An arresting thought

“Some things are worth losing for.”

I was driving, listening to a podcast (my current preferred in-car entertainment) when I heard that statement. It was arresting. Almost literally. I was so struck by that thought that I had to pull over to process it for a moment.

“Some things are worth losing for.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates, one of my favorite authors, said that in a conversation with Chris Hayes. With the 2019 Special General Conference just two months away, those words loom ever larger. As ridiculous as it is that this still needs to be said; as ridiculous as it is that this is a “controversial” thing to say in church, let me be clear:

I and we (meaning our congregation at Woodridge UMC) believe LGBTQ+ people should have all the rights available to heterosexual, cisgender people both in civil life and in the United Methodist Church.

That should just be a given: as followers of Jesus, advocating for the humanity of all people and treating people the way we want to be treated should be first and foremost how we define ourselves. And yet, especially in the UMC right now, that is anything but a given*. In fact, no matter how well the Special General Conference goes, we are unlikely to achieve equality in 2019. Worse, we may even lose some of the gains we’ve achieved toward inclusion. But if we do, it will be worth it to stand with marginalized people for justice. “Some things are worth losing for.”

Last week the Reconciling Ministries Network offered an inspiring statement, “Called, Committed, and Faithful.” I recommend you read the whole thing. Here’s a taste:

We tirelessly dedicate ourselves to living the reality of our baptismal vows: resisting evil, injustice, and oppression. We do this by seeking justice for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities….

We witness the lives of many of our friends who have not felt welcome inside the doors of United Methodist churches. Their calling, their ministry, and even their baptism have been questioned. But we still believe in the best of what The United Methodist Church can be: a movement where social and personal holiness blossom in a wide variety of contexts including in communities outside of the United States.

We have much to learn together.

 

*Truthfully, supporting full LGBTQ+ inclusion was certainly not always a given for me either. I had a conversion experience — in seminary of all places! — after leaving the white evangelical subculture. I most recently shared that story as part of a sermon called, “Ruining Our Good Name.” You can listen to it here.

A Halloween unlike any other…

…(said in Jim Nantz voice, of course).

A peek into our office today:

Pastors pic Halloween 2018

That’s Lead Pastor the Rev. Danita R. Anderson with me preparing for our church’s preschool to parade by our offices.

It’s a tremendous gift to work with Danita, who is always ready to laugh. One of the reasons we work well together is that we don’t take ourselves too seriously.

I also like to repost my favorite office Halloween moment from a few years ago. Apparently I like to dress as Batman.


 

I was feeling a bit silly today, so… Hope you enjoy watching this even half as much as I enjoyed creating it! 🙂

H/T to Colleen Erbach for editing help. Another H/T for inspiration to HISHE, BatDad, and of course, this guy.

Wise Words?: a sermon on 1Kings 3

Yesterday, a white supremacist, neo-Nazi walked into Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and murdered 11 people as they worshipped. This terrible, tragic, heart-breaking, hateful, and hate-filled act must be renounced — especially by Christians. Our faith has for too long and too often been used to justify violent anti-Semitism. I hope resistance to such horrible ideas comes through in this sermon.

A few resources to help bring the message to life:

The Narrative Lectionary text for today is 1 Kings chapter 3. I used The Message version today in honor of the late Eugene Peterson.

The video by The Bible Project on the book of Kings (we showed the first 4 minutes)

Quotes from Professor Cameron B. R. Howard’s commentary.

My intended thesis: True wisdom is always rooted in love. What theme did you hear?

Likely the best part of the sermon (though such a designation is ultimately up to you, dear reader/listener) :

Prof. Howard again: “This story  is a startling reminder of the depths of human despair and our continual yearning for God’s presence among us.”

We don’t lack for stories of human despair, nor do we feel so satiated by God’s presence that we no longer yearn for more.

