All posts by revolsen

About revolsen

I am a retired Lutheran Pastor currently residing in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. I am married .and have three grown children.

Hurt My Little Ones and There Will be Hell to Pay-Jesus

Once again, I have not had the opportunity to compose a post for this week’s readings. I offer here a reflection on the gospel text I posted three years ago. It is a difficult text, but one that I believe has something important to tell us.

Peter's Outer Cape Portico

abuseNINETEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
Psalm 19:7-14
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

Prayer of the Day: Generous God, your Son gave his life that we might come to peace with you. Give us a share of your Spirit, and in all we do empower us to bear the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to…

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Finding Jesus in a Flawed Church

SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Jeremiah 11:18-20

Psalm 54

James 3:13 — 4:3, 7-8a

Mark 9:30-37

Prayer of the Day: O God, our teacher and guide, you draw us to yourself and welcome us as beloved children. Help us to lay aside all envy and selfish ambition, that we may walk in your ways of wisdom and understanding as servants of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“Then [Jesus] came to Capernaum [with his disciples]; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.” Mark 9:33-34.

A young pastor found himself on his knees late at night after a particularly contentious church council meeting. “Good God!” he cried out, “I can’t possibly be a minister to this church. Nobody cares about the good news of the gospel. All they seem to care about is the budget and who controls where the money is spent and who has the final say on what happens everywhere from the altar to the furnace room! These people have no idea what it means to be the church and I don’t think they even care!”

Suddenly, the young pastor looked up and saw Jesus sitting in a chair in front of his desk. He was startled at first, but Jesus’ disarming smile soon dispelled his terror. “I’ve been listening to your prayers, son,” said Jesus. “Let me assure you, I know exactly how you feel. My first congregation was literally the death of me. I had a council president who promised to stand by me come hell or high water. But when the going got tough, he didn’t want to know me. My closest workers were constantly quarrelling over “who was the greatest.” I had a church treasurer who embezzled church funds and he had the nerve to turn me into the authorities! As for the rest of the congregation, they deserted me and left me alone to be hung out to dry-and that’s no metaphor. But enough about me. You were telling me about the problems in your congregation.”

At my daughter Emily’s ordination, I told her, along with a whole congregation of worshipers and well wishers, that there are just two requirements for being a successful pastor. First you have to believe in Jesus. Second, you have to love the church. Everything else you can fake. The second point is often the stumbling block. Of course, everyone loves the idea of church-that warm and inviting place where all are welcome, no one is judged and there is no favoritism. It is the real church we find hard to love. And this is so not only for pastors with unrealistic expectations for congregational life, but also for individuals seeking in the church the wonderful, accepting family none of us ever had. What we find when we walk in the door are people who are passive-aggressive, manipulative, power hungry and emotionally wounded in ways that make them unappealing candidates for friendship. They are people who compete with one another for power, prestige and control-much like Jesus’ twelve disciples.

Of course, that is only half the story and not even the better half. The church is also populated with the folks that are regularly found working at the local food pantry, picking up trash at the town playground with other volunteers and donating their services for the biannual blood donation drive. They show up with a casserole, a hug and a kind word where families experience a death, accident or severe illness. These folks are the first to pull out their checkbooks when natural disasters occur here or abroad. When the church basement floods, they are always there bailing away. Their small acts of kindness-a hand squeeze for the downcast fellow in the pew, a smile for the pensive teenager standing awkwardly in the corner of the parish hall, a gentle injection of calming humor into a tense and combative argument-have a transformational power out of all proportion to their seeming insignificance. These folks carry far more than their share in supporting their church and their community without getting any recognition for it, but you never hear them complain. They are what Jesus would call “the salt of the earth.”

That brings me to something said by Chaplain Peter, the teacher, pastor and prison chaplain who preached at my ordination. “Peter,” he said, “you will meet in your congregation some of the kindest, most selfless and most faithful people you will ever know. And you will also meet people who are more cruel, manipulative and toxic than you thought possible. And here’s the hardest thing. Often they will be the same people.” Chaplin Peter got that right. I learned that lesson the day it came to light that a talented youth worker and father of three, who had had such a positive influence on so many kids, was cheating on his wife with a married woman in the congregation.

I learned that lesson again when a homeless family with two small children in tow showed up at the church looking for grocery money. I had nothing left in my discretionary fund and only ten dollars in my wallet to offer. That’s when Brent, who had been painting the parish hall restrooms, walked into the narthex as the family was leaving. Brent was an old Norwegian carpenter who weathered the Great Depression without any help from anyone. He made no secret of his contempt for “welfare bums living off our tax dollars.” I was pretty sure he overheard everything that transpired between me and that family. I fully expected a lecture on the folly of giving “handouts” to people too lazy to work. I was wrong. There was a tear running down Brent’s cheek and he had three twenties in his hand. “You can’t feed a family on ten dollars anymore!” he said. “Hurry up and give ‘em this before they go.”

Martin Luther was fond of reminding us that believers are at the same time saints and sinners. Though we frequently fail to live up to the standards of love we profess, we sometimes find ourselves being better than we-and everyone else-thought possible. Nobody understood that better than Saint Paul, who could say to the dysfunctional church in Corinth, “Now you are the body of Christ.” I Corinthians 12:27. Not “you should be the body of Christ” or “if you ever manage to get your act together you might be the body of Christ,” but you are the body of Christ. The apostle goes on to encourage the Corinthian Church to live into what it truly is. That, I think, is the aim of all ministry within the church, namely, reminding us that we have been bought with a price, that we are better than what we have allowed ourselves to become and that God has important work for us to do. The resurrected Christ sought out the very disciples who had failed him so miserably and placed in their trembling hands the task of announcing the good news of reconciliation and peace to the world. Ours is the God of the second chance; the God who sees far more in us than we dare to see in ourselves.    

Prayer at the Closing of a Church

Good and gracious God,

this church-like our town-

is all used up.

There’s not enough of us

to keep the doors open.

So this little church

will join the row

of locked doors

and boarded up windows

that now line this street.

We didn’t do much

that is outstanding

over the last century.

