July 5, 2020
The Rev. Dr. John Judson
Exodus 4:1-9; Matthew 10:5-15
What are we supposed to do with this Jesus? I ask because I don’t particularly like this Jesus. I don’t like him because he is exclusive rather than inclusive. “Do not go among the Gentiles, or enter any town of the Samaritans,” he says, “Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” This is not the Jesus I want. I want a Jesus who welcomes all in the name of the living God. I don’t like this Jesus because he wants us to go out and do Moses-like miracles. “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” No offense, but this seems to be a bit above my pay grade. Sure it would be nice, maybe to heal those hit by the Coronavirus, but it seems to say we are not up to being followers if we can’t do miracles. Next, he tells us that we are not to be financially responsible and prepared for our work. “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts; no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff.” Finally he seems too judgmental. “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” I don’t like this Jesus. I want my everybody’s Jesus back.
What then are we to do with this Jesus? The answer I believe can be found in the one of the most often used monologues of the 21st century; the words we all hear when we board an aircraft. It begins with a welcome aboard, then a note about how to use your seat belts and a reminder of the location of the emergency exits. Then comes this portion of the talk. “This cabin is pressurized. In the event of a loss of cabin pressure an oxygen mask will automatically drop from the overhead compartment. To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you; Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, securing the elastic headband behind your head and breath normally. Although the bag does not inflate, oxygen is flowing to the mask. If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask first and then assist the other person.” The last sentence is the important part. “If you are traveling with someone needing assistance, secure your own masks first and then assist the other person.” In other words, we need to be healed and safe before we can help anyone else be healed and safe. Let me explain.
Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven, or, if you will, the Kingdom of God. In this portion of his discipleship instructions he tells his disciples that “The Kingdom of Heaven is near.” Jesus believed that in his life and his teachings the kingdom of Heaven, that presence and power of God to remake the world was at hand, moving like a powerful wave across the earth bringing peace and justice. Yet Jesus knew that bringing this kingdom was supposed to be a team effort and his partners were to be not only the disciples but the people of God; the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This understanding is at the heart of the Abrahamic covenant, where God tells Abram that if Abram and Sarai will get up and go on a journey with God, that God will not only bless them but will bless all the nations. That through their descendants all the world will find peace and justice. The only problem was that the people of God were not ready. They were ill. They were angry. They were oppressed. They were, in Jesus’ own words “the lost sheep of Israel.” They were the ones sitting on the plane who could not secure their own masks but needed someone to help them. And those someones were to be the disciples. The disciples were to teach them about God’s in-breaking love. The disciples were to heal them as a sign that the kingdom of heaven was arriving. In other words, if the people of God were to fulfill their calling to help bring peace and justice to God’s creation, they had to put the mask on themselves first before they could put it on others and help the world. They had to be healed before they could heal anyone else.
I believe that the same is true for us, that if we are to help bring peace and justice, especially racial justice, then we need to begin by putting the masks on ourselves first before we try to put it on society around us. One of the easiest things to do is to point to the faults of others. Chances are most of us have done this in some way this past week. I know I have. I have said things like, “If only they would do “x” then there would be peace and justice.” The problem with only looking out there though, is that it ignores what is in here, in our own minds and our own hearts. It ignores our own culpability in this lack of peace and justice. Bryan Stevenson, whom I mentioned two weeks ago, speaks of the process of bringing about peace and justice. He says that what we as white Christians often say is that all we need is reconciliation. If everyone would just get a coke and teach the world to sing in harmony then we could call it a day. But he says that won’t work until several other things happen, the first of which is to discover and tell the truth about our own selves; the truth about our privilege as white people, our own hidden biases and prejudices and our own often unacknowledged and unrealized perceptions about race; meaning we have to put the masks on ourselves first before we can help others establish peace and justice.
This morning then the diversity and justice committee here at Everybody’s Church is inviting people to begin this process of putting our masks on ourselves by participating in small groups that will be reading and discussing the book White Picket Fences, by Amy Julia Becker. This book is an easy first step in examining our own perceptions about race and privilege. We are also looking for people who will be willing to lead a discussion of the book…discussion guides will be provided. All you have to do is go to the webpage and there will be a link to a new page about the book, the groups and a place to sign up. I hope that you will prayerfully consider joining us in order to take the first step in our own healing so that we might heal the world. My challenge for all of us then is to prayerfully consider taking this first step, even if it makes us feel uncomfortable in order to open our eyes and allow us to help bring in God’s Kingdom.
The Rev. Bethany Peerbolte
June 28, 2020
Judges 4:4-10, 14-22; Matthew 10:1-4
Last week we learned about the call. This week I want to show us we are not called to something alone. We are working on a team and that team makes us better.
There are many places in the Bible where God gives someone a team to work with on the mission. Moses is given Aaron. Our new testament reading today shows the disciples being bound together as a team. These are all fine examples, but I want to focus on a time when women were on the team too.
Our women’s Bible study has been looking at women in the old testament and it did not take us long to notice two trends about women in scripture. First, they are usually only talked about in relation to their husbands or their sons. Women of the Bible are not particularly useful or worth noticing until they are pregnant or with an important man. We cannot blame scripture too much for this. It was written in a particular time when that was the worth of a woman.
But even though women did not make headlines until they were married or pregnant, scripture does have some gems of imagination where the worth of a woman is highlighted apart from these two life milestones. Mary and Martha, Priscilla, and Miriam.
However even in these cases the second trend of biblical women is still evident, women do not get a lot of page space. No matter if you are the mother of Jesus our savior, or a slave, women simply do not get a ton of room for their experiences to be told. This is probably because male writers simply did not relate to the experiences of women.
Thankfully the Spirit is able to work against this bias and was able to inspire some writers to keep female characters and their stories in scripture. We have to do a little more work to find them and keep them in the conversation in our yearly meditations.
With that goal, I want to introduce you, some of you possible for the first time, to Deborah and Jael. The women on God’s team who helped fulfill the covenant of the promised land. Last week we heard God promise Moses the land of the Canaanites from a burning bush. In the verses today from Judges, we hear about the final battle against Canaanite rule. After this battle Israel finally lives into her full promise unchallenged.
God has been faithful, but to whom? The original promise is made to Moses but he is long gone. Leadership has changed a lot. The short answer is God is faithful to the team: to the people of God.
One thing that defines a people is how they are governed. With God’s people we start with Moses calling the shots. He has advisors, but mostly God is talking to Moses about what the rules should be and Moses is implementing them and seeing they are kept.
After Moses’ death, the priests conserve the old laws and traditions. After some time though it is clear the old laws aren’t going to cut it. The world is changing. Israel’s leaders realize they need to have some wiggle room, and someone to decide on new rules for new problems they are having. For this, a council of elders form. They normally sit at the gate and people can bring problems to them to discern. When a consistent problem arises, a census forms from decisions and the elders advocate for a new law.
You can imagine this gets pretty complicated quickly with priests arguing to stay the same and elders arguing for reform. This gets so complicated that the people start praying for God to send them a king to sort out the messiest parts of governing. God does not want this for Israel. God wants them to work as a team, to be different than the other nations that have kings. God wants Israel to keep listening to one another and figuring it out together, not giving their power to one person or even a committee. God sends prophets with this message: no king is coming. The prophets do, however, take on a role of God’s mouthpiece, often weighing in on elder versus priest arguments. But the people still want a king. God eventually compromises and says they can have Judges.
That is the world in which we meet Deborah. She is described as both a prophet and a judge, which means people recognize her special connection to God and her authority to make final judgements on community issues. Both roles are remarkable for a woman to have. What we know about Deborah is based on two chapters, and the second chapter is a poetic retelling of the first, so really very little is said about Deborah. We do have some other Jewish writers of the time who reference her and her legacy, and the words in scripture are dripping with meaning.
Her name, Deborah, is the Hebrew word for bee. If we think about how we stereotype strong authoritative women today, the buzzing bee is par for the course of history. But it does give us an idea of her personality. She was a prophet linked to God and given a voice from God that she must have been persistent in using, hence her buzzing.
The other name associated with her is “wife of Lappidoth.” A couple things throw this name into question. Lappidoth is a Hebrew word with a female root, which means it’s a feminine name. While not 100% unheard of, naming a boy this name would have been very unlikely. Think of naming a boy today Emily or Sophia. It might happen but most parents would not do this. So, we wonder why her husband has such a feminine name. What some biblical scholars think is that Deborah was actually unmarried but to make her more palatable for scripture the writer of Judges named her “wife of Lappidoth,” another typical attack on female authority.
But I give the author grace because buried in the name is his real meaning. When we look at what Lappidoth means we find out more about Deborah and her role on God’s team. The original transcripts point to a meaning like “the torch” or “fiery woman.” This hidden double meaning under the name becomes a little more convincing to me when you see that Barak, the general who works with Deborah to win this important battle, has a name that means lightning. So, he is the lightning and she is the torch.
So, we have the fiery, buzzing bee of a woman who had earned her place in the community as a prophet and a judge. The general of the army respects her connection to God and her mind of discernment so much that when she calls him and says it is time to fight, he listens. Here is where God’s team starts to form.
