connection to God through our connection to each other.  In short, the kindom of God–the world God dreams of–is created by humble saints.

Since the Catholic Church began canonizing saints, there have been books of saints.  These books chronicle the lives and miracles attributed to each saint.  The thinking is that stories of the saints will inspire the faithful to live even more faithful lives.

Blessed Among Us:  Day by Day with Saintly Witnesses, is a recent book that updates the book of saints concept.  It includes canonized saints like Teresa, Brigid, Francis, and Patrick…but it also includes people who have not been canonized, some of whom aren’t even Christian, people like Anne Frank and Dorothy Day, Mohandas Gandhi and Mahalia Jackson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Fannie Lou Hamer.  Taking in stories of these saintly witnesses, readers are invited to imagine how they might live their lives more faithfully.

About a year ago, I posted something on Facebook about Koinonia Farm.  The farm was established in 1942 as an intentional interracial Christian farming community.  For Sumter County Georgia in 1942, that was visionary.  And gutsy.

A friend from Oklahoma commented on the post.  “My uncle helped found Koinonia Farm!” she wrote.  Clarence Jordan gets most of the credit for starting Koinonia, in part, because he stayed at Koinonia until his death in 1968.  But Clarence started Koinonia with Martin England.  Martin and his wife, Mabel, were my friend, Jo’s, uncle and aunt.

I asked Jo lots of questions about the Englands.  She answered what she could, then referred me to a book written by the Englands’ daughter, Beverly.  The cover of By Faith and By Love: Martin and Mabel’s Journey, contains two pictures—one of Martin and Mabel and a painting of a black man leading a team of horses pulling a wagon behind them.  The first thing Jo told me about her aunt and uncle was the story depicted in that painting.

Martin’s family came from the hills of South Carolina near the Georgia border.  In 1861, Martin’s grandfather, Jasper Wilson, was called up to serve in the Confederate army.  At some point, Jasper was badly wounded on the battlefield.  After several weeks in the hospital, Confederate officers sent Jasper home.  A friend “knew Jasper’s discharge was a bad sign.  It meant the officers thought he was going to die.”  The friend ripped open a seam of Jasper’s coat, filled it with money, and sewed it up again.  “He prayed that his friend would die at home, not on the train, and that his family would find the lump in the coat.

“Jasper’s grandson Martin told the next part of the story:  ‘The train crews lifted my grandfather off one bumpy, crowded train and onto the next.  Finally Jasper got to the village of Walhalla, South Carolina, the end of the railroad.  It was about 40 miles to his home in the mountains.  No one in the family knew he had been wounded; no one knew that he had been sent home to die.  He lay on the station platform in Walhalla two whole days, begging anyone to take him home or to get word to his family that he was there.  Finally a black man, a former slave who had bought his freedom, an old man who hauled freight in a horse and wagon, put Jasper in his wagon and took him the two-day journey home.

“When they got to the little stream beside his house Jasper called to his wife, my grandmother Jeanette, ‘I’m home.  Bring clean clothes and towels and soap but don’t come near me.’  Caked with blood and pus and the lice that spread from soldier to soldier, he warned her, ‘I’m lousy.  Don’t come.  Throw my clean clothes across the creek.’  And my grandmother did just that.

“The old man gently undressed and bathed my grandfather there in the stream, dressed him in clean clothes and took him home.  He carried him across the creek and up to the house in his arms.  My grandmother lived up in the hills and had seen very few black people.  But that sight, of the old black man carrying her husband across the creek, made an impression on her.”

The story of that old man’s kindness to Martin England’s grandfather completely shaped Martin’s life, as well as the lives of his descendants.  Martin and Mabel served as missionaries in Burma before and after World War II.  It was during a furlough from their two tours when they started Koinonia with Clarence and Florence Jordan.  The summer of 1963, when Martin served on the Pension Board of the American Baptists, he followed Martin Luther King, Jr., around the south trying to get him to sign up for a pension and life insurance.  A benefactor already had paid the premiums, all Dr. King had to do was sign.  At the urging of Ralph David Abernathy, who already had gotten his policy, Dr. King finally signed.  The other Martin was among the first people to visit Coretta and the rest of the family after Dr. King’s death in 1968.

In our correspondence, Martin and Mabel’s niece, Jo, talked about remembering the story of Martin’s grandfather’s rescue during the struggle for desegregation in Birmingham, Alabama.  She, her sisters, and her cousins were among the few white students who continued going to school during the unrest.

The story of a freed black man saving a Confederate soldier’s life, traveling two days to get him home, cleaning his putrid, lous-y body, then carrying him in his arms to the arms of his adoring wife has continued to reverberate through the England family….and through their family to the rest of the world.  The stories of your saints, no doubt, have played a similar role in your life.

As I think about it, all these saintly stories do beg the question—In whose saint book might we earn a page?  What story or stories might that page contain?  Once we are gone, will we too be known as a humble saint?

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

Kimberleigh Buchanan  © 2017



Sermon: “Where’s Jesus?” (20th Anniversary of Becoming ONA) [10/22/17]
10.23.17

“Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  It was fun last weekend at Pride to take note of Caesar’s things and the God’s things.

I signed up for Pilgrimage’s booth Sunday afternoon.  I had Allen let me out at 10th and Spring and walked from there to the park.  During the parade.  It took a while.

On my walk, I saw that Caesar was well-represented at Pride.  The city had used garbage trucks to block off streets for the parade.  At each blockade was an armed APD officer.  The presence of law enforcement and those garbage trucks made me feel safe.

I also felt safe as I made my way through the thousands of people lining the north side of 10th Street.  The claustrophobe in me would have preferred a few less thousand people per square inch, but slogging through all those people, I felt perfectly safe.

The only time I didn’t feel safe?  When I approached Peachtree and saw the signs.  “Judgment is coming.”  “All potheads, homosexuals, thieves, drunkards, whoremongers, and liars are hell bound.”  “How can ye escape the damnation of hell?”  I saw the street preacher, his face bright red, yelling into the portable sound system.  Yeah.  It was a church group.  I’m guessing Westboro Baptist or a Westboro wanna be.

There at 10th and Peachtree, you know what made me feel safe?  It definitely wasn’t that church group.  What made me feel safe was the presence of the Atlanta police.

And Jesus.  Yes!  Jesus was there, too.  He had long hair, was wearing a white robe, sandals, and, of course, a rainbow stole.  People lined up for selfies with Jesus.  How heartening to see Jesus just chilling, hanging with his peeps, mugging for the camera right in front of those hateful signs and angry preaching.  And how telling that, at 10th and Peachtree, Jesus chose not to be a part of the church.

Finding Jesus in the world today can be a little tricky, can’t it?  I mean, you’d expect to find him in the places that call themselves Christian.  Jesus Christ; Christian churches, right? Sometimes, though, Jesus seems more content to hang out in other places, with other people.

The Pharisees’ question to Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson is an attempt to find Jesus…. mostly, so they can put a target on his back.  Matthew tells us the “Pharisees plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said.16So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians.”  Why the Herodians?  Herod was the Jewish person appointed by the Roman government to keep watch over the Jewish population on Caesar’s behalf.  Among many responsibilities, the Herodians made sure the Jewish people paid taxes to Caesar.

What the Pharisees are doing here is manipulative in the extreme.  They’re asking Jesus to choose between religious and civil law, to choose God or Caesar.  Choose God, he breaks civil law.  Choose Caesar, he breaks Jewish law.  It’s no-win any way you look at it.

Seeing through their hypocrisy, Jesus calls the Pharisees—appropriately enough— hypocrites, then gives the best non-answer in all of Scripture:  “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”  Basically, Jesus tells them to figure it out for themselves.

We’ve been wrestling a lot in the last year over the relationship between our faith lives and our civic lives.  Negotiating those relationships as an individual is hard enough.  Negotiating them as a community is an even bigger challenge.  That’s why we have a special prayer time.

Jesus’ Caesar-and-God statement reminds us that the relationship between our faith lives and our civic lives is dynamic–which means that each informs the other.  Sometimes, as citizens, it’s necessary to speak out and take action to preserve and protect the rights of people of faith.  And sometimes, what’s going on in the world cries out for people of faith to pray, discern, speak out, and take action as people of faith.

That’s what this congregation did 20 years ago.  In 1993, in response to a play at Theater on the Square that referenced a gay character, the Cobb County Commission passed the so-called  Family Values Resolution.

In response to that civil–and unjust–action, this congregation began the process of becoming Open and Affirming.  December 7, 1997, the vote was taken and Pilgrimage UCC became the first UCC congregation in the state of Georgia to become Open and Affirming.  Cobb County might reject LGBTQ people and families, but this congregation of Jesus’ followers would not.

When I interviewed to become your pastor in 2001, the Search Committee–chaired by Frank Hyland, who I still miss–said very clearly, “We’ve voted to become Open and Affirming.  We want our next pastor to help us live into that reality.”  That’s what we’ve been working on together for 16 years now.  I am so proud to have been part of this work with you.

So, what’s next?  Where is Jesus now?  In the mid-90’s, Jesus was in the process of discernment, then of voting to become ONA.  The last 20 years, Jesus has been in the process of living into our ONA identity.  Where is Jesus leading us in 2017?

