Baptism of Christ Sunday After the Riots

I lit a candle this afternoon when I didn’t know what else to do. A colleague and friend texted moments before to tell me that the prayers I had curated for the sermon series she had hoped to begin this Sunday may have to wait.

Like the rest of the nation, I nervously refreshed my feed. Hoping. Praying. Disbelieving. Cursing. I was in awe of the brilliant artists that offered words where I could not find any. Maren Tirabassi wrote this Poem for Epiphany Evening as the sun set. Joanna Harader shared this keen insight on Storming the Capital on Epiphany and while these might help in the moment when it is Epiphany, I know that many of you, dear pastors, are wondering how to speak to this on Sunday. You may have planned to record tomorrow or Thursday so that now you are left staring at a blinking cursor.

Somewhere in the midst of my confusion and fury this afternoon, I got to thinking about a story that was shared in worship weeks ago in the days before the election. It is an old story that does not exist anywhere on the internet though it appeared in a 1978 issue of Reformed Journal which appears to now exist as a blog. Then, it was in print. I emailed my pastor, Anna Kreisle Humble, for a copy of the article. I wish I could also figure out how to share the video she created for worship that Sunday using this story but I cannot. Instead, I share with you a snippet of this essay that might speak to your preaching for this Sunday. Before he muses that some Christians will wonder if the church should be engaged in politics, like race relations, “as if these are still options for the Christian community,” Robert Mouw shares in his essay Baptismal Politics this story about Darryl.

Darryl was brought by his mother to the front of the church to be baptized.. At a certain point in the ceremony, the minister asked these questions of the congregation: “Do you, the people of the Lord, promise to receive this child in love, pray for him, help care for his instruction in the faith, and encourage and sustain him in the fellowship of believers?” And we all answered: “We do, God helping us.”

Darryl is black. And so the congregation’s response had significant and far-reaching implications. For a predominately white congregation to promise to receive Darryl in love, to pray for him, to watch over his instruction in the faith, to sustain him in Christian fellowship, was a profound commitment on his behalf— with important implications not only for this congregation, but also for the traditionally Dutch-ethnic denomination of which it is a part, and for the entire church of Jesus Christ.

To love Darryl will require that we try to look at the world from his point of view, to make his hopes and fears our very own. To assume an obligation for his Christian instruction and nurture is to commit ourselves to attempting to understand what the gospel means for him, with his tradition and history. It means that from here on in we will have to keep Darryl in mind when we plan our sermons, write our liturgies, plot out our educational programs. All of this will involve us in change, in patterns of “contextualization” that are different from those which have characterized our lives in the past.

We are also going to have to pay close attention to what others are saying to and about Darryl. If American society tries to treat him like a second-class citizen, we will have to protest on his behalf, since he is our brother in a holy nation of kings and priests. If he is ever the object of a cruel joke or a vicious slur, we will have to consider this to be an affront to the very Body of Christ. If someone ever complains that he is not “one of our own kind,” we will have to respond with the insistence that, through the blood of Jesus, we are Darryl’s “kind.”

While it might not be worth leading the Pandemic Prayers for Baptism of Christ after the riots today, I think it is worth remembering those questions that we ask of candidates for baptism. It is not just the question that is asked of the congregation to offer support that matters but the witness that we must each wrestle with every day as people of faith.

While our denominations all phrase these questions differently, it is our collective call to resist the powers of evil. It is our job to discern what evil looks like right here and right now and we must decide if we truly believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior or if we will choose to put our faith in some other god. The rioters chose one way. I hope and pray that our baptismal faith leads us another way.

May you find such courage, dear pastor. May the Spirit move you with the power of words for the living of these days. I will be praying for you.

What Does This Mean?

Then “there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind.” Other translations describe it as a mighty wind. Or that it was a gale force. Not a calm, peaceful breeze. This wind is powerful. It’s violent so that I can only imagine wanting to call for Auntie Em. Of course, it’s not a tornado but a sound … like a violent wind. When all of the disciples are gathered together, this is what announces the day of Pentecost.

A sound … like a violent wind. There is no word for weather in the Bible, but winds were familiar. A change in the winds called forth the change in seasons. They didn’t understand that change any better than most of us understand it. For most of us, wind is mysterious. Wind is impossible to tame or even predict. But, when it changes, we know that something is about to happen, but what?

We’re just as uncertain as the disciples. We’re just as fearful as they were huddled together in one place trying to figure out what to do next. And then, there’s this sound and a rush of wind that “filled the entire house where they were sitting.” It becomes a presence that fills the whole space. It’s something that everybody feels but no one knows exactly what just happened. It happened and we can see that something has changed but no one seems to know what.