There were no martyrs

among us, no heroes

of faith who gave all

for the sake of the gospel.

But we had Martha Bertrand

who taught Sunday school

for fifty years plus.

Her classes didn’t produce

Pastors or missionaries.

But she kissed away

a lot of bruises,

bandaged a lot of skinned knees

and once spent the whole

night with a former pupil,

by then a college freshman,

who arrived at her house

at some ungodly hour

looking desperately

for a reason not to end his life.

He didn’t.

We had several pastors,

None of them orators,

None of them church builders

None of them well known

figures in the community.

But they were there

when a loved one died,

when a family was in crisis,

when anyone was at wit’s end

and had nowhere else to turn.

They baptized, married and

buried us with love

and the same old shopworn

but still comforting scriptures,

hymns and words of consolation.

We didn’t do much

to end the scourges

of hunger and homelessness

in our community.

But we took our turn

housing the homeless

each month in our basement,

giving them a home cooked meal

shared with us around a table,

because these people

deserved more than

a roof over their head.

They deserved a home

and we tried to give them

as much a home

as we could provide

in a church basement.

We cared for Arnie,

a schizophrenic kid

with a criminal record,

who never darkened the door

of the sanctuary

but showed up for every potluck.

When he stole Mrs. Higgins’ purse

we didn’t call the cops.

The pastor just paid a visit

to his group home

and asked him to return it-

Which he did, asking with tears

that we forgive him.

We did.

We loved each other

As best we could-

Which often wasn’t very good.

We lived for Jesus, or tried.

But too often, his image was lost

in our concerns over finances,

the right way to worship,

fixing the boiler,

painting the restrooms

and in fights over who controls what.

But sometimes, we got Jesus right.

Sometimes, we met the challenge.

Sometimes we found ourselves

being better than we thought

we could be.

When that happened,

it was beautiful.

So as we retire

this old clay vessel,

we offer up these moments

as our final sacrifice of praise

in hopes that they have moved

the world just a little closer

to the day when your kingdom comes

and your will is done

on earth as it is in heaven.

Anonymous   

The Mystery of Jesus

SIXTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Isaiah 50:4-9

Psalm 116:1-9

James 3:1-12

Mark 8:27-38

Prayer of the Day: O God, through suffering and rejection you bring forth our salvation, and by the glory of the cross you transform our lives. Grant that for the sake of the gospel we may turn from the lure of evil, take up our cross, and follow your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“But who do you say that I am?” Mark 8:29.

That is the sixty-four-thousand dollar question. The answer was not self evident then, nor is it today. When I was in seminary, the historical critical method was still the prevailing approach to understanding the Bible, though it was beginning to come under intense scrutiny. Shaped as it is by modernist presuppositions, historical criticism seeks to uncover the core meaning of each biblical passage through objective application of rigorous textual dissection, source criticism, redaction analysis and form criticism with an eye toward placing it in its historical context. Properly employed, this method was supposed to strip away all of the dogmatic prejudices of Israel/the church and so reveal what historical truth can be harvested from the Bible. Nowhere was this fevered search more focused than in the quest to unearth “the historical Jesus” out from under the clutter of the early church’s theological assertions. 

Since my seminary days, history has left the historical critical method behind. The work of scholars of color, women and persons of LBGTQ+ orientations has shaken our enlightenment era confidence in our ability to be “objective.” History, we now know, is not a matter of undisputed and verifiable fact. It is always shaped by narrative and usually that of the powerful, the military victors and those who are well off enough to have the luxury of writing it. Often the facts and events that are omitted from one’s historical narrative are as telling as those included. Excluded from my own historical education was the Tuskegee experiments, the Tulsa, Oklahoma massacre and the role of the slave trade in the rise of the United States. I learned a great deal about George Washington’s military prowess, statesmanship and piety. I was never told that, like nine of his successors, he was a slaveholder. There is no such thing as an unbiased account of anything and we deceive ourselves if we claim to be “unbiased.” The best we can do is be aware of our biases and try to see beyond them to the perspective of others.

So we start with the understanding that the mindset of the biblical narrators was quite different from our own. History, as we understand it in the modern context, had no place in their thinking. Thus, coming to them with questions framed in historical terms will not get us very far. The biblical speakers, writers and narrators did not distinguish between “natural” and “supernatural,” “spiritual” and “physical” or “mythical” and “historical.” For them, the universe was all of one piece and the God who created it inhabited it, acted within it and manifested God’s self to all its inhabitants. For that reason, Jesus is not revealed to us in modern documentary form. The nearest accounts we have of him are woven out of the stories, tales and teachings preserved for us by the early church in the New Testament. That might not appeal to our modernist sensibilities, but it is how God in God’s wisdom has chosen to reveal God’s only begotton Son.

All of this being so, I do not believe the question of whether and to what extent we can or cannot squeeze what we characterize as “history” out of the New Testament is worth pursuing. I contend that there is but one critical question: “Did the New Testament witnesses, in all of their diversity, tension and irreconcilable differences nevertheless ‘get Jesus right?’” Or is the Christian cannon just a tangle of garbled memories, exaggerated tales and dogmatically distorted preaching put into the mouth of a man whose true identity lies buried somewhere beneath the literary rubble? Can we trust the Jesus who emerges from the scriptural cannon as the church has transmitted it? I do not believe that is a question historical criticism or any other interpretive method can answer. The only response that can be given is the one given by Philip to Nathaniel in John’s gospel: “Come and see.” John 1:46. For the mystery of Jesus’ identity finally lies not in the text, but in the witness of the community formed by the text. Without Israel and the church, the Bible would hold no more significance than the Egyptian Book of the Dead. It would be of interest to scholars of ancient religion and culture, but of no relevance for anyone else.

