Answer!

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In October, my facebook feed and our news stories were filled with two little words:
#metoo
Sisters from all sorts of walks of life started telling their stories, speaking their truths, naming names.
It was like the flood gates had broken loose.
Some could only type out those two words (#metoo) and others wrote chapters that had never before seen the light of day.
Women found the authority and the confidence to share some of the most mundane and monstrous things they experienced. The momentum of one voice, added to another, and to another, was a powerful thing to behold.
Just this past week, we witnessed the sentencing hearing of Dr. Larry Nassar whose abuse only came into the public eye in the midst of this past fall. 156 women and girls gave their testimonies as Judge Aquilina opened the courtroom to all who needed to speak their truth. In the end, he was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for the things the had done and taken from them.
As six-time Olympic medalist, Aly Raisman, said: “Let this sentence strike fear in anyone who thinks it is O.K. to hurt another person. Abusers, your time is up. The survivors are here, standing tall, and we are not going anywhere.” (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/01/24/sports/larry-nassar-victims.html)

Your time is up.

When Jesus entered the synagogue and began to speak the truth, to lift up the word, to tell stories of how God was moving in the world around them, he was telling all that opposes the Kingdom of God that it’s time was up.
But evil doesn’t want to go down without a fight.
Right there in the synagogue, a spirit began to cry out:
“What have you do to with us? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are.”

We don’t necessarily experience demonic possession and evil spirits in the same way today that they did in Jesus time. We have different understandings of bodies and mental health and to be honest, we filter out the spiritual and mystical and rationalize it away.
But I fully believe that evil is present in our world.
I believe that people can be ensnared by addiction and hatred and violence.
And I believe that when we, like Jesus, confront the sin and injustice and evil of this world and demand it to come out into the light of day then there can be the possibility of release and restoration and healing.
When the evil spirit began to speak out and interrupt the teaching of Jesus, he commanded it to be silent. To come out. And that spirit shook and screamed and then it finally released the person it had possessed.
It’s time was up.

What troubles me, both about this passage of scripture and with the countless stories of the #metoo movement, is the question of why it took so long?
How many times before had that evil spirit cried out in the midst of God’s people?
How long had the demon been hushed or covered up or ignored?
How many people had refused to stand up to it, to name names and call it what it was?
How many were frightened and simply stayed away?

William Cummings reported for USA Today about the woman who began the “me too” movement over ten years ago: Tarana Burke. In 2006, she founded an organization called Just Be Inc which helped young women of color reclaim their sense of well-being after they had been abused or exploited. But nearly ten years before that, Burke was a camp director and a little girl came to speak with her.
“The girl began to tell a story about her mother’s boyfriend ‘ who was doing all sorts of monstrous things to her developing body.’ Burke was horrified and as she listened it began to stir up all sorts of her own memories and emotions. She realized that she could not help in that moment and cut off the little girl in the middle of sharing this painful experience and directed her to another counselor.
Burke shared later, “I could not find the strength to say out loud the words that were ringing in my head over and over again… I watched her walk away from me as she tried to recapture her secrets and tuck them back into their hiding place. I watched her put her mask back on and go back into the world like she was all along and I couldn’t even bring myself to whisper… me too.” (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2017/10/18/me-too-movement-origins/776963001/)

Sometimes it is not our personal experience that keeps us from calling out and naming the evil before us, but our unwillingness to see it.

The complicity of systems that are focused on a singular goal, like that of Michigan State University and U.S.A. Gymnastics and the Olympic Committee, blind them to the allegations and words of little girls when they try to speak their truths.

As Amanda Thomashow, one of those who testified at Nassar’s hearing said, “the school I loved and trusted, had the audacity to tell me that I did not understand the difference between sexual assault and a medical procedure.” Another talked about how she was attacked on social media and called a liar for sharing her truth. Another, talked about how her parents “will forever have to live with the fact that they continually brought their daughter to a sexual predator, and were in the room as he assaulted me.” (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/01/24/sports/larry-nassar-victims.html)

Sometimes, we simply normalize these types of experiences and can no longer see them as out of the ordinary. Last October, I remember that I almost didn’t post my own “me too”, because my stories seemed so inconsequential compared to the hurt and pain I knew of others.