Might it be to mentoring other congregations as they become ONA?  Chestnut Ridge Christian Church at Post Oak Tritt and Johnson Ferry has just voted to become ONA.  Might we partner with them?  Might we become more active with other ONA UCC churches in the Atlanta area, like Decatur UCC and Kirkwood?   I’ve heard that when the new legislative session begins in Atlanta in January, a new version of the so-called “Religious Freedom” bill will be back in play.  Might Jesus be calling us to some sort of action in response to that?

Twenty years of living into our ONA identity is terrific.  It is appropriate to celebrate, to renew our ONA covenant, to eat cake.

But then what?  What might it mean for us to continue living into our ONA identity?  Where is Jesus now?  How do we follow Jesus now?  How do we act others into wellbeing in Jesus’ name now?

I had another experience of Caesar’s finest this week.  As you know, my mom was in the hospital last weekend.  I had to go down to get her out of the hospital and get her settled at home.  She’s doing very well now.  Thank you for all your prayers and good wishes.

For those who don’t know, my mom lives in Gainesville, Florida.  It was an interesting week in Gainesville.  Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer spoke there this week.  Wanting to prevent what happened in Charlottesville from happening in Gainesville, a large law enforcement contingent convened in Gainesville last Thursday.  The cashier at the Burger King at I-75 where Mom and I had breakfast (She was tired of hospital food.) said that since she’d arrived at work that morning she’d seen at least 200 law enforcement vehicles from all over the region drive by.  Once again, I found Caesar’s contingent reassuring.

As you’ve probably heard, protesters outnumbered Spencer’s people by a large margin.  As I left Gainesville on Friday morning, all was well again.

In reading about Thursday’s events in the national news, I got an unexpected glimpse of Jesus among the crowd of protesters.  I’ve begun to wonder if that glimpse of Jesus might give us a glimpse of where to find Jesus as we continue living into our ONA identity.

A short video focuses on Randy Furniss of Idaho, head shaved, t-shirt covered in schwastikas, blood trickling down his chin from a blow just received from a protester.  In the video, an African American man in dreadlocks, approaches Furniss, hugs him, then asks:  “Why don’t you like me, dog?”

Aaron Courtney, is a 31-year-old high school football coach in Gainesville.  He said he wanted to show Furniss some love.  “I could have hit him, I could have hurt him . . . but something in me said, ‘You know what? He just needs love.’”  The hug may have been a small act, but Courtney thinks it can speak volumes.  “It’s a step in the right direction. One hug can really change the world. It’s really that simple,” he said.

Courtney hadn’t originally planned on attending the protest.  But when he received a state of emergency notification on Monday ahead of Spencer’s planned appearance, he decided to do some research.  “I found out about what kind of person he was and that encouraged me, as an African-American, to come out and protest.” Courtney said.

After almost four hours, Courtney was about to leave when he saw Furniss causing a scene in the crowd.  “I had the opportunity to talk to someone who hates my guts and I wanted to know why. During our conversation, I asked him, ‘Why do you hate me? What is it about me? Is it my skin color? My history? My dreadlocks?’ ” he said.  Courtney repeatedly asked Furniss for an answer, only to be met with silence and a blank look.

Exasperated, Courtney asked Furniss for a hug. He was initially reluctant, but as Courtney reached over the third time, Furniss reciprocated, wrapping his arms around Courtney. Courtney said, “And I heard God whisper in my ear, ‘You changed his life.’ ”

“Why do you hate me?” Courtney asked Furniss one last time. “I don’t know,” came the response.  For Courtney, that was a good enough.  “I believe that was his sincere answer.  He really doesn’t know,” Courtney said.  (Washington Post, October 21, 2017)

Where is Jesus in 2017?  Where is Jesus leading us as we begin our third decade of being an Open and Affirming congregation?  Whose lives might we change simply by loving them?

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

Kimberleigh Buchanan  © 2017



Sermon: “A Covenant of Love” (Gen. 9:12-17) [9/24/17]
09.25.17

When I was 8, an area near where we lived in north Florida flooded.  Distressed by it all, I asked Mom, “But didn’t God promise never to let a flood happen again?”  She reminded me that in God’s promise after the flood in Genesis, God promised never again to destroy the whole earth and all living creatures by flood.  That didn’t mean localized flooding might not happen.

Even as a youngster, that sounded like “spin” to me.  I’m not sure of the exact route of the conversation, but we quickly got into a discussion of free will and the sovereignty of God, though we didn’t use those words.  We talked about whether people are just puppets doing whatever God wants, or if we have freedom to make our own decisions.  Mom opted for not- puppets.  That made sense to me.

I’m not sure, but that conversation might have been the starting point of my call to ministry.  The questions we were wrestling with felt big and real.  So big and real, in fact, that I’m still trying to work out precisely what God’s promise in Genesis 9 means.

I wonder how many 8 year olds in Texas or Florida or St. Martin or Puerto Rico this week are asking their parents about God’s promise never to destroy the earth or its creatures by flood.  Or how many people in Mexico are questioning the love of God in the rubble of buildings destroyed by two earthquakes in as many weeks.

Harvey.  Irma.  Maria.  Earthquakes.  Monsoons.  Mudslides.  Where is God in all this environmental upheaval?  Where are we in the midst of all this environmental upheaval?

So–climate change.  As the daughter of a scientist, I hold firmly to the fact that current upheavals in climate are the direct result of human activity.  Even so, I’ve been thinking about the argument some make—that, yes, climate is changing, but if you look at things across the eons, climate change is a constant.  From earth’s beginning, there have been ice ages and warming atmospheres, floods and droughts, earthquakes and hurricanes.  Everything is cyclical.  What we’re experiencing now is simply part of the evolutionary ebb and flow.

As an evolutionist, I like that argument…especially when you incorporate into the natural unfolding of evolution the evolution of the human brain, which has dreamed up things–the mass production of automobiles, for example– that have directly affected the environment.  When you think about it, the evolutionary argument makes a lot of sense.

Less satisfying, though, is the realization that, while climate change might be the result of a naturally unfolding evolutionary process, that process often has resulted in mass extinctions.  And dinosaurs were a much heartier lot than we human beings are. The earth might do just fine without us, but I’d like to see the human race continue for a good long while.

So now I’m beginning to wonder if the tack I’ve been taking in my own thinking might have been a little off.  For myself, and in my work as pastor, I’ve been focusing on caring for creation for creation’s sake, to love creation for itself, because creation is part of our family.  We’re all siblings, equally-beloved progeny of a loving, Creator God.

That approach certainly is theologically sound.  Living in a symbiotic and mutual relationship with creation is a key part of a vibrant faith.

The more I think about it, though, the more convinced I become that for people of faith–as much as we love creation–the more important reason to care for it, the most important reason to do everything we can to work for the mitigation of climate change is Jesus’ call to care for the least of these.  I’ve become convinced that we care for creation because we love people.  Caring for creation is a crucial way to act the least of these into wellbeing.

The devastation in Texas and the Caribbean have shown just how quickly people can be displaced by fiercer storms and rising sea levels.  Overpopulation is putting severe strains on reserves of potable water for much of the earth’s population.  In Africa, places where farming was once common, the ground no longer can sustain crops.

We’ve heard a lot about refugees the past couple of years.  Eleven million from the war in Syria—6 million internally displaced, 5 million who’ve fled the country.  In the last month alone, 415,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled genocide in Myanmar.  As severe as the current refugee crises are, another is coming that will dwarf all others—the climate refugee crisis.

Jeff Joslin, who volunteers with the Citizens Climate Lobby, also is a pilot.  He offered his services last week to help evacuate people from St. Martin after Hurricane Irma hit.

While waiting in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to fly people to Atlanta, Jeff was able to speak with crews who had been in St. Martin right after Irma hit.  He writes, The crew that flew into St. Martin reported devastation on a scale they’d never seen before. Most of the buildings in the vicinity of the airport were destroyed or heavily damaged. People were sleeping in tents. Boats unnaturally rested in places only a storm would carry them. Despite a high need for evacuations, they said they had flown out with nearly 2/3 of their seats empty. Law enforcement personnel were only letting those with the proper paperwork into the airport…and many had lost passports or other documents in the storm. The flow of evacuees slowed to a trickle.

On board our flight to the States, some passengers said they left not knowing when or if they will ever return home.  That’s the statement that hit me in the gut, Joslin writes. Some of these folks have lost nearly everything . They were leaving their homes, loved ones, and pleasant memories for a future of uncertainty, recovery, and a leap into the unknown. 

Over the next few days, Joslin writes, it dawned on me that I had carried part of a whole new generation of climate refugees. Survivors from the Caribbean and Houston were joining with displaced people worldwide fleeing drought, storm-related natural disasters and low lying islands succumbing to rising seas. They joined the 65 million refugees who have fled their homes, living day to day as trauma survivors in search of the basics: safety, food, a warm, dry bed, and hope for their children’s future.

As people of faith, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the world’s needs.  Sometimes, wouldn’t you just like to turn off the world, like you turn off your TV?  With 24 news access, sometimes we have to give ourselves permission to do just that.