Bottom line, the only Jesus we can know is the one proclaimed by his disciples. That, of course, includes not only the New Testament witnesses of the early church, but also the witness of all who throughout history have experienced Jesus as savior, come to know him through their attention to the scriptures and proclaimed him as Lord. Rather than viewing the church’s scriptures and teachings throughout the ages as a distracting and distorting encrustation obscuring the true “historical Jesus,” we should view them as a growing variety of windows into the identity of Jesus, a mystery we can never fully grasp this side of the resurrection. As such, they enhance rather than obscure our understanding of who Jesus is. Today we have the benefit of witness from Latin American disciples who find Jesus in their struggle for liberation; Black American disciples who find Jesus in their resistance to systemic racism and LGBTQ+ disciples who find Jesus in their struggle to live out their vocations authentically in a church that has for centuries excluded them. We are never through with trying to answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?”

Here is a poem by Andrew Hudgins reflecting on the identity of Jesus in light of John’s gospel’s account of his resurrection.

Christ as a Gardener

The boxwoods planted in the park spelled LIVE.
I never noticed it until they died.
Before, the entwined green had smudged the word
unreadable. And when they take their own advice
again – come spring, come Easter – no one will know
a word is buried in the leaves. I love the way
that Mary thought her resurrected Lord
a gardener. It wasn’t just the broad-brimmed hat
and muddy robe that fooled her: he was that changed.
He looks across the unturned field, the riot
of unscythed grass, the smattering of wildflowers.
Before he can stop himself, he’s on his knees.
He roots up stubborn weeds, pinches the suckers,
deciding order here – what lives, what dies,
an how. But it goes even deeper than that.

His hands burn and his bare feet smolder. He longs
to lie down inside the long, dew-moist furrows
and press his pierced side and his broken forehead
into the dirt. But he’s already done it –
passed through one death and out the other side.
He laughs. He kicks his bright spade in the earth
and turns it over. Spring flashed by, then harvest.
Beneath his feet, seeds dance into the air.
They rise, and he, not noticing, ascends
on midair steppingstones of dandelion,
of milkweed, thistle, cattail and goldenrod.

Source: Andrew Hudgins (b. 1951) was raised in Alabama. He earned a bachelor’s degree. at Huntingdon College and his master’s at University of Alabama. Additionally, he earned an M.F.A. at the University of Iowa. Hudgins is the author of numerous collections of poetry and essays, many of which have received high critical praise. He is currently Humanities Distinguished Professor of English at Ohio State University, having previously taught at Baylor University and the University of Cincinnati. Hudgins lives in Upper Arlington, Ohio, with his wife, the writer Erin McGraw. You can read more about Andrew Hudgins and sample more of his poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

The Miracle of Healing-What it Is and Isn’t

FIFTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Isaiah 35:4-7a

Psalm 146

James 2:1-17

Mark 7:24-37

Prayer of the Day: Gracious God, throughout the ages you transform sickness into health and death into life. Open us to the power of your presence and make us a people ready to proclaim your promises to the whole world, through Jesus Christ, our healer and Lord.

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
   and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
   and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. Isaiah 35:5-6.

What does it mean to be healed? I asked that question of myself a lot over the last few weeks, during which I spent the better part of each day visiting my wife at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston. As those of you who follow me know, Sesle sustained a severe spinal cord injury necessitating spinal surgery and intense inpatient therapy. During our time at Spaulding, I made a few observations about the healing process. First, healing is miraculous. We are indeed “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Psalm 139:13-15. It is nothing short of breath taking to witness how nerves reawaken and muscles regain their power to move once flaccid limbs. It is marvelous to behold how hearing, taste and smell often sharpen to compensate for lost sight. As far as we have come with our medical technology, the best we can do is aid the human body as it repairs itself-until finally it does not.

That brings me to my second observation. Healing is always incomplete this side of the Resurrection. Everyone Jesus ever healed died of some other human aliment-just as each one of us finally will. We are inescapably mortal, no matter how desperately we try to cover it up with lotions and creams; no matter how rigorously we exercise; no matter how wholesomely we eat; no matter how effectively we hide the reality of death away in end stage hospital rooms, nursing homes and hospice facilities. At best, healing gives one a reprieve. To be healed is to be given more life, more health and more opportunities to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God for whatever time we have left. In that respect, healing is no different than waking up in the morning to a new day. The question is, will you live it joyfully, thankfully and obediently as God’s faithful creature and beloved child?

Third, healing never returns one to the status quo. When illness is serious, it leaves scars. Recall that the Resurrected Christ still bears the wounds of the cross. Sometimes those scars are visible-as were the third degree burns left on one Spaulding inpatient I encountered. Sometimes they lie deep beneath the surface manifesting themselves in nightmares, panic attacks and spells of depression. Sometimes scars make one stronger, wiser and more compassionate. Often they leave one crippled, bitter and withdrawn. The difference between healing and worsening sickness frequently turns on how one’s scars are treated, the meaning given to them and the degree to which one is able to make peace with them.

Finally, and most important, true healing is cosmic. That is to say, we can never be made whole individually. Not until “God is all in all” will we finally be healed fully and completely. I Corinthians 15:28. Only when the broken bodies and wounded minds of all God’s people are finally woven into the fabric of the new creation can it be said that we have been truly healed. We ought to know that. If this Covid 19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that our own health can never be assured until the day that disease of this kind is given no more slums, no more malnourished populations and no more space where persons are deprived of basic health care. Such healing as we experience in our lives, as marvelous as it is, remains but a sign and a witness to the ultimate healing God desires for the whole creation and of which the resurrection of the crucified one is a sign and a down payment.   

Here is a poem by Joan Aleshire that speaks of illness, morality and a healing that transcends them both.

Healing

If the tests come out wrong, if the cells
begin to fail in their quiet weaving;
if the body that so lightly carries
this life betrays me — some night
when the pines talk to one another,
when no moon would tell my secret, snow
would fill my steps, I could go to that hill
so far beyond my neighbor’s it has no name.
Walking and waiting for numbness, I’d feel
the blade of air I’d chosen for my chest.
And if winter were too far away, the water
I watched today could take me — swift
churn of Otter Creek Falls, fanning out
smooth, moving from shore. Entering
such depth, a body would be part
of a motion, alive in its last time.