But then I started thinking about all of the stories and they kept adding up and some of them were crazier than I want to publicly admit. From cat calls to the phone call at my church office in Marengo that necessitated a call to the police and my district superintendent… The fact that I would write it off as just a normal part of ministry was not okay.

We, like the people of that synagogue in Capernaum, too often have been bystanders. We sit back and watch unwilling to do anything. We sweep the words of those in pain under the rug where we don’t have to listen.

In his poem, “Partnering with God,” John van de Laar names the reality we experience:

The struggles of our world feel overwhelming, Jesus;
Beyond our ability to understand, let alone solve.
We do not have the capacity
To silence the justifications,
To heal the addictions,
To restore the brokenness,
To repair the destruction,
Or to reverse the trajectories
Of our self-centered, short-sighted weakness,
Our heartless, dehumanising aggression.

 

But we do not have these struggles alone, Jesus;
You have aligned yourself with us,
In taking on flesh,
In going through the waters,
In laying down your life;
And you have invited us to partner with you,
In proclaiming Good News,
In freeing the imprisoned,
In restoring the broken,
In uniting the divided;
And you have given us the capacity,
The divine Spirit,
To be co-workers with God.

 

For this, we are eternally grateful. Amen.

God has given us the capacity, the authority, the power, to name and call out the presence of evil in our world. Even if it feels overwhelming. Even if it feels insurmountable. Even if it is too personal to face.
Because God’s authority comes with the presence of the one who has already experienced the worst of human suffering. And Christ walks alongside us as we silence and call out those forces that would harm the lives of others.

But you are also not alone, because you are part of a community. This body of Christ has promised in our baptismal vows to
“renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin.”
And “to accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.”

So that means two things.
First, I promise, as a pastor and faith leader, that I will listen to you. I promise not to cover up or deny. If you have a story that you need to tell, I am here to help you bring that story out of the darkness and into the light.
But second, it also means that if you are scared or hesitant or afraid you do not have to do this by yourself. Millions of women found the courage to say, “me too” this fall because they looked around and saw that they were not the only one.

Look around this room right now. You are not alone. All of those who are in this room who have taken their baptismal vows have already promised to help one another stand up to evil and injustice. We have committed to partnering with Jesus to proclaim the good news and to free the imprisoned and to restore the broken and unite the divided.
And by God’s authority, we can bring injustice into the light of day so that it can be healed and transformed and set free by God’s power.

Amen and Amen.

Transferred into the Kingdom

Over the last two weeks in worship, we have talked extensively about how we should give thanks for one another…  

Because of our differences, we give thanks.

We gave thanks as we broke bread together.

We gave thanks around the waters of baptism.

We should give thanks always and everywhere for the people of this world who help us claim our inheritance, who help us overcome division, and who teach us how to practice what is true and holy, just and pure.  

 

Today, we explore one more of Paul’s letters.

Today, we are reminded to give thanks to God who is the reason we all share in the Kingdom.  

 

Let us pray:

 

This past week, the annual Bucksbaum Lecture at Drake University was given by Krista Tippet.  

Many of my Sunday mornings, as I drive in to church, I listen to her broadcast, “On Being,” and I listen as she asks people from all sorts of traditions and backgrounds what it means to be human.  

Recently, I picked up a copy of her book, “Becoming Wise,” and like she starts so many of her interviews, she starts by exploring her own background and faith tradition.  

 

One of the interesting things about Tippet’s story is that she served as an aide to the American ambassador in Germany while it was divided.  

She writes:

More riveting to me in the end than the politics of Berlin was the vast social experiment its division had become.  One people, one language and history and culture, were split into two radically opposing worldviews and realities, decades entrenched by the time I arrived.  I loved people on both sides of the Wall that wound through the heart of the city.