And sometimes, as President Teddy Roosevelt once said, we have to “Do what we can, with what we have, where we are.”  A couple of weeks ago, the message outside read:  “The rainbow is a sign of God’s promise.  Help your neighbor!”  The saying puzzled me at first.  What’s the connection between the rainbow as a sign of God’s promise and our helping our neighbor?  As I reflected on it, I realized that when God made the rainbow promise, already God was depending on us to help fulfill the promise.  The first version of the “Do what you can” quote I pulled up on the internet imposed the quote on top of a rainbow.  Exactly!  “The rainbow is a sign of God’s promise.  Help your neighbor.”  “Do what we can, with what we have, where we are.”

What's your favorite way to reward yourself? #dothybest #selflove www.values.com

In her newsletter article this month, Christy Stanley wrote this:  At the end of each worship service, we’re reminded that Jesus has no feet or hands on earth but ours. We are the body that carries out his love. We feed those of his flock who are hungry, we clothe the naked, we visit the lonely, and we house the homeless. I have to believe that Christ could handle all of these things on his own, but he uses us. That is because serving others does just as much for our souls as it does for the people we help. By becoming Jesus’ hands and feet, we become closer to him.  With that as her introduction, Christy went on to invite all of us to experience nearness to Jesus by helping out with Family Promise.

We’ve had lots of conversations recently about Family Promise.  We’re a relatively small congregation; we wondered if we have enough volunteers to make it work.  It’s a legitimate concern.  To help address it, I’m in the process of talking with some other faith groups in our area to see if we might enlarge our pool of volunteers.  You might know of others who would like to help serve.  I’m hopeful about that initiative.

Hosting Family Promise requires close attention to LOTS of logistics.  It’s important that we know what our resources are and offer only what we can realistically give.  In some of the conversations I’ve had this week, though, I’ve come to recognize that logistics are only a small part of our participation in Family Promise.  Camilla Worrell, Executive Director for Family Promise of Cobb County, has said two things about Pilgrimage’s participation.  First, she’s said that the diversity of our congregation is a real gift to the rest of the Family Promise network.  Second—and this is something she’s said from the beginning—“When guest families talk about Pilgrimage, they always say, ‘When we go there, we know we’re loved.’”  Until talking with Camilla this week, I didn’t realize that among congregations in the Family Promise network, we are a leader…not in our facility or other resources, but in love.  We lead with love.  Which is kind of the whole point of the Jesus thing, right?

I had a conversation this week about what “preaching the good news” entails.  I know naming the world’s troubles doesn’t often feel like good news.  In fact, it often leads to despair.

Here’s what I’m starting to wonder, though.  I’m starting to wonder if the good news isn’t so much something we proclaim as something we live?  Have you ever thought that maybe WE are God’s good news?   Maybe it is our actions, our service to others, our hospitality, and our advocacy, that proclaim God’s good news to the hurting world.  Maybe we are God’s best hopes for the world.  Are we God’s good news?  If so, “Start spreading the news…”

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

Kimberleigh Buchanan  © 2017



Sermon: “How Shall We Pray for Creation?” (Rom. 8:18-27) [9/17/17]
09.18.17

I called my mom Monday night so we could compare notes on Irma.  “I went out to see if I could get some gas,” she told me.  “But Mom!  Everybody’s supposed to stay indoors until Tuesday!”  “I know,” she said.  “But I only have 4 gallons of gas.  I wanted to go out and see if any gas stations were open.  None were.”  Which meant she now had less than 4 gallons.  “How am I going to get to my bridge games without gas?”  That’s my mom.  ��

I suspect Mom mostly wanted to see what damage the storm had done.  She mentioned that trees were down, some of them twisted off, as if they’d been hit by tornadoes.  “It was a ghost town,” Mom said.  Because everyone else was staying home like they were supposed to!!!

The pull to see damage done by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma is strong, isn’t it?  All that water.  All that destruction.  Or the flooding and mudslides in southern Asia and Africa.  I’m not sure what that’s about, the need to see pictures of the aftermath of natural disasters.  Maybe it’s because we’re just trying to wrap our minds around it.  Seeing houses submerged in several feet of water is surreal.  It takes a minute for our minds to make sense of what we’re seeing.  Imagining the devastating loss to the houses’ owners and what it will take to clean up and rebuild…that can get overwhelming very fast.  Or maybe we view those pictures out of relief that we can view them…that we’re safely ensconced in our own homes, watching the coverage on our TVs or laptops, gazing out on our dry yards.

Or maybe…we seek out pictures of natural disasters because we want to see how our family’s doing…not our family family (unless they were in the path of the storm).  Our creation family.

A couple weeks ago, we looked at Psalm 139:15 which says, “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.”  That image of being “intricately woven in the depths of the earth”– there is a sense in which dirt runs through our veins, isn’t there?…because we are one with creation.  We are part of creation.

The theme of our kinship—our one-ness–with creation continues today in Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Creation suffers; we suffer.  Creation groans; we groan.  Creation is not yet what it will be; we aren’t yet what we will be.  Creation awaits–hopes for–redemption, for transformation.  We also await and hope for redemption and transformation.  And God’s Spirit intercedes for us all–we ourselves and the rest of creation, too.  God’s Spirit seeks only and always to act all of creation, including ourselves, into wellbeing.

This text is rich, theologically dense.  It would be a delight to take it apart layer by layer and experience all the wisdom it has to offer…but that would take long enough we’d probably have to stay overnight.  I don’t want to wear anyone out before we host Family Promise.

So, I invite us to focus on the first two verses, which read:  “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.”  Paul acknowledges the suffering of the present age.  Paul was well-acquainted with suffering.  As a Pharisee, he’d inflicted a lot of it.  As a Christian missionary, he’d received a lot of it.

In these verses, Paul sets suffering in its larger context.  Why is there suffering in the first place? He asks.  It’s because we’ve been created–human beings and the rest of creation–with a sell-by date.  Decay of our bodies, of creation’s body, is part of lived experience.  Our sell-by date, though, is a gift.  When we know our finitude, life becomes more precious…the desire to make it better, to grow, to act it into wellbeing has more meaning.

…which is why, I suspect, Paul says– “creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.”  Creation waits for human beings to become who they are created by God to be because as human beings become who they are created by God to be, creation will be empowered to become more fully itself, as well.  Creation longs, is desperate for human beings to become our best selves.  Its survival depends on it.  Because we are all connected.  We’re all related.  We’re all part of the same family.  We are kin.

In all the debate we hear these days about climate change and earth care and deregulation, that’s the piece that always seems to be missing.  It’s like creation is something apart from us, something we have to control or protect.  It’s like creation is some thing that’s completely separate from us.

This idea that we are kin with creation isn’t just a theological concept; it’s also a scientific fact.  NASA scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson said this:  “The atoms of our bodies are traceable to stars that manufactured them in their cores and exploded these enriched ingredients across our galaxy, billions of years ago. For this reason, we are biologically connected to every other living thing in the world. We are chemically connected to all molecules on Earth. And we are atomically connected to all atoms in the universe. We are not figuratively, but literally stardust.”

I wonder how all the debates about climate change would change if we remembered—and felt—our kinship with earth?  I wonder how our prayers might change?

So…how shall we pray for creation?  How shall we love it?  How shall we act creation into wellbeing?

I could tell you how to pray for creation; I could give you a list.  I could tell you how to love creation, how to act it into wellbeing…but each of you has your own relationship with creation.  Praying for creation isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of thing.  Each of us prays for creation in our own way, based on our own personal relationship with it.  You’re going to know way better than I will what way is best for you to pray for creation.

So, here’s what let’s do.  Take a few minutes to either turn around in your chair and look out the windows, or look out the doors and reconnect with creation.  You might also remember a time when you were out in creation…if so, put yourself back in that place.  Close your eyes if you need to.  Do you want to know how to pray for creation, how to love it, how to act it into wellbeing?  Ask it…  (Three minutes of silence)

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Each of us prays for creation in our own way.  Some of us with words, some of us with silence, some of us with groans…some of us pray with outdoor play, while others of us pray with advocacy…  And some of us just sit quietly in meditation.  We have many ways to pray for creation.  As we close, hear how St. Francis prayed for and through creation in the 13th century.

Praised be You, my beloved, with all Your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day and through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor;
and bears a likeness of You, Most High One.
Praised be You, my beloved, through Sister Moon and the stars,
in heaven You formed them clear and precious and beautiful.
Praised be You, my beloved, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather,
through whom You give sustenance to Your creatures.
Praised be You, my beloved, through Sister Water,
who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
Praised be You, my beloved, through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night,
and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.
Praised be You, my beloved, through our Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains and governs us,
and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs.

That’s how Francis prayed creation.  How will you pray for creation?  How will you love it?  How will you act it into wellbeing?   (Silence)

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



Sermon: “Be the Church” (Acts 2:42-47) [9/10/17]
09.11.17

Hi, everybody.  So.  What brought you here this morning?  Curiosity?  A need for prayer?  A need for community?  A need to picnic?  Are you here out of habit?  Because your mom–or spouse–said so?  Or to avoid going somewhere else?  Have you come this morning to see Michael, Devon, or Maddie…or the colors?  Why have you come to church this morning?

If you’ve been coming here a while, what keeps you coming back?  Prayer time?  Service opportunities?  Commitment to social justice?  Music?  Sermons?  Spirituality?  Small groups?