Barak cannot end this on his own. He knows military strategy. but he understands there is a spiritual aspect of this with which he is not skilled. Deborah cannot win this on her own. She has the spiritual connection, but no army to fight for her. They need to work together as a team. They come to this partnership fairly easily because their community has taught them how to work as a team. They are both used to living in a community that understands if my neighbor has a problem, soon I will have a problem.
If people argue they know they go to the elders and ask for an outside opinion and judgment. This is not a community of me against the world. They work together constantly. It is their strength, which is why God does not want to put a king in their midst. Kings put a huge wrench in community problem solving. People with kings no longer work together, they go straight to the king for a final answer. They do not debate or listen, they call the king and say “Fix this!”
Deborah and Barak’s experience in a community that works as a team makes the most important part of this exchange easy for them, but for us for looking at it now from our context it is quite remarkable to read about. When Deborah says it is time, Barak says he wants her to go with him. Some have said this is because he is a coward, but I don’t think he made it to the head of the army if he was a coward. I think Barak knows he needs the whole team to win. Deborah agrees to go, but reminds Barak that if she goes there is a chance the win will be given to a woman.
There is a lot of debate about if Deborah means herself or if she knew about Jael. If you remember what I believe about prophets, that they don’t predict the future they just point out the obvious in the present, I think she is simply saying “If I go, I’m in this fight and I’m going to be looking for that win just as much as you. It could be me who makes the winning blow against Sisera. You’d better be ready to share the glory with a woman if you ask a woman to fight with you.”
If we pause the scene at that point we might expect Barak to consider and weigh the outcomes, but he doesn’t. He agrees. That’s how the team works. We fight together and whoever gets the win, gets the glory. He is totally okay with it.
They go into battle, and they get the upper hand quickly. Sisera is soon running for safety, and meets our other female savior, Jael. Now Jael is from a very small traveling tent-based tribe called the Bedouins. They would often move their whole camp to a new place to live for a while. When they arrived, the women would set up the tents and the men would go off to hunt and make alliances with the locals. Because of this, they needed to be friends with every nation. They were too small to fight battles and they depended on the relationships with others to give them room to set up their tents when they needed. Some might see them as two-faced, as playing both sides, but that was necessary for survival. They were known for their hospitality; they were everyone’s friend. If you were lost in the wilderness and came across the Bedouin people you knew you were saved. It is also good to note and a bit of foreshadowing that in the Bedouin tribe when they set down camp, the women set up the tents while the men hunted for food.
Back to our scene: Deborah uses her gifts to successfully predict the time to fight. Barak uses his leadership talent to faithfully lead the army to that fight. The enemy, Sisera, is on the run. As he runs, he finds Jael. He is saved. She’s Bedouin and they have a good relationship with his kingdom. She welcomes him in, gives him some warm milk and a soft comfortable place to rest - the perfect picture of Bedouin hospitality. He is so comfortable, he falls asleep. Jael knows Sisera and she knows the conflict with the Israelites. She quickly figures out Sisera must have just lost a battle and if she is going to be seen as a friend, as part of the Israel team, she is going to have to do something big to prove her loyalty. She uses her gift of tent staking to make a grand gesture of friendship to the army that is following Sisera. She drives a stake through his head and kills the last oppressor standing in the way of Israel’s promised land.
When Deborah and Barak show up, Jael is recognized as a team member. They are happy to share the glory and the win and give her a place in the songs the community sings later. They understand that in teamwork everyone has a part to play and a moment to shine. Deborah’s part was to stay connected to God and know when it was time to initiate the battle. Barak’s part was to organize the army and direct them through the battle. Jael’s part was to be non-threatening so Sisera would feel safe to let his guard down. They played as a team and the victory was never in question.
We are all missing sports, so let’s put a football lens on this issue. On a good football team when the offense is on the field the defense is hyping them up and cheering them on, and vice versa when the defense is on the field. Sure they may each want to play more time, but they understand that if the other part of the team doesn’t do well when it is their time to be in the spotlight, it will make the job of the next line on the field much harder. Teams work to support whoever’s turn it is, knowing that it will make their own work easier and cause them to have a better chance of success. When it comes to teamwork as a community, we constantly compete against each other for the spotlight.
Casting Crowns has a song that calls us out for this ridiculous behavior. The song is called “City on a Hill” and it tells the story of the kind of world God has asked to make as a team. At the beginning of the song highlights the conflict. “The poets thought the dancers were shallow, And the soldiers thought the poets were weak, And the elders saw the young ones as foolish, And the rich man never heard the poor man speak.” Each group sees the other group as its own entity. They do not see themselves as being on the same team. The poets want the dancers to be more like them, to think deeply. The elders want the young ones to grow up. Each group assumes their views are the most important all the time, and ignore the experiences of other groups.
As the song continues, this lack of teamwork causes everyone to leave the city. They leave frustrated with one another and thinking they are better off on their own. But while they are apart, they struggle to do the core work their group was doing before, and they realize the truth. “It was the rhythm of the dancers that gave the poets life. It was the spirit of the poets that gave the soldiers strength to fight. It was fire of the young ones, it was the wisdom of the old, it was the story of the poor man that needed to be told.”
They were on the same team. They needed one another to be able to do the thing they were good at. If the dancers became poets no one would know the rhythms that made the poetry work. The young ones did not need to wise up, they needed to stay fiery and a little naïve. The debates and sharing of different ideas and perspectives frustrated them, but it is what made them strong.
We live in a world where it is always us against them. That is not what God wants. God put us on a team of very different people with a wide range of experiences, talents, and ideas. There will be moments we are on the field, where our talents and ideas win the day. And there will be moments where our job is to support and cheer on others. Together we are called to change this world, thankfully we are not alone on this mission. When we can step out of our teammates' way and let them shine, we can be sure our moment will come and the songs they sing about us will be beautiful. And that city on the hill will finally be built.
June 21, 2020
The Rev. Dr. John Judson
Exodus 3:1-12; Matthew 9:9-13
He was comfortable. Though his life was not as exciting as it had been growing up in Pharaoh’s house, it was comfortable. He had escaped a murder rap in Egypt, traveled to the wilderness where he met his desert princess, got married, had a family, found a new career as a shepherd and all was well. But then this God showed up. This God who had no name and set bushes on fire so that they did not burn. This annoying God who wanted him to give up his comfortable life and go free some slaves. Who did this God think Moses was? Moses was not a good speaker. He had no army. He had no real wealth. And besides, he was comfortable. Why would this God want him to give up all of this?
He was comfortable. His route there had not been easy but now he had the perfect life. He had begun life as an ordinary Jew, living under the oppression of the Romans and their puppet government in Judaea. There was no real hope of achieving anything, but he had been industrious, cunning and crafty. He had probably begun work as a gofer for a local tax collector, and then worked his way up the tax food chain by cheating and bribing others until he had his own tax booth. Sure, most of the locals disliked him, but he was rich and comfortable. But then this Jesus fellow showed up. This Jesus fellow who had no money, few followers, no influence and certainly no connections and asked Matthew, the tax collector, to give up everything and follow. Why should he give up his comfortable life? Why would God want him to give up all of this?
Why indeed? Why indeed would God want Moses and Matthew to give up their comfortable lives and go on some sort of a dangerous and difficult journey? Why would this God interrupt their lives and make them do uncomfortable things? Why? The answer is actually rather simple. God heard the cry of God’s people. In Exodus 7, we hear God saying, “I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings and I have come to deliver them.” Though the Gospel of Matthew never says that God has heard the cry of God’s people, we understand that in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is seen as the new Moses who has been called not just to set the Jewish people free, but to set free all humanity. Jesus, along with his followers like Matthew had, been called to leave their comfortable lives to do the work of transforming the world. And this morning, I believe that God is once again hearing the cries of God’s people. Not that God has not been hearing the cries of people of color and indigenous people for the last four-hundred years, but perhaps it is now that we are hearing them as well; that God is calling us to to step out of our comfortable lives and to do some uncomfortable things. The question then becomes, what are the cries of God’s people?
Over the past couple of weeks I have participated in two marches. One in Detroit with pastors, imams, rabbis and others. We walked with people of all colors and religions. We walked with members of law enforcement who watched over us, supported us and shared the journey. We walked with the governor and the mayor of Detroit. The other walk was here in Bloomfield Township where Cindy and I live. It was organized by one of our regular attenders, Dawn Campbell. And again, it was a multi-racial gathering supported by our Township police force. But at each rally and walk people shared their experiences and they cried out. And one of the things for which they cried out was for justice. The call and response went, “What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now!” The marchers with whom I walked and spoke with made it clear that one of their primary aims is justice. I want to pause here for a moment. I want to pause because over the course of my 35 year ministry, every time I have spoken about justice I have had people ask me, “Why are we talking about justice? This is not Biblical. We Christians are supposed to be talking about sin and salvation. About spiritual things. And besides, your task is to comfort me…not discomfort me.” So if that is what you are thinking, here is my response. If love is the beating heart of God, then justice is the red blood cells that take God’s love to humanity and give life to the body; give life in all its fullness to human beings. I say this because justice runs throughout the Bible. It runs from the Torah, through the prophets, is intertwined in Jesus’ teachings and is contained in the letters of the New Testament. Justice then is not only in the heart of God but it is to be at the heart of the work of God’s people here on earth. But that leads to a second question, which is, what is justice? What is Biblical justice? It is true equality in every sense of the word. But to understand that I want to offer you what I consider to be the core tenets of justice, or what I call, the holy trinity of justice.