I keep thinking about the division of Berlin… the division of Germany after WWII… and the division of our own nation in this moment.

Especially in regards to our letter from Paul this morning.

 

As Paul writes to the Colossians, Gentiles who lived in what is now modern-day Turkey, he writes to encourage them in their faith… to help them grow into this new relationship they have found with Jesus.

And as Paul talks about the transition, the shift they have experienced in their life by accepting Jesus, he uses this really interesting phrase.  

God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.  (1:13)

Transferred us into the Kingdom.

As Neta Pringle describes this word – transferred, she writes that:

His image conjures up pictures of refugees, rounded up after battle and taken to the victor’s land, of Israelites marched far from home to live in Babylon – a kingdom so different, so far from home in both geography and style.  Here the rules are different, the ruler is different.  All assumptions about the way in which life goes on – indeed about its very meaning- are different. (Feasting on the Word)

Transferred into the Kingdom… much like those who found themselves on the eastern side of the wall in Berlin suddenly found themselves living in a different country, under different rules.  

Transferred into the Kingdom… much like after an election a nation wakes up to a world where different people are in charge and different priorities come to the front.  

You don’t always have to physically shift your location to feel like the world has changed all around you.  For better or for worse. 

 

Except, Paul is not writing here about a temporary shift in power that comes and goes with various political leaders and world events.

Paul is writing about a cosmic shift…

God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.  

And not just the people of Paul’s day and time.  Not just the Colossians, or the Ephesians, the Philippians, or the Romans.  

All of us.

We have been rescued from the powers of evil, sin, and death.   

We all have been transferred into the kingdom of forgiveness, redemption, and life.  

Thanks be to God.

 

Today in worship, we celebrate that Christ is King.  That he is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  The Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise. 

We celebrate that through his death on the cross, the blood of Jesus rescued humanity from its captivity to the powers of this world.

In the cross, in the resurrection, Jesus declared victory over the powers over evil, injustice, and oppression.

And friends, in that great and glorious act, we have been transferred into God’s kingdom.  

We have been transferred into the Rule and the Reign of God.

We are no longer merely citizens of this place, of Iowa, of the United States… Jesus is Lord.

Thanks be to God!

 

To emphasize this new reality, Paul continues his letter by breaking out into song.  

While we don’t know the melody, while it isn’t a familiar tune to our ears, these lyrics in Paul’s letter would have been as familiar to the Colossians as Amazing Grace is to us. 

They might have even started singing along.

 

And this song reminds the people in familiar words that when we look at Jesus, we see God.

They remind the people that in Christ all things in heaven and on earth were made.

They remind these new citizens of God’s kingdom that everything… every nation, every King or President, every Prime Minister or Governor, every Mayor and every Councilperson… everything is from God and finds purpose in God.  

From the clouds in the sky to the microorganisms in the dirt beneath our feet, God in Christ holds everything together.  

And Jesus is in charge of it all.  

From beginning to end, Alpha and Omega, this kingdom will never end.  

Thanks be to God!

 

And like any change in leadership… whether temporal or heavenly… the rules under which we live change a bit.

So this letter to the Colossians is a reminder that them and us that we are called to grow in love and faith.

Paul encourages us to bear fruit in every good work and grow in the knowledge of God.

And we are reminded that just because Christ has already won, does not mean that evil death and sin are forever gone.  Paul’s letter, in fact, is full of the reminder that we will be made strong in Christ and is meant to help us endure with patience the trials and tribulations that will come.  

That is why when we gather around the baptismal font and we welcome new ones into our midst we make these familiar pledges:

We pledge to renounce the spiritual forced of wickedness and evil powers of this world.

We repent of our sin.

We accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice and oppression, in whatever forms they present themselves.

And we must hold one another accountable to the rules of God’s kingdom.  

All because we confess Jesus Christ as our Savior.

All because we promise to serve him as our Lord.