Do you ever wish we had a few more people?  Man!  With a few more people we could staff Family Promise like that!  And we could get those 3 R’s knocked out lickety split.  With more people, replacing the Next Generation House would be a simple task.  If only we had a few more people!

So, how do we get more people?  If we follow the lead of the first communities of Jesus’ followers, the first step in getting more people is to stop worrying about getting more people.  From the get-go, the Jesus community has attracted newcomers.  We see it at the beginning with Pentecost, when God’s Spirit swoops in, Peter preaches, and 3,000 people join the Jesus movement in a single day.

At the end of all the excitement of Pentecost, the new faithful join together in smaller communities.  House churches, they’re sometimes called.  And wouldn’t you know?  People join those communities, too.  Listen.

Ann/Kathleen:            They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Kim:                            And people fell all over themselves to join the community!  

 

Ann/Kathleen:             Um, that’s not what it says here.

Kim:                            Are you sure?  

 

Ann/Kathleen:             Yes.  I’m sure.  Mind if I continue?

 

Kim:                            Oh, sure.  Please.

 

Ann/Kathleen:             Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.

 

Kim:                            Wonders and signs!  That must have done the trick, right?  

 

Ann/Kathleen:             Nope.  Don’t think so.  May I?  (Kim nods.)  44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.

Kim:                            Come on!  Where are all the new members?

 

Ann/Kathleen:             Have patience, Pastor.  46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts,

Kim:                            Yeah, yeah, yeah…

 

Ann/Kathleen:             Praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

 

Kim:                            Well, Hallelujah!  At last!

 

Ann/Kathleen:             If you respond to these words, then for you they have become the word of the living God.  Thanks be to God!

 

We looked at this passage on Visioning Day Saturday before last.  I hope it’s beginning to sound familiar.  As we engaged our theme of “Building a Stronger Community” this summer, we often came back to these verses.             On Visioning Day, someone shared this insight.  According to this text, people didn’t just come up to one of these house churches, knock on the door and say, “Hey!  I want to join!”  The passage doesn’t begin with people joining the community.

In fact, people joining the community happens almost as an afterthought, or a P.S.  The main event is everything that comes before—studying, praying, worshiping, fellowshipping, eating, taking care of one another’s needs.  Following the structure of this passage, it’s not a matter of join the church then do these things.  It’s a matter of the church being church, of church doing church, then the energy created by the church doing and being these things spilling over into the wider community.  When people see what’s happening at the church on the hill, they want whatever those Jesus followers are having….

I feel like things are starting to happen here at Pilgrimage.  Do you feel it, too?  An energy…a hopefulness…a renewed belief in wild possibilities…  It feels like we’re waking up to the realization that people in our north metro area are eager, desperate to experience God’s love in authentic ways.  They’re longing for a place just like Pilgrimage.

I believe we are on the cusp of something new and exciting and potentially life-changing.  We’re on the verge of a seismic shift into doing and being church in new and profoundly creative ways.  Like the Egyptian mothers whose labor midwives Shiphrah and Puah attended, I sense that we are in labor, about to give birth.  Like Jesus in his encounter with the Canaanite woman, we’re getting a glimpse of just how far God’s love extends.  Like Peter in the midst of the storm, I sense that we are poised on the rim of the boat, almost ready to step out onto the sea and do something we’ve never done before, something we’ve thought impossible, something our faith in Jesus is just beginning to help us imagine.

We’ve been doing good work here at Pilgrimage for nearly 4 decades.  Hospitality is in this congregation’s DNA.  The fact that we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of our decision to become ONA is testimony to that.  In the decade and a half that I’ve been here, we’ve continued to grow by leaps and bounds in extending an extravagant welcome to others in Jesus’ name.  We have so much to be proud of in our efforts to live God’s love in the world, to act others into wellbeing in God’s name.

But I sense in this moment, at this time, in this place that God is calling us to something new… something energizing…something exciting…something that will help us help the world to know of and come to believe in God’s love for them.

So, how do we figure it out?  How do we figure out to what new thing God is calling us?  The short answer is simple:  “Be the church.”  Continue doing the things communities of Jesus’ followers have always done—study, fellowship together, break bread together, pray, worship, take care of one another’s needs, extend God’s love to those outside the community.  If we want to find our way forward as a church, the place to begin is to focus again on being church.

In your bulletins, you’ll find a worksheet I created for Visioning Day.  It includes the “being church” activities listed in Acts 2:42-47 and two columns—(1) what we do and (2) what we might do.  We weren’t able to fill in those blanks on Visioning Day, so I sent it out in an email a few days later.  One saintly person responded.  Sigh.  In just a second, we’ll have a few minutes to reflect and offer responses.

Or you might prefer to work on the other side of the sheet.  The visioning process we’re using was designed by Kennon Callahan.  “12 Keys of an Effective Church,” it’s called.  The planning team has been working since May on this process.  As part of that process, a survey was sent out a couple of months ago asking you to rate the 12 keys in terms of how strong each is in our community.  The six strengths we identified and that helped focus our Visioning Day process are listed on the back of the Acts 2 worksheet:  (1) One mission outreach and one major program;  (2)  High visibility;  (3)  Stirring, helpful worship;  (4)  Significant relational groupings and shepherding;  (5)  Generous giving;  and (6) Strong leadership Team and Solid decision process.  As you came in this morning, you saw some of the brainstorming sheets from our conversations about each area.  We hope you’ll add your thoughts and ideas to the sheets.

Central to the 12 keys process is focusing on the positive.  It’s a little counterintuitive.  If you’ve got a weakness, the tendency is to throw all your energy into fixing the weakness.  For us, that probably would mean focusing all our energy on improving our facility.

Callahan’s approach is to identify our strengths then build on them.  “Grow them forward,” is the language he uses.  The thinking is that focusing on our strengths will have the happy benefit of also shoring up areas in which we’re less strong.  I will say that on Visioning Day, focusing on the positive was very energizing.  And hard.  It’s so much easier to complain, to rush to fix what’s broken.  But when we focus on things we’re doing well, ideas for tweaking areas that aren’t as strong begin to emerge.  And those ideas emerge with tremendous energy, even excitement.  When we only focus on what’s wrong, coming up with ways to “fix” those things can be very dispiriting.

So, we’re going to take a few minutes to do some reflecting on either side of worksheet—remember to focus on the positive!  If something emerges, an idea or action that you would like to offer to the community in the service of being and strengthening the church, I invite you to tear off a small piece of paper, write down your offering, sign it if you want to (though that’s not necessary), and put it in the offering plate as it is passed in just a moment.  (5 minutes)

 

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

Kimberleigh Buchanan  © 2017



Sermon: “Intricately Woven in the Depths of the Earth” (Psalm 139:13-16) [9/3/17] by reallifepastor
09.04.17

I had my first experience of going viral this week.  Not to worry.  It was just a 24 hour bug.  And I’m pretty sure it’s not contagious.  In response to the Nashville Statement issued on Tuesday by evangelical leaders that roundly excludes LGBT folks from the church, Thursday, I put up the message you saw on your way up the drive this morning, “The Jesus Statement:  All Are Welcome.”

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Thanks to lots of folks sharing the picture—including a blog with a following of 30,000 people—the picture soon went viral…okay, viral-ish.  As of yesterday, the picture had been seen by about 8,000 people, reacted to by 371, and shared 113 times.  It’s not a flock of panda cubs rolling around at the zoo, but I confess, it gave me a bit of a rush…

But when the hits stopped coming—about 24 hours later—I crashed.  I kept checking my phone, desperate to see if there might be some more likes or shares.  There were very few.

Coming down off the viral high, I began to reflect on what had happened.  “Going viral” is an important form of advertising these days.  We are blessed to have folks among us—like Trudy Stoddert and Holly CothranDrake—who know how to use Facebook to get the word out about Pilgrimage.  Trudy did a “push” of the post with the sign, which got us more views. We’ve been talking lately about how many people in our area are looking for a church community like Pilgrimage.  Facebook is an effective and inexpensive way to get the word out about who we are to the people most interested in finding a community like ours.

But…That rush I felt from reactions to the post got me thinking…  I wonder if, as a society, we have become addicted to attention.  Going viral has become the holy grail.  The more people who see your post, the better.  Which means we tend to post things that are outrageous– outrageously cute or weird or strident or witty, because we want the attention.  And we often end up posting gut-reactions rather than well thought out statements because we want to post quickly to catch people while they’re still interested.  Had I waited until today to post the sign picture, it might have gotten a sniffle, but certainly no virus.

Even as I tallied up the likes and shares, though, I realized that I—and many of our go-to progressive Christian bloggers—were doing what we often do:  we were reacting to fundamentalist Christians.  We posted messages and pictures and memes and signs that declared first and foremost, “We’re not those kinds of Christians.”

Don’t get me wrong.  It is important to speak out against statements that purport to be Christian but don’t seem to have anything to do with Jesus.  But is beating up on Christian fundamentalists really all we have to offer those who are desperate to hear the good news of God’s love for them?  Is reacting to negative portrayals of Christianity an effective way to share the faith of Jesus?

As important as going viral is these days—even for faith communities—I still think the most effective way of sharing the good news of God’s love for others is to love others…to love our neighbor…to love our enemies.  To love the earth.

