Busting Taboos, part 2: Sermons on Acts 10 & 11

I don’t always get to preach two weeks in a row, so when I do I try to connect them, to make them into a mini-series at least. This time however, we are doing a series on the book of The Acts of the Apostles. So the sermon I’m posting here from May 13th (Mother’s Day) on Acts chapter 11 follows naturally from this sermon on Acts 10. Or at least I intended for them to flow together naturally. Ultimately, whether or not I succeeded in that is up to, dear reader, to decide.

No added visuals this time. But this sermon is longer because it includes my conversion story (as promised in the previous sermon).

Here’s what I attempted to say: “Listening to God’s Spirit changed the church. Excluding LGBT is ruining UMC’s reputation. Listening to LGBT Christians changed me, and could our church too.” Let me know what you heard though.

 

Busting Taboos: Sermons on Acts 10 & 11

The sermon series on Acts of the Apostles (which I first wrote about here) continues. I preached on May 6th and May 13th on chapters 10 and 11, respectively. Many others have said this many times, but the story told in Acts 10 & 11 is the most significant story the church has. As I argued a few years ago, Acts 10:35 should be our “leadoff hitter, our first responder, our top go-to text”:

God has just shown me that I should no longer consider any human being unclean or profane… God accepts every person regardless of background or culture. God welcomes all who revere Him and do right.

How much better would Christianity be if that was our main mantra?

As I keep reiterating, sermons need to be heard not just read. So here’s “The Best Worst Buffet” on Acts 10 from May 6, 2018. Visuals I used are below the audio.

My intended thesis was, “God seeks to subvert our penchant for exclusivity.” Let me know what you hear though.

 

Acts as Tree image

 

Acts 10 map

 

This seems long enough; I’ll give the May 13th sermon it’s own post.

UPDATE: May 13th sermon on Acts 11 here.

#StayWokeAdvent

Photo by Colleen Erbach
Photo by Colleen Erbach

That racism exists in our world, in our country, in our community, in our systems – social, economic, and political – is irrefutable. But as a middle-aged, middle-income, able-bodied, cis-gendered, straight, white, Christian, male, layers of privilege afford me the possibility – the comfort – of not noticing that racism. Or, if I do notice the racism rampant in our systems, those layers of privilege mean I can keep that knowledge at a distance. I’m protected from the violence in, of and from our systems.

Advent, the season of the church year that calls us to prepare for God’s incarnation in Jesus, began on Sunday with the gospel writer exhorting us to “Keep awake!” Mary’s song reminds us just what we need to keep awake for: the healing and justice Jesus brings for the blind, sick, and oppressed. One of the protest chants in Ferguson, MO this summer was, “Stay Woke!” Remaining alert to injustice is the most faithful way to participate in Advent. That’s why I’m eager to connect us with the #StayWokeAdvent movement.

One of the best uses of privilege is to make room for those who are less often allowed a seat at the table. That is, to share any platforms I have with those much closer to the violence than I. It is time for me and for us to listen to the painful stories of those hurt, crushed and even killed by our cultural systems: people of color.

Start with this introduction to #StayWokeAdvent from Micky ScottBey Jones: #StayWokeAdvent is a project of people interested in exploring the depths of the darkness and interaction with light through the time of Advent. It is an experiment in spiritual honesty during a time of the year that is often covers up the pain and struggle of the world with a giant glittery bow. The night is not silent. We are not asleep. [read the rest]

Jones also has a fantastic interview with world-renowned Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann. Here’s a snippet:

MJ: How do we react to anger being viewed as negative, or wanting to avoid it? We want people to “calm down” or “get over it”.

WB: We live in a bourgeois cocoon of niceness and anything that breaks out of that is very threatening and disruptive to people. We have to work towards having honest speech with each other. When we have honest speech we have to speak out about the things that are unjust and unfair. [read the rest]

To get a sense of the historical context of the protests occurring right now in Ferguson, Chicago, New York, and all across the country, read this quick take by Dr. Carol Anderson:

But the real rage smolders in meetings where officials redraw precincts to dilute African American voting strength or seek to slash the government payrolls that have long served as sources of black employment. It goes virtually unnoticed, however, because white rage doesn’t have to take to the streets and face rubber bullets to be heard. Instead, white rage carries an aura of respectability and has access to the courts, police, legislatures and governors, who cast its efforts as noble [read the rest]

To get an even fuller picture of the injustice built into our current systems – and the key role Chicago plays – I once again commend to you the extraordinary, incisive, meticulous essay by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

The men who peddled contracts in North Lawndale would sell homes at inflated prices and then evict families who could not pay—taking their down payment and their monthly installments as profit. Then they’d bring in another black family, rinse, and repeat. “He loads them up with payments they can’t meet,” an office secretary told The Chicago Daily News of her boss, the speculator Lou Fushanis, in 1963. “Then he takes the property away from them. He’s sold some of the buildings three or four times.” [read the rest]

Especially for we who are white, I’m convinced we are incapable of having an honest, informed conversation about Ferguson, New York, or Cleveland – that is, a conversation about race in the USA – unless and until we’ve been reminded of (or taught for the first time) our national history.