The first part of the holy trinity of justice begins by seeing every human being as being equal to every other human being. This sense of equality is based on the Genesis story of God’s creation of all human beings in God’s image. It continues in Paul’s statement that in Christ there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free. All are one in Christ Jesus. I realize that most of us here this morning believe that we see all people as equal. Unfortunately, we live in what Bryan Stevenson, the author of the book Just Mercy, calls the smog of white superiority. He says that even when slavery was abolished, the smog of white superiority remained. One of my favorite examples comes from Stevenson, who is a black attorney. He tells the story of showing up early in a courtroom, making his way to the defense table and then being told by the judge to leave, because the judge didn’t want any defendants in the courtroom without their lawyers. Stevenson calmly explained to the judge that he, Stevenson was the attorney. The judge’s response was not an apology. It was to laugh, as if he was thinking, “What has this world come to that you could have a black man as an attorney.” This judge was living in the smog of white superiority and could only see a black man as a defendant, and not an attorney. For there to be justice, we must see all people as our equals.
The second part of the holy trinity of justice is that all people are to be treated as equal. In the Torah this can be seen when it states that refugees and aliens are to be treated the same as native born people. The Torah also makes clear that when it comes to judgments, the poor are to be treated the same as the wealthy and that it is forbidden for the wealthy to bribe judges in order to get preferential treatment. This call for treating people equally continues in the New Testament when in the book of James, the writer decries the actions of the church that favor the rich over the poor; that give preferential treatment to one person over another. Again, we may say, well John I never do that. But our society does. We have a world in which people of color are not treated the same when it comes to housing, education, health care or within the justice system. I will offer you one example from this past week’s news. A black woman and her family were excited because the pool in their apartment complex had finally opened. As they walked toward the pool, a woman who worked for the complex was waiting by the gate. White person after white person walked right past the gate watcher. When the back family walked up the gate watcher told them they could not come in because the family didn’t live there. When the mother insisted that they did live and gave their apartment number, the gate watcher said she knew everyone who lived in the complex and the family should leave before the police were called. For there to be justice all people have to be treated equally.
The final piece of the holy trinity of justice is that all people are to have equal access to the benefits of society. At this moment I know I am going to get myself in trouble. Biblically this idea is rooted and grounded in the concept of the Year of Jubilee. The Year of Jubilee was to occur every 50th year. In that year all debts were forgiven, land returned to its original owners, the land was to rest from cultivation and slaves were to be freed. In other words, everyone got a chance to start fresh and enjoy the benefits of society. It made sure that no one person, family or tribe accumulated so much that they dominated society and left others behind. Again, let me be clear, I am not talking about any particular form of government or any particular government program that will achieve a year of jubilee. I am talking about the scriptures that make it clear that God’s desire is that all people share in the benefits of society and that no one is to get left behind. And unfortunately, people of color, over the history of our nation have been left out and left behind. One woman described the history of our nation as a monopoly game in which for the first two-hundred- and fifty-years black people were not players in this game but were cash to be traded and sold. For those of you who are unaware, just before the Civil War the largest segment of the southern GNP consisted of enslaved people. Following emancipation when blacks were freed what little they were given was eventually taken from them after reconstruction ended. This included their freedom when white southerners created new laws that could imprison blacks for gathering together or for black men talking to white women. And whenever they actually began to accumulate wealth and could play the game, such as in Tulsa, jealous whites rioted, burning down their community leaving more than 300 black citizens dead and more than 8,000 homeless. This continued when blacks moved north and laws were passed that did not allow for FHA or VA backed loans for black families or neighborhoods…and so it was a game in which people of color always lost. Which is why the average white family has net assets of $146,000 and the average black family has net assets of only $36,000 and black unemployment in this moment has once again exceeded that of Hispanics and whites. For there to be justice, all persons have to equal access to the benefits of society.
I believe that God is calling us to be discomforted, to hear the cries of God’s people and to act. What does that action look like? I am not sure. What exactly will it call us to do? I am not sure. In some ways we are like Moses setting off for Egypt or Matthew beginning to follow Jesus. We are not sure of the way ahead, but we know that we are called. And this call can be summed up in these words from the Belhar confession. “That the church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” My friends, my challenge for you on this day is that you will ask yourselves, how can I, in my sphere of influence let justice roll down like waters and help create God’s justice for those I encounter?
June 14, 2020
Emily McGlynn and Kate Gendruschke
Reflection by Emily McGlynn
1 Corinthians 1: 10-17
Hi, my name is Emily McGlynn and I am Senior in High School and soon to be Freshman at Penn State University. If we look at the scriptures we just read, Paul the Apostle wrote Corinthians. At the time, there were massive problems happening in the Corinthian Church. He gets right to business and discusses divisions in the Church. Paul founded the church and still refers to the members as his brothers, his equals. He recognizes that all people have the same emotions and experienced similar things. Paul appeals to them to live together in unity, and he tells them three different ways that their unity needs to express itself: 1) They must be in agreement, 2) There must be no divisions, 3) They must be united in mind or understanding. So we must all be in agreement, huh? Not exactly. It is that kind of unity within diversity to which Paul is calling these Corinthian Christians. Christians who believe that divisions are acceptable will always be divided because there are so many things about which we might choose to disagree. But if Christians consider divisions unacceptable, they will become more flexible and considerate of the opinions of others. They will be more likely to approach each other in love and to work out differences in ways that bring harm to neither party. Essentially, Paul is not forcing us to agree on every issue but to be in agreement on the idea that everyone should be equal. Again, if we separate ourselves, our community will not be the best it can be. But if we become united, our community will be better. So, where have we seen divisions bring more hate and disaster? For example, the Rwandan Genocide. In Rwanda, there are two basic tribes, the Hutus and Tutsis. In 1994, the Interahamwe militia and other Hutu-led groups led the mass murder of the Tutsi tribe. There was absolute chaos for 100 days and over a million people died. After the UN Peacekeepers stopped the killings and started healing programs, Rwanda started to rebuild. According to the 2019 Global Peace Index, Rwanda has a high peace rating. Looking back at history, unity does make the world a better place.
Switching gears here, for my entire life, I have been a part of a religious community. Not only have I attended church and church functions regularly since I was three, but I have been going to a private, Catholic school. I went to the Academy of the Sacred Heart from the time I was in Kindergarten to 8th grade. I transferred to Marian High School for my 9th grade year. For 13 years, I have gone to monthly masses and have fully examined Catholicism in Religion class. Every morning I put on my collared shirt with the Marian logo stitched over my heart and my plaid skirt that is supposed to come right above my knee. I am very thankful that I have been able to be in private education for the entirety of my educational career. My experiences have made me open my eyes to different ideas and different people. I would never trade that for the world. From most people I have met, they have said private schools kids and myself are snobby snots who use daddy’s money. I can’t tell you the number of times I have received dirty looks while grocery shopping wearing my skirt. This kind of reaction doesn’t really affect me anymore and I have been able to grow and become more confident in myself. One thing that not a lot of people realize is that these types of judgments happen in a private school environment, even a Catholic one. I go to school with people that believe in “agreeing with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” However, if you own a Gucci belt, you are more elite. It’s all about the car you drive, the number of figures your house has, and what boy you are dating over at Brother Rice. Catholic girls judge each other based on these factors – not very Christ-like to me. Judging based on my personal experiences, this is how most people have judged me, but now in this community, we are being cracked down more than ever. Regardless of the things we have, or the people we surround ourselves with, we are all made in the image and likeness of none other than Jesus Christ himself. God was doing some thinking and said, “I need a ‘you’ in this world.” He worked some magic and now you are here. We are all here to fulfill God’s plan and to live according to the Gospel. If I were to get hit by a bus while crossing the road, what color am I going to bleed? If you were going to get hit by a bus while crossing the road, what color are you going to bleed? Red. We are all in this community and we need to take care of one another. Be more compassionate, understanding, and open-minded. I might wear a polyester, plaid skirt but I am just as messed up as the next guy. Let us be united in mind and in thought as we drink the same the Spirit gives to us.
Reflection by Kate Gendruschke
It’s easy to lose track of what’s really important in our day-to-day lives. Every hour is jam-packed with distractions and bad news. Daily life can be overwhelming sometimes. In Lamentations 3 verses 21 through 23 we are given a reminder: “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
In other words, do not feel lonely, for God is love, do not be afraid, for God is trust, do not grieve, for God is hope.
I started attending this church when I was just six years old. It has always been a constant in my life growing up. In elementary school, I would look forward to choir practice, and playing DS with my friends while we waited for it to start. In middle school, I would look forward to going up to the youth room Sunday mornings and eating bagels while playing games and learning new Bible stories. In high school, I looked forward to Sunday nights spent in the youth room with old friends, hearing about their weeks, going through bible lessons, and if the weather was nice enough, getting ice cream together afterward. In my 12 years at this church, I have changed a lot: I have matured, grown more than a couple of inches, and developed my beliefs and values. But the church remains the same for me. A place of never-ending support. Refuge at the end of a hard week. A place to laugh, to cry, to play, to pray. I have met the most amazing people in this church, people who have grown with me and learned alongside me; people who have already lived and learned and helped to lead me on my way. People I can talk to without fear of judgment, people that I look forward to seeing, people that have seen me at my worst and at my best. People that I love. That is what it all comes down to: Love. I have found an abundance of it in this church and I will carry that with me for the rest of my life. Not only have I learned verses and prayers in these halls, I have also learned what it means to love others and welcome them with open arms. God is love.