The doctor sensed the first tear
in his own tissue. The hand
with scythe-neat nails began to belong
to someone rebellious, his feet
were marble boats headed different ways,
his tongue turned against the thoughts
that tried to guide it. His country lost
its history — the childhood house
with its wings and boxwood borders,
the woman he noticed as she turned away.
He dreamed of dusty arenas, every exit
barred, a roar coming from the bull chute.

Doctor, he knew there’d be no reversal;
no way to cut or soothe. The ocean was open
all the way to the skyline; generous and deep.
How did he choose the time — after a day
of stumbling, or one so bright it tempted him
to stay? One night of no moon, he listened
to his wife breathing deep and even,
slipped back the broad cuff of sheet. Standing
he let his night clothes fall like snakeskin,
rustling down. He stepped in the last future
he could make — cold salt marking his ankles,
his calves as he waded in. Thighs, balls,
belly, chest. The tide began to love him
then, its pulse pressing his nipples,
answering his heart. He kept on,
letting in the water that would be his new air,
opening to the larger world, the failed body
lost to the final healing.

Source: The Yellow Transparents, Joan Ashire (Pub. by Four Way Books, 1997); also published in Poetry, (August 1988). Joan Alshire was born in 1947. She lives in Vermont where she is a library trustee and the founder of SAGE, an organization that supports sustainable agricultural education and the arts. She has written several poems touching on human frailty, mortality and resiliency. You can sample more of her poems at the Poetry Foundation website.

The Sin of Forgetfulness

FOURTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9

Psalm 15

James 1:17-27

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Prayer of the Day: O God our strength, without you we are weak and wayward creatures. Protect us from all dangers that attack us from the outside, and cleanse us from all evil that arises from within ourselves, that we may be preserved through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children—” Deuteronomy 4:9.  

This warning comes from Moses at what seems like the end of Israel’s long journey from slavery in Egypt through the perils of the wilderness to the brink of the Promise Land. Moses knows, however, that the journey is far from over and that he will not be with his people on the next stage. This is Moses’ last opportunity to address the people. He knows that Israel will face the challenge of transitioning from nomadic to sedentary existence. He knows that Israel will encounter the perils of warfare. But these are not the most formidable dangers the people will face. The greatest threat to Israel’s existence is forgetfulness. So Moses warns the people emphatically not to forget “the things your eyes have seen.”  Israel must never forget that they were slaves in Egypt and that God in God’s mercy liberated them from a life of bondage and opened up for them a new existence governed not by the gods of a ruling class, but the God who is champion of the marginalized. No longer would they be slaves whose bodies and labor belong to human overlords. Henceforth, they are to live under the governance of just laws that protect the “widow and the fatherless” and apply equally to citizens and resident aliens.

Forgetfulness is a natural human trait. Often, it is selective. As Barbara Strisand sings in, The Way We Were, theme song of the movie by that name:

Memories, may be beautiful and yet
What’s too painful to remember
We simply choose to forget

There was much in Israel’s history that Israel might well have wished to forget: the people’s panic and cowardice on the shore of the Red Sea as the Egyptian army approached and Moses appealed for them to trust in God; their ingratitude for the food, water and protection God had provided for forty years in the wilderness; their initial refusal to enter into the Promised Land-which resulted in their forty years of wilderness wandering. They might have wished they had a more flattering narrative to recite. Thus, Moses warns them later on in his final remarks: “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’” Deuteronomy 8:17.

Israel took this admonition to heart, including in her worship liturgies hymns such as the following:

We have heard with our ears, O God,
   our ancestors have told us,
what deeds you performed in their days,
   in the days of old:
you with your own hand drove out the nations,
   but them you planted;
you afflicted the peoples,
   but them you set free;
for not by their own sword did they win the land,
   nor did their own arm give them victory;
but your right hand, and your arm,
   and the light of your countenance,
   for you delighted in them.  Psalm 44:1-3.

Nonetheless, the people frequently did forget that their freedom and their land were gifts that came with heavy responsibilities. Israel often succumbed to the temptation to treat its status as God’s people as an entitlement rather than gift. This forgetfulness finally led to Israel’s conquest and exile.

The church requires the same stern warning given by Moses. Too frequently we have forgotten that we have been called to serve those deemd “least” within the human family and imagined instead that our status as God’s chosen people is one of privilege. We have rejoiced in the conviction that we are “saved,” but forgotten the reason for which we were saved. We have often traded the integrity of our witness for political influence, social recognition and wealth. We have confused patriotic aspirations with the demands of discipleship and white middle class respectability for morality. We have courted the favor of the wealthy and powerful while shunning contact with the poor, homeless and marginalized. In sum, we have forgotten our story or, perhaps more accurately, traded it away for an easier and more flattering narrative.

This is why we have the season of Lent and Holy Week. There are no heroes in the Passion Narrative; only traders, deserters and cowards. Judas the traitor. Peter the denier. James and John who fell asleep at their posts. The twelve who turned and fled at the approach of danger. We tell these unflattering stories on ourselves to remind ourselves who we are. We are the people who failed Jesus in his time of greatest need-and too frequently fail him still. Yet we are also spiritual descendants of the ones the resurrected Lord sought out as they cowered behind locked doors, sending them out with the good news of God’s inbreaking reign. Faithless as we often are, God is ever faithful. Forgetful as we are of God’s kindness toward us, God remembers God’s promises to us and continues to send prophets, preachers and teachers to remind us who we are and what God has done and continues to do for us.

Truthful remembering is often a painful process. Nothing illustrates the point better than the fanatic resistance of white politicians and their constituents to educational efforts to come to terms with the role played by racism and white supremacy in our nation’s history. There is much in our national past that a lot of us would like to forget, much of our story that we would rather remain untold. Many of us would prefer that the whitewashed (pun intended) version of history we were taught in school remain unchallenged. The good news the church has to offer here is that the truth, painful as it might be, sets us free. Being reminded who we are can be devastating, but if at the same time we are reminded who God is, it can be redemptive. We cannot change what the past tells us about who we are, but Jesus’ good word to us is that God’s future, not our past, can control who we will be tomorrow. I believe the American Church is in a marvelous position to give our nation the gift of repentance and a vision of the future it so desperately needs. But until we first receive it ourselves, we have nothing to offer. For that reason, I have joined the call of many believers for our churches, particularly those that are predominantly white and more particularly my own Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, to commit to the making of reparations to Black American churches and their ministries. What is the purpose of the church if not to remind the world what it means to be human and show it what justice and reconciliation look like?