We need wise words rooted in love because hateful, violent words foment hateful, violent actions. 11 people are dead in Pittsburgh because the shooter lived into the “wisdom” of white supremacy, white nationalism, neo-Nazis. We must ask ourselves: What role does a distorted, hateful version of Christianity play in this? Let’s be like the author of Kings and be honest about our violent past. For centuries, from the beginning really, some Christians have read the gospels as if God hates Jews. That hateful, violent language fomented many tragic hateful violent actions against Jews.

Together, let’s tell better, wiser stories. Stories rooted in love for all people.

Sermon audio:  

Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

‘Exit Stage Left’: a sermon on Exodus 14

For most weeks this fall, we’re following the Narrative Lectionary. Because the best narratives — the best stories — are powerful, moving, inspiring, and endlessly fascinating. (More on that in upcoming, non-sermon posts.)

I usually chaff when the assigned readings skip over the difficult parts, so instead we read almost all of Exodus chapter 14. (We do have some time constraints, as much as I might wish it were not so.)

This sermon is a bit shorter than recent ones. You’re welcome. 😉

My intended thesis: God is still working to save people from oppression. God calls us to be agents of that liberation. But, as always, I would very much like to know what you hear as the main point.

Here’s the story from Heidi Stevens that I reference.

If you really want to go deep in the reeds, here’s the full Academy of Pediatricians report.

Money quote from Stevens/AAP report:

Studies indicate roughly 50% of teens who identify as transgender have attempted suicide. BUT… Research shows that if a transgender teen has even just one supportive person in their life they can go to, it greatly reduces their risk of suicide.

 

Too often the church has not only not been a place of support for LGBTQ youth, but instead it has — tragically and much to its everlasting shame — led the charge to make all places unsafe for LGBTQ youth…and adults. We must repent of that and change immediately.

Money quote from me (if I may say so):

Imagine that. In an era where belligerence and bellicosity are rewarded with…the presidency or a seat on the Supreme Court, the Academy of Pediatricians breaks through with a simple truth and we too often seem to forget: to those whom society excludes and oppresses, we need to offer understanding, respect, and unconditional love.

As I always say, sermons are not just academic papers to be submitted. Inflection, tone, audience reaction, etc. all matter. Sermons are meant to be heard. (Heard and seen would be even better, but audio is what I’m able to share.)

 

 

 

Ruth: The New Order, a sermon on Ruth 3&4

Our Ruth trilogy comes to an end this week as we look at the last two chapters of this fantastic and, as it turns out, fantastically relevant story. I feel like there is still so much to be said about the book of Ruth. Which, I suppose, is part of what makes it so great — you can’t possibly find all this story can teach us in three weeks.

In part 3 here, I reference a terrific one-off graphic novel called, Nightwing: The New Order which has this to say about present day USA fictional Gotham 30ish years from now (emphasis mine):

We grow up getting glimpses of who our parents were before we knew them. We look at photographs, we watch videos, we listen to stories. We try to learn about them so we can learn more about ourselves. In 2028 my dad saved the world, but…it was complicated.

Eventually I learned how even good people can come to believe in really terrible things.

IMG_2344
Public Libraries are the best thing ever

I think the book of Ruth tries to answer the same question from the post-exilic era. Ezra and Nehemiah came to believe really terrible things about Moabites. The book of Ruth serves as a polemic against the violent, hateful, exclusionary policies of Ezra and Nehemiah.

In the spirit of Ruth (The Good Moabite) — and contra the Trump administration — let’s tell a different story this week. Let’s tell a better story than one that calls for separating families and sending women and children out into the wilderness to die. A story that echoes the saving work of God, one that echoes Ruth and Naomi and Boaz, one that echoes Jesus — tell a story that demands all people be treated as neighbors.

Full series: Ruth Chapter 1, Ruth Chapter 2

[Note: I had a cold last week and I was at my nadir with it on Sunday. So apologies for my annoyingly nasally voice in this recording.]

Ruth the Rom Com? a sermon on Ruth 2

Genre matters.