In 2018, my mom, sister, and I decided that we would go on the church’s Mexico mission trip that summer. I was really excited to go, but as the date of departure got closer, anxiety and doubt set it. I was worried. Worried that I wasn’t strong enough or in good enough shape to work a long day helping build the university, worried about helping to lead VBS for the kids when I don’t speak any Spanish, worried about sleeping in a hammock and being able to get a good night’s rest, worried that I would forget that I can’t drink the tap water and take a big swig of it causing me to spend the rest of the day on the toilet. I had so many scenarios in my head of how it could all go wrong – some were realistic but others were just plain ridiculous. The fated day finally arrived and we met up in the church parking lot at three in the morning. I had barely slept all night. I was a bundle of nerves. The second we all got onto the bus to go to the airport, I let everything go. All the doubts in my mind. This was it, no turning back. I had to trust that everything would go as planned, trust that I would have an amazing time, and be able to make a difference. I can’t even begin to describe how incredible the trip was, all my fears seemed so silly once I got there, and I was able to give my all and enjoy the experience to its fullest. I learned so much, both about myself and about the Mexican culture. I also learned to let go of my fears and simply trust that everything will turn out ok. There is no point in always thinking the worst, life is too short for that; God is trust.
I can’t believe I’m about to say this out loud because it’s a bit embarrassing, but in my sophomore year, my parents started to question me about college. Every single time they brought it up I would cry until they stopped talking about it. I was scared of change and only able to see the negative: what if I choose the wrong college and regret it for the rest of my life? I have no idea what I want to do, what if I am never able to choose a major? What if I finally am able to choose a major and I end up hating it and regret it for the rest of my life? I don’t know if it’s just me but I’m sensing a bit of a theme here. It took awhile for me to be confident in my decision to pursue a creative career. I always knew I loved art and everything about it, but the uncertainty of working in the arts terrified me. The cliché of the starving artist was always present in my head. One day I was painting, and I had a bit of a realization. Nothing makes me happier than art. Hours fly by as if they are mere minutes. Art is what I am meant to do. I just had to trust in myself, and let go of all the fears I had around being an artist. Thanks to the love and support of my friends and community, especially that of my wonderful parents, I felt immediately at ease with my decision. It felt as if a weight had been taken off of my chest and I could see clearer. I now had a goal, I could look into the future and see something bright and amazing, compared to earlier when I would just think about the negative.
Now that I knew what I wanted to do, I had to decide where to do it. I toured so many schools, and was faced with the same question every time: “Can I see myself here?” And I could. I saw myself at every school. I applied to five schools junior year and had toured four of them. I was fairly sure I would get into four of them, but the fifth one was a bit of a reach for me. The University of Michigan. I hadn’t toured it yet because I didn’t want to get my hopes up in case I didn’t get in. Slowly but surely decisions started coming. I got into four schools, I was just waiting for UofM. Eventually, I get an email notification from the school. I open the email and before I can read a word, yellow and blue confetti starts streaming on my phone’s screen. I just start crying. I got in. Through all the uncertainty I remained hopeful, and it paid off. I went on to tour the school, and a wave of emotions flowed through me. Somehow it was completely different from any of the schools I had toured before. Walking around the campus just felt so right. Yes, I could see myself here, but more than that I could see myself loving it here. I could see a future here. I had hope for a future here. God is hope.
We need to go out and live our lives knowing God is love and there is always a home for us in the church. We must do what we can to spread this sense of love and belonging throughout all aspects of our lives. We must remind ourselves that God is trust and life is easier when we let go of our fears. We must remember that God is hope, even in our most uncertain moments.
June 7, 2020
The Rev. Dr. John Judson
Matthew 28:16-20; Deuteronomy 34:1-8
I felt like we saw about everything there was to see in the Holy Land. Almost exactly two years ago Cindy and I went with a group from the church for our first visit to Israel and Jordan. We went to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee. We spent part of a morning in the Garden of Gethsemane and waited in line to get into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. At each location different people in the group were moved by their connection to Jesus and or to our story of faith. For me, the one place that truly moved me, was the last one we visited, Mt. Nebo, yes the same Mt. Nebo in our Old Testament text. I suppose it might be strange that of all the places we visited that were associated with Jesus and his disciples, what moved me was one connected with Moses and the people of Israel. It moved me because from Mt. Nebo, you can see much of the Promised Land; the land that was to be the home of God’s people. It stretches out before you, green and inviting. As I stood there peering out over the land, I somehow wondered what it must have been like for those Israelites. They had been in the wilderness, fought their way to this point and now were about to enter uncharted space. They were about to launch into a new adventure, unsure where it would take them, or the obstacles they would face, or perhaps even the outcome of their journey. They were also going without Moses who led them for the last forty years. The one thing I believe they did know was that they were ready to launch.
What I mean by this is that God had given them everything that they needed to launch their adventure into this new territory. God had given them each other. The Israelites were not a rag-tag band of people who just happened to meet on a mountain top. They were a family joined together by circumcision. That physical mark was a sign that they were different from all of the other peoples around them and that they had been chosen by God for a particular mission. I know that only men were circumcised, but in their patriarchal culture, the circumcision of fathers and husbands tied wives and daughters into the family. They were ready to launch because they had a manual of operations. They had the Law. The Law had been given at the outset of their journey in the wilderness and it had come to shape how they treated one another and those whom they encountered. It was God’s manual for how to be a community that loved God with heart, soul, mind and strength, and loved neighbor as self. Finally, they were ready to launch because they had a physical reminder that God was with them. This physical reminder was the Ark of the Covenant, yes, the Raiders of the Lost Ark, ark. It was a tangible reminder that they were not alone and that the God of the Exodus was traveling alongside them. They were ready to launch.
For the disciples who met the resurrected Jesus on the mountain in Matthew 28, I doubt any of them could have missed the connection. Jesus was acting as the new Moses, sending his followers on to their new mission. And he reminds them that they too are ready to launch. They are ready to launch because they have each other; they have a family connected this time not by circumcision but by baptism. And this time baptism is a sign of belonging to the family for both men and women. “Make disciples,” Jesus says, “And baptize them.” They were ready to launch because they had an expanded manual of operations. Not only did they have the Law of Moses, they had Jesus’ teachings, on the Law to guide and direct them. “Teach them to observe all I have commanded you,” Jesus continues. Finally, they were ready to launch because they had a physical reminder that Jesus would be with them. This physical reminder was not an ark but a meal; a meal he told them to celebrate whenever they were together. “And I am with you to the end of the age,” Jesus concludes. They were ready to launch.
My friends, what this means for us is that we too are ready to launch; ready to launch on our new mission of being a Matthew 25 church. All of you may be asking yourself, what is a Matthew 25 church? Matthew 25 is a movement of Presbyterian churches, based in Jesus’ call in Matthew 25 to care for the least. And it asks us to care for the least by working on three things. I will give you the first and the last on the list, then the one in the middle. The first is to create vital congregations in which peoples’ lives are transformed. I believe that we have been doing this well for a long time. Through Bible studies, mission endeavors, wonderful worship and small groups we have created a vital congregation. The last on the list is eradicating systemic poverty. In some ways we as a congregation have been at work in this area, both individually and collectively, for a considerable period of time. Through our work at Alcott Elementary, our work with Foster youth and through much of the work many of you do with organizations such as Boys and Girls Clubs and Focus Hope we are using education to help lift people out of poverty. It is the middle challenge, however, that has gone unanswered. It is the one on which we are called to launch. The middle challenge is to dismantle structural racism. Of the three challenges to serving the least this one is the most difficult. It is the most difficult because it deals with people’s hearts and with our cultural “DNA.” Let me give you some examples from scientific papers. Schools punish black children, especially boys, more harshly for the same actions than they do white children. Physicians tend to ignore symptoms in black persons and fail to listen to them more than to white people. Housing for people of color tends to be more substandard than it is for whites. Law enforcement tends to treat people of color with suspicion and more harshly than it does white people. And all of this happens not because people get up each morning, wave the Confederate flag and think to themselves, I am going to oppress some people today. No, it is hard wired into the system and into people’s hearts and minds.
Thus then, to make a difference in this area requires a tremendous lift, yet we are ready to launch into this new endeavor of doing our best to help dismantle structural racism. We are ready to launch because we have each other. Because we are a family bound together by baptism with all of our brothers and sisters, of all skin colors and socio-economic conditions. We are ready to launch because we have a manual of operations in the scriptures that remind us that we are all one in Christ and that we are to care for the least. We are ready to launch because we have Christ with us. We have this table reminding us that in Christ transformation and new life is possible.
In some ways we are on our own Mt. Nebo, peering out over a landscape that is unfamiliar to us. My challenge to you on this Sunday is this; to pray. I challenge you to pray and see if you are willing to come on this challenging, and at times uncomfortable journey, that we might help to change the world.