Here is a poem in which Langston Hughes calls upon his black sisters and brothers to remember. It is perhaps in some respets the kind of remembering to which Moses called Israel when the people were still enslaved in Egypt. It speaks to Americans a harsh, but true word. We would do well not to forget it.

Remember    

Remember
The days of bondage—
And remembering—
Do not stand still.
Go to the highest hill
And look down upon the town
Where you are yet a slave.
Look down upon any town in Carolina
Or any town in Maine, for that matter,
Or Africa, your homeland—
And you will see what I mean for you to see—
             The white hand:
             The thieving hand.
             The white face:
             The lying face.
             The white power:
             The unscrupulous power
That makes of you
The hungry wretched thing you are today.

Source: New Haven: Beinecke Library, Yale University, (Published in Poetry, January 2009). Langston Hughes was an important African American voice in the “Harlem Renaissance” of the 1920s. Though well-educated and widely traveled, Hughes’ poetry never strayed far from his roots in the African American community. Early in his career, Hughes’ work was criticized by some African American intellectuals for portraying what they viewed as an unflattering representation of back life. In a response to these critics, Hughes replied, “I didn’t know the upper class Negroes well enough to write much about them. I knew only the people I had grown up with, and they weren’t people whose shoes were always shined, who had been to Harvard, or who had heard of Bach. But they seemed to me good people, too.”  Today Langston Hughes is recognized globally as a towering literary figure of the 20th Century. You can read more about Hughes and discover more of his poetry at the Poetry Foundation website (from which the above quote is taken).

How Not to Stop a Bad Guy with a Gun

THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18

Psalm 34:15-22

Ephesians 6:10-20

John 6:56-69

Prayer of the Day Holy God, your word feeds your people with life that is eternal. Direct our choices and preserve us in your truth, that, renouncing what is false and evil, we may live in you, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:11-12.

For pacifists like myself, Paul’s call to “put on the whole armor of God” is a little off putting. Sure, I know he is speaking metaphorically-just as I know that “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “The Son of God Goes Forth to war” are not calls literally to engage in violence. Still, the church’s complicity with and sanction for violence over the centuries makes me wonder whether we should not relegate the two aforementioned hymns to the archives and omit Paul’s words here from the lectionary. The singing of such hymns and the reading of this lesson under the shadow of the crusades, the inquisition, the Thirty Years War and the spread of Christianity on the heels of colonialism strikes me as historically tone deaf. Paul’s use of military imagery might at one time have been an apt metaphor for a marginalized church engaging a hostile empire. But when a church that was the religious arm of the empire for a millennium and continues to be (or tries to be) the mediator of cultural norms in North America and Western Europe takes up Paul’s refrain, it sounds in a whole different and sinister key. It is a little like singing “We Shall Overcome” at a Trump rally.

Then again, maybe Paul’s language is precisely what we need. There is a subversive bit of irony in Paul’s turning the military engines of terror employed by Rome to crush its enemies into metaphors for the church’s war “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Paul emphasizes-and this is critical-that “our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh.” The devil, of course, would have us believe precisely the opposite. The devil would convince us that our struggle is against blood and flesh, against other human beings made in God’s image, against our neighbors who differ from us in terms of their language, ethnicity, national identity, religion or political convictions. Contrary to what many folks believe, the devil has no interest in who wins any war. The devil is content to have us at each other’s throats. No matter who prevails on the battle field, the devil always wins every war.

Saint Paul is making the point, often lost on too many Christians, that violence is not a weapon within the disciple’s arsenal. National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre famously said, following the horrific Sandy Hook child massacre, “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.” Nothing so clearly repudiates Mr. LaPierre’s claim than the tragic events we are witnessing in Afghanistan these days. Severe criticism has been leveled against President Biden and his administration for his handling of that military misadventure. Much of that criticism is well deserved. But we should not forget that this war began twenty years ago with overwhelming support of the American people and the sanction of both houses of Congress. The war in Afghanistan was launched with the unquestioned belief that, with enough fire power and patriotism, the Taliban could be driven from power and a beacon of western style democracy built in its place. But, despite trillions of dollars, thousands of American lives and many more Afghan casualties, the Taliban still won.

What we are seeing today in Afghanistan is not the failure of any general’s military strategy or the incompetence of any particular president. We are simply learning the lesson we should have learned almost five decades ago in Vietnam: an idolatrous confidence in military power is not a recipe for justice, peace or security. If the most powerful and advanced military machine the world has ever seen could not stop a motely crew like the Taliban, what makes Mr. LaPierre and his followers think that more guns in more homes will cure domestic violence, violence in our streets and violent attacks upon our schools? More importantly, what makes people who claim the title “Christian” think that espousing such views is in any way consistent with the faith they profess?  

Saint Paul points us in a different direction. The problem is not the guy holding the gun. The problem is the hateful ideology leading the guy to believe s/he needs a gun, that the gun can solve his/her problems and that there is no solution beyond use of the gun. According to Paul, the only way to stop a bad guy, with or without a gun, is by speaking the truth, living righteously, practicing peace, waking in faith and trusting in God’s power alone to save. Note well that these are all defensive weapons. The only offensive weapon Saint Paul gives us is the “sword of the Spirit,” that is, the word of God’s good news we are called to proclaim. Ephesians 6:13-17. Paul makes clear that this good news is that Jesus’ has reconciled all humanity to God and thereby brings hostility between all members of the human family to and end: “peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.” Ephesians 2:14-18. True, these weapons might not stop the bad guy before the bad guy shoots you. But that is merely an occupational hazard of discipleship. Jesus wasn’t speaking metaphorically when he told his disciples that all who followed him must be prepared wind up on the cross.

