We are family: a sermon for #WearOrange weekend

A couple of years ago I was window shopping for kayaks in a large sporting goods store on a summer evening, when from somewhere on another level, in another part of the store, someone yelled, “Everyone get out!”

Nothing else was said. But anyone who heard that voice, that brief phrase, knew that the what the woman was really saying was, “Gun! Gun! Gun!”

So, that incident turned out to be a false alarm, as regards the gun. Fortunately, every came out of the situation in one piece. But it left me wondering at the way in which my mind instantly and correctly (it was what she meant, even if she was mistaken) translated, “Everyone get out!” to, “Gun! Gun! Gun!”

How did we get here? How did our garden of democracy, with its high aspirations to liberty, life, and the pursuit of happiness, become infested with gun violence to such a deadly extent?

The serpent has been at work, tempting us to believe that we have the power of life and death, and the authority to wield it at will, instead of submitting our will to the One in whose image life was made.

“Madness!” we say of the call of Christ to lay down arms, to refuse the way of war and choose instead the way of the Cross. “Madness. That’s not how things work in the real world.”

But Jesus came into our very real world in a very real way and suffered very real consequences for our sake. And he was resurrected to new life, proving that the way of death-dealing is not the way of victory.

The pervasiveness of guns and gun violence in this country leave some of us numb, some of us afraid, some of us despairing, some of us determined. 

Hadiyah Pendleton was only 15 when she was shot to death while hanging out at a local park after school. Her family and friends launched #WearOrange to raise awareness of the effects of this pervasive gun violence, because it is the colour that hunters wear to say, “See me, don’t shoot me.”

I’ve been reading a brilliant and devastating book about the effects of gun violence on our children – Children Under Fire: An American Crisis, by John Woodrow Cox. It is a difficult read, but it is hopeful, because it points to ways in which we can begin to change our landscape of violence. I recommend it, and I hope that we can continue to work together to raise awareness of the effects of our relationship with the gun, and the spiritual work of our disarming gospel, our maddeningly peaceful Messiah.

When they said that he was mad, Jesus retorted that they had better watch whom they were calling mad! (Mark 3:20-35)

When they said that he was on the wrong side of God, he laughed at them.

When they said that he should toe the family line, Jesus responded that those who follow him are his family. Those who travel in the pathways of love: loving God, loving neighbour, without exception.

This is also our graduation Sunday, and we have young people among us who deserve a better landscape in which to pursue life, liberty, and happiness than one littered with the fallout from gun violence. 

Whatever we do to change our landscape of guns and gun violence – whatever policies we support or initiatives are inspired – it begins with our conversion, our repentance, our turning from the tempter’s whispers to the Word of God.

We can plant peace. We can convert hearts to love instead of fear, if we remember, constantly and repeatedly, the love that God has for us, in creating us, sustaining us, redeeming us, living as one of us, without violence, without retaliation, with resurrection.

“Madness!” the neighbours might say. But then, they said that about Jesus, too.

This is also our graduation Sunday. But for anyone who is embarking on something new, trying some new way of being in the world, remember that Jesus is family for you. He has called you his own.

When there are difficult times, remember that he has been there first and for you. He knows how to help you through them. He is your family.

When you need him to, remember that Jesus knows how to bring people together. He is your family.

And because of him, we are your family, with all of our quirks and foibles, and we love you.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

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Trinity Sunday: we who are many are one

A sermon for Trinity Sunday at the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid

Trinity Sunday: that business of the three in one – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; Mother, Son, and Spirit – it’s not about dogma so much as it is about relationship.

The interplay of God, the Incarnation of Christ as Everyman, the promiscuous ubiquity of the Holy Spirit – all point to the expansive and inclusive, progenitive love of God.