The Rev. Bethany Peerbolte
May 31, 2020, Day of Pentecost
Acts 2: 1-22
Happy Pentecost Church! This is a holiday that celebrates the Holy Spirit becoming the continuing presence of God in our world. It is the day the early church leaders received the Holy Spirit and were able to interpret scripture and speak in all the languages they needed to spread the message of God’s love. Many think of Pentecost as the birth day of the church, however, I don’t agree that a birthday is the best analogy for what happened on Pentecost. The way I see it, when someone is born they are not particularly useful. Cute, yes, but babies are very limited in their abilities. When we are born we depend on others to take care of us for many years. The women and men who received the Spirit on Pentecost were not dependents. They were gifted with remarkably helpful abilities to proclaim the message of God’s love. They no longer depended on the guidance of others. They were able to understand scripture and interpret it for the masses. They quickly went off on their own to pursue careers in ministry. This was not a birth day, it was a graduation day.
Graduations are the tipping point from learning to doing. Before graduation, we are students. We gain knowledge, gather experience, and sharpen our abilities. We need teachers to guide us and check our work. After some time, though, the teachers recognize we have collected enough knowledge and experience and have sharpened our gifts enough to allow us to go out on our own. We are given a degree that signifies we have achieved a level of expertise that makes our words and our ideas worth listening to. We can see problems and brainstorm solutions in a way that is helpful and worthy of respect.
This is what happened to Jesus’ followers. They graduated from being students of Jesus to leading the people of God. Their degree shows up like a flame over their heads, which would be very cool if that happened to us, but it is a little harder to recognize when the Spirit enters our lives. Even though we have never had a flame dance over us, scripture assures us we have all received the same Spirit. God pours out the Spirit on “all flesh,” it says. Some say the Spirit comes to us in baptism. Others say confirmation is the moment. You may have experienced a different moment where you were convinced of the Spirit’s presence within you. No matter when the Spirit arrives, we are all graduates and hold the same degree.
You are probable wondering what that degree is exactly. Paul recalls the words of Old Testament prophets to remind the crowd that God said, “In the last days, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams.”
Paul is saying the last days have begun. I realize reading this 2000 years later takes some of the punch out of Paul’s declaration. It actually reminds me of a friend I had in college who had a dark sense of humor and whenever I asked him how he was doing he would say “dying,” because every day lived is one of his last. So the “last days” is all very relative.
But no matter how many last days we have left, Paul is marking this moment as the time when the Spirit of God is poured out on all flesh. It has been poured out. There will now be visions and dreams and prophecy, by the young and the old. Women and men, even the slaves, the most oppressed among them, who no one ever listens to, will be given the same measure of the Spirit. They hold the same degree. The degree we have been given on Pentecost is a degree of prophecy. We have all graduated into the profession of prophets.
Some of us may have gotten our degrees a long time ago and have forgotten what was taught in “Being a Prophet 101,” so let’s look at what it means to be a prophet.
Many languages translate the English word prophet from something that means a foreseer. Someone one who foresees the future. In Hebrew, the meaning is more like a messenger or microphone, someone who projects a message from God. The Old Testament talks about prophets in this way, a prophet is “a person of God” “a messenger of God” “a noticer” “a watcher for the people.” In the New Testament, the Greek words translate to something like “to speak in front of, or in place of.”
So the scriptural understanding of the role of a prophet is to speak in place of God. Prophets carry a message from God. They are given the task to watch the world around them on behalf of the people. A prophet is someone who has a connection to God, who understands what God wants for the world, and gives that message to the people. This is a little different than how we often think of prophets. We tend to think of them more like fortune tellers, people who can predict the future, however, there is a very important distinction to make between someone who predicts things and someone who sees things.
Here is an example to help understand the difference.
If we are in a raft paddling down a river and I notice the water is beginning to flow faster, I might say to everyone in the boat, “Looks like the water is going a bit faster than before. I wonder if there is a waterfall up ahead.” Everyone in the boat might assume I don’t know what I’m talking about and ignore me. If a few yards up I see a sign that says, “Waterfall ahead,” I would point it out to everyone. Some people might finally listen, but maybe the majority still does not believe the danger is real and we stay on course. If we then come to a waterfall it does not mean I predicted the future like a fortune teller does. It means I was paying attention to our present surroundings and noticed the warning signs of the potential dangers ahead. The fact that my warning came true might make it look like I have some special ability, but in reality anyone who was paying attention would have seen the same thing.
Here is a more biblical example. If the major empires are at war with each other, saying “Empires are about to fall,” is not a mystically inspired statement of the future. It’s simply stating that what is happening now: war will lead to an empire falling. Unless something changes, an empire falling, is the direction of the present path.
The prophets of the Bible do not predict the future, they live with a watchful eye and notice disconnects between what God wants for the world and where the current path is leading us. Moses was introduced to a loving God who yearned for equality. So Moses saw people in slavery and knew that was not what God wanted to have happen. Once Moses identified the disconnect, he went to the people to tell them God wanted them to be free. Most people did not believe him. SO, he and God got to working on a plan to free the people from slavery to help God’s vision become a reality.
Prophets pay attention in the present, and when things do not line up with God’s will they set out to help alert people to the disconnect.
The way prophets do this varies. Hosea (hoe-zeh-a) used his life choices, especially his marriage, to be a metaphor about the disconnect he saw. Hosea is the one who married a sex worker and every time she went back to that line of work Hosea forgave her. This showed how Israel kept abandoning the One God for their old gods, but that the One God was forgiving. Miriam used song to proclaim God’s message and align the people with God’s will. Deborah played out her prophecy professionally, taking on the job of a judge to help guide the people down God’s path. But the two major ways prophets alert the world to a disconnect is with words and actions.
Nathan is a good example of a prophet who used words. When King David killed Uriah (U-reye-uh) to get to Bathsheba, Nathan came to the King to tell a story about a rich man stealing from a poor man. David was appalled at the actions of the rich man. Nathan then revealed that the story was actually about David stealing Bathsheba from Uriah. David saw the disconnect and repented.
Ezekiel is my favorite prophet who used actions to alert the world to a disconnect. He built a little replica of Jerusalem on a brick. With siege walls and battering rams, and camps all around it. Then he laid in the middle of the city on his left side for 390 days. One day for every year Israel would be uncomfortable under the rule of another nation if they did not change their ways. Then he laid on his right side for 40 days. One day for every year Judah would be under the rule of another nation. One would think it would be hard to ignore the message of someone in the middle of the public eye in such an unusual position, but many thought this was not the right way to get a message across and demeaned Ezekiel’s actions.
The way a prophet gets God’s message across is as varied as there are prophets, but the way they are all the same is that they are witnesses to a present path that is not heading in the direction God wishes us to go. They are witnesses to a disconnect. They all find a way to alert people and say, “Hey, I know what God wants for us, and I see the path we are on and this path is not going to lead us where God wants us to be. We need to make a course correction if we are going to make the world the way God wants it.” Does everyone always listen to prophets? Not normally, but prophets are relentless in their critique of things that are not working. If one method of prophecy isn’t working, they find another way to reach the people. Eventually enough people agree with the prophet and they find a way to repent and correct their course.
When Pentecost happened, we all received a degree in prophecy. We received the Spirit, the connection to God needed to sense these disconnects. We were entrusted with the task to speak God’s message into the world.
The Good news is that we are not perfect prophets at graduation. You were not a great doctor, or teacher, or artist the minute that degree landed in your hand. All that degree does is say you know enough to get to work. We hone our skills further with every day we do the work of a prophet. Unfortunately, many of us prophets have not clocked into work for a while and have let our degrees collect dust. The messages we were created for and commissioned to tell are not being told. Pentecost is our time to remember to witness to the disconnects in our world. We have been given a specific language, and specific message that we alone can tell.
We can all think of at least one disconnect. A direction humanity is heading that is not the direction God wants us to be going. Those disconnects ring inside us as disgust and anger and dread. The Spirit yells from inside us giving us visions of a better world. We dream dreams of a day when the disconnect is set right. We cannot let these visions and dreams die inside us. They are the prophecies; the messages God has tasked us to give to the world.
We will each use different tactics to get the message into the world.
For some of us that message will be told with words as we teach our children to think in a different way. Words that remind friends and family that jokes that hurt are not funny. We may use words of poetry and song to inspire hard hearts to listen closer to God’s will. Our words may not even be heard by many, possibly only read by one senator or one police chief. Our way may be with words that highlight the disconnect between what God wants for us and the direction we see our world heading.
For some of us, God’s message will be told by our actions. The friends we choose, the places we spend our money, the people we vote for. We may choose to act by lying face down at the capital building with hundreds of other prophets. We may never say a word and yet the disconnect becomes clear when people see how we make decisions and the way we choose to live our lives.
The prophets reality, unfortunately, is that the world may not listen to what is obviously happening around them. There is a force all prophets work against. We can call it fear, or lack of confidence, or the devil, but there is a force that works to convince us we are helpless to right the course of our world. Every time someone does not listen, every time an attempt is made and fails to inspire change, our willingness to continue working as prophets falters. This force was what told Jonah to run the other way, away from his prophetic message.
But the story of Jonah tells us that the Spirit is stronger than this opposing force. That God’s message will find a way into the world. That one may want to run in the other direction to hide and yet still a prophet will end up in the exact place where God uses their voice to shout with every ounce of God’s distress, “You’ve got him down, let him breath at least.”