The bottom line here is that there is no rationale for any disciple of Jesus to be in possession of a weapon designed to kill people.[i] That is and always has been the orthodox teaching of the church from the New Testament era to the present. Historically, the church has carved out a narrow exception to that rule for persons serving as agents of the government for national defense or law enforcement under what has been loosely defined as “the just war doctrine.” As anyone who follows me knows, I have grave concerns about this dogma and have urged its reconsideration on numerous occasions. But it seems to me that, at a bare minimum, every bishop and pastor should be saying to the church in no uncertain terms that, if you own a weapon and you are neither a police officer nor a member of the military, you are committing the sin of idolatry. Yes, I know how deeply ingrained the gun culture is in our society, how divisive Paul’s pacifist message can be and the ramifications for the professional and financial well being of both pastors and the church generally. But what I am espousing here is not anything new or radical. It is simply what the church has taught since its inception and what all bishops, pastors and deacons should be preaching. So put on your grownup pants and do it!

Here is Saint Francis’ prayer, not merely for peace, but that God would make him an instrument of peace. It is, I believe, a fitting response to our reading from Saint Paul.

Prayer of Saint Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offence, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.


O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.

Source: This English translation of the Prayer of Saint Francis is taken from the Lutheran Book of Worship (c. 1978 by Augsburg Fortress Press). The attribution of the prayer to Saint Francis is doubtful. The first published text of the prayer appeared only in 1912. The prayer is not a part of any Franciscan Order liturgy, nor is it found in any of Francis’ known writings. Nonetheless, it captures well the piety and spiritual outlook of the saint.  


[i] I deliberately choose the word “weapon” over “gun” because I understand that some gun owners use their guns strictly for sport, for hunting or to protect their livestock from predators. In these circumstances, I concede that a gun is no different from a power tool that is inherently dangerous, but when properly used serves a legitimate need. Such gun owners are to be distinguished from those who insist that their guns are necessary for self defense.

Sunday, August 16th

Once again, due to circumstances beyond my control, I have been unable to produce a reflection on this week’s lessons. I offer instead an artice published six years ago today in hopes that you will find it still relevent and helpful in your own meditations.

Peter's Outer Cape Portico

TWELFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Proverbs 9:1-6
Psalm 34:9-14
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

PRAYER OF THE DAY:Ever-loving God, your Son gives himself as living bread for the life of the world. Fill us with such a knowledge of his presence that we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life to serve you continually, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

I have never been a fan of “home schooling.” That is partly because I believe one important objective of education is training children to live in and take responsibility for the larger society. Public schools are and should be places where children are confronted with people expressing ideas, holding opinions and practicing beliefs that are different from their own precisely because ours is a nation founded on the belief that such differing folk can nevertheless work together for the common good. I must also confess that my skepticism…

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Church-The Place Where Bodies Matter

ELEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

1 Kings 19:4-8

Psalm 34:1-8

Ephesians 4:25—5:2

John 6:35, 41-51

Prayer of the Day: Gracious God, your blessed Son came down from heaven to be the true bread that gives life to the world. Give us this bread always, that he may live in us and we in him, and that, strengthened by this food, we may live as his body in the world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” John 6:51.

“Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water…” As many of you will no doubt recall, that was the tag line for Jaws II, the first of three sequels to the original thriller/horror flick about an oversized great white shark with an appetite for swimmers on the fictional New England resort community of Amity Island. In the interest of full disclosure, I have not seen any of these films. But from what I can tell, it seems that no matter how many times you kill the damn shark, it keeps coming back. White sharks, by the way, are no strangers to us here on the Outer Cape. They are seen off shore at our beaches with some regularity. Thankfully, however, the real ones seem mainly interested in seals. On those rare occasions when great whites attack humans, it is usually a case of mistaken identity. A swimmer on a boggy board looks a lot like a seal from a shark’s point of view.   

But sharks are the least of our worries out here on the Cape these days. Just when we thought it was safe to venture out to plays, crowded restaurants and densely populated beaches, just when we though it was finally safe to take our masks off-Covid 19 reared its ugly head again just like that confounded shark. So, we are back to social distancing, wearing masks indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces and keeping track of who comes to worship so that we can contact trace if that becomes necessary. This time the stakes are not quite as high. Massachusetts generally and the Cape in particular have a high rate of vaccination. Though the new Delta variant has proven that it can infect vaccinated people, the symptoms of the disease for those vaccinated generally range from mild to non-existent. Only two hospitalizations have occurred and no deaths. Still, it is demoralizing having to defer once more getting back to some semblance of normal living.

The good news is that we will eventually get beyond Covid 19. For the church, that is very good news indeed. Our faith is all about human contact-flesh on flesh. Our gospel lesson makes that exceedingly clear. Talk about “eating the flesh” of Jesus might rub our modern sensibilities the wrong way. But we Lutherans take these terms quite literally. There is a story about how Martin Luther went to debate doctrinal issues with his fellow reformer, Ulrich Zwingli. Among the topics under discussion was the presence of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper. There was a lot of pressure on Luther to find enough common ground with Zwingli to enable an alliance with the evangelical churches of the Lutheran persuasion. It was said that the first thing Luther did before the debate even began was to write these words on the table in front of him: “This is my body.” He felt he needed a graphic reminder that, on this point of Jesus’ actual, real and bodily presence in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, there could be no compromise.

Some might accuse Luther of being overly stubborn. To be fair, he had that tendency. But I believe Luther was onto something here. Faith needs the assurance that God will be present where God promises to be present. Of course, God’s presence is not limited to the Eucharist. One might encounter God anywhere. But there is one place you can always count on finding God and the “yes” to all of God’s promises. That place is the Lord’s table where Christ himself invites us to “take and eat” the bread of eternal life. For that reason, it is important that the world know that the Body of Christ gathers at 9:30 a.m. just off Route 6 in Wellfleet at the Chapel of Saint James the Fisherman and off Highway 137 at Saint Peter’s Lutheran in Harwich at the same time. The Christian faith is all about gathered bodies-old bodies, young bodies, healthy bodies, ill bodies, crippled bodies, restless bodies of bored children, screaming bodies of babies, all kinds of bodies that are members in the larger Body of Christ. Without bodies, there is no church.