How are we, as humans, to recognize and render such a complex oneness? Perhaps the bees understand it better, or the poets. John Donne wrote,

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;”

It is the mutuality of the Trinity that we seek. We hear its echoes in our prayers: “though we are many, we are one body” (Romans 12:5). We come closest to it when we experience compassion. But that word means, literally, suffering with. I know that I am not the only person here who, upon hearing the news of yet another mass shooting this week – and then, yet another local murder by gunfire – found it hard to breathe. Our lives are connected and complicit in the lives of our neighbours. If that is not love, what is it?

However we try to parse and parcel ourselves out, the lesson of the Trinity is that we cannot separate our selves or our salvation, our wellbeing on this, God’s good earth, from the lives and thriving of our fellows.

We cannot separate ourselves from our siblings in Palestine when we are so entangled, nationally, in the politics that keep them wanting for freedom. We cannot separate ourselves from the antisemitism that taints our society, unless we work actively to undermine it. We cannot exempt ourselves from the legacy of the Tulsa race massacre, arguing the distance of history and geography, or that we were not taught about it at school. We cannot deny the racism that continues to inform our daily lives together, unless we recognize it. We cannot bewail the losses of war unless we are determined to wreak peace.

We are one body, created in one image, although with many faces.

Just as Moses, Jesus told Nicodemus, the Pharisee – just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so that the people might look upon death and, upon their turning away, might live – so the Son of Man is lifted high on the cross. Like a lightning rod gathering rogue electricity and running it into the ground, the cross becomes a focal point for evil: for the oppression of empire, the pride of the powerful, the perverse inventiveness of those who design ways for us to kill one another.

In Arizona, in an effort to deal with the problems that they have experienced in the execution chamber, the authorities have refurbished a gas chamber, and purchased the ingredients to make cyanide gas, the same stuff that was used in Auschwitz, just so that we can continuing killing those whom we have designated criminals?

It is as though we have looked upon the cross, and the Son of Man lifted high in execution, and we have become fixed and fascinated. As though we have forgotten to make that turn from the instrument of death to new life.

But “God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him”. (John 3:17)

Elsewhere, Jesus told his disciples, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself”. (John 12:32)

We who are many are one body.

We are at a turning point, as we come back together in the church. We hope that we are turning away from the plague of Covid, aided by vaccines – we talked earlier this year about the lessons Moses’ bronze serpent has for us in encouraging us to get vaccinated.

A year after the murder of George Floyd, a hundred years after Tulsa, it feels as though we are at a crossroads, too, in our understanding of the racism that spoils our life together, that ends the lives of too many.

The heartbreaking number of mass shootings that has already taken place this year, as people begin to return to places of work, shopping, life, likewise confronts us with the choice to continue on the same path as we have followed so far, or to try something different in our life together: something that does not require us to rely on death as the ultimate defense within our life together.

We are at a turning point, and the gospel calls us to turn from death to life, to look upon the Cross and see the possibilities for Resurrection.

We have the words of eternal life; we have the Word of Eternal Life, Jesus, the Christ.

Oh, this morning we are just glad to be back together for a little while. It is good to rest in each other’s company, to find that solidarity, that unity, that interplay and dance, the harmony of a hymn. To find, in our celebration of the Holy Trinity, our Holy Communion, that we who are many are one body. It is a good and a joyful thing.

It is also an opportunity, to turn back, remembering how things have always been, or to grow in the gospel, turning toward the justice and mercy of God, the unity that Christ himself prayed for us, that we, who are made in one image with many faces, might become as close, as mutually caring, as though we were one body with our neighbours.

So may the love and the comfort and the salvation that we find here strengthen us, as we go into the world, to bring to life that complexity and singularity of compassion that God, in their Trinity, has shown us; to turn the “shadow of death [at last] into the morning”. (Amos 5:8)

Amen.

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Prophesy!

