Come home to Calvary
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Boulder Mass Shooting
The Second Amendment of our Constitution was intended to keep us safe. It was a good plan, but it has gone awry. If the deregulated sale and possession of firearms made us safe, we ought to be safest country on earth by now.
Guns cannot be in cornerstone on which we build community. These candles are still burning for the eight victims of last week’s mass shooting. We have added two more to represent the 10 lives gunned down at a Boulder grocery store. How long, O Lord, will we remain in self-inflicted captivity, held hostage by the gun lobby, burying our neighbors sacrificed to a toxic idol? Comfort the families now grieving and broken, the children now fatherless. Wake up those who govern, and God save the people.
Prayer for Illumination
The flower fades, the grass withers, but your Word, O Lord, endures forever. Amen.
The Interconnectedness of All Living Things
The title of this sermon was inspired by Robert Burns’ poem “To a Mouse.” Burns was part of the New Light Movement of18th-century Scottish Presbyterians, offering the faithful a way out of Calvinism’s fearful obsession with predestination and an invitation into a Presbyterianism of morality, ethics and self-sacrificing (agape) love.
Burns argued that lived experiences of transcendence outweigh the finest dogma. He must have had an encounter with God that was too real to ignore. Have you had one of those? I have. You have to pray your way to it, being mindful and patient. The Holy Spirit cannot resist authentic vulnerability!
Don’t wait for your life to fall apart before you reach out to God. Find God through the natural world or through scripture. Claim the power of that unexpected gust of hope, like a hummingbird visit or the love of an old friend. It’s leave you awestruck, and then, just like with Moses on the mount, God passes by. We try to hold on to it, but that’s not how it works. God is too big to fit into our memories, too much glory, too wonderful. Poets and musicians come closest to capturing God. Prayer sets a trap for God, but so does paying attention, faithfully.
While working outside, Robert Burns accidentally plowed up the home of a field mouse, and, suddenly there it was, transcendence, a kinship with this little living thing. On the spot he composed his poem. “To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest With the Plough, November, 1785”— here are a few lines.
I’m truly sorry man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
And justifies that ill opinion
Which makes you startle
At me, your poor, earth-born companion
And fellow mortal!
But Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes of mice and men
Go oft awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!
Riding into Jerusalem without saying a word, Jesus wrestles the narrative away from the fear-mongering Pharisees and upstages the Roman Empire. The people cheer for the promise of joy their messiah brings. They wave palms as symbols of his impending kingship. But he’s isn’t that kind of king. In fact, John’s gospel uniquely transforms Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem into a corrective. In response to the crowd shouting presumptuous accolades for the new king of Israel, Jesus chooses to redefine power. He is not the warrior king. He is the humble king of Zechariah 9:9, riding on an ass, showing us the way toward abundant life. Like the poem Kat and Leo read earlier, Jesus is rarely what we expect or almost never what we pray for, but he is exactly what we need.
I would have loved to see bonding with that little donkey. Don’t you know they had a moment before he climbed on. “Little donkey, it’s just you and me. Either we’re riding right into their trap, or we’re changing the world for the good with this little bit of rabbinical performance art.” On this day, the salvation of humankind depended on the cooperation of a donkey.
Following Jesus means that we come riding with him. Following Jesus means riding unprotected into the neighborhoods where pain is great and risk is high.
“The Gay Issue”
John is a middle-aged successful businessman who attends church faithfully out of love and respect for his very Catholic mother, who believes that the family that prays together stays together. This week, my husband Lou and I ran into John, and it felt like he had been waiting to speak with me. He wanted to talk about the recent Vatican statement which, for me, was unsurprising. Why issue a statement that more or less says that if you’re wondering about our stance on gay people, there’s no change. We still disapprove of your relationships. Vatican out.
It seems like the point of issuing the statement was in the closing words. Someone with obvious baggage—was it the Pope?—made it plain that same-sex unions are sin, not sinful but sin.
The family who prays together stays together? Not according to the Vatican. According to the Vatican, same-sex commitments do not produce families, and the Vatican is wrong.
My friend said he felt ashamed, betrayed by the church that been pretending to be heading toward a more Christ-like kind of acceptance. What’s worse, his family has remained silent. It breaks my heart.
I told him that churches that do all the judging for themselves must not need God’s help. If you read the gospels, you will notice that Jesus never requests an ethics consult with the religious authorities. Experiences of the transcendent inbreaking love of God outweigh any church rule, especially the ones used to justify bigotry and violence. When any church harms the reputation of Jesus Christ, every church is diminished. Look, says the Pharisees, this is getting us nowhere. The whole world is running after him.
These words of Reinhold Niebuhr take it up a notch.
The fact is that more [people] in our modern era are irreligious because religion has failed to make civilization ethical than because it has failed to maintain intellectual respectability. For every person who disavows religion because seem ancient and unrevised dogma outrages their intelligence, several become irreligious because the social impotence of religion outrages their conscience.
The agape love of Jesus comes free from conditions, and it is must be embodied to be experienced fully. Such is the ministry into which deacons are called. I have witnessed the agape love of Christ at work in the world through our deacons:
every week praying through your concerns and celebrations
making calls on the lonely
sending cards to the grieving
bringing food to the sick
holding someone’s hand as he died
bringing communion to a long lost member of the fold
singing a hymn with a complete stranger who asked for help
making a new home for a wayward bird
connecting a homeless woman with services and new socks
making an entrance at immigration court in order to bear witness
saying yes, I can do that when others have said no
Many of you have signed up to meet the deacons after this service. There is still time. Just know that if you’re signing up now, you’re a little late to the ball, but Dave Barnes will assign you a Zoom code as quick as he can.
Hosanna, blessed are all those who come in God’s name
to bring good news to those who are need,
to proclaim liberty to the captive,
recovery of sight to the spiritually blind,
and sweet liberty to all who are oppressed
and announce the year of the Lord’s favor.
“You Raise Me Up” by Rolf Løvland & Brendan Graham
When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary,
When troubles come and my heart burdened be,
Then, I am still and wait here in the silence
Until You come and sit awhile with me.
You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains,
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas,
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders,
You raise me up to more than I can be.
The next day, the great crowd that had come for the Passover feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, so they got palm branches and went out to meet him. They shouted joyfully,
Blessed is the One who comes
in the name of our God—
the ruler of Israel!”
Jesus rode in sitting upon a donkey, in accord with scripture:
“Fear not, O people of Zion!
Your ruler comes to you
sitting on a donkey’s colt.”
At the time, the disciples didn’t understand all this, but after Jesus was glorified they recalled that the people had done to him precisely what had been written about him.
Those who had been present when Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. A crowd gathered, and they went out to meet Jesus because they had heard he had performed this miraculous sign.
Then the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look—the whole world is running after him.”