New #kittens are an adorable distraction! Justice and her babies :)
Cassie and I took an 11 week course through the National Association of Youth Chaplains and on March 1, 2014 were anointed, commissioned, and received our credentials to serve incarcerated youth. I was one of our class speakers at the ceremony.
Good afternoon! I am so thankful to have been on this journey with you. I have been truly blessed by the faithful and authentic connections with so many of you as we partnered in God’s mission to transform hearts, minds, and spirits. I loved that I was able to experience this class with my daughter and appreciate the patience of my husband, as I would unpack each session when I arrived home late each Thursday evening.
I have missed our weekly classes, Dr. Correa’s passionate energy that continues to “bless me later,” and Rev. Marilyn’s soul-full wisdom. I miss “e’ry-body” in my small group and continue to be touched and moved by many of the moments in our Christmas worship at Ella McQueen. The the young people we met and worked with are in my daily prayers.
The honest work that happened in this class continues to work in me, and I am grateful that we could be here today to celebrate and formally transition into a new season of ministry.
A few months ago, I read a meditation by Franciscan friar, Richard Rohr that said in part,
“This wound at the heart of life shows itself in many ways, but
your holding and “suffering” of this tragic wound,
your persistent but failed attempts to heal it,
and your final surrender to it,
will ironically make you into a wise and holy person.”
Through this amazing class, Dr. and Rev. Correa helped us on this journey of growing into wise and holy people as we confronted some of those wounds that have been affecting our relationships with others, with God, and with our own spirit.
I think that I am not alone in feeling thankful for the opportunity to experience the liberation that comes from that sometimes painful, and often uncomfortable process. With the power of God’s healing spirit, I pray that we will continue our own process of recovery of soul even as we go out and minister with God’s beloved children.
One of the gleanings from this class for me is Patton’s concept that “Pastoral carers “re-present” or remind persons of God by remembering and hearing, and affirm by their action that God continues to hear and remember them.”
That is so powerful because it means that even in the messiest or the most horrifying situations, through our faith, we know that God is there. And there are things that we can do to make God’s presence known and felt in any situation.
Do you remember these words?
- Peace Building
In one of our class sessions, we offered these words that represent an essence of our understanding of God.
Our role as chaplains is to offer a ministry of presence without judgment. We learned that this is especially important when we are ministering with people who we do not understand or whose way of life is not familiar to us.
Entering into pastoral care relationships requires an attitude of re-presenting God, with all of those characteristics we listed - not in a condescending way but with openness.
Thanks be to God, each of us is so much more than the sum of our mistakes. Our God’s love is bigger than the worst crime we can commit.
I am thankful that we are now better equipped to bring a spirit of justice, mercy, communion, forgiveness, grace, love, peace building, transformation, restoration, truth, and redemption into our pastoral care with the youth and others who we work with.
We are equipped to recognize that each of God’s children is more than the label that society imposes.
Each of us is woven into the beautifully messy tapestry of God’s creation, a part of the body of Christ, with each person’s name engraved in the palm of God’s hand as a child of sacred worth.
Our city is broken and hurting, and many of us in this class are called to be a prophetic voice in the wilderness. We don’t do it by waving a Bible on a street corner but by bringing an invitation to the healing love of God’s embrace.
Through our experiences in this class we are allowing God to do a new thing – breaking the cycles of brokenness and hurt and replacing them with the abundance of God’s love and grace.
Dr. Wyatt told us in the first class that this approach to ministry helps to liberate the minds of the people we serve.
How will we take the gifts that we have received in this class and multiply them in the hearts of people who may have lost their sense of self and self worth?
How will we use these gifts to help others discover how they can be part of creating positive change by participating in their own recovery of soul?
Individual by individual and community by community we are called by God and equipped in this class and through the power of the Holy Spirit to transform hearts and minds and heal broken spirits with the compassion of Christ.
May we continue to pray for each other as we leave here to continue on our journeys and build a front porch for the Kin-dom of God.
Sermon for Park United Methodist Church, Weehawken, NJ February 23, 2014
Scripture: Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18 and Matthew 5:38-48
Thank you for the ways you have welcomed me over the past couple of months and thank you Pastor for inviting me to preach this morning. I appreciate this opportunity to engage with some of my Hudson County neighbors in this special way. I pray that the Holy Spirit will move through me and touch you as I share today’s message.