A Pentecost sermon

We know that God can breathe new life into dry bones. We know that the Holy Spirit can rustle up new languages of prayer and of inspiration, resurrect the hopeless. Ezekiel, faced with the horror of his vision, a vision of hundreds upon thousands who had died; the prophet knew the power of the almighty God to save and to breathe and to create new life. Yet when God asked him, “Can these dry bones live?” Ezekiel, the mortal, replied, “You are the one who knows.”

Ezekiel may have been afraid to hope, in the face of the piles of death he saw before him. After more than a year of a pandemic that has claimed nearly 3.5 million lives; after a new outbreak of gun violence and mass shootings across our nation; after seeing the news out of India, out of Israel and Palestine, death by disaster of natural and most unnatural making – after all that we have seen and tried to unsee, perhaps we can offer Ezekiel some empathy, some compassion.

Ezekiel, the mortal, may have been afraid to presume upon the intentions of God. He may have thought, “But who am I to suggest that God – who gives breath to the living, who fade and fail when God’s face is turned away – who am I to suggest to God upon whom God should breathe and bring new life? Do these dry bones deserve another chance at mortal life?”

The politics of resurrection are less complicated than we make them. God replies, “Prophesy.”

“Prophesy, mortal. For the breath of God is life, my word is life, my Spirit is life for my people.”

I love that God calls Ezekiel, “Mortal,” at least in many translations. There is nothing extraordinary about the prophet or his own supply of life that brings about the resurrection and respiration of this legion of bones. Only the word of God, the breath of God, the Spirit of the living God can animate them. It is enough for Ezekiel to prophesy, to speak the word that God has given to him.

I wonder what it is that God would have us prophesy this Pentecost. What is the word that is needed to bring life to dry bones, hope to the faint-hearted? What is the word that will be heard by all who need it, regardless of language, culture, background, history; regardless of how these bones ended up piled up in the dry and shadowy valley?

We have the words of life. We have the Word of life: Jesus Christ. We have the Holy Spirit, to guide and direct and inspire us, us mortals, us ordinary church folk. There is nothing lacking that God cannot provide with a mere breath.

Are we weary and afraid of hope? Are we wary of presuming upon God’s intentions? As we prepare to come back together, one way or another, do we doubt God’s ability and intention to breathe new life into us?

There is much to weigh up and much that weighs us down. Yet the intentions of God are discernible, driving vaccine research and uptake and, if only we were to follow God’s law and the example of the apostles, the sharing of resources.

The intentions of God are visible in a ceasefire, tragically too late for some lives. The intentions of God for peace are some long way from fulfillment; but we catch hope from the suspension of bombardments, the survival of the children this night at least. There is so very much reckoning to be had before Palestinians are free and Israel is at peace: yet every ceasefire is a small victory for the peace of God.

Did you hear this week about the teacher who interrupted a school shooting and held the sixth-grade girl with a gun in a hug until help arrived? We have so far to go until a child has no chance of finding a gun to take to school, or to take out to play; but the intentions of God for life, for love, are evident among us.

The intentions of God, that these dry bones might live, are not beyond our vision. We can see how the world might be, flesh and sinew knit together, if we lived on the breath of God, seeing God’s Spirit in the inhalation, the exhalation of every human being made in God’s image.

“Prophesy, mortal.”

Next Sunday we come back together, as we are able, on the front lawn or in the church or right back here online for some. And what will we proclaim to a world parched for good news? And will we doubt that God can bring to pass the renewal of our lives, of our life together, and the lives of the neighbors whom we love in Christ’s name?

Thus says the Lord God: … you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.

Amen

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The dry bones

They must have been famished,
that bunch of bones shrugged together,
flesh and sinew awaiting breath.
How long had they been fasting in the dust?

They were surely parched;
their skin must have sagged,
their steps dragged – how many
calories does resurrection burn, anyway?

Did God, after telling them to rise,
open the skies and flood the valley floor,
its red dust running through the gullies,
pooling before their cupped hands?

Were their fingerprints the same
as before, or created anew?