That brings me to the pressing topic of “virtual” worship. In some respects, there is nothing really new here. The radio and television have been broadcasting worship services for decades. I met more than a few people back in the 80s who told me they preferred to watch the late Rev. Robert Schuler in his Chrystal Cathedral to attending any local church. “The music is so beautiful and that man’s preaching is so inspiring!” And it’s true. None of the small steeple churches I have belonged to or served over the years could ever come close to putting together a choir like that of the Chrystal Cathedral. Our organs could never compete on a scale with the Cathedral. What’s more, Pastor Schuler and his congregation neither know nor care that you are sitting on your couch in your PJs with a cup of coffee, munching on a donut. They don’t expect you to get up on the early side, shower, shave and get dressed up. Most important of all, while they might appeal to you for money, they won’t pass the plate to you in front of the whole congregation so you don’t have to feel awkward about hanging onto your money.

I tried to point out to these TV worshipers that, while all of this might seem appealing on the surface, there was a serious down side. Rev. Schuler, I reminded them, would not show up to visit them in the hospital; he wouldn’t reach out to them if their loved one were to become seriously ill; nobody from the Crystal Cathedral would show up with a casserole, a hug and a sympathetic ear at the deathbed of their spouses. In short, there would be no Body to share the pain of its member. The choir would go right on singing praises and the pastor would keep on preaching inspiring sermons as though the tragedies of their television audience did not exist-because for the Crystal Cathedral crowd, they don’t.

When the Covid 19 pandemic struck, our churches were faced with challenges we had never before encountered. There was no precedent, guideline or set of rules to direct us as we tried to hold our congregations together under the strictures of quarantine, social distancing and restrictions on travel. I had the good fortune to have retired from ministry a couple of years before Covid 19. I must say, though, that I stand in awe of the faithfulness, creativity and courage with which pastors I know met these challenges. I would not want anything I say here to be taken as a criticism of what any pastor did during this pastoral crisis that, thankfully, I never had to face. But now that the crisis is passing-albeit at a slower pace than any of us would like-I think we need to examine the pastoral and liturgical practices we developed during the pandemic and consider what role, if any, they should play in a post-pandemic church.

Let me say from the outset that a congregation’s use of virtual platforms to maintain its worship, ministry and witness during a pandemic is entirely different from what Schuler and his ilk were doing. Nonetheless, the issue remains the same, namely, if we have no bodily presence, is it still church? I worry that recording services in cyberspace invites worshipers to skip the trouble of being present on the Lord’s Day in favor of squeezing worship into a convenient spot in one’s schedule. I worry that the Zoom conference might usurp meeting around the table over coffee. I worry that we will lose in the depths of cyberspace the tear welling up in one’s eye as they tell us that things are all right even though they are not. I worry that future generations of pastors educated increasingly by virtual means might never know most of their colleagues other than as two dimensional disembodied heads. I worry that we might well be undermining the miracle of the Incarnation and substituting “virtual” presence for “real” presence.

I am not suggesting we reject all things virtual. The internet has opened up some exciting opportunities for expanding the church’s mission. For example, many of our homebound folks have said to me that, since we started virtual worship, they have never felt so connected to their church. I believe that virtual platforms can be a vital source of outreach and support for many people who, for various reasons, simply cannot be present. These platforms also offer us an opportunity to show members of the public what we do-and God knows there are enough popular misconceptions these days about what actually goes on in church! Virtual presence does not necessarily negate real presence. But I think we need to take care that it is used in a way that nourishes and facilitates rather than inhibits or undermines the public gathering of God’s people on the Lord’s Day. Thus, I look forward to having some deep and nuanced conversations about the place of virtual platforms in the life of the church.

Here is a poem that celebrates our bodily existence as a precious gift.

After the Pandemic

There will be packed stadiums,

Crowded streets,

Subway cars with bodies

Standing shoulder to shoulder,

Face to face;

Sweaty, stinky bodies

In long lines.

There will be beaches

Populated by nearly naked bodies

Sitting on blankets

And perched in chairs

In close proximity.

Life will be much as it was before

Except for our knowing now

The sacredness of touch,

The holiness of faces,

And the infinite worth

Of body touching body.

Source: Anonymous

Who is the “We”?

TENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15

Psalm 78:23-29

Ephesians 4:1-16

John 6:24-35

Prayer of the Day: O God, eternal goodness, immeasurable love, you place your gifts before us; we eat and are satisfied. Fill us and this world in all its need with the life that comes only from you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:1-5.

I recently took part with a group of Christian friends in a discussion about the politicization of Covid-19 vaccination and its negative effects on public efforts to promote the vaccine and other measures designed to stop the spread of the disease. The discussion soon turned to questions about what exactly is “broken” in our system and how we, presumably as Christians, should be addressing it. I have been reflecting on this and other similar discussions for years now. I always come back to another question of my own: who is the “we” in these deliberations?

To illustrate that point, an old joke is often told about the Lone Ranger and his faithful native American companion, Tonto. While riding out on the Badlands in pursuit of outlaws, the two suddenly find themselves surrounded by a large and well armed band of Sioux. The Lone Ranger turns to his partner and says, “This looks like a pretty dangerous situation, Tonto. What do you think we should do about it?” Tonto replies, “What situation? And who is this ‘we’ you’re talking about white man?” Clearly, how you define a problem and, indeed, whether there even is a problem depends on who is asking.

My take? The problem is that our collective belief in America is dying. The “we” who believe in America no longer form the critical mass required to sustain it. It is getting harder and harder to believe in our essential goodness, in our conviction that we are somehow “exceptional,” that we can do whatever we put our minds to as long as we act in concert. Of course, there have always been many folks who never believed in American that way, who didn’t experience it that way and never felt included in the “we” that privileged white folk use as a prefix for “the people.” Their voices are getting stronger, becoming more articulate and finding their way into public discourse as never before. All of that further undermines belief in the old American mythology and makes those of us who desperately want to believe frantic with existential terror. Witness the near hysteria on the part of Republican legislators over including the history of slavery, segregation and systemic racism in school curriculum. They and their constituents view such educational material as “an attack on America.” They are not altogether wrong about that. These hard truths do represent an attack on the American myths in which so many of us would like to believe.