Jesus announces that his purpose is to heal the sick and release those bound by the chains of injustice. We who would follow him, we who would be his disciples, must have a #StayWokeAdvent.

Remembering that ‘shot rang out in the Memphis sky’

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you this, but it was 45 years ago today (April 4) that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

Yesterday, Fred Clark posted a long excerpt from Dr. King’s April 3rd speech, often called the “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech. It’s fabulous oratory. Fred rightly pointed out that the crux of that speech – and of King’s work and the gospel of Jesus – is to stop asking how we’ll be affected by advocating for justice and instead ask how others will be affected if we aren’t advocates. “What will happen to them if I don’t stop to help?”

Upworthy also has great MLK content today, videos, audio and stills.

It’s no secret that U2 is my favorite band. So naturally I thought about posting their tribute to Dr. King, “Pride (in the name of love).” Then I came across this cover by John Legend. It is a much different take on the song, but it is hauntingly beautiful.

Watch this and then let’s redouble our efforts to bring justice, equality and goodness into the world. You and me. Together we can and should and must do that.

John Legend performs PRIDE (In The Name of Love) by ElectricArtists

 

Women and girls

“There’s nothing like having a daughter for turning you into a feminist,” remarked a parishioner after a sermon I gave sometime ago. While I remember neither the specific statement I made nor exactly when this exchange occurred, I vividly remember thinking, “I really hope I was a feminist before we had a daughter. Maybe I haven’t been as strong and vocal an advocate for and with women as I thought?”

Girls are the secret weapon in the war on poverty. But only if they’re protected and educated. – Mercy Corps’ A Girl Can

However, on this International Women’s Day (March 8) it is all too tragically clear that simply having a daughter – or a sister or an aunt or a wife or a friend or a cousin or a mother – is not enough to transform people into feminists*:

Domestic Violence

Via United Methodist Women.

Women ages fifteen to forty-five are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined. – Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Hoping and praying that those awful, sobering, gut-wrenching, heart-rending statistics change is a good first step, but it isn’t enough.

I definitely haven’t paid enough attention over the years to the excellent work and advocacy being done by UM Women: Fighting domestic violence, partnering with civic leaders, and providing a plethora of resources and events. We can join these already-in-progress efforts.

Girls who stay in school during adolescence marry later and are less likely to be subjected to forced sex. – Mercy Corps’ A Girl Can

How else can we support equality on this International Women’s Day? Again, no wheel-inventing necessary, simply learn from and move with others leading the way:

  • The ONE Campaign offers 5 ideas, all of which you can do from your computer (or, you know, other devices).
  • Wold Chicago is hosting a great event today. My mom and my wife are attending it. Hopefully I can get them to share about the event in a future post. (Full disclosure: World Chicago’s Executive Director, Peggy Parfenoff, is a long-time family friend.)
  • Read A Girl Can from Mercy Corps. Their pictures, stats, and video will enrage you, inspire you, and move you to action.

A girl who can read teaches her mother to read, tells her brothers about women’s rights, and makes school a priority for her own children. – Mercy Corps’ A Girl Can

In the spirit of ONE’s idea #5: Looking back on my formative years, before I knew terms like feminist, advocate, empowerment, equality, or gendered roles, I knew that our family didn’t always fit the usual mode. Sure, Mom cooked most of the meals. But Dad did the laundry and we all helped clean the house.

Mom and Dad had the same level of education and both worked similar full-time, outside-of-the-home jobs.

Dad painstakingly worked to keep all the landscaping immaculate. He knew every flower, plant, tree, and (horrors!) weed. Mom was the one with the collection of sports trophies for softball, basketball and bowling. The Sports Illustrated subscription came to her. It was a big accomplishment the day when teenaged Dave finally beat Mom at ping-pong for the first time. Teaching me to throw, catch and hit a baseball? Mom did that. Learning proper form and release shooting hoops? That came from Mom. Scoring bowling by hand? Reading a box score in the newspaper? Correctly marking each play on the baseball score card? Mom, Mom, and Mom again.

Thank you, Mom (and Dad) for teaching me strength, partnership, and equality simply by being who you are. I love you. I hope Joann and I can pass on those lessons to both our son and our daughter.

Your turn! How are you celebrating International Women’s Day?

*Yes, I realize that is a loaded term for some, a term to avoid. However, I truly don’t understand that at all. If women are people too, then what could possibly be bad about “advocating social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men“?? I’m not being glib here, I truly don’t see the problem or issue or controversy.

Victory! What’s next?

Thursday was a really good day.

After months and even years of delay, the U.S. House of Representatives FINALLY passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) – and with it the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA)!