Preparing for Pentecost: a reflection on Ezekiels’ vision in the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14)

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A prayer for the earthbound

Benvenuto Tisi, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

As deeply as he descended
among the dead, plumbing Hell and Hades,
the limits of human horror too easily imagined
by the earthbound;
so far he invites us
to soar beyond our petty promises
of punishment and death, to life beyond
the burden that worms its way
into our hope and churns it into fear;
to lift our spirits out of their grave
contemplation and, with the childlike
joy of a fledgling discovering flight,
to catch, as it rises, a lightening heart
in the mouth and sing.

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Friends of Jesus

A sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter at the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid, Ohio


“What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and grief to bear …”1

Aelred of Rievaulx, from his twelfth-century monastery, wrote the book on spiritual friendship. (More than one, in fact.) Drawing on Greek wisdom, the traditions of the Church Fathers, and scripture itself, he wrote, 

“… the best medicine for life is a friend. According to the pagan proverb, we do not need fire and water on more occasions than we need a friend. In every action and every effort, in certainty and doubt, in any event or fortune, in private and in public, in every deliberation, at home or abroad—everywhere friendship is delightful, a friend is closer than kin, and the friend’s charm is priceless. Hence Cicero says of friends, “the absent are present, the poor are rich, the weak are strong, and—even more difficult—the dead are alive.” … One truth surpasses all these: close to perfection is that level of friendship that consists in the love and knowledge of God, when one who is the friend of another becomes the friend of God, according to the verse of our Savior in the Gospel: “I shall no longer call you servants but friends.”2

Towards the end of his mortal life, Jesus addressed his disciples once more. Before their meal together he had washed their feet, explaining as he did so the prophetic action in which the master becomes the servant of many. Yet now, he tells them, “I no longer call you servants, but friends.” (John 15:15)

But what does it mean, for Jesus to call us, “friend”? For Jesus still commands his disciples – but only to love one another. Jesus’ radical reordering of the relationship between himself and his disciples is part of his final teaching, the pinnacle of his incarnation as a human being, a friend among friends.

Friendship is a fundamental of creation, according to Aelred. It exists from the beginning. It is God’s design for the lowest to the highest creatures:

"Although in all other respects animals are proven to be irrational, surely in this respect alone they so imitate the human spirit that they are almost thought to be moved by reason. They so follow the leader, so frolic together, so express and display their attachment in actions and sounds together, and so enjoy one another’s company with eagerness and pleasure that they seem to relish nothing more than what resembles friendship. Among angels, too, divine wisdom so provided that not one but several classes should be created. Among these classes, pleasant companionship and the most tender love created a like will and attachment, so as to allow no entry to envy, for one might seem greater and another less had not charity countered this danger with friendship. ... Finally, when God fashioned the man, to recommend society as a higher blessing, he said, “it is not good that the man should be alone; let us make him a helper like himself.” Indeed divine power fashioned this helper not from similar or even from the same material. But as a more specific motivation for charity and friendship, this power created a woman from the very substance of the man. In a beautiful way, then, from the side of the first human a second was produced, so that nature might teach that all are equal or, as it were, collateral, and that among human beings—and this is a property of friendship—there exists neither superior nor inferior. So from the very beginning nature impressed on human minds this attachment of charity and friendship, which an inner experience of love soon increased with a delightful sweetness."

Only because of the Fall did friendship become fragmented and fractured, like so much else in creation. Only after the Fall did we acquire the term “enemies,” whom we are to love and for whom we are told to pray, but who are not our friends.

But Christ, in calling his disciples friends, begins to restore that design of nature and creation by which all are equal, and equally beloved, and no difference or division of status is recognized between the substance of one human, made in the image of God, and another. There is no hierarchy in friendship, no exploited profit, no gain that is not mutual, no care that is not shared.