Pentecost is the day all flesh, young and old, men and women, especially the oppressed were tasked with carrying the message of God into the world. We have been uniquely calibrated to sense the disconnects between what God wants for us and the direction we are heading. We are not helpless. We are the help!
That help will manifest in any number of ways and it comes from the Spirit’s unrest within us. We cannot let the forces of fear and self-doubt convince us to run from the messages we have been given to proclaim. Imagine if every one of us, made in God’s image, gifted with God’s Spirit, speak the truth of the disconnects we witness in our world and listen to one another’s messages. Can you see that vision? Can you dream that dream? Will you proclaim that prophecy?
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Charon Barconey, Associate Executive Presbyter for the Presbytery of Detroit
May 24, 2020
Joshua 1:1-9; 1 Peter 3:13-22
Good morning, church. It is wonderful to be in the house of the Lord today. It is wonderful to be at First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham, and we are worshiping today in spirit. I feel your presence with me and I also feel the presence of our Lord and Savior. I feel the presence of saints who have gone on before us. So this is the day that the Lord has made and we will rejoice and be glad in it. Let us pray. Creative God, continue to be in our midst. Lord, continue to open up our spiritual eyes so we might see you, if only a glimpse. Continue to open up our spiritual ears so we might hear from you but a word, and Lord continue to soften these hardened hearts so that we would receive all that you have for us on this day, and forever more. It is in Jesus Christ’s name that we pray. Let this body gather together in spirit and say, Amen.
Good morning again, church. On this weekend we commemorate Memorial Day weekend and it is the time when our country remembers fallen soldiers, those who have given their lives for us and for our safety. Many people are visiting cemeteries and memorials, and in recent times past we had a parade. Some of that has changed because of Covid-19, but we still take the time to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. I remember a team traveling to Arlington Virginia to see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It's a monument dedicated to the deceased US service members whose remains have not been identified. It is located in Arlington. It's the national cemetery, and since 1937 the Army has maintained a 24-hour vigil. They guard this tomb. On the tomb are three Greek figures representing Peace, Victory and Valor, and inscribed on the back of the tomb are the words, “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.” The men and the women who lost their lives serving are men and women of great courage. At this moment let us take a brief moment of silence recognizing and honoring those soldiers.
Brothers and sisters, here God says be strong and courageous do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you. God is with us. During this Covid-19, this global crisis, this pandemic, we are experiencing a different kind of courage. We are seeing courage in what some of us view as every day workers. Maybe they are the bus drivers, maybe there are those who clean the hospital rooms, maybe they're the ones who are in the grocery stores. We’re calling them essential workers. Maybe they’re the doctors or the nurses or the nursing assistants, maybe it's the respiratory therapists. We are seeing a new courage. Maybe it’s a thing that we took for granted that these workers do every day of their lives, but during this pandemic it is increased. Hear God say, “Be strong, be courageous, for I am with you.
Before Moses died he would place his hands on Joshua. Because the Lord told Moses, you, Moses, will not lead the people to the promised land, it will be Joshua. You are to go and get him and anoint him. And that is what he did. When he laid his hands on Joshua, the Bible says the Lord gave Joshua wisdom. Joshua was also a soldier and was also one of great courage, but I wonder how he felt? He was second or third in line and he was just following Moses. Did he have any fear? Was he afraid at all when this charge was being placed on him? Church, hear God say be strong and courageous for I am with you.
The second text in 1st Peter talks about hope, encourages the church to do what is right. In studying this text I learned that this church was having some issues - maybe there was some slander, some folks talkin’ about some folks. I know that doesn't happen here at First Pres Birmingham, but just work with me on this one. So Peter wrote a letter and he said, Do good, because it is better to suffer when you're doing good for Christ's sake. But then he says be prepared to be accountable for the hope that is in you, because sometimes when you do good, sometimes when you wear masks, sometimes when you stay home to stay safe and you're still a hopeful people, folks want to know why. Where does that come from? How do you do that? Why do you do what you do? Church, hear God say be strong and courageous for I am with you, Church, we're not alone during this pandemic, we still serve a faithful God.
I am encouraged, because when this really started to heat up, I am grateful that our Administration said that worship is essential, because we already knew that, but from wisdom a decision was made that we needed to stay home to stay safe. And that wisdom in our leaders, in our church, in our session, they made a decision that we would worship differently. So it may be Facebook Live, YouTube, some are worshiping by Zoom, some are doing a teleconference, knowing that this building does not define who we are. We are God's people and God has called us to go therefore, and that is what our churches are doing in the midst of a crisis. We still found a way to Proclaim God's Good News. We have still found a way to serve God's people, brothers and sisters. Hear God say: Be strong and courageous, I am with you.
I'm a fourth-generation Presbyterian and there was a time in my life, 20 years ago, when I rededicated my life to God. I started out sitting in the pew, but I wasn't involved. But the Lord was talking to me and talking to me. The Holy Spirit was telling me I have to do something. Twenty years ago I got involved, and I got involved in youth ministry. And I was so excited and I called my uncle, Samuel Steel, and I said, “I'm leading!” And my uncle said, “Blessed Assurance!” Then I went home that day and God gave me these words that I want to share with you.
Blessed Assurance were the words that he said.
Angels rejoicing, a soul had been led
To the Prince of Peace to the God of love.
No more wandering, I’m focused above,
To say the right words to do the right thing
For God has given me a new song to sing.
Blessed Assurance is what was said to me
On the right hand of God is where I plan to be
For God is preparing my special place
I'll shout “Hallelujah!” when I see his face.
God is preparing but I'm working as well.
I'm working on my building and my story to tell
Of how I was lost and couldn't find my way
Because I had everything, I thought, no need to pray.
For the Bible says what profits a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?
So then I woke up (wake up, church) and I had to decide
Although I had everything, I was empty inside.
The cars, the houses, my friends, all great,
But who knew what really was to become of my fate?
The cars, they get old, the houses, they crumble,
My friends, my wonderful friends, aren't always there when I stumble.
Hear Jesus say, I am with you always.
So if you are confused or you're lonely or you're wandering and you can't find your way
Then you must listen to what I must say.
Confessing your heart and believe in his name,
Then Blessed Assurance will be yours to claim.
Brothers and sisters we are in the midst of a global crisis. Hear God say: Be strong and courageous, for I am with you always. Church, this is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
May 17, 2020
The Rev. Dr. John Judson
Genesis 4:1-16, 1 Peter 3:8-12;
He had been relieved of duty. Less than 24 hours after the Navy asked its commanders to be honest about the extent of the spread of the coronavirus aboard their ships, Captain Bret Crozier of the USS Theodore Roosevelt was out. He was out because he had sent an email to thirty recipients both in his chain of command and some outside of his chain of command expressing his frustration at the lack of rapid response to the outbreak of the virus aboard his ship. When the email was leaked to the press, the then acting Secretary of the Navy, not only reprimanded him but removed the Captain from his command. I want to pause here for a moment and say that, not having served in the Navy, I don’t know if this action was justified or not. That is not my issue. My issue is with what happened next. The Acting Secretary, not content with publicly removing the Captain from his command, flew to Guam, boarded the Roosevelt and proceeded to launch into a profanity laden speech, which led to his statement, that the Captain “was either too naïve or too stupid” to command this ship. What we need to realize is that this Secretary was addressing men and women who loved their Captain; who would have given their lives for their Captain. And this stranger was attacking the Captain’s character and ability. It did not sit well with the crew. What I have to say though is that the Secretary’s personal attack did not surprise me. And I say that not because of the political climate in which we live, but because that is what we human beings do. We seek and destroy.
We seek and destroy. It seems as if there is some hard-wired element in human beings that when we believe we have been wronged, or someone has something we want, or says something that hurts our feelings, or attacks our reputation that our first inclination is not to ignore the situation, but it is to seek and destroy “the other”. My guess is that all of us, if we thought about it for a second or two, could find an example of our own desire to seek and destroy someone in our past or present. And this is not new. It is in fact at the heart of one of the oldest stories in the Bible; the story of Cain and Abel. Cain and Able were brothers, which for those of us with brothers know that brings its own issues. They each brought an offering to God. God accepted Able’s offering but not Cain’s. Cain was angry about this. We are not sure if he was angry with God, but we know he was angry with Able. Able had something that Cain wanted, the approval of dad, the approval of God. Notice in this simple story, that God knows that Cain is upset and tells him to try again and all will be well. But that is not enough for Cain. Cain is aggrieved. Cain is jealous. Cain wants to seek and destroy. Cain invites his brother on a picnic into the fields and there Able is slain. Being angry is not enough. Seeking and destroying is just what we humans do.
Seeking and destroying is something that Peter’s audience would have understood all too well. For, if there was a civilization that took pride in seeking and destroying, it was the Romans. One of my favorite examples of this took place not long before Peter would have been writing, and that was the story of Cleopatra. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Cleopatra was the pharaoh of Egypt. She and Mark Antony, the co-ruler of Rome shacked up together, had a couple of children and thought they could take over all of the Roman Empire. The other co-ruler, Octavian, had different ideas. This resulted in a civil war in which Antony and Cleopatra were defeated. Antony took his own life, but Cleopatra thought she could strike a deal with Octavian and win in the end. What she discovered however was that Octavian had other plans. Her defeat would not be enough for him. Instead, Octavian planned to take her in chains to Rome and parade her through the streets so people could throw rotten fruit and vegetables at her and insult her along the route. Then she would be publicly executed, perhaps by crucifixion. It was only then that Cleopatra made a date with an asp. Octavian was on a seek and destroy mission. This is what Rome did. And everyone knew it.
