The Mission: The Team
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.
The Mission: The Call
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?
High School Senior Sunday
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.
The Mission: Ready to Launch
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.