The General Board of Church & Society of The United Methodist Church reminded us what The United Methodist Church says about Family Violence and Abuse:

We recognize that family violence and abuse in all its forms—verbal, psychological, physical, sexual—is detrimental to the covenant of the human community. – UMC Social Principles 161.G

The bill had already passed the Senate and President Obama has said he will sign it right away. Most of the news I saw about this focused on how the main bill protects all women, including native Americans, undocumented immigrants and LGBT women. As Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), herself a rape victim, sharply put it with a paraphrase of 19th century escaped slave and civil rights advocate, Sojourner Truth, “Ain’t they women?”

Yes. Yes, they are.

But the VAWA also included the TVPRA as an amendment. TVPA expired over two years ago; we finally have it back! What’s that mean? I’ll let two of our best anti-trafficking partners – Polaris Project and International Justice Mission – tell you.

From Polaris Project:

This bill sets important funding benchmarks, encourages distribution of the National Human Trafficking Hotline number by federal agencies, establishes grant programs for state agencies to assist child victims of sex trafficking, strengthens the ability to prosecute those who fraudulently hire individuals in foreign labor contracts, and more. [read the rest]

IJM adds that the 2013 version of the TVPRA has new provisions as well:

  • Gives the State Department authority to partner with overseas governments to stop child trafficking in targeted areas. It’s much more specific and measurable than previous programs
  • An emergency response provision helps the State Department quickly deploy teams of experts into crisis areas—like the situation in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake—where disorder and poverty can leave children or other vulnerable poor especially susceptible to trafficking.
  • New tools to help prosecute traffickers and people who exploit the poor.
  • Continued support for existing programs that support survivors of trafficking both in the U.S. and overseas. [read the rest]

After this victory, as President Bartlett used to ask, What’s next?
Time to talk hunger again, that’s what.

Our friends at Bread for the World ask, How is it possible that people in this country continue to go hungry, despite our abundance of food?

As an answer to that question, they are partners with a new film from Magnolia Pictures and its accompanying social action campaign. “March 1st marks the premiere of A Place at the Table, a new eye-opening documentary that answers the question through the lives of three people. Their stories reveal the depth of the hunger crisis in America and the factors that drive it.

Watch the trailer. But be careful, the trailer does its job – you will want to see the whole movie. Good thing then A Place at the Table is available right now On Demand and through iTunes. Find A Place at the Table on Facebook and Twitter.

I’d love to hear your reactions to the film in the comments.

Refuting the ridiculous

I first encountered the simple, terrific (and simply terrific) graphic below a few weeks ago via Slacktivist.

I thought of it again the other day when this story came out. Here’s the gist:

One reason [Michele Bachmann’s Iowa Campaign Chair, Tamara] Scott said that voters should oppose marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples is that it would open the door for polyamory and legalizing marriages between people and inanimate objects. While speaking with Bob Vander Plaats, the head of The Family Leader, Scott warned that gay rights will lead to people marrying objects like the Eiffel Tower.

To such awful, bigoted, ridiculousness, this seems the best response:

“The Right to Love”

I shared this video on Facebook yesterday via Tony Jones, but thought it was just too good not to also post here.

Yes, I follow God in the Way of Jesus. Yes, I am an ordained reverend working as a pastor in a church. And, yes, I am convinced marriage must be fully opened to gay and lesbian couples.

It is merely a trailer, but this film, The Right to Love: An American Family, seems like it has great potential to help others open their hearts – and their laws – to all God’s children. May it be so.

I can be bothered. I am bothered.

Earlier this week, my friend, Steve Knight, shared a link on Facebook to a blog post by Ed Cyzewski. (Good grief, that’s a tortured sentence. Such is the destructive power of social media.) Ed writes:

We still haven’t sought the guidance of female leaders as if the integrity of our witness and the reflection of God’s character depended on it. [Read more]

How do we know we haven’t done this? From the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. Ugh. Maybe it’s true there at Willow Creek. For sure it’s true in far too many places.

(Don’t get me wrong: Ed asks good questions, posits true statements, and is on the right side of this.)

But my experience has been quite different. From September 1995 through June 2010, I worked with female senior pastors at Woodridge United Methodist Church. Our district also had three superintendents during that time – all of them women.

It is unconscionable that this “debate” continues in so many churches.

I can’t believe this even needs saying…Of course women can and should lead churches! As pastors, teachers, superintendents, bishops, executive ministers…whatever positions exist, women can, should and must hold them.

Isn’t this beyond obvious? Why are we still allowing arguments about this? The matter is settled: women are people too.

To paraphrase one of the greatest, most powerful episodes of the greatest TV show of all time:

Think about your mother, your daughter, your grandmother, your sister, your aunt, your granddaughter, your cousin, your teacher, your friend, your wife…think about any and all women who’ve ever cared for you or about you. Think about any and all women you’ve ever cared for or about…

If you can look any or all of them in the eye and say to them, “Due to your genitalia, you’re not a full human being.”…then hell, I don’t even want to know you.