It must have come as quite a shock to Peter’s audience when they got to this part of the letter. When Peter wrote these words. “Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called-that you might inherit a blessing.” Peter is not only asking his readers to not seek and destroy, but he is asking them to go farther. He is asking them to bless rather than harm. I want us to stop for a moment and consider what we mean by blessing so that we can gain a fuller sense of what Peter is asking of his readers. Blessing is a word that comes with both a definition and a tradition. The definition of blessing means to prosper someone; to assist another in being spiritual, emotional, physically and financially prosperous. It means to assist another in becoming whole. The tradition is that God had given God’s blessing to Abraham and Sarah and that they were to pass this blessing, this prospering down to each successive generation until it could be given to all people and to all nations. Within Judaism what this meant was that parent’s blessed their children hoping their children would live full and rich lives just as Jesus was doing when he blessed the children. He was passing God’s spiritual, emotional, physical and yes, financial blessing on to those on which he laid his hands. This blessing of the other, of those whom we want to seek out and destroy, is what Peter told his readers that they were supposed to do. Which means this is what we are supposed to do. The question becomes then, how do we reprogram ourselves to bless rather than to destroy?
Our reprogramming comes through changing our posture and our orientation. Let me explain. When we are the aggrieved party, meaning that we believe someone has hurt us, or our reputation, or we are jealous because they have something we think that we ought to have, a space of anger opens between us. We then either mentally or physically do one or all of the following. We cross our arms to signal we have broken our relationship with them. We raise our fists to strike them in order to destroy them. We show our “angry face” in order to demonstrate our displeasure. Each of these postures is a prelude to attacking and destroying. What Peter asks of us is that we practice different postures. Listen again and see if you can hear different postures in these word pictures from Peter. “Finally, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart and a humble mind.” These are postures of open arms, of embracing care, of prayerful concern and of shared space. These postures move us from aggression to support.
A second way of understanding this reprogramming practice is to see it as a change of orientation. When we are aggrieved we often turn our backs on people. We break relationships. We turn toward the dark side which leads to seeking and destroying and away from the light, from Jesus, who calls us to bless. Peter tells us that we are to deal with this by turning around. Listen again, “Let them turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it.” This is a conscious turning away from seeking and destroying and toward an attitude of blessing. This is an internal reorienting of our hearts toward the other. In combination, these two actions offer the possibility of changing our internal wiring.
Right now we live in an angry time; in a time of seeking and destroying. Shoppers are hurting security guards. People without masks are screaming in the faces of state troopers. Protestors are calling for our governor to be lynched. People are fighting in grocery isles. It is easy to be swept up in this. But Christians are called to be different people. We are called to be people of blessing. My challenge to all of us this week is to find a way to bless someone; to prosper them spiritually, emotionally or financially such that their lives are made better by our sympathy, our love, our tender hearts and our humble minds.
May 10, 2020
The Rev. Dr. John Judson
Matthew 4:18-22; 1 Peter 2:1-12
He knew who he was. He had a very clear sense of his identity. He was an Air Force navigator. He joined the Air force right out of college and trained to navigate a wide variety of aircraft. He was so good at it that he would eventually teach at the Air Force Academy. This identity also allowed him to know his obligations. My best example was Bill’s commitment when he navigated an AC-47 gunship in Vietnam. His obligation was to protect soldiers on the ground. On one flight he navigated his ship so close to the action that incoming ground fire ripped through the fuselage, with some rounds flying between his feet and tearing at his clothes. Yet he did not recommend that the plane abandoned its mission. He knew his obligation; an obligation that flowed from his identity. He knew who he was. But then, after 25 years of service, he was called into his commander’s office and was told it was time for him to retire. Bill thought about it for a moment and told his superior how much he loved the Air Force and what it meant to him. What if he didn’t retire? The answer was short and sweet. You will be cashiered out and lose your pension. Again, Bill pondered and said, “I suppose I will retire then.” But as Bill told me his story I could hear the pain in it. He said one day I knew who I was, and the next I had no idea. One day I was an Air Force officer and the next a civilian. Who was he?
Who am I? What is my core identity? These are questions human beings have been asking from the dawn of time. This is why we gathered into families and tribes, gangs and nations, because those groupings gave us our identity. But what happens when we are unmoored from those identity giving connections? I ask that because our lives are filled with identity transitions. When one identity is lost we have to go in search of another. Early in our lives we are someone’s child; then we may be siblings, then friends, then students, then perhaps student athletes, or musicians or thespians, then graduates of particular schools, then maybe parents, employees, homemakers, then volunteers, then retirees. I think you get my point. All along our life’s journey we take on new identities that give our lives meaning and purpose. The issue becomes what happens when we lose our identity? We graduate and we are no longer a student. We lose a job or retire and we are not who we once were. Our children leave home and the parent/child relationship changes. Our world is turned upside down and we have a tough time. Who am I?
This struggle to answer the question of identity is nothing new. It was the same one that was faced by Peter and by those to whom he was writing. It was faced by Peter because before Jesus showed up he had a clear sense of who he was. He was a fisherman, a small business owner and a husband. But then along came Jesus. Jesus called to Peter and Andrew saying leave your nets, your families, your businesses and follow me. I will give you a new identity, you will be fishers of men. Now, no offense to Jesus, but I would guess that Peter and Andrew had no idea what Jesus meant by being fishers of men…or what it would mean to be a disciple of Jesus. Peter’s sense of identity had undergone a radical shift. The same was true for those to whom Peter was writing. Before Jesus came into their lives they had identities, not simply as Romans, but as citizens of a particular city and as worshippers of a particular god. We can see this with the people the Apostle Paul encountered in Ephesus. Their identity was they were Ephesians who worshipped the great god Artimus. Now that Peter’s audience, or those Ephesian Christians, were following Jesus, they needed to clarify who they were. They needed once again to be able to answer the question of who am I? Fortunately for them and for us, Peter offers an identity that spans all of life’s transitions and allows us to know what our obligations are.
So who are we? We are, “A chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.” I realize that this sounds like four different things, or four different identities. Yet in reality they are simply four ways of saying the same thing. And that same thing, is that we are part of God’s ancient and yet modern family. We are part of the family that was created when God called Abraham and Sarah and gave them a new identity as a people with a purpose to bless all the nations on the face of the earth. In other words, our identity is rooted and grounded in the great God of Israel and God’s story. What this meant for those who were reading Peter’s letter and means for us, is that we are not part of some new religion or some civic organization, but that we are family. We are God’s family. I realize that this can seem a bit disconcerting because we often speak of ourselves as being part of a religion, or a denomination, or a church and it is those associations that shape our identity. Biblically however, those do not define our primary identity. As the Apostle Paul puts it, there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all…and for Peter this means one family. And as one family, Peter tells us that there are two obligations that come to us; one internal and one external.
First, the internal obligation. Peter tells us that we are to be like living stones allowing ourselves to be built into a spiritual house. What in the world does that mean? It means simply that we are to be a family. Let me ask, how many of you had chores to do when you were growing up? At my house, my brothers and I had a rotation of chores. One would set the table, one would clear the table, one would do the dishes and one would mow the lawn. Though we often fought about whose turn it was to do what, we all understood that family meant each playing a part in making things work. This is what this image of living stones is all about. People in the time of Peter knew that in construction, every stone mattered. It didn’t matter whether the stone was the bottom, middle or top of a wall, or a column or was over the arch in a doorway. Each mattered because each carried part of the load for the building. Peter wants us to understand then that our internal obligation is that each of us is intended to carry part of the load of God’s family. Each of us has a role to play in the family. Each of us has our spiritual chores that allow the family to function. Our spiritual chores can be everything from praying, to preaching, to giving, to singing, to teaching. Our obligation is to be living stones, helping to build God’s spiritual house.
Second, the external obligation. Peter tells us that we are to “be a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” I have to admit that this image is one that can be a bit disconcerting because it might be hard to think of ourselves as priests. Even so it is a wonderful and hopeful image. So what is a priest? Simply put, a priest is someone who builds bridges between God and human beings. Priests serve as intermediaries and intercessors between heaven and earth. It was their sacrifices that made things right between human beings and the gods. What does this mean for us? It means that we are to be interceding with God on behalf of the world. And this intercession can take two forms. It takes the form of prayers. We are called upon to be praying for the world; for friends and enemies, for those we know and don’t know, for those who are in need and for those who can help meet need. Intercession also takes the form of action. If there is one thing that the scriptures make clear, it is that sacrifices that are acceptable to God include caring for the poor, the widow, the stranger, the alien, the refugee, the children and those who live on the margins of society. Intercession means seeking justice and mercy for all; or, as we discussed two weeks ago, it means living our purpose as a holy people, reflecting God’s character into the world.