Julian of Norwich has called Christ our mother, who feeds us with his body as some mothers may suckle a child,4 and whose love, wisdom, and mercy are the model we hope for motherhood – and so he is, because God is all in all to us, mother, father, creator, sustainer, and life; but in these final hours with his friends, according to Aelred’s interpretation, Jesus affirms that the most godly relationships among us (whether between colleagues or spouses, parents and their children, or mere acquaintances) abide in friendship: in mutual self-offering, trust, collaboration, and love, and that this friendship is the model and shape of the kingdom of God and the foundation of creation.

"This is that great and wonderful happiness we await. God himself acts to channel so much friendship and charity between himself and the creatures he sustains, and between the classes and orders he distinguishes, and between each and every one he elects, that in this way each one may love another as himself. By this means each may rejoice over his own happiness as he rejoices over his neighbor’s. Thus the bliss of all individually is the bliss of all collectively, and the sum of all individual beatitudes is the beatitude of all together. ..."
"…When the fear is dispelled that now fills us with dread and anxiety for one another, when the hardship is removed that we must now endure for one another, when, moreover, along with death the sting of death is removed—the sting that so often pierces and distresses us and makes us grieve for one another—then with the beginning of relief from care we shall rejoice in the supreme and eternal good, when the friendship to which on earth we admit but few will pour out over all and flow back to God from all, for God will be all in all."6

This process of renewal and restoration Jesus has begun when he called his disciples, those present and those, like us, who were yet to come, his friends, and commanded them in the name of that friendship, “Love one another.” This love and friendship is the work of the kingdom of God. This, to become a friend of Christ in this incarnate world, is the highest form of worship.


1 “What a friend we have in Jesus,” Author: Joseph Medlicott Scriven (1855)

2 Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship: Book 2. 14-16, 18. Cistercian Fathers, Volume 5, pp. 92-93. Liturgical Press. Kindle Edition.

3 Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship: Book 1. 55-58. Cistercian Fathers, Volume 5, pp. 81-82. Liturgical Press. Kindle Edition.

4 “The mother may give her child suck of her milk, but our precious Mother, Jesus, He may feed us with Himself, and doeth it, full courteously and full tenderly, with the Blessed Sacrament that is precious food of my life; and with all the sweet Sacraments He sustaineth us full mercifully and graciously.” Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love: Chapter LX. Digireads.com. Kindle Edition.

5 Aelred of Rievaulx. Spiritual Friendship: Book 3. 79. Cistercian Fathers, Volume 5, pp. 135-136. Liturgical Press. Kindle Edition.

6 Aelred of Rievaulx. Spiritual Friendship: Book 3. 134. Cistercian Fathers, Volume 5, pp. 157-158. Liturgical Press. Kindle Edition.

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“Let anyone accept this who can.”

A sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter at the Church of the Epiphany.


“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God … No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and God’s love is perfected in us… So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.” 
(1 John 4, selected verses)

God loves us; and the people seeking God’s grace will know God’s love if we love them in Christ’s name. If we love them as they are, as God has loved us.

I’m fascinated by the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). What prompts this person’s question to Philip: “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?”

It could just be an opening for Philip to talk about Jesus, and that’s how we more usually read it; but what if it’s more personal, a more authentic question than that?

The eunuch has been up to Jerusalem, to worship at the Temple, an institution from which he would for a long time have been excluded because of his identity as a eunuch. Even if now he was accepted and invited in, what did they hear while they were walking around there? Was it kind, or was it cruel? Did it acknowledge their particular gifts and their image of God, borne in a body which was still an embarrassment to some. Did somebody use these verses, about the one who has no generations to follow and continue his life and line, to demean him or to embarrass them?

What do people whose bodies or whose gender expression or whose models of family do not fit the tight moulds in which some of us were raised hear from the church, and is it kind, or is it cruel? Would our interpretation and use of the Bible cause a transgender or non-binary person to respond with confidence and delight to the gospel that they hear, exclaiming as the eunuch did to Philip: “Here is water – why not baptize me now!”

Or would they hear something less inviting, less kind, less gospel?