There is a wonderful series of uplifting videos that have been circulating the internet of a 9 year old boy known as Kid President that if full of joyful wisdom. A line that really stood out for me is his declaration to
“Just treat everybody like it’s their birthday. Even if they don’t deserve it sometimes. Because we all mess up sometimes. The biggest mess up? Not forgiving each other’s mess ups.”
I think that is at the heart of what today’s scripture readings are about.
Our scripture from the Hebrew Bible this morning outlines a series of laws offered by God through Moses – perhaps in a less dramatic way than on Mount Sinai when God gave Moses the 10 Commandments, but certainly no less binding for the Jewish people. These laws helped guide the people – giving them a framework for how to be in right relationship with each other and with God.
Through Moses, God tells us we should not steal, lie, gossip, or abuse those who are disabled; we should make provisions for immigrants and those who are poor, offer a fair wage to our employees, and of course inherent in all of the laws is to love our neighbor as ourselves.
The Rev. Nadia Bolz Weber said in her sermon last week that “this same God who came to us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and loved people so completely … does not create the world, give us some rules and then leave us to it.” She says, “What we see in the teachings and life of Jesus is that people matter. Human relationships matter to God. The way we are treated matters to God.”
As we read 2 weeks ago, Jesus came not to abolish these laws but to fulfill them. In the Sermon on the Mount, he has gathered his disciples to teach them about God’s laws and how they can be fulfilled through the teachings of Jesus Christ.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is speaking to his disciples and the crowd about moving from retribution to reconciliation. He quoted personal injury laws from the Hebrew Bible books of Exodus and Leviticus … “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” referring to a measure that was put in place to keep punishments proportionate with the crime that had been committed.
Jesus says, “You have heard it said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
Perhaps you have noticed that when we hear Jesus say “You have heard it said,” we know to expect that he is going to turn our previous understanding upside down. Jesus’ way is
YES! The punishment should not exceed the crime … AND …
If you are subjected to injustice, you should go a step further and graciously expose the person’s – most likely a Roman soldier’s - oppressiveness by choosing to literally go the extra mile.
You want my coat – one of my only possessions because an unjust law says you can have it? Okay, I am going to give you my shirt too and embarrass you with my nakedness. I will not suffer the shame you are trying to impose.
If someone insults you with a backhanded slap, don’t hit that person back but offer them the other cheek – forcing them into a position of assaulting you or backing down.
It’s a strategic way that the oppressed people who Jesus was speaking with – Jewish people in a land under Roman occupation could stand their ground – not with guns and violence but with non-violent disarmament.
In his book, “The Politics of Jesus,” one of my seminary professors, Obery Hendricks explained that in this passage, Jesus was offering instruction on “how his followers could fight evil without being transformed into the evil that confronted them.”
I saw a photo recently of a civil rights activist being trained in non-violence. She was a young African American woman reading her Bible while a man blew smoke in her face and another woman stood behind her pulling her hair. She was being trained to hold her temper and not be bullied into reacting.
Perhaps she was preparing to go sit at a lunch counter reserved for white customers as depicted in the Lee Daniels film The Butler where the white customers are so incensed that the black college students are sitting in the section designated for white people that they get violent – cursing, spitting, and even throwing hot coffee into the face of one of the students.
It was ugly and hateful and exposed the evil of segregation in a way that lifted up the courage of those who practiced non-violent resistance to a system of oppression.
Jesus tells us it is time to move beyond the practice of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Why? Because as Gandhi is believed to have said, an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.
It is this cycle of retribution that we as people of faith are commanded by Christ to break. It is a sentiment far different than the one that says what is needed to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
Jesus is offering us another way. This third way releases us from feeling like we need revenge or that we should allow ourselves to be taken advantage of. And certainly Jesus is not saying that we should stay in situations of abuse. In fact he offers us a grace filled path that moves us from retributive justice to restorative justice.
Jesus gives us a powerful tool not to love passively but to expose systems of injustice in a way that infuses the world with active love. Jesus directs us to be part of a revolution of love that actively brings light, peace, and justice into the world.
A reflection in a Prayer Book for Ordinary Radicals underscores that idea saying:
“Peacemaking doesn’t mean passivity. It is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice, the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer, the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight but the careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice. It is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free.”
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are to be active participants in bringing God’s love into this broken world. Franciscan friar Richard Rhor writes that Jesus is directing us to “take the initiative and change the rules, the expectations, and the outcome.”