 

When Krista Tippett talks about life in Berlin, she also talks about the day the wall came down.  It was her twenty-ninth birthday.  

She writes that “no one imagined that it could fall or the Iron Curtain crumble…. The wall finally collapsed with a whimper, not a bang, as fear lifted all at once from an entire nation.  I had walked through Checkpoint Charlie hundreds of times, respecting its absurdity as authority.  On the night the Wall fell… the entire city walked joyfully through it.  The border guards joined them. It was truly nearly that simple.”  

 

While we live under the rule and the reign of Jesus Christ, we work and pray for the day when all people will joyfully walk through the walls of division and hatred.  

We work and pray for the day when fear is lifted for all people.  

We work and pray for the moment when the powers of this world that keep us apart let go of their last grasp upon our hearts and we are finally free to simply be in Christ.  

And until then… we live as people who see all things and all people in their true light… as the ones who already belong to Jesus.  

Thanks be to God. 

In the Night

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When I was in college, our chaplain encouraged us to go to this event called, “Exploration.”

It was a conference for young people who felt like they were hearing a call to ministry – a place to explore what that meant for their lives.

I don’t remember a single thing about the conference, except for one worship service.

Bishop Minerva Carcaño was preaching and before her message she read aloud for us the call of this young man we hear about today.

But even though Bishop Carcaño is from Texas, she doesn’t have a Texas drawl.  She is Latina.  So what sticks in my mind is her calling out, over and over again through the scripture and her message:

“Samuel! Samuel!” (heard phonetically as Sam-well!)

Hearing her say that name in such a different dialect helped me to hear the entire passage in a new way. It snuck into every corner of my mind.

The entire drive home, I thought about all of the people throughout my life who had been calling me to ministry: my pastor, a youth leader, teachers and fellow students. I realized that like Samuel, I thought I was simply hearing the voice of my pastor or my teacher.  I had never stopped to consider before that weekend that perhaps it wasn’t just a human voice after all…. Perhaps God was speaking to me!

So I love this call story. It helped me to hear my own calling into ministry in a difficult time of my life.

 

Today, as we continue our exploration of The Light in the Darkness, I notice as I read again this passage how God calls to us in the night, in our darkness, in our times of difficulty and asks us to serve, to lead, to go.

Samuel has been serving in the temple with Eli and that night is charged with the duty of keeping the lamps burning through the night in the part of the temple where the ark of the covenant was kept.

As we learned with the peace light from Bethlehem came through, it is not easy to keep a lamp burning over night. You worry the oil will go out or the wick will burn through.

So Samuel is sleeping there on his mat in the temple so that he can get up periodically and check on the lamp.

And there in the night… in the dark… God speaks to him.

We don’t know how old Samuel might be in this part of the story, a boy is all the scriptures say, but he has spent his entire life in the temple.  His mother Hannah was barren and prayed with all her might for a child.

“Lord of heavenly forces, just look at your servant’s pain and remember me! Don’t forget your servant! Give her a boy! Then I’ll give him to the Lord for his entire life. No razor will ever touch his head.” (1:11)

Her prayer was answered. So Hannah and her husband brought the child before God and left him in the care of Eli, the priest.

Out of her struggle and despair, God blessed them with not only Samuel, but five other children.

So Samuel grew up in the temple, under Eli’s care.

 

But I think too often we focus on how Samuel heard his call and forget to pay attention to what he was called TO.

 

In that time, Eli had two sons: Hophni and Phinehas, and they were the worst pastor’s kids you have ever met.

When people came to the temple to offer sacrifices, some of the meat was always given to the priests for their service. But the boys wouldn’t wait until the sacrifice was nearly over and then take their share, as was custom… but they would  grab a chunk of the choicest meat right off the fire. Today, it would be like if the pastor’s child stopped the offering plates as they were being passed, took out the largest bills they could find so they could go spend it as they pleased, and then allowed everything to proceed. And they did it with threat of violence.