One of the greatest dangers of our addiction to attention is that we’re getting less adept at sustaining interest in any given topic these days—because staying engaged means putting up with the boring parts, too.  We don’t like the boring parts—because they’re so boring.  And they don’t get likes, much less shares.  Earth care, particularly climate justice, is a case in point.

I’ve seen many articles in the last week that explore the connection between stronger storms, like Hurricane Harvey and the monsoons inundating southern Asia, and climate change.  You’ve probably read them, too.  As ocean temperatures rise, warmer water contributes to higher intensity storms, which pour larger amounts of rain on affected areas. Hurricane Harvey dumped 50 inches of rain onto Texas.  That’s a trillion gallons…nearly five times as much rain as Katrina brought 12 years ago.  As sea levels rise and shrink mainland boundaries—and swallow islands all together—storm surge damage increases.  The list of dire consequences of climate change grows daily.

We can leave the job of cataloging the physical effects of climate change to the scientists.  As people of faith, our job is different, though no less vital.  Our job is to make caring for earth a matter of prayer and worship.  And love.

Today begins the season of creation, a time when we remember our connection to everything God created.  I was puzzled when I saw the verses chosen for today.  It’s a great text; it’ll preach all day long.  But it focuses on human beings.  For it was you, God, who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Lovely.  But what does it have to do with creation, other than the creation of human beings?

When I read the next verse, I understood.  “My frame was not hidden from you”—this frame God was knitting together in our mothers’ wombs—“when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.”  Wait a minute!  God was just knitting us together in our mothers’ wombs.  How did we end up in the dirt?

Psalms are poetry.  What we have in these verses is poetic parallelism, two ways of describing a single thing.  I suspect the allusion the psalmist is making here is to Genesis 2 and the creation of the first person, Adam, which literally means “earth.”  Adam was created out of, born out of mud.  Talk about “intricately woven in the depths of the earth!”

What if we are?  What if we are—literally—children of the earth?  What if we are that intimately connected to the rest of creation?  In her poem, “White Flowers,” Mary Oliver describes just how “intricately woven in the depths of the earth” we are.

Have you ever rested on the “porous line” Oliver describes?  Have you ever felt that intimately connected to creation?  My guess is all of us have…at the beach, in the mountains, working in a garden, watching a solar eclipse…

So, if we are that intimately connected to creation, if we are “intricately woven in the depths of the earth,” if we can’t tell where our body ends and earth’s begins, how can we possibly allow our interest in earth’s wellbeing to wane?  If changes in climate already are affecting so many people, most of them poor (41 million have been affected by the monsoons in southern Asia), how can we let anything as trivial as another news cycle distract us from the important work of mitigating climate change?  Why aren’t we working every minute of every day to convince our legislators to enact laws that will reduce greenhouse gases?

I’m going to stop there…because some of you—all of us—are probably starting to feel overwhelmed.  And guilty.  And, maybe, hopeless.  That’s because we have kind hearts and want to do whatever we can to act the earth into wellbeing.  But it’s just so hard, isn’t it?  The problems are too big.  Our efforts too small.

But there is a gift we people of faith can give in global efforts to slow climate change—we can remind ourselves and others that all creation is connected and that what connects us is our creator, the one who created every living thing out of, with, and for one purpose:  love.

As people of faith, as followers of Jesus, the greatest gift we can give in the wake of climate crisis, is the gift of love…which means doing everything we can to act earth into wellbeing—convincing our legislators to enact laws that will reduce greenhouse gases; becoming active in organizations like the Citizens Climate Lobby; continuing to gather with our Pilgrimage climate group (which still needs a convener); spending time out in creation.

And maybe the best way to act earth into wellbeing is give it our sustained attention…not only when hurricanes blow in or when dire reports from scientists make the news cycle…but every moment of every day…no matter how many likes or shares we get.

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

Kimberleigh Buchanan ©2017



Sermon: “Light in the Darkness” (Ex. 1:8-2:10) [8/27/17]
08.29.17

On February 26, 1979, Yakima, Washington, saw a total solar eclipse.  Writer Annie Dillard and her husband Gary, drove from their home on Washington’s coast to experience it.  Like we did last Monday.  Some of us saw a partial eclipse, while others traveled to locales within the path of “totality.”  If you were to write about Monday’s eclipse, what would you say?

In an essay titled, “Total Eclipse,” written two years after the big event, Dillard struggles to find words adequate to her experience of totality.  It’s like the context of everything– day/night, earth/sky, light/dark, real/surreal –shifted to a point beyond which words can reach.  The closest she can come is poetic stabs in the dark, like:  “I was standing in a movie of hillside grasses filmed in the Middle Ages.”  She’s relieved when, later that morning at a restaurant, someone describes the eclipsed sun in the dark sky with its glowing corona as a lifesaver.  That mundane image ushered Dillard back into the reality she was used to inhabiting.

Another part of the eclipse-viewing experience Dillard considers is the scream.  Just as the blackness began slipping over the face of the sun, many of those gathered screamed.

Dillard wonders if the scream wasn’t so much in response to the eclipse as it was to what happened just before it.  She writes:  “The second before the sun went out we saw a wall of dark shadow come speeding at us.  We no sooner saw it than it was upon us, like thunder.  It roared up the valley.  It slammed our hill and knocked us out.  It was the monstrous swift shadow cone of the moon.  I have since read that this wave of shadow moves 1,800 miles an hour.  Language can give no sense of this sort of speed–1,800 miles an hour.  It was 195 miles wide.  No end was in sight–you saw only the edge.  It rolled at you across the land at 1,800 miles an hour, hauling darkness like plague behind it.  Seeing it, and knowing it was coming straight for you, was like feeling a slug of anesthetic shoot up your arm.  If you think very fast, you may have time to think, ‘Soon it will hit my brain.”  You can feel the deadness race up your arm; you can feel the appalling, inhuman speed of your own blood.  We saw the wall of shadow coming, and screamed before it hit.”  (Teaching a Stone to Talk, 25)

I wonder how quickly the shadow of slavery overtook the Israelites in Egypt.  Did it seize them all at once?  Or did it creep in incremental edicts and micro-whittling of rights?  Ancient Chinese people responded to total solar eclipses by yelling at them until they went away.  If slavery came as sudden onslaught, surely the Israelites as a people would have screamed it away.

So, maybe it was a slow thing.  They’re living their lives, adjusting each decade, each year, each month to the methodical erosion of their self-determination when one day, they wake up enslaved.  Then every day becomes like every day before it… Dig the mud.  Make the bricks.  Work hard.  Work fast.  Go home tired.  Get up tomorrow and do it all again.

Even enslaved the Israelites threaten the Egyptians.  More bricks are demanded.  Less straw is given.  Odd, isn’t it?  That the oppressors have more faith in the Israelites’ power than the Israelites?

Then, terrified by the exploding population of Israelites, the Egyptians begin a true reign of terror, deepening the darkness that already hangs like a pall over the Israelites.  Pharaoh calls the Hebrew midwives in and tells them to kill all the boy babies as soon as they are born.

Shiphrah and Puah, these brave women are called.  Enslaved women.  Midwives.  Doing women’s work.  Ushering new human beings into the cold life of slavery.

But even in the deepening darkness, Shiphrah and Puah see subtle shifts in light.  When the landscape is seized by surreal alterations—triggered by Pharaoh’s heinous command–when light shifts, when darker darkness rolls in, Shiphrah and Puah are ready.  They scream.

But not loudly.  They scream quietly…in furtive glances to and from birthings, in reassuring smiles to fearful laboring mothers, in full command of the power of their roles, even in the mundane, everyday work in which they engage…  They scream quietly when summoned to a puzzled Pharaoh, who frets over a greater abundance of Hebrew boy-children since his edict.  Shiphrah and Puah scream their quiet reply dripping obeisance, “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.”  What’s a midwife to do?  Pharaoh then sends his own henchmen to dispatch the baby boys.

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Except that one.  Born to a Levite and his strong, brilliant wife.  A mother who wove a basket, waterproofed it, placed her child in it, and sent it down the Nile in the direction of Pharaoh’s house.  The baby is discovered by a servant of Pharaoh’s daughter.  Moses’ sister Miriam emerges from the reeds and ever so innocently asks if she should find a wet nurse for the child…a ploy that reunites baby and mother.  Once he is weaned, Moses’ mother gives the child to Pharaoh’s daughter, who raises Moses as the grandson of a king, a stature that eventually will help Moses lead the Israelites to freedom.

Shiphrah and Puah.  Whenever I mention Shiphrah and Puah to folks, I usually get blank stares, which always makes me sad.  There should be statues somewhere to these brave, brave women!  Talk about women who were told what to do, but nevertheless persisted!  Those women were brave!  And smart.  And compassionate.  And courageous.

And their courage was contagious.  Just look at what their one decision to defy Pharaoh led to—their creativity inspired Moses’ mother to her own courageous, creative act….which in turn led to the courageous, creative action taken by Pharaoh’s daughter…which in turn led to Miriam’s courageous, creative act…all of which led, eventually, to Moses’ courageous, creative act of leading the Israelites out of slavery.