We have been given a great gift. We have been given an identity; an identity that begins at our birth and baptism, and continues throughout our life. That identity is that we are family. We are God’s family. And it doesn’t matter if we are together or apart; if we are here in the metro area or spread around the world; if we speak the same or different languages; if we are of the same or different sexual orientations; if we are of the have the same or different gender identities; if we have the same skin color or are of multiple hues. We are family. And Bill? Well he discovered this same identity. After retirement he became connected with a large Episcopal church where he lives out his obligations with joy and commitment. My challenge to you then for this week is to ask yourselves, How am I living out my identity as a member of God’s family by being a living stone and a bridge builder for God?
May 3, 2020
The Rev. Bethany Peerbolte
1 Peter 1:17-25
I want to start today with a refresher on how and why the new testament came to be. As with all things in Christianity we should start with Jesus. Jesus was raised knowing the Tanak (Torah, Writings, and Prophets) or as we call these the Old Testament. We know Jesus knew these well because he references them constantly throughout his ministry and uses them to demonstrate how his new message is a continuation of God’s story. His message uses the same rhythm of love, hope, peace, and joy that the Old Testament is founded on. So then we get a time when Jesus is gone and the early church has to figure out how to continue living and teaching this new message. They have to take up the rhythm of God themselves and continue it into a new generation. The first writings that come about are the Epistles. These are letters Paul and other leaders write to churches to help them stay strong, sort out debates, and respond to the wider world. These letters were passed around from church to church and copied for their archives. Over time churches had a collection of letters they could pull from to help them be the church. Letters that helped them remember what the rhythm of God sounded like.
When the apostles begin to be killed for their faith Luke decides to write down their stories for the people to remember too. That’s how we get Acts. And there was a rich tradition of telling the stories of Jesus’ life and teachings orally. They were not written down but passed from storyteller to listener. This is how the memory of the parables, the Sermon on the Mount, and miracles were remembered by the community. The events that encapsulated who Jesus was were told most often and some of the less loved stories were lost to time. The stories that remained in the community were about what it looks like to live in rhythm with God.
Eventually. Mark decides these need to be written too. As you can imagine with oral retellings, the sayings were being twisted and he worried the truth and the rhythm would become lost. Then Matthew and Luke decide to write their accounts of Jesus, and eventually John. But with the gospels and writings, we know today were other writers. So the early church had a wide range of teachings they were using to keep the rhythm of God heard in the world. This all happened in the first 80ish years of the Church’s existence. Then we have a few hundred years where the individual town churches operate from their archived writings that have been passed around. In some of these files are other gospels, other letters, and other stories of the Church that we do not see in our Bible today. That is because in the late 4th century the New Testament was finally decided on and canonized. This happened because the Church became a real power for change and needed to organize the message. Making sure the rhythm that was being passed down and lived out was the same from one church to the next. A council met and churches submitted their favorite letters, gospels, and writings for consideration. The canonized New Testament was born out of this process.
And so we have the gospels, epistles and other writings that the council decided best told the story of the Jesus followers. The words and stories that best conveyed the rhythm the community was collectively called to drum. They picked stories that showed how God has continued to guide the people and strengthen the community since the ending of the Old Testament. These words have brought Christians through thousands of years of life as a community. These are the stories we tell when someone is struggling with infertility, these are the stories we tell when people fall in love and get married, these are the stories we tell in happy times and in sad times because these stories show us that no matter what we are experiencing there is a common rhythm to it all. God has already been there and brought the people through it. It proves that we can depend on this rhythm. We can depend on God because God has weathered these storms with the people in the past, and we can trust that God will get us through the storm we are in now.
For us at this time, a pandemic is not something any of us have experienced. It is new and scary, we struggle to find the rhythm. For God though, this is not new. God has brought the world through multiple pandemics. God has seen churches close due to plague and God has brought the Church through it, even in times where there isn’t Zoom and Facebook and YouTube to help maintain a level of normalcy. It is new to us, but not to God. God will keep the rhythm going as we work to find it and take it up again. It's what the Bible tells us happens every time humanity faces chaos and tragedy. The Bible is all the evidence we need to keep trying.
One might ask why we don’t continue to update the stories we find here. For one, the stories here are enough. They show us how God blesses people, they show that God can handle us being angry with God in the lament sections, they show us how to respond in every situation a Christian could find themselves. Sure, there is not a story about what to do when the government asks you to stay home for two months, but it does tell us how God’s people act during adversity or unsure times. The Act's passage today was about the early church adjusting to having to be the church in a new way,without a leader sitting in the room with them, teaching them and planning trips for them. They had to devote themselves to reading scripture on their own; they had to pray for themselves; they had to identify needs on their own and find ways to meet those needs even if it meant selling their possessions. That kind of response is still very relevant for the place we find ourselves in today, and we can learn from that story, even though it is not the same situation.
Another reason I think we stick to the scriptures and do not add to them is that we have access to these other more modern stories of how God interacts with Humanity through the internet and published books. Pentecost Spoiler alert: Jesus leaves the Spirit with us to help us hear God’s rhythm in all sorts of sources: in music, in the wind, in ourselves, in poetry. If we have read and heard the stories that are recorded in scripture, we know the rhythm of God’s presence. We can sense that beating of love and hope in other things and make the connections we need to be inspired even 2000 years later. For example, this month a woman named Kitty O’Meara wrote a poem called “and they stayed home” about the pandemic our world is facing now. In it, she describes what communities do when they are asked to isolate. She highlights things like reading and creating, resting, and learning new ways to live. As I read the verses from Acts today her verses came into my mind too. They sounded like they were written by the same person. They had the same rhythm, the same sense of hope in chaos. Let me show you what I mean. I took the Acts passages and Kitty’s verses and wove them together. I wonder if you can catch which words are 2000 years old and which are 20 days old.
And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts. And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed. (Bold words are by Kitty O’Meara, normal words are from Acts.)
To hear these two passages this way made me realize how connected to God’s people throughout time we are. We are acting in the same way the early church did. They devoted themselves to one another, and WE have been more devoted to each other too. They gave their possessions to those in need, and WE have seen great generosity pouring from our community. And as I read Kitty’s words I could feel the truth in them. This is what God’s people do when life gets hard. They become more focused on the important things, the learning, the healing, the dancing, and the praying. If I had to guess, I feel confident in saying the early church danced too. The dancing just wasn’t recorded for us when someone finally wrote about their struggle 40-50 years later. The rhythm of God was what they recorded because it is what remained in their memory.
Imagine a high-schooler in 2030 needing to write a history report about the coronavirus. The child asks a parent to tell them about 2020. The parent recounts the fear everyone had and how even close friends became people to be cautious around. The parent remembers the stress of teaching, entertaining, working, and parenting 24/7. The parent admits they cried in the bathroom a lot. There are some memories of making masks, but no one knew which the right kind were. Then the parent says to their child, “But you must remember some of this, you were old enough then to remember something.” The child responds and says they only remember having more time with their parents, laughing while watching YouTube videos, and cuddling till bedtime. They remember sewing the masks and picking out which colors go with each other. They admit, learning to sew is why they want to go to fashion school and make accessible clothing for people in wheelchairs. Children remember the eternal, the way they felt. The details fade from our childhood memories and we can only remember how loudly the rhythm of God’s love was beating during different experiences. The surface details fade away, the eternal rhythm remains.
1 Peter demonstrates this in a great metaphor. The Old life is like the grass, its beauty as short-lived as wildflowers. Grass dries up, flowers droop, God’s word goes on and on forever. The word is where we learn God’s rhythm. That rhythm of God, of hope and love, is what is eternal. That rhythm is what is remembered in everything we do. We know this because we hear it in the Old Testament. It continues to beat throughout the New Testament, and we can hear it inspire and guide us today. That rhythm we feel from the scripture is what ultimately gets remembered after times of struggle. Time tunes down the superficial, making it dry up and droop, and time amplifies what is God’s rhythm.
We have been generous these past few weeks but the amount of money we have given is just the grass, it will fade. The number of masks we have made are like the flowers, they will wither and not be remembered exactly as they are. The number of phone numbers we dialed will disappear over time because what we do is the surface action. What will remain is why we did these things, because of love. To keep the rhythm of God’s love beating loudly into the world. If you have ever talked to someone who has been on a mission trip they usually say the same thing, life-changing, I met God there - it has anchored my faith. There is a reason many mission trips have this effect on people, it is a chance to connect to the rhythm of God’s love.
Before every mission trip, I give prospective participants the same message. I tell them it would be easier for us and our partner organization if we just sent the money we are spending on food, accommodations and flights to the organization and let them pay for professional masons and workers to do this work. The work would be done better than we could ever do it. They do not need us to build or to work. We do not need them to meet God. So there must be another reason you go. Ultimately a mission trip is not about the work, it is not about what we do, it is about why we do it. When love and fellowship and showing up for God’s people in another place is our goal, when that rhythm of God’s word is our inspiration, a mission trip will never fail. The reason why mission trips are life-changing and hold so much weight in a person’s faith journey is that they allow us to engage with the rhythm of God. We hear the stories of lives changed, but I can guarantee there was a fight on the mission trip or something went totally wrong, but that is not what is remembered when people commit themselves to the rhythm of God.
“And they devoted themselves to one another.” We don’t hear about the arguments. “They read and learned.” Wwe don’t hear about the lazy mornings and days when procrastination won. “They had glad and generous hearts.” We don’t hear about the regret-filled selfish moments. And I want you to hear these