We know this. Almost instinctively, we know this. Genre helps determine what we expect from a story and how we understand that story. We read and react much differently to, say, an issue of National Geographic than we do to an issue of a superhero comic.

Sometimes it only takes a few words for us to instantly know with what type of story we are dealing:

  • “Dateline Chicago, August 31, 2018”
  • “Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away”
  • “Once upon a time…”

We have vastly different expectations for news stories and fairy tales. Yet, many different kinds of stories — that is, many different genres — can interest us, excite us, teach us, or inspire us.

The bible is no different. Biblical stories contain a multitude of genres. Sometimes we forget that. Or worse, sometimes some of us feel we aren’t even allowed to admit that. But it remains true.

In Part 1 of this sermon series on Ruth, I tried to look at the macro view. Here in Part 2, I focus in close, suggesting that the type of story Chapter 2 most resembles is a Romantic Comedy. That sounds a bit ridiculous, I know. But give it a listen and see what you think. My intended point: Ruth, Boaz, and Naomi show us love, kindness, and generosity are how we embody God’s way in the world.

Money quote from Katharine Doob Sakenfeld again: “The story illustrates how loyal action, kindness, and good will produce a surplus that can both break down dividing walls of hostility and open new horizons to shattered lives.”

Oh, and I make fun of sermons a little bit too.

‘The Power of Story’: a sermon on Ruth 1

Some day I will post something other than a sermon here. Really I will. I have a whole host of drafts and otherwise unfinished ideas. You’ll see them…as soon as I access my inner Rocky Supinger.

This past Sunday we kicked off a new sermon series on the book of Ruth — by necessity, much shorter than the previous Acts of the Apostles series as Ruth consists of a mere four chapters. I have three weeks to play with, so we’ll read almost the whole book during this series.

I haven’t often listed sources consulted as I prepare sermons. They are usually just nuggets I read, see, or hear throughout the week from books, blogs, videos, radio, TV, and podcasts. But this week I relied more heavily on two books:

Katharine Doob Sakenfeld’s Ruth, part of the series Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching.

A useful book from my seminary days…who knew?!?

And What is the Bible? How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything by Rob Bell.

Boy, that title, right? Whatever you may think of Bell, there is no denying he has a high view of what scripture can do.

My intended thesis: “Optimism is rebellion.” Ruth is a rebel. We need to be rebels too.

Oh, as I say in the sermon, that brilliant, beautiful “Optimism is rebellion” line comes from Laurence Holmes’ excellent podcast, “The House of L.”

Moab plays quite the significant role in this story, so I used this map to help visualize where the story’s action (or, you know, lack thereof) takes place:

Moab map (Ruth series)

The sermon is a little long for our standards — but still shorter than many of the “teaching’ models I see employed by churches in our area. So I won’t apologize for that. I spent a decent amount of time trying to set the macro view. It is up to you, dear listener, to decide if I succeed in that effort. What do you think?

“There is plenty in our city, in our country, in our world to be pessimistic about. But rebellions are built on hope. No matter what horrible thing our president does or says next, we can be rebels of hope and optimism by standing along side those on the margins of society. The vulnerable ones among us. We need to be this kind of rebel.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Good Trouble around Asia Minor’: a sermon on Acts 18

Getting into good trouble by welcoming outsiders is the only faithful response to exclusion. That’s my argument in this sermon, continuing the theme of the previous sermon by using John Lewis’ beautiful phrase.

Writing about my Acts 17 sermon, which took place the week before this one, I admitted I wasn’t as bold as I should have been confronting the evils of our country’s current policy of separating families of immigrants and refugees, lying to those families about when they will be able to see each other, and putting the children in cages. I also vowed to do better.

Did I succeed in that goal? Ultimately, that is up to you, dear reader/listener, to discern. I think I so. In fact, I think this is pretty strong. One of my better sermons. But, as they say, your mileage may vary.

What do you think?

Chapter 18 features Paul doing a ton of traveling. So yet another map helps me visualize where all he different places the action takes us: Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, Caesarea, Jerusalem, Antioch, Galatia, and Phrygia.