Would they encounter a warm embrace, or a cold shoulder? Would they find the way to new life, or would we send them down a wilderness road?

Sometimes you have heard me talk about inclusive language for God and for humanity, and you may have wondered why it seems to matter so much to me. We have heard the secular voices of phobia and the sanctimonious voices of self-righteousness recently aiming barbs and damaging and demeaning legislation at people, especially young people, whose gender expression does not conform to a particular societal structure. Such unkindness and unwelcome can be deadly for the young person longing to belong, and to be beloved. It is beyond tragic that LGBTQ young people die of suicide or contemplate dying of suicide at a rate up to three times higher among than among their straight peers. Language and legislation that punish or demean them is the opposite of life-giving, the opposite of recognizing the diversity of the image of God among us. Language that is based in prurience, judgement, or distaste is so damaging to the confidence of a child of God. They know by what they hear whether we love them. And they hear a lot.

Sadly, this is a problem even amongst the most well-meaning of us. At our last diocesan convention the longest discussion in the whole meeting was about whether it is grammatically acceptable to expand our language to include those who use pronouns other than he or she. Finally, the idea that the loving people is more important than clinging to some timebound rules we were taught at school won out.

The people – any people – seeking God’s grace will find it here, and in us, only if we love them in Christ’s name, as Christ has loved us, finding the image of God within our facets and our flaws, in infinite variety and visions of beauty.

The truth is that Isaiah addresses the eunuch’s concerns, if they are as I have imagined here. God answers, through the prophet:

Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”; and do not let the eunuch say, “I am just a dry tree.”
For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant,
I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.
 (Isaiah 56:3-5)

And Jesus affirms the eunuch in the gospel of Matthew, adding, “Let anyone accept this who can.” (Matthew 19:12)

Philip, one of Jesus’ closest twelve apostles, remembered the word of Jesus: words of acceptance, embrace, grace, and love. He knew that the way of Christ is the way of truth, the way that leads to life, that is life-giving. He welcomed the eunuch’s desire to be baptized and he gave this person, this stranger, the confidence to ask for and to accept this sacrament of God’s grace.

The people seeking grace, love, belonging will know God’s love if we love them in Christ’s name, as Christ loves us.

How we talk about one another matters. Loving our neighbours matters. Bringing life, extending resurrection, matters. Recognizing the image of God, infinite in its diversity and indivisible in each person into whom God has breathed life, including you, including me: this is part of loving the God who has so loved us. In those whose bodies, lives, families, or identities most differ from our own, there it is that we see most clearly the breadth and expansiveness of God’s embrace.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. … Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and [his, her, their, God’s] love is perfected in us.
(1 John 4, selected verses)


Image via pixabay.com

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Prayer for an end to mass shootings

My God,
can we not go one week,
sabbath to sabbath,
without a mass shooting?

Will you not beat
our pistols into ploughshares,
our shotguns into shovels,
our rifles into rakes,
massage some feeling into
our hearts of stone?

I sigh, open my eyes;
the mirror stares back in silver silence.
The water whispers, “Yes,
YES –

you
should do that.”

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Let justice roll like a river; still waters can wait

A pre-recorded sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter (also known as Good Shepherd Sunday), 2021


When Peter preaches to the high priests and elders, he tells them what he has seen and known and how he has witnessed the power of God present in Jesus of Nazareth, and continuing in his name. He is a man possessed by the love of Christ. “There is no other name given among mortals,” he describes with awe, “that will save.” Peter knew Jesus as a man, a true and mortal human, who died and was buried: no one else who has lived this life, he asserts, has the power of God to save. But Jesus was the Son of God. Jesus was the Word of God. Jesus is the life of God.