What darkness hangs like a pall over you right now?  Is it chronic illness?  Addiction?  Debt?  Is it fear of the effects of climate change?  Of intensifying racism?  Of the rapidly widening gap between rich and poor in our country and the world?  Is it an unsettledness at just how fast the world is changing, a rate of speed with which you can’t keep up?  Is it fear of bullies, or fear for those who are bullied?  Is it concern for a loved one who struggles with mental illness?  Is it broken relationships you desperately want to be healed?  Is it being in limbo, waiting for a new job to appear, or for a diagnosis to come in, or for deliberations finally to crystallize into a decision?

What darkness hangs over us?  What deeper darkness rushes toward us faster than we can register?  And how in the world do we follow Shiphrah and Puah’s courageous example and find the light in this darkest of nights?

In our own time of darkness, we can look for light in the same places Shiphrah and Puah looked for it—inside ourselves and in our togetherness.

Do you know about bioluminescence?  Down in the depths of the ocean live tiny creatures who, when threatened, emit their own light.  Yes.  Through some evolution-ordained biochemical process, they create their own light to defeat the power of darkness and the scary things that hide there.  When the darkness deepened around them, Shiphrah and Puah used the light within each of them to scream at the darkness—the light of their skill and experience as midwives.  They didn’t have to gain new skill; they didn’t have to pray up some super-human strength.  They only had to believe fully in the important work they already were doing—assisting women in childbirth—and go with it.

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Another source of light Shiphrah and Puah’s story reveals is the light of their togetherness.  In his UCC devotion this week, Quinn Caldwell describes the kind of light I’m talking about.  The devotion reflects on Psalm 124, which reads:   the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us; then over us would have gone the raging waters.    
Quinn tells the story of two women who visited Panama City Beach earlier this summer.  “They  heard screams and saw two young boys hundreds of feet from shore.  The boys had gotten caught in a rip current and couldn’t get back. There being no lifeguards on duty, the women went out on boogie boards to try to save them, and got stuck themselves.  Multiple other rescue attempts failed, until there were nine people caught in the water and in danger of drowning.

“That’s when the people on the beach realized that no single person was going to be able to save them. This was a problem that was bigger than any one swimmer, even a strong one, could handle.  So one by one, then ten by ten by ten, they linked arms, forming a human chain reaching out toward the stranded swimmers.  And having made their human bodies into one huge super-human body, they plucked those swimmers from the waters and passed them back to shore.  Not one person died that day on Panama City Beach.”

Image result for panama city beach rescue human chain picture

 

One imagines today’s Scripture story going much differently had it only been Shiphrah or Puah.  One midwife defying Pharaoh…it’s hard to imagine how that could have worked.  But two midwives?  Two midwives, drawing on their own inner strength, letting their individual lights shine…joining their lights together…provided a means of liberation for their entire people.

Here at Pilgrimage, we have no pall of darkness hanging over us, nor any ominous cone of darkness rushing to overtake us.  There is so much light here!  There is light within each of us, just waiting to shine forth.  There’s even more light we can create by joining our individual lights together.  There are so many who would find this place, literally, a life saver for them.  How might we become the beacon they need?  How might we join our hands together to form a chain that can reach them?  How might we become the light the world is so desperate to see?   “This Little Light of Mine”

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

Kimberleigh Buchanan  ©2017



Sermon: “What Shall We Do with Our Privilege?” (Mt. 15:10-28) [8/20/17]
08.21.17

In light of all that transpired in Charlottesville last weekend, there have been cries for white Christian pastors to denounce white supremacy.  The cries are disheartening for this white Christian pastor…because they suggest that, in our society, the public isn’t sure any more where the faith of Jesus stands on an issue as morally un-ambiguous as this one.

So, let me be clear.  Racism is sin.  That means that white supremacy, which is organized overt racism, also is sin.  Anti-Semitism is sin.  Inciting violence is sin.  Refusing to denounce sin that is so obviously sin is sin.

What is sin?  Sin is whatever diminishes a child of God.  Sin is whatever gets in the way of someone becoming who God is creating them to be.  Sin is spitting in the eye of the Creator.

Was marching with torches chanting Nazi slogans sin?  Yes, it was sin.  Was lashing out with violence sin?  Yes, it was sin.  Was intentionally speeding into a crowd of counter- protesters, killing one and injuring 19 sin?  Yes, it was sin.  That act could only be accomplished by seeing the human beings in front of you as less than human.

I get how crucial it is to denounce the sin of racism.  I get how important it is to remove symbols of hatred like the Confederate flag and statues.  I hear the cries to speak out against all forms of hate-speech and hateful actions.  Speaking out is important.

But then what?  Once the words have been spoken, what actions will follow?

In her book, The Power to Speak, theologian Rebecca Chopp describes the church’s role as two related movements:  denouncing sin and announcing grace.  She writes eloquently of the power of words, of how rhetoric shapes reality.  Because rhetoric matters, it is crucial for the church to denounce everything that diminishes the dignity of any person.

But if all we do is denounce sin, what have we accomplished?  Naming the sin of racism is important, but how will it be transformed?  How will we be transformed?

Chopp reminds us that denouncing sin is only the first step of the church’s job.  The second–equally necessary–step is announcing grace.  What is grace?  Grace is the radical acceptance of every child of God for who they are created by God to be.  If a person can’t leave their home or drive their car or express frustration without fear of retributive violence, they are not living as God has created them to live.  By the same token, if a person only feels powerful when they diminish someone else, they’re not living as God has created them to live.  Diminishing someone else’s humanity, diminishes our own.

So, what might announcing grace in response to systemic racism look like?

This might seem counter-intuitive, but the first word of grace we speak must be directed to ourselves.  For thoughtful Christians–especially those of us who are white and are aware of our privilege–it’s easy to feel guilt, even shame, simply for being white.  I’m not saying the shame isn’t real or warranted…but to let ourselves become mired in shame disempowers us, paralyzes us.  And if we’re paralyzed, we aren’t able to do the work of transformation.

Beating up on ourselves for our white privilege—which is itself an act of privilege—also prevents us from seeing the bigger picture of systemic racism.  In truth, all of us are caught in the web of racism.  Our actions are not entirely our own.  The white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville last weekend, didn’t just appear out of nowhere.  Those views have been held by people in our country for centuries.  Feeling greater acceptance of their views currently, those folks have been emboldened to act on their views.  Certainly, each person who marched made their own decision to be there and to bring riot gear and torches…but there also is a social framework in place that made what they did possible, that made it easier for them to act.

Which is exactly why systemic racism must be transformed.  If a racist structure creates space for racist behavior, to what behaviors might a more life-giving societal structure lead?

Have you picked up yet that we’re talking about the kindom of God here?  This thing of transforming religious and societal structures so that every person has everything they need to live and thrive and become who God created them to be?  Jesus came to show us how to do that.  As Jesus’ followers, it is the work to which we, too, are called.

So, what does Jesus show us today about making God’s dreams for the world come true?

First, he teaches a lesson warning the disciples not to interpret religious laws too rigidly.  “It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles,” he says.  He’s referring here to strict dietary laws the Pharisees vigorously enforced.  “It’s what comes out of a mouth that defiles.”

When the disciples ask for an explanation, Jesus tells them, “Whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer.”  Thanks for the digestion lesson, Jesus!  “But what comes out of the mouth”—what we say—“proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.”  What we do matters, but what we do with intention—what proceeds from our hearts—matters most.  Rigid interpretation of the law isn’t the point.  A changed heart is the point.

It’s a good, clearly-taught lesson.  If only Jesus had listened to his own words.

Matthew tells us Jesus left that place” (Galilee) “and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon,” a place inhabited by Gentiles, people with no knowledge of the law.

One of those inhabitants runs up and starts shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”   So, this is interesting.  To this point, few people have recognized Jesus as Lord—think, Messiah—but this Gentile, this foreigner, knows who Jesus is.  How does Jesus respond?  “He doesn’t answer her at all.”

When his disciples ask Jesus to send the woman away, he says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”   The woman responds to these words by kneeling in front of Jesus.  “Lord, help me,” she says.  Seeing her, Jesus says, “It’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  Excuse me?!  Talk about rigidly interpreting religious law!  Undeterred by his rudeness, and still desperate for her child to be healed, the woman says, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  Snap!

I’m not going to lie.  Jesus doesn’t look good here.  He’s rude and unbending in his interpretation of the law and of his role as God’s Messiah.  And considering the lesson he’d just taught warning against rigid interpretations of the law, he’s also looking a tad hypocritical.

But then, he gets a clue.  The woman’s comeback, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table,” wakes Jesus up to his prejudice.  “Great is your faith!” he tells her.  “Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter is healed instantly.”

Did that line surprise you–“wakes Jesus up to his prejudice?”  Jesus?  Prejudiced?  Most commentators struggle to go there.  If Jesus was God, he couldn’t do anything wrong, could he?  For Jesus to learn something—from a foreign Gentile woman, no less—is to suggest that he wasn’t already perfect.  That possibility makes lots of interpreters nervous.

But what if he did?  What if Jesus did learn something from that woman about who is included in the kindom (everybody) and who isn’t (nobody)?  What if a key part of making God’s dreams for the world come true is to listen to and learn from people who are different from us, people who, perhaps, we might even look down on?  What if the first step of creating God’s kindom here on earth as it is in heaven is confronting our own prejudices, acknowledging our own privilege?  It’s kind of hard to use our privilege—white or otherwise—to transform systemic evils like racism without waking up to that privilege, right?