Beloveds, we are called to transform hearts and minds and to do this, we also need to do our own very challenging work of changing our own hearts and minds. Like the woman in the photo, we must practice and be disciplined and train ourselves to respond to conflict in ways that do not compromise our own humanity.
In 2012 after hearing about the tragedy in Sandy Hook Elementary School, my friend Meriah learned about a nationwide grassroots movement that was bringing some light into the darkness. She and her husband and kids channeled their sadness into acts of kindness in their Wisconsin community in honor of each life lost in the Newtown, CT shooting.
Among other things, they created cards to deliver to a nursing home, paid for the next customer’s coffee in a local café, and cooked soup that they brought to a sick friend.
What would the world look like if more people found ways to engage in caring for others as a response to feelings of anger, hurt, or sadness?
In this week when we are seeing so many violent and bloody revolutions in places like Ukraine and Venezuela, what would it look like in Hudson County if each one of us sitting here today at Park UMC responded to the hurt in the world by intentionally engaging in the name of Jesus in 28 acts of kindness and mercy this coming week?
Will you join me in this revolution of love?
And Jesus takes the notion of being kind a step further. Challenging us even more, Jesus repeats a common cultural code saying we have heard that we should love each other but hate our enemies.
Again he flips the script and gives one of the most difficult directions – to love and pray for those who are against us.
To love and pray for those who are against us?
Yes – because we are ALL children of God - A God who offers grace to each of God’s children – regardless of our transgressions. God loves and cherishes each of us and God patiently works with us as we grow in our perfection with each other and with God.
These are not idle words. Jesus walks the walk. He gives us a perfect example of what it means to pray for those who are against us. Even after they arrested him, beat him, and were executing him as a political prisoner - nailed to the cross on Calvary – when he was in agonizing pain and on the edge of death - do you remember what he said?
Forgive them Lord … for they know not what they do.
Jesus’ actions even - or I should say especially - on the cross were a revolution of love.
Loving our friends is easy. Loving those who are like us is easy… it’s natural to love those who we relate to and who are nice to us. But God through Jesus calls us to live up to a different standard. Love our enemies. Pray for them. God’s love is perfect, and we are called by Jesus to be like God.
Richard Rhor writes, “Until there is love for enemies, there is no real transformation, because the enemy always carries the dark side of your own soul.”
I don’t know about you, but I am often quick to react to perceived slights. I can be sarcastic and snarky and indignant … Driving in Hudson County puts me on edge, and I have been known to use colorful language in my response to other drivers cutting me off, honking their horn, or just not moving quickly enough– particularly if I am already feeling stress in my life.
But sometimes when I am feeling well rested and have a little more patience, I remember … you know what? I don’t know what that other driver is going through. I don’t know what else has happened to her today. And so I might smile or wave or just let him go ahead of me (even though I know I have the right of way).
While it’s just a little thing that can be resolved in passing and perhaps the other person doesn’t even know, I do believe these actions are cumulative and that it is our own heart that begins to soften and change when we choose not to put more negativity into the world but act from a place of love.
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me – right here and right now.
These small acts can then help prepare us for the more impactful challenges we face. And certainly it is that much harder to tackle the bigger ongoing conflicts in our lives. The estranged relative, the bully at work, the person who constantly makes you feel “less than …”
But loving our enemies, even when that means walking away from harmful or abusive behavior, leads to transformation in us and in those who hurt us. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that Jesus gives us this directive because “if you hate your enemies, you have no way to redeem and to transform your enemies.” He said, “Just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.”
And the good news is that we are not in this alone. Jesus invites us … no … commands us to participate with him in a revolution of love – a revolution that treats everybody like it’s his or her birthday. Because as kid president says, “You’re made from love to be love to spread love. Love is always louder, no matter what. Even if hate has a bullhorn.”
Happy Birthday to you!
Thanks be to God.
I am fearless and free!
I am an overcomer. I am bold and fearless. My indomitable inner power comes not from my ego, but from the power of God within me—for God and I are one. All my accomplishments are the result of a team effort. With God as my partner, no one or no thing can defeat me.
As I focus on my spiritual nature, I let go of living small.
I release aches and pains, fears and failings. I am more than a physical being. I am a spiritual being—invincible, fearless, strong, and free!
Through the power of God within, I can reach any goal and meet any challenge. I surmount any obstacle on the way to my good. God is with me and within me, and I am invincible.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.—#Philippians4:13