But this is where Peter and I need to be careful not to do violence to the pre-existing promises of God. That exuberance, that faith cannot be used to do violence to the faith or the life of others. The misuse and abuse of Christ’s name has caused terrific grief over the centuries since Peter preached, leading most immediately and devastatingly to antisemitism, which has no place in God’s heart. Twisting the cross into a cudgel, wielding religion as a weapon; trusting in our own righteousness and rightness has led to all kinds of crimes and slights against those of other religions, cultures, traditions, bodies, families …

But a Christianity that follows Jesus is not a religion of superiority, nor of exclusivity, nor one of condemnation, nor of supremacy, nor of self-righteousness: Jesus comes not to lord it over the people whom God has made, but to love them, even to die for them.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; …
Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.

There is no way of praying this psalm truthfully, honestly, lovingly, in this time and place that does not acknowledge that there are no still waters, there can be no resting in meadows, when violence threatens to break in at any moment. There is no peace while injustice holds sway anywhere among us. And while it’s better than pretending that all is right in our world, let’s not pretend either that justice consists of one man’s conviction for another man’s murder. Goodness and mercy demand better than a cycle of violence and regret. There are no green pastures to rest in yet while racism, armed and dangerous, continues to poison the streams from which we drink, or while weapons of war wreak havoc in FedEx facilities, grocery stores, massage parlours, family homes …

God is faithful to God’s promises, to all people. Green pasture will be found. But let justice first “roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). Only then will the waters, the raging torrent will be stilled, when justice, God’s justice, God’s goodness and mercy have been poured out and completed.

These promises predate Christianity. God’s promise to provide for Adam, to protect even Cain, to immortalize Abraham through his and Sarah’s offspring, to save Moses from the Red Sea, to restore the people from exile, never again to flood the earth and all flesh: these promises and the promises penned by the prophets and the psalmists all predate the life on earth of Jesus of Nazareth, and God’s promises remain true, for all of God’s people, the sheep of many folds. God’s love is not exclusive.

Yet it is through Christ and in Christ that I have come to know God’s loving kindness. The incarnation, the cross, the resurrection: that God almighty would stoop to step among us, to breathe beside us, to die at our hands, to lead the way out of the grave – that is the revelation that continues to break my heart open to the cycle of grace as often as it is needed.

Jesus’ life, his love convict me of my sin – the ways in which I continue, knowingly and accidentally, to contribute to the cycle of violence and regret instead of self-giving love. In the Introduction to her book, White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo warns that white progressive people like me are in fact one of the most dangerous demographics when it comes to the work of anti-racism in this country.[i] People like me who think that we know what’s best and how to pull ourselves out of the currents of racism in this society in which we swim; how to redeem ourselves. The death and resurrection of Christ convince me that only the torrent of God’s justice, God’s goodness, God’s mercy will be our salvation. The waters of baptism are only a beginning. There is so much more to do to live into the promises we have made, to find our way toward peace for all of God’s people, truly to love the image of God in every living being.

Even so, even as I stumble and lose my way, Christ is with us, tending and guiding us like a good shepherd, as one who loves his sheep, as one who keeps her promises. Where I am unfaithful, Christ remains faithful. Where I am ignorant, Christ is wise. Where I am cruel, Jesus is kind. Where I am earthbound, and hidebound, and lacking in imagination, the Word of God has dreamt into being everything we know and everything that we cannot yet quite see. God’s promises are true and unbroken.

And so may God comfort anyone caught in the shadows of death. May God bring justice to roll down like river, and righteousness like a mighty river, that they may pool together and become still, that all (all, all) may be refreshed, and one day find peace beside them.


[i] DiAngelo, Robin (Dyson, Michael Eric, contrib.), White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (Germany: Beacon Press, 2018), 5

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Sore wounded

First purple, then green
new leaves unfurl as though
winter had never been;
veined and vain, they
bear no marks of last year’s deer,
no signs of decay.

This

is not the resurrection of the dead; this
is a conjuring trick with seasons meant
for children raised on fairy tales of
princesses pickled in aspic,
unscarred by spindle
or the thorn.

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