As the America in which we once believed becomes increasingly difficult for more people to accept, the “we” who believe becomes smaller, more isolated, more threatened and more hostile toward unbelievers. America is no longer the grand promise, the idea to which others must be won over. It is the walled fortress needing protection from infiltration by outsiders and pollution by impure influences. The “city on a hill” resembles more a besieged bunker. For the last of the true believers, America is a dying faith that fewer and fewer find credible, a fading ember that must be kept alive by the dwindling faithful, an outdated belief system that needs fabricated history, junk science, bizarre religion and outlandish conspiracy theories to prop it up. The American faith no longer has a critical mass of adherents to make it function. That is a problem for “we” who still hold this faith. For those who no longer do or never did, maybe not so much. For the “we” living at the margins of American society, this loss of faith on our part means only that more people are beginning to recognize the truth about their American experience, a truth they have lived and known for generations.

I would hasten to add that I am not hostile toward this country. Nor am I indifferent to the fate of the United States of America. There is much about this nation that is noble, beautiful and worth preserving. I believe that if the United States found the courage to face the truth about itself so long suppressed, it could emerge a wiser, more just and compassionate nation. I believe that the United States of America might yet, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.” I am just not sure there are enough of us left who are even interested in doing that. If we trust each other so little that we need machine guns to protect ourselves from our own elected government and our neighbors; if we cannot even settle on what constitutes matters of simple fact; if our elected leaders are invoking the second amendment against their political opponents; I have to wonder whether a civil, democratic society is even possible.  I am not sure it makes sense anymore to speak of “we” Americans anymore.   

But now I would like to focus on a different “we,” the one about which Paul speaks in his Letter to the Ephesians. This is the “we” who are of one body animated by one Spirit sharing one calling, one faith, one baptism and one God who is “above all and through all and in all.” Our belief system is not grounded in any nation or idea of a nation. Neither are “we” defined principally by national, ethnic or tribal identity. “We” know that “the nations are like a drop from a bucket and are accounted as dust on the scales.” Isaiah 40:15. Our own is no exception and no different from all of the other great empires that have had their day and now live only in the annuls of history. “We” believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church which is not a kingdom of this world bent on imposing its sovereignty, but a community witnessing to the just and gentle reign of God. “We” do not see ourselves as separate or antagonistic to any outside our number. “We” do not understand ourselves to be singled out for special privilege, but consecrated as a kind of “first fruits” of everything God is determined to share with all creation. 

I am not convinced that “we” church can or should try to solve America’s existential dilemma, though God knows we have tried. Whether under the banner of the social gospel or through the legislative agenda of the religious right, we protestants have seemed obsessed at times with making America something no nation ever has been or can be. In the process, I fear we have become a good deal more American than we are Christian. Thus, when the foundations of the American empire are shaken, our response is very much like that of the Lone Ranger: What are we going to do about this dangerous situation? Tonto’s response seems just as apropos: “What problem? And who is this “we?” That might well be Saint Paul’s response as also. It seems to me that Saint Paul would urge us, as he does the church at Ephesus, to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” He would challenge us to become communities able to thrive in a post American world.

None of this is to say that the church should abandon America or American society. As long as we live in the United States, the health and wellbeing of its people, communities and institutions are key to our wellbeing also. Being “in” America and, insofar as it functions as an ordering power for justice, peace and equity, being “for” America is all well and good. But it seems to me that the church can never be “of” America-or any other nation state. To the contrary, it is precisely by our being exclusively the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church that God exposes the temporality and frailty of the nations and the foolishness deifying them. This crucial witness, ever less than perfect in our faith and practice, has been muddled further in American Christianity by our confusion of piety with patriotism, our conflation of the American dream and the reign of God, our mixing of enlightenment metaphors and biblical imagery. Our love for America is surely right, but our faith in American mythology has been tragically misplaced. The sooner we learn that lesson down to the depths of our ecclesiastical souls, the sooner we will become capable of being light to the United States of America-and to the world.

Here is a poem by Claude McKay, a poet whose participation in the “we” of American life was fraught to say the least. It challenges Americans to expand their understanding of who “we” are. It convicts the church on the smallness of its own “we.”   

America

Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth.
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate,
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet, as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.

Source:  Liberator (The Library of America, 1921). This poem is in the public domain. Claude McKay (1889-1948) was born Festus Claudius McKay in Nairne Castle, Jamaica. He came to the United States in 1912 to attend the Tuskegee Institute. McKay was shocked by the racism he encountered in this country and that experience of culture shock shaped his career as a writer and poet. McKay became a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance, a Black American intellectual, social, and artistic movement centered in Harlem, New York spanning the 1920s. His poetry celebrates peasant life in Jamaica, challenges white supremacy in America and lifts up the struggles of black men and women striving to live their lives with dignity in a racist culture. You can learn more about Claude McKay and read more of his poetry on the Poetry Foundation Website.

Sunday, July 26th

Due to numerous factors, I have been unable to produce a reflection on the texts for the coming Sunday. Therefore, I offer a reflection from six years ago which seems not to have grown too stale with age.

Peter's Outer Cape Portico

NINTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

2 Kings 4:42-44
Psalm 145:10-18
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

PRAYER OF THE DAY:Gracious God, you have placed within the hearts of all your children a longing for your word and a hunger for your truth. Grant that we may know your Son to be the true bread of heaven and share this bread with all the world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

John’s account of Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand differs from that of Matthew, Mark and Luke in several respects. Perhaps the most significant detail we learn from John is that the people Jesus fed in such a remarkable way responded by trying to seize him by force and make him king. And why not? Jesus would likely make a great king, wouldn’t he?

Yes and no. Jesus understood only too well the nature and pitfalls of empire. He was…

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