This is the introduction to a sermon that I wrote back in 2009 while I was still pastoring in Maine. Oh, Maine. The next paragraph leads into talking about the stock market and the sudden downturn in the economy that hit that community and so many others hard. So that we could only wonder, Will it get better?  Will it get worse?

Sunday is Pentecost again. It is the day when we find ourselves as uncertain as the disciples again after hearing the rush of a violent wind. It still feels like we are at this moment. It still feels like we don’t know what will happen. We are still asking, Will it get better?  Will it get worse? It’s not the economy that worries us. Or at least, it doesn’t worry us as much as it did then. Things are supposedly better in the economic world. But, not in the political world. As candidates point fingers and galvanize their own support, it becomes clearer and clearer that we don’t really believe in the hope of Pentecost. We don’t believe that we can all come together. It’s not possible to hear the good news in another language. We can only hear it in our own limited view. This isn’t about political parties but “a notion that America belongs to one kind of person.” That is how it was said by Edison Davis in last week’s episode of ABC’s Scandal. Watch the clip of his rant here. That speech almost made me want to edit this sermon to highlight the divisions in our politics and in our church. But, I decided not to do so. I decided instead to center on the question that the disciples ask because it’s the question that I’m asking as the campaign trail narrows to two divisive candidates. Just as the disciples asked when the heard that rush of a violent wind and everyone started talking, I want to know: What does this mean?

What do you think? What does it all mean?

 

That Peace Might be Possible on Super Tuesday

I don’t consider myself to be especially patriotic.

I don’t even consider myself to be all that political but I am certainly not patriotic.

I am reminded of this each and every time I put my hand over my heart and rise to sing the National Anthem. I see it in the service women and men around me. When the flag is marched into the room, and they all stand at attention with their hands upon their hearts, they feel something. They are connecting with some greater set of ideals and it means something to them. It means everything to them, but it doesn’t to me.

Each and every time I attend one of these military functions, on the arm of my beloved, I am reminded of how detached I am from that set of ideals that means so much to them. I just happen to sing a different song. It has lyrics written by Lloyd Stone and I sing it with my whole heart.

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine;
this is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine:
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;
but other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
and skies are everywhere as blue as mine:
O hear my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for their land and for mine.

Mine is a song of peace. There are no bombs bursting in the air or ramparts to watch. There’s just little hope for peace of the country where my heart is and every other part of this world. It may sound naive but I have never stopped believing that peace is possible. I really don’t want to give up on that faith. I can’t give up on that faith. It’s the hope I share with the soldier I love. Peace must be possible.

It’s what we both imagine in the work we’re doing. It’s this hope that keeps us going but I am terrified of what is going to happen to that possibility if Donald Trump becomes the nominee for the Republican Party.

What peace can come from the hatred from his mouth? It is not merely a matter of decency but of respect and it seems that this is a man who demands respect from others but doesn’t have the grace to offer it. He belittles and dehumanizes those without his power and wealth so that he plays politics like it’s a game. He just wants to see what will happen and so he pushes that button and pulls that lever. He pokes at people like they are his own personal playthings. What will that mean for our foreign policy?

Former CIA director Michael Hayden told Bill Maher last week, “I would be incredibly concerned if a President Trump governed in a way that was consistent with the language that candidate Trump expressed during the campaign.” Mr. Hayden went as far as to say that an illegal order would not have to be followed. Maybe so. But, I want Mr. Trump and every candidate to respect our service women and men. This isn’t a question of decency but a reality check about how our foreign policy has impacted the rest of the world. Peace still hasn’t come but maybe that should make us pause for reflection. Rather than continuing to perpetuate the cycle of violence and hate we began so many years ago, let’s reflect on what has happened. Let’s remember the number of soldiers that died. Let’s remember that there were no weapons of mass destruction and that maybe we shouldn’t have invaded. Let’s think about how long we’ve had troops on the ground despite so many promises to bring them all home.

On this particular Super Tuesday, when so many Americans are casting their ballot toward the next presidential election, I don’t want us to give up on working for peace. I’m not a politician but I know that it’s really important to put down the bullhorn and think about what you’re saying. I have to do it every week. I am a pastor. Every week, I step up to the microphone and announce good news. I pray that it doesn’t come from me but comes from God, but I know that’s not always true. And so, I need to step away from the microphone and think about the lives that are impacted with each word that comes out of my mouth. Words matter. History matters.

Let’s learn from the past as we dare to imagine our future. Let’s not just make America better. Let’s make the world better. Let’s remember all of those hopes and ideals that come when the flag marches into the room.

Let’s dare to believe again that peace is possible.