Not only that, but they also sexually harassed the women who served at the temple.

And Eli didn’t stop them.

Oh, he said once or twice, “you probably shouldn’t do that,” but he never actually stopped them from doing so.

And God promised that this injustice would end. God promised to establish a new, trustworthy priest and that the sign of this prophecy would be the death of Hophni and Phineas on the same day.

So God waited until Samuel, who had dedicated his life to God’s service, was nearly ready.  And God called him in the night with the vision that the injustice and outrage of Eli’s household would end.

 

Can you imagine that?

 

Can you imagine growing up in a place with a vision of what was good and right and true, and yet every day having those in power and in leadership stomp all over those ideals?

 

That was life for Samuel. He knew the struggle of his mother. He knew he was meant to serve the Lord. And every day, he watched as Hophni and Phineas drove people away from the temple, and took advantage of them. He watched as Eli did nothing to stop it.

Yet somehow, he didn’t allow the example of his mentor and peers to turn him away from his path.

 

Can you imagine what it would be like to find yourself called to do something?

To proclaim a different future?

To speak light out of the darkness?

 

I have been inspired by the stories of young people around the world who are doing just that.

Julia Bluhm is a 16 year old dancer who saw young women around struggling with their image based on photoshopped and unrealistic images of what it meant to be a woman.  So she stood up to Seventeen magazine and asked them to commit to unaltered photographs and a diverse range of girls in their magazine. In 2012, the magazine committed to never change the size of a girl’s face or body and to show real girls n the magazine.

Malala Yousafzai  was just 11 when she started promoting education for girls in the Swat Valley. She was targeted for assassination and survived and continues to work to ensure all children have access to education and rights for children and young people. When asked by Jon Stewart about what gives her courage to keep going, she talks about how she decided early on to speak the truth, even in the face of someone who wants to hurt her:

If he [the Talib] comes, what would you do Malala? …If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there will be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others…with cruelty…you must fight others but through peace, through dialogue and through education…then I’ll tell him [the Talib] how important education is and that I even want education for your children as well… that’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.

 

Can you imagine proclaiming a different future? Speaking light out of darkness?

 

Today is Human Relations Day and we celebrate this Sunday in connection with Martin Luther King Jr. Day

To quote Dr. King: Every [one] must decide whether [they] will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.

So with Samuel, we choose to seek the light of service and sacrifice, rather than to simply stand by and do nothing when we witness wrongs.

The United Methodist Church is committed to standing with those who are on the margins and who are struggling.

Rev. I Maliik Safir, whose church works with those gripped by addiction in Little Rock, sums up the work of Human Relations Day by recalling Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan: “to meet the poor, the disadvantaged and the underserved at the places where others have robbed them and help them to recover from the wounds of social inequality.”

 

But I think this Sunday needs to be about more than putting a few dollars in the special offering envelope to support these important ministries.  You should do that, by the way… take out that envelope and give whatever you can to help us continue to serve in these places.

But God demands more of us than simply our financial resources.

I think this is also a day when we are called to look at the world around us and ask what is happening in our midst and how are we called to proclaim a different future.

In the dark of the night, where do you hear God calling you?

Has something kept you up at night, calling you to do something?

Have you felt the tug of your heartstrings around something you are reading in the news… issues affecting Des Moines and Iowa?

Is it around issues of incarceration?  Racial disparity?  Poverty? Mental health?

Are you called to advocate for others?

Speak truth to power?

Is there something at work or school that just doesn’t feel right?  Can you do something about it?

Sit beside someone who is struggling?

If you are… take it to the Lord. Cry out that you are ready to hear. You are listening. Ask what God wants you to do.

And feel free to come and talk with me or Pastor Todd if there is a place you think we, as the church, should be responding. Because together, we can work to let the light of Christ shine in the darkest parts of this world.

As Dr. King said:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Let us be people who are not afraid of the darkness.

Who go to the darkness.

Who listen in the darkness.

And who work to let the light shine.