That’s the example Jesus gives us:  immersed in, shaped by, and loyal to the social and religious norms of his day, he listened to someone whose social location and life experience were vastly different from his own.  He took in her words, he faced the prejudice she was pointing out, then he used his privilege—as a man, as a Jewish teacher, as God’s Messiah—he used his privilege to heal the woman’s child.

Ultimately, that’s what all this is about, isn’t it?  Facing our prejudices, waking up to our privilege, then using our privilege to transform all forms of injustice, including racism…we do it all for the sake of the children.

The saddest picture I saw this week—I hope to goodness it was fake news—the saddest picture I saw this week was of a toddler in a Klan outfit.  A toddler.

The most hopeful thing I saw this week happened at 10:00 worship last Sunday.  At one point, I looked up and saw Sunny Alexander coming in the door with Devon Hill-Kalasky on her hip.  I did a double take and thought, Wait a minute!  That’s the wrong kid!  But after the initial puzzlement, I realized just how appropriate it was for someone besides Devon’s parents to be holding him.  We’re all Devon’s parents, aren’t we?  And Maddie’s.  And Noah’s.  And Eli’s.  And Aiden’s.  And Hannah’s.  And Jake’s.  And Maggie’s.  And Mia’s.

These are our children.  At their baptisms we promised, by the grace of God, to be Christ’s disciples, to follow in the way of our Savior, to resist oppression and evil, to show love and justice, and to witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ as best we are able.  We promised, according to the grace given us, to grow with these children in the Christian faith… and to nurture them so that, one day, they may affirm their baptisms.  We promised them our love, support, and care.

Image result for picture children different races

How will we keep our promises to the children?  How will we keep our own baptismal vows?  How will we “resist oppression and evil and show love and justice?”  How will we use our privilege to help heal the world?

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



Sermon: “When the Storm Rages” (Mt. 14:22-33) [8/13/17]
08.14.17

“You of little faith, why did you doubt?”  That’s what Jesus says to Peter as he hauls him out of the sea during a raging storm.  This, after Peter asked to walk on water, stepped out of the boat, and actually did it.  When his faith faltered, Jesus could have said something like, “Good job, Peter!  That big gust of wind unnerved you a little, but until then?  Man, you were rocking it!”  Instead, Jesus questions Peter’s faith.  “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Do you like this story?  I’m not a fan.  Faith is hard enough as it is.  Ragging on people because they don’t believe every second of every day… Maybe hearing this story is hard because I suspect my response in the same circumstances would have been similar to Peter’s.  Nobody wants to hear Jesus ask them, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Tell you what.  Let’s give Peter a rest for a minute and look at the story instead from Jesus’ perspective.  What led Jesus to walk on the water?  What led him to invite Peter to join him on the sea?  What led Jesus to ask Peter, ‘Why did you doubt?’”

Today’s story begins with Jesus sending the disciples away, then heading up a mountainside by himself to pray.  He did the same thing at the beginning of last week’s story about feeding the 5,000…well, he went out in a boat that time, but still, he was seeking solitude.

Why the sudden need for private reflection?

Earlier, Matthew tells us the impetus for Jesus’ sudden search for solitude was the execution of John the Baptist.  As soon as Jesus learns of John’s death, he goes out in a boat by himself.  The crowds come, he teaches them, feeds them, then, the minute they go home, he scurries up the mountain for more private prayer.

What was it about John’s death that propelled Jesus into all this reflection and prayer?  What was he working out?  And how might it relate to his encounter with Peter?

A lot of the relationship between Jesus and John in the Gospel of Matthew has to do with identity.  John is clear from the get-go that he is not the promised one, but the announcer of the promised one, like the prophets of old.  When Jesus comes to John for baptism, John demurs, saying he’s the one who needs to be baptized by Jesus.  Then he relents and baptizes Jesus.

After his baptism, God’s Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness.  Each temptation Jesus experiences in the wilderness helps him get clearer about his identity as Messiah.  He’s not a showman.  He’s not ruler of the world.  He’s not bigger than God.  He is God’s Messiah, the one through whom people will come to know the kindom of God.

By the time Jesus emerges from the wilderness 40 days later, John is in prison.  John’s imprisonment is the impetus for Jesus to begin his public ministry—“When he heard John had been put in prison,” we’re told, “Jesus moved to Galilee,” which became home base for his public ministry.  Jesus picks up where John left off, even preaching the same message, “Repent.  The kindom of heaven has come near.”

The narrative goes along at a good clip with Jesus preaching, teaching, and healing to beat the band until, boom.  He learns of John’s death.  To this point, Jesus’ identity has been explored in conversation with John the Baptist—from John’s insistence that he is not God’s Messiah, to confusion over who should baptize whom, to John’s imprisonment inaugurating Jesus’ ministry.

We don’t know for sure why Jesus needs all that alone time in Matthew 14, but it does make you wonder if John’s death sparked an identity crisis.  Who am I now?  What does it mean for me to be God’s Messiah now that John is gone?  Again, we don’t know for sure, but maybe all that reflecting did the trick.  Like his wilderness reflections after his baptism, maybe Jesus’ time in the boat and up the mountain helped him get clearer about his identity as God’s Messiah in a post-John the Baptist world.

If that’s the case, then the story of Peter walking on–and sinking into–the water isn’t so much about Peter’s lack of faith as it is about Jesus assessing how much work he has to do to convince others he is God’s Messiah.  If Peter is the one on whom Jesus has decided to build the church, if he is the one most deeply rooted in the faith, then as Jesus seeks to continue living into his calling as God’s Messiah post-John the Baptist, doesn’t it make sense that he would want to see where he stood with Peter, to this point, perhaps, the most faithful disciple?

Scripture doesn’t tell us anything about tone of voice when people speak.  In the original manuscripts, you don’t even get punctuation, lowercase letters, or spaces between words.  So, determining tone of voice is a matter of interpretation.

So, here’s what I wonder.  I wonder if Jesus’ statement to Peter isn’t so much a statement of judgment but an honest question.  “Is your faith so fragile?  Why are you doubting?  No, really.  I want to know.  Why has your faith in me faltered just when you need it most?”  To this point, John the Baptist had helped others to see Jesus as God’s Messiah.  But now John was gone; now, Jesus was going to have to do the work of showing himself to be God’s Messiah without him.  And if Peter—the most faithful disciple—could only see Jesus as Messiah up to the point at which things got scary…well, Jesus was going to need to figure out how to help people believe in him all the time, even the scary times.

We aren’t walking on—or sinking into—water this morning.  There is no violent wind blowing…but I suspect all of us are trying to make sense of what’s happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, the past couple of days.  We don’t live in Charlottesville, but images of what transpired there…that happened in our country.  Some of our fellow citizens are so filled with hatred and bigotry they’ve wrapped themselves in symbols and language of Nazism.  When rhetoric dehumanizes whole groups of people, physical violence is never far behind.

I’m not saying that only those on the alt right or neo-Nazi side engaged in violence yesterday.  In a riot situation, I’m sure things get very confusing very fast.  I do believe, though, that any philosophy, any language, that dehumanizes others is in itself violent.  Our thoughts matter…because our thoughts lead to words…our words matter because they lead to actions…

So…we’ve stepped out of the boat.  To this point, our faith has been strong enough to keep us afloat… but now this storm is raging.  What does believing in Jesus as God’s Messiah mean now as we try to make sense of the events in Charlottesville, which is just a microcosm of rampant racism throughout our country?

In Matthew’s Gospel, shortly after Jesus begins his public ministry, he preaches the Sermon on the Mount…that’s Matthew 5-7, if you’d like to read it.  The Sermon on the Mount is pretty much a blueprint for the kindom of God.  In the Gospel of Matthew, believing in Jesus as God’s Messiah, as the one whose job it was to show us God’s hopes for the world means living the Sermon on the Mount.

That means that when the storm rages, we love our neighbor…and our enemy.

When the storm rages, we pray for those who persecute us.

When the storm rages, we do not judge, lest we be judged.

When the storm rages, we tend to the log in our own eye before complaining about the speck in our neighbor’s eye.

When the storm rages, we do to others as we would have them do to us.

When the storm rages, we remember that peacemakers will be called children of God.

When the storm rages, we remember that mercy is granted to those who are merciful.

When the storm rages, we remember that it is the pure in heart who will see God.

When the storm rages, we pray God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

When the storm rages, we remember that we are the salt of the earth.

When the storm rages, we remember that we are the light of the world.

When the storm rages, we turn the other cheek.

When the storm rages, we forgive as we are forgiven.

When the storm rages, we remember that every single person, every single human being is a beloved child of God, fully deserving of respect and dignity and freedom to live without fear.

When the storm rages, we act like the Charlottesville Chief of Police, Al Thomas.

 

Photo courtesy of Eze Amos.

The words he said at yesterday’s news conference were important and necessary.  He gave a rundown of what had transpired, how law enforcement had responded, the casualties incurred, and ongoing plans to keep the city safe.  His words very ably fulfilled his task as Chief of Police.

But his expressions…his voice…the long pauses…the dignity with which he carried himself…all spoke even more loudly a message we all need to hear—hatred has no place here.  A part of what it means to be Americans, to be human beings, is to treat each other with respect and dignity.  Lives should not have been lost here.  People should not have been hurt here.  Violence should not have happened here.

I don’t know if Chief Thomas is a follower of Jesus or if he’s even heard of the Sermon on the Mount…but from what I saw yesterday, he embodied perfectly what I think Jesus was trying to show us about God’s hopes for the world.  In the midst of the storm, Chief Thomas stayed true to what he knows is good and right and true.

When the storm rages—In Charlottesville or anywhere else—when the storm rages, will we do the same?  Will we also stay focused on what is good and right and true?  Will we keep our eyes on Jesus, on the one who shows us best God’s hopes for the world?  When the storm rages, will we work to make God’s dreams come true?

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

Kimberleigh Buchanan  ©2017



Sermon: “The Power of Community” (Acts 2:42-47; 3:1-10; 4:32-37) [7/30/17]
07.31.17

This summer, we’re looking at what it will take to “build a stronger community.”  After considering our community’s spiritual and vocational lives, the last two weeks we’ve turned our attention to… finances.  Oh, joy!

Have sermons from the last two weeks offended you at all?  I think I’ve offended myself a couple of times. J  Even mentioning money in church seems unseemly…much less asking questions about how our relationships with money and with God are related.

So, why delve into this land-mine of an issue?  Why not just leave it lie and hope for the best when pledge time comes…or when the HVAC dies?

Despite the taboo against talking about money in church, it seems kind of crucial to do it.  Is there anything we spend more time thinking about than money?  How to pay the bills, get ahead, pay for college?  A deep faith touches every aspect of our lives.  So, if we spend all this time thinking about money, doesn’t it make sense to invite our faith into those thoughts?

In the interest of deepening our faith, we’re spending one more sermon of the series reflecting on how our relationships with money and with God are connected. You’re welcome.

The context for our reflections has been Acts 2:42-47.  Usually, we only look at a few verses.  Today, I invite us to look at the focus passage in the larger context of Acts 1-4.  What might we glean from the longer narrative about our Pilgrimage community’s financial life?

The story begins with the risen Jesus’ followers gathered to see him off as he leaves the scene for good.  After he leaves, the followers disperse.  Then God’s Spirit blows in and brings the community back life!  They “devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers, and have all things in common.”  Then, they leave the community to “spend time together in the temple praising God.”  After one foray into the wider community, guess to where Peter and John return?  To the community of believers.

Image result for Acts 2:44-45 picture

Are you feeling the flow?  Jesus’ followers gather to see him off, then disperse.  God’s Spirit blows in, drawing people back into community, where they work for the goodwill of all, or act each other into wellbeing.  Then they go out into the wider community, where they act others into wellbeing…after which, they return home to their koinonia community.

That flow—koinonia community, wider community, koinonia community, wider community…acting each other into wellbeing, acting the world into wellbeing, acting each other into wellbeing, acting the world into wellbeing…It’s almost like breathing, isn’t it?  Inhale (koinonia community), exhale (wider community), inhale (act each other into wellbing), exhale (act the world into wellbeing).  The narrative shows us what keeps a community vital—breathing in God’s love…breathing out God’s love…breathing in God’s love…breathing out God’s love…

Which is a great image…but where does money fit in?

While he was in seminary, today’s passage from Acts grabbed Clarence Jordan’s imagination.  Eventually, he and a friend searched for farm land in the deep South.  With the help of a benefactor, they purchased 440 acres down near Americus.  Koinonia Farm was born.

At Koinonia, they sought to create the kind of community described in Acts 2.  Koinonia, which means “fellowship,” is the original Greek word used in this passage.  Koinonians lived and ate together… They worked, studied, and prayed together.  They also held a common purse…which presented many opportunities for, um, conversation.  J

That is, perhaps, the most difficult aspect of living as a community of Jesus’ followers—deciding what to do about money.  We don’t want to talk about it, but we need it to function.  And, oh my goodness.  Each of us has our own history of and habits with money.  Trying to get on the same page with everyone else?  The. Hardest. Thing. Ever.  A story related in Dallas Lee’s history of Koinonia Farm explains just how hard committing to a common purse can be.

One day, an old black car “shuddered into the driveway of Koinonia Farm, coughed to a halt, and delivered a quiet, 40-year-old spinster who asked if she could remain for a visit.”

After a couple of days, she “approached Clarence and [expressed] interest in joining.  He explained what Koinonia was striving to be, how one must surrender totally to Christ, including all their earthly possessions.  At Koinonia, he said, they do this by asking everyone to enter the same way:  ‘flat broke.’  Her eyebrows jerked upward in alarm.  She had questions.

“Clarence was perplexed” by the woman’s hesitation.  “‘Jesus said it would be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom, but we’d never [actually] had one apply.’”  Clarence asked her what difficulty there would be with relinquishing her possessions.  She had a fair-size difficulty, somewhere between $80,000 and $90,000.

“Clarence swallowed a couple of times, then reasserted that she would have to dispose of the money to become a part of Koinonia.  How, she asked?  Give it to the poor, he said, give it to your relatives, throw it over a bridge—but you must enter the fellowship without it.

“What about giving it to Koinonia Farm, she asked?  Clarence grinned:  ‘No.  If you put that money in here, we’d quit growing peanuts and start discussing theology.  That wouldn’t be  healthy for us.  And, unless I miss my guess, you’re a very lonely person, and you’re lonely because you think every friend you ever had is after your money.’  She confirmed that judgment.

“Well, if you put that money in here, you’d think we courted you for your money, that we loved you for your money.  You’d get the idea you were God’s guardian angel, that you endowed the rest of us, and that all of us ought to be grateful to you for your beneficence.’  “She was listening; Clarence pressed his point:  ‘Now for your sake and for our sakes, you get rid of that money and come walk this way with us.’  Tearfully, the woman replied:  ‘I can’t do it.’  She packed her old car and left.”  (The Cotton Patch Evidence, 86-87)

This might seem an odd story to tell as we consider our community’s financial life.   Refusing a gift of $90,000?  Well, that’s not smart.  Just think what we could do with $90,000!  We could replace our HVAC system, do all the exterior work, rework our bathrooms, and get a jump on the Next Generation house.  Wait a minute.  Those were 1950 dollars.  Adjusted for inflation, the $90,000 would be worth nearly $900,000 today!  With that much, we could do all the upgrades and replace the Next Generation House with something really nice.

If Koinonia had only been about money, I’m sure they eagerly would have taken the woman’s money.  But Koinonia wasn’t just about money.  At Koinonia, they were trying to establish God’s kin-dom here on earth as it is in heaven…and establishing God’s kindom on earth calls us to look at every single aspect of our lives through the lens of faith.

And when we look through the lens of faith, what do we see?  We see koinonia.  We see community.  We see how we’re connected to each other, both inside the community and outside it.  I don’t think we’re ready to start living in intentional Christian community here at Pilgrimage.  At least, I’m not.  I’m still working on having all things in common with Allen.  And our cats. J

But—thank goodness!—establishing God’s kindom here on earth as it is in heaven doesn’t begin by living literally in community.  Establishing God’s kindom begins with a change of heart….with the recognition that we are all connected and with a commitment to caring for each other and to making sure everyone has what they need to live and to thrive—that’s both in this koinonia community and in the wider community.  And, yes.  That commitment—if it grows out of faith—extends to what we do with our money.

There was a time when I didn’t like talking about money.  But after 20 years of doing church and trying to live the Gospel, especially today’s passage from Acts, now I get excited when we talk about money.  Why?  Because if we’re dealing with money as a matter of faith, if we’re asking questions about how money is spent, keeping in mind the least of these, if we look at what we spend through the lens of community, then we are living our faith deeply here at Pilgrimage.  And that’s kind of the whole point, right?  To live faith deeply?

Lest we get too spiritual about this thing–we still need to replace the HVAC.  If we don’t replace the fascia on the building’s exterior now, we’re going to have even bigger bills later.  And we have a great opportunity to make our bathrooms more accommodating.   And the Next Generation House has served its purpose well…AND it needs to be replaced.  Growing our children, youth, and adult educational ministries depends on it.

So, well, we need money.  If we’re going to accomplish any of these tasks, we’re going to need money.  But I’m not here today to cajole you into parting with your hard-earned cash.  I could do that, but that wouldn’t be much fun for either of us.  That approach also would miss the whole point of koinonia, of the fellowship that is key to being a community of Jesus’ followers.

As a community of Jesus’ followers who have material resources and some specific needs, we have an amazing opportunity right now.  And the opportunity isn’t just to get a new HVAC system, a face lift, new bathrooms, and eventually, a replacement for the Next Generation House, as important as those things are.

The real opportunity before us right now is to come together as a community and through our conversations about raising and spending money, to significantly deepen our faith.  To think as we give—how might my contribution act Pilgrimage into wellbeing?  How might all our contributions help us–as a community– act the world into wellbeing?  How might tending to the gift of this space and our property breathe new life into our community as we breathe in God’s love…breathe out God’s love…breathe in God’s love…breathe out God’s love….

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

Kimberleigh Buchanan  © 2017