Paul's 2nd journey full map

 

Three other visual aids made their way into this sermon:

Apparently I say this with some frequency. 

 

The “Kind is cool” bracelet that could not carry the weight of our current presidential administration’s meanness.

Turns out this got thrown away so I can’t show you a picture of it. You’ll just have to imagine it as I toss it away into the first pew during that part of the sermon.

 

The comeback kid

 

Here’s the sermon

Oh, did you catch the subtle reference to an ’80s cult movie classic? (It is, I admit, quite the reach.)

Other sermons in this series on Acts: Chapter 9, Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, Chapter 13, Chapter 17.

‘Good Trouble?’: a sermon on Acts 17

In June, 2008, I had the distinct pleasure of hearing Representative John Lewis speak at a Sojourners conference in D.C. He is, it should go without saying, a real-life hero. A national treasure. An inspiration.

Except, I’m ashamed to admit, at the time I didn’t really know just how special he was, and thus I did not know just how special was the opportunity to hear him in person.

I was 36 years old at the time of that conference. I’ve lived my whole life in the United States. I was educated in good schools, both public and private, from elementary school through graduate school at seminary. I’ve been active in church my whole life. And yet, somehow, in the summer of 2008 I did not know who John Lewis was or why he is so important to the story of our country.

I have of course rectified that now. But, damn, it’s embarrassing it took me so long. Lewis recently published the story of his life in a three-part graphic novel called March. It is phenomenal. You should go read it now. Seriously. Right now. The sermon at the end of this post will still be right here waiting for you.

All of that John Lewis talk was set up for the next sermon in our ongoing series on Acts of the Apostles, the title for which I stole was inspired by Lewis’ oft-used phrase, “get into good trouble.

This time we’ve skipped ahead to Acts chapter 17 where we find those early followers of Jesus getting into good trouble. My thesis here is that we contemporary followers of Jesus need to get into some good trouble by speaking out about injustice — especially the horrifying injustice of the current president and his administration separating families seeking refuge in our country. I also spend some time refuting the “don’t be political” canard. Faith in the God of Moses, Esther, and Jesus (just to name a few) is inherently political.

Still, after the fact I was confronted with the reality that I wasn’t nearly as bold in this sermon as I intended to be. So I sought to correct that in the follow up sermon…check back here soon for that.

Listen to the sermon series a chapter at a time: Acts 9, Acts 10, Acts 11, Acts 12, Acts 13

Here are the maps I used during this sermon:

Paul's full 2nd journey map for July 15, 2018

Pauls 2nd journey map for July 15, 2018

Finally, here’s the sermon audio. What stands out for you?

 

 

 

‘The First Dream Team’: a sermon on Acts 13

According to (what we’ve designated as) the 13th chapter of Acts of the Apostles, the leaders of the Way were diverse from the very beginning. Apparently, I hadn’t previously read this part of Acts closely enough, because that revelation kind of shocked me.

Those leaders weren’t afraid to boldly confront evil, which can be inspiring. But there was also plenty of interpersonal drama, which can also be inspiring…though that sounds a bit strange, I admit. People gonna people, no matter the year or culture.  Clearly the early church, which we moderns too often romanticize or idolize, had plenty of problems — just like we do today. That’s been one of the lessons of this sermon series on Acts: most of the problems the church faces today are not new. They’ve been with us since the beginning, in one form or another.

Once again, I find Steve Thomason’s depiction of this section of Acts very compelling:

Acts 13 steve thomason art

 

I am not a geography genius. Throughout this sermon series, I’ve shared a number of maps in order to help me have a sense of where the action described takes place. I know it enriches my visualization of the story. Perhaps it does for you too. Here’s the one I used  in this sermon:

Map of Paul's First Journey

 

Check out other sermons in this series: Chapter 9, Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12

Here’s the audio for “The First Dream Team,” originally delivered June 10, 2018: