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Sermon

#sermon from March 21, 2021

Scripture: Matthew 8:18-27

This morning, I want to begin by reading the eight names, including six who were Asian American, lives snatched away in an act of terror and horror.

Xiaojie Tan Delaina Yaun Paul Andre Michels Daoyou Feng Yong Ae Yue Hyun Jung Grant Soon Chung Park Suncha Kim

If you wanted an image for how messed up and broken our world is, I invite you to ponder these eights names – grandmothers, mothers, Army veteran, wives, friends, business owners, and ultimately children of God – taken from us by another white man with a gun. I ask God to hold their families close as they grieve and as they wait for answers – and as we stand with our Asian American siblings who have experienced a rise in violence and rhetoric in these past several weeks.

While I understand the investigation is ongoing and we will learn more in the coming weeks, there is much about what happened that echoes throughout our history as a nation.

In fact, it is reported that the white gunman had something posted to the effect of – “I love God and guns” – on his social media page, a refrain we hear way too often in the country.

I’ve been reading a book by David Abulafia called the Discovery of Mankind which follows the journey of Columbus and other Spanish, Portuguese, and English sailors who came west looking for a trade route to India and stumbled upon lands they were not aware existed. And more importantly, people in those lands.

When these folks like Columbus spread out across the world often in the name of Jesus, they brought crosses and bibles with them to share the good news… and they also brought cannons and guns, weapons of war. If there were people that were willing to trade and receive the good news, things were less violent at least initially. But if those people resisted and tried to protect their communities and resources, the guns became a tool to subdue the people, to steal resources and plunder the earth.

Abulafia quotes Bartolome de la Casas who says that the Spaniards would come to the islands and eat in one day what the indigenous people would eat in a week. They brought a hunger and greed for more.

This cycle has continued to repeat throughout our history – God and guns, hand in hand. It is one of the hallmarks of the white supremacist narratives in which we live, believing that we are justified turning to violence to bring order to the chaos around us. The problem is not us – the problem is always them, always someone else, whether it is those who tempt us, those who disagree with us, those coming across our border. And the way to solve it is subdue the land and the people around us.

How does Jesus break our destructive narrative that has harmed our planet and people like the eight killed this past week and so many others?

How does Jesus offer an alternative to deal with the chaos around us?

Our scripture today begins with Jesus reminding his disciples that following him is an all or nothing proposition.

Two men come up to him – a scribe and one of his disciples. The scribe professes to go with Jesus wherever he will, but Jesus reminds him that the Son of Man has no home. Following Jesus will require a deep stretching and willingness to change ourselves, to risk, to be vulnerable.

The disciple asks for permission to go bury his father, and Jesus does not mince words. He gives him no out. “Let the dead bury the dead.”

One of the commentators I read this week invited us to not spiritualize Jesus’ words, but challenged us to know that following Jesus asks much of us. We may be asked to give up family and friends and cultural comforts and the things we think we know are true by saying yes to the Way. We must place our trust in Jesus and open to a new Way.

And then Jesus and his disciples get into a boat to go “to the other side”, already testing his would-be disciples if they would dare follow to the other side of their worlds, places they may not feel comfortable.

Out on the boat in the middle of the lake, a storm hits, and the boat begins to sink. The disciples panic and they cry out to Jesus just as many of those who were healed cried out to him – “Lord, save us!”

One commentator that I read suggested that the boat is reflective of God’s church – God’s community on earth – anytime we sail into the unknown, anytime we chart ourselves into a Future Story that looks different than our past. Water represents chaos through the Bible, and it’s a common thing to note that the Israelite people were never considered a seafaring people in the Bible. Out there, far from land, chaos hits. Their plans are disrupted. They lose a sense of order. This is not their comfort zone.

But notice something fascinating – Jesus is fast asleep.

While the disciples panic because it seems like their world is falling apart, Jesus knows better.

Jesus knows that storms hit us. Jesus knows that going to the other side means facing our own discomfort, our own fears, our own brokenness. Jesus does not succumb to motion sickness, and yet here we see these disciples get a little motion sickness the first time the waters get choppy.

Jesus wakes and calms the wind with a word. Balance is restored. Even the waters of chaos obey Jesus.

The invitation for us is to place ourselves in the panic stricken hearts of those disciples and to think what they saw and experienced in Jesus that day. When the storms of life hit, are we going to turn to our guns, our desire to fashion order and control, or whatever other idols that we might put our trust in?

Or are we willing to turn to Jesus, to another way, when our waters get choppy?

The church God is calling us to be in this most unusual time in which we live, where we worship together over the internet, where we can broadcast our signals halfway around the world, is a church that is prepared and courageous to leave the life we knew behind and embrace the other side to which God calls.

For too long, friends, evident in all that we saw this week and in recent years, our country chooses the comfort of white supremacy, guns… If we want to be a church that simply makes people comfortable on the boat, then we should never dare push out into the deep. We should seek to make ourselves comfortable, make our worship comfortable, make our statements of faith comfortable.

But if we follow Jesus, we will be called out to the other side.

As Jesus said in Luke 9, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

And still there is grace – for we can turn to Jesus. We can turn to Jesus and turn our lives around. We can turn not to guns or other gods – but we can turn to the God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, who promises restoration for our lives and for all who have been shattered by years and years of violence and devastation to our planet and to our communities. We can turn to God who in Genesis created this beautiful creation and created all the people in – people of every race and nationality and ethnicity – created beautiful and whole. We can turn to a God who weeps alongside the families and moves in solidarity with our Asian siblings and all others who fear and feel alone. We can turn to a God who challenges to be peacemakers in this world.

To be that kind of church is incredibly hard. As your pastor, I long to lead you in that journey, but I confess I am still dealing with my own greed and my own stubbornness to cling to gods that cannot save me.

Maybe you are too.

Maybe together we can deal with our motion sickness.

Maybe it begins by crying out in lament, “Lord, save us.”

Dr. Soong Chan Rah reminds us that the most appropriate act for the church in times of violence and chaos is lament. We lament – not that we personally hurt those people – we lament that we are part of a system which is out of control, which greedily eats up the abundance God has blessed us with, which claims lives each and everyday, which makes people feel Othered because of the color of their skin.

Our lament has the potential to turn us to Jesus and say, “Lord, save us.”

Save us from racism.

Save us from discrimination.

Save us from our greed.

Save us from trying to control everything.

Save us from poisoning this planet.

In the language of Alcoholics Anonymous, this means putting our trust in a higher power, giving up the myth that we are god and that we can control our lives and its many details. And let me tell you – it is freeing to take that step and let go. Begin to find ways to be and honor our bodies as a part of this planet and not ones sent to subdue it.

What might that look like for you?

Jesus’ invitation is the kind of life where we can sleep through storms – not because we are irresponsible – but because we know storms are part of life. We will endure. We will get through – without guns. For Jesus is with us.

Thanks be to God.

a #sermon from January 10, 2021 at University Christian Church from Jonah 2:2-9

Dear church,

It is Sunday after another long and painful week in our country, another low point for our nation in a string of low points. What happened on Wednesday may still have us stunned – because we are so close to Washington DC and have walked and worked and advocated on those grounds before and because we saw in the image of a Confederate flag, in the anti-semitic symbols by white supremacist groups, in the racist conspiracy-fueled madness on display, a continuation of an American history that worships violence, that celebrates us versus them.

Whether we want to call it insurrection, sedition, or a violent mob, those kinds of images are deep-seated in American history.

This year, for example, marks the 100th anniversary of the massacre of the wealthy black community called Greenwood in Tulsa, OK, where violent white mobs gunned down black citizens and set fire to businesses and homes, with the help of the National Guard.

Sometimes, we are not told that history – including those of us who grew up in lily white school systems – but that trauma and that violent mob look very familiar to those who study American history and recognize such low points.

Wednesday reminded us of this refrain: America is capable of being something special, and we are capable of being something awful.

Like you, I am still sorting through it all, trying to hold my tongue and my tweets, trying to be careful in what I say and process the loss of life, including 42 year old Capitol Hill police officer, Brian Sicknick, same age as me, who was beaten to death by the mob, and recognize acts of courage and integrity all around.

And I am listening for God, seeking to craft a prayer that will capture how I feel.

Maybe you are too.

What does it mean to pray when we are at a low point, swallowed up in the depths of the deep brought on by violence, division, and injustice? What words can we choose when we are angry and afraid, when we are at risk to lose any hope?

In our scripture today, Jonah the prophet delivers a powerful prayer of repentance from a low point – quite imaginatively from the belly of a fish at the bottom of the churning, chaotic sea.

Can you imagine what it might have been like?

The smell. The damp. The cramped space.

Of course, the Book of Jonah is more like a parable than an actual scientific blow by blow.

In all likelihood, if any of us were swallowed by a fish while visiting Bethany Beach, we probably wouldn’t have much time to pray.

First, how did Jonah get there?

At the beginning of this prophetic and powerful account, God says to Jonah, “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.”

But Jonah refuses – he resists God’s call. He gets the first plane ticket – or boat ticket – and leaves town.

Later, we would discover why – Jonah hated the Ninevites.

He didn’t want them to experience grace or generosity from his God, because he knew if the people heard his call and responded, God would spare them destruction. Jonah believed that those stinking Ninevites were scum of the earth. They deserved destruction. They deserved an angry mob. He had read about all the bad things they did on Facebook and decided that these people were irredeemable.

But God wasn’t having it.

A storm hits the sea, and the sailors freak out. As a last ditch effort to save their lives, they toss Jonah overboard into the churning water.

And scripture says, “But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.”

You can understand that Jonah was miserable.

He says to God,

You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. Then I said, “I am driven away from your sight; how shall I look again upon your holy temple?” The waters closed in over me; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped around my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me for ever

Jonah could have made one heck of a blues singer. His words echo with desperation, shame, sorrow, and loss. His life is practically over.

The irony of this situation was that he was in that fish because of his own choices. He made his own bed and now he was lying in it. By turning away from God’s call to share expansive grace to his enemies, Jonah was in the pits, literally. And now he longed just to go back to the temple, to sacrifice to God, to make things right.

I suggest then there are two ways to hear Jonah’s prayer.

First, we can read it as a genuine turning point in Jonah’s life. He is now in an unimaginable situation in the stinky, watery belly of a fish, deep and distant from the life he used to know. He knows he messed up. And he is ready to change, to be someone different, to pursue God’s way. His prayer wells deep from his heart, representing a U-turn, what we call repentance.

But there is another way to hear these words, because as Jonah’s story continues, we discover this prophet has work to do.

When Ninevah hears to Jonah’s message of judgment, the people of the city, to his surprise, make a U-turn. They grieve, pouring ashes on their heads and dressing in sackcloth. They change their behaviors, even the people at the top. They cut off the conspiracy-fueled social medial channels. They refuse to hate their neighbors, even ones they disagree with. They care for the immigrant, the poor, and the widow. They honor God and turn away from their wickedness.

But Jonah, when he sees this, goes off, pouts, and wishes he was dead. He is disappointed that his enemies received grace rather than judgment. He is distraught, when just moments before, he was talking about all holy he wanted to be in the temple.

So we must wonder – is Jonah saying the right things to get out of his situation without actually going through any transformation? Is this prayer authentic or empty?

Jesus had something to say about religious leaders like this in Matthew 23:27:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.”

Last week, hours after being evacuated and threatened by a raging mob, many of our leaders in the Senate and House took to their podiums and apparently found God. Their words and their tune changed with the world watching. All of a sudden, they spoke somberly about unity, coming together, and debate, when moments before some of them fundraised off of the riot.

Certainly, their words were needed to cool tensions.

Maybe their words reflected a real repentance and change in their hearts.

Or maybe in a few weeks, everything will go back to the way it was.

Jonah’s prayer in the belly of that fish gives us permission to speak to God in our low points.

To cry out. To lament.

To long for something different.

To seek repentance and return.

To speak to God when we are at our rock bottom.

And trust that God that hears us – whatever our rock bottom is right now.

But just like Jonah, we will be judged for whether our prayer means something.

Some of us, therefore, need to practice holding our tongues and let a few angry tweets/posts simmer for a bit before pressing post. Some of us need to be sure that our elected leaders are on speed dial. Some of us need to do a lot more listening to those who warned us that the threat of violence and destruction was real.

Some of us simply need to hear the truth – not conspiracy theories – the truth, and understand that hearing the truth is an incredible act of love.

But most importantly, we, as faithful Christians, must offer an alternative, however imperfect and messy it is than what we saw this week, a way that leads to abundant life and liberation from the sin and injustices of this world, a way that actively rejects racism and hatred, a way that seeks to hold one another accountable, a way that seeks to serve with humility and love, a way that ends the narrative of us versus them.

Or will our thoughts and prayers and Facebook posts end up being nothing more than hot air?

After Jonah finishes his prayer, the fish literally vomits Jonah up on to the beach.

Many churches this week are reflecting on the story of Jesus’ baptism, where he too was immersed in the chaotic raging water of the Jordan River and emerged with affirmation for his ministry to liberate God’s people.

When we are baptized, we too die to the fake narratives of sin and death and are vomited up to live into the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus.

Today, we are given another opportunity to show the world that our baptism means something.

God is vomiting us out after one more low point in our nation’s history.

Our call, like Jonah’s, continues.

In the words of St. Ignatius:

Pray as though everything depended on God; act as though everything depended on you.

Thanks be to God.

a #sermon from January 10, 2021 at University Christian Church from Jonah 2:2-9

Dear church,

It is Sunday after another long and painful week in our country, another low point for our nation in a string of low points. What happened on Wednesday may still have us stunned – because we are so close to Washington DC and have walked and worked and advocated on those grounds before and because we saw in the image of a Confederate flag, in the anti-semitic symbols by white supremacist groups, in the racist conspiracy-fueled madness on display, a continuation of an American history that worships violence, that celebrates us versus them.

Whether we want to call it insurrection, sedition, or a violent mob, those kinds of images are deep-seated in American history.

This year, for example, marks the 100th anniversary of the massacre of the wealthy black community called Greenwood in Tulsa, OK, where violent white mobs gunned down black citizens and set fire to businesses and homes, with the help of the National Guard.

Sometimes, we are not told that history – including those of us who grew up in lily white school systems – but that trauma and that violent mob look very familiar to those who study American history and recognize such low points.

Wednesday reminded us of this refrain: America is capable of being something special, and we are capable of being something awful.

Like you, I am still sorting through it all, trying to hold my tongue and my tweets, trying to be careful in what I say and process the loss of life, including 42 year old Capitol Hill police officer, Brian Sicknick, same age as me, who was beaten to death by the mob, and recognize acts of courage and integrity all around.

And I am listening for God, seeking to craft a prayer that will capture how I feel.

Maybe you are too.

What does it mean to pray when we are at a low point, swallowed up in the depths of the deep brought on by violence, division, and injustice? What words can we choose when we are angry and afraid, when we are at risk to lose any hope?

In our scripture today, Jonah the prophet delivers a powerful prayer of repentance from a low point – quite imaginatively from the belly of a fish at the bottom of the churning, chaotic sea.

Can you imagine what it might have been like?

The smell. The damp. The cramped space.

Of course, the Book of Jonah is more like a parable than an actual scientific blow by blow.

In all likelihood, if any of us were swallowed by a fish while visiting Bethany Beach, we probably wouldn’t have much time to pray.

First, how did Jonah get there?

At the beginning of this prophetic and powerful account, God says to Jonah, “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.”

But Jonah refuses – he resists God’s call. He gets the first plane ticket – or boat ticket – and leaves town.

Later, we would discover why – Jonah hated the Ninevites.

He didn’t want them to experience grace or generosity from his God, because he knew if the people heard his call and responded, God would spare them destruction. Jonah believed that those stinking Ninevites were scum of the earth. They deserved destruction. They deserved an angry mob. He had read about all the bad things they did on Facebook and decided that these people were irredeemable.

But God wasn’t having it.

A storm hits the sea, and the sailors freak out. As a last ditch effort to save their lives, they toss Jonah overboard into the churning water.

And scripture says, “But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.”

You can understand that Jonah was miserable.

He says to God,

You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. Then I said, “I am driven away from your sight; how shall I look again upon your holy temple?” The waters closed in over me; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped around my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me for ever

Jonah could have made one heck of a blues singer. His words echo with desperation, shame, sorrow, and loss. His life is practically over.

The irony of this situation was that he was in that fish because of his own choices. He made his own bed and now he was lying in it. By turning away from God’s call to share expansive grace to his enemies, Jonah was in the pits, literally. And now he longed just to go back to the temple, to sacrifice to God, to make things right.

I suggest then there are two ways to hear Jonah’s prayer.

First, we can read it as a genuine turning point in Jonah’s life. He is now in an unimaginable situation in the stinky, watery belly of a fish, deep and distant from the life he used to know. He knows he messed up. And he is ready to change, to be someone different, to pursue God’s way. His prayer wells deep from his heart, representing a U-turn, what we call repentance.

But there is another way to hear these words, because as Jonah’s story continues, we discover this prophet has work to do.

When Ninevah hears to Jonah’s message of judgment, the people of the city, to his surprise, make a U-turn. They grieve, pouring ashes on their heads and dressing in sackcloth. They change their behaviors, even the people at the top. They cut off the conspiracy-fueled social medial channels. They refuse to hate their neighbors, even ones they disagree with. They care for the immigrant, the poor, and the widow. They honor God and turn away from their wickedness.

But Jonah, when he sees this, goes off, pouts, and wishes he was dead. He is disappointed that his enemies received grace rather than judgment. He is distraught, when just moments before, he was talking about all holy he wanted to be in the temple.

So we must wonder – is Jonah saying the right things to get out of his situation without actually going through any transformation? Is this prayer authentic or empty?

Jesus had something to say about religious leaders like this in Matthew 23:27:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.”

Last week, hours after being evacuated and threatened by a raging mob, many of our leaders in the Senate and House took to their podiums and apparently found God. Their words and their tune changed with the world watching. All of a sudden, they spoke somberly about unity, coming together, and debate, when moments before some of them fundraised off of the riot.

Certainly, their words were needed to cool tensions.

Maybe their words reflected a real repentance and change in their hearts.

Or maybe in a few weeks, everything will go back to the way it was.

Jonah’s prayer in the belly of that fish gives us permission to speak to God in our low points.

To cry out. To lament.

To long for something different.

To seek repentance and return.

To speak to God when we are at our rock bottom.

And trust that God that hears us – whatever our rock bottom is right now.

But just like Jonah, we will be judged for whether our prayer means something.

Some of us, therefore, need to practice holding our tongues and let a few angry tweets/posts simmer for a bit before pressing post. Some of us need to be sure that our elected leaders are on speed dial. Some of us need to do a lot more listening to those who warned us that the threat of violence and destruction was real.

Some of us simply need to hear the truth – not conspiracy theories – the truth, and understand that hearing the truth is an incredible act of love.

But most importantly, we, as faithful Christians, must offer an alternative, however imperfect and messy it is than what we saw this week, a way that leads to abundant life and liberation from the sin and injustices of this world, a way that actively rejects racism and hatred, a way that seeks to hold one another accountable, a way that seeks to serve with humility and love, a way that ends the narrative of us versus them.

Or will our thoughts and prayers and Facebook posts end up being nothing more than hot air?

After Jonah finishes his prayer, the fish literally vomits Jonah up on to the beach. Many churches this week are reflecting on the story of Jesus’ baptism, where he too was immersed in the chaotic raging water of the Jordan River and emerged with affirmation for his ministry to liberate God’s people.

When we are baptized, we too die to the fake narratives of sin and death and are vomited up to live into the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus.

Today, we are given another opportunity to show the world that our baptism means something.

God is vomiting us out after one more low point in our nation’s history.

Our call, like Jonah’s, continues.

In the words of St. Ignatius:

Pray as though everything depended on God; act as though everything depended on you.

Thanks be to God.

a #sermon from January 10, 2021 at University Christian Church from Jonah 2:2-9

Dear church,

It is Sunday after another long and painful week in our country, another low point for our nation in a string of low points. What happened on Wednesday may still have us stunned – because we are so close to Washington DC and have walked and worked and advocated on those grounds before and because we saw in the image of a Confederate flag, in the anti-semitic symbols by white supremacist groups, in the racist conspiracy-fueled madness on display, a continuation of an American history that worships violence, that celebrates us versus them.

Whether we want to call it insurrection, sedition, or a violent mob, those kinds of images are deep-seated in American history.

This year, for example, marks the 100th anniversary of the massacre of the wealthy black community called Greenwood in Tulsa, OK, where violent white mobs gunned down black citizens and set fire to businesses and homes, with the help of the National Guard.

Sometimes, we are not told that history – including those of us who grew up in lily white school systems – but that trauma and that violent mob look very familiar to those who study American history and recognize such low points.

Wednesday reminded us of this refrain: America is capable of being something special, and we are capable of being something awful.

Like you, I am still sorting through it all, trying to hold my tongue and my tweets, trying to be careful in what I say and process the loss of life, including 42 year old Capitol Hill police officer, Brian Sicknick, same age as me, who was beaten to death by the mob, and recognize acts of courage and integrity all around.

And I am listening for God, seeking to craft a prayer that will capture how I feel.

Maybe you are too.

What does it mean to pray when we are at a low point, swallowed up in the depths of the deep brought on by violence, division, and injustice? What words can we choose when we are angry and afraid, when we are at risk to lose any hope?

In our scripture today, Jonah the prophet delivers a powerful prayer of repentance from a low point – quite imaginatively from the belly of a fish at the bottom of the churning, chaotic sea.

Can you imagine what it might have been like?

The smell. The damp. The cramped space.

Of course, the Book of Jonah is more like a parable than an actual scientific blow by blow.

In all likelihood, if any of us were swallowed by a fish while visiting Bethany Beach, we probably wouldn’t have much time to pray.

First, how did Jonah get there?

At the beginning of this prophetic and powerful account, God says to Jonah, “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.”

But Jonah refuses – he resists God’s call. He gets the first plane ticket – or boat ticket – and leaves town.

Later, we would discover why – Jonah hated the Ninevites.

He didn’t want them to experience grace or generosity from his God, because he knew if the people heard his call and responded, God would spare them destruction. Jonah believed that those stinking Ninevites were scum of the earth. They deserved destruction. They deserved an angry mob. He had read about all the bad things they did on Facebook and decided that these people were irredeemable.

But God wasn’t having it.

A storm hits the sea, and the sailors freak out. As a last ditch effort to save their lives, they toss Jonah overboard into the churning water.

And scripture says, “But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.”

You can understand that Jonah was miserable.

He says to God,

You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. Then I said, “I am driven away from your sight; how shall I look again upon your holy temple?” The waters closed in over me; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped around my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me for ever

Jonah could have made one heck of a blues singer. His words echo with desperation, shame, sorrow, and loss. His life is practically over.

The irony of this situation was that he was in that fish because of his own choices. He made his own bed and now he was lying in it. By turning away from God’s call to share expansive grace to his enemies, Jonah was in the pits, literally. And now he longed just to go back to the temple, to sacrifice to God, to make things right.

I suggest then there are two ways to hear Jonah’s prayer.

First, we can read it as a genuine turning point in Jonah’s life. He is now in an unimaginable situation in the stinky, watery belly of a fish, deep and distant from the life he used to know. He knows he messed up. And he is ready to change, to be someone different, to pursue God’s way. His prayer wells deep from his heart, representing a U-turn, what we call repentance.

But there is another way to hear these words, because as Jonah’s story continues, we discover this prophet has work to do.

When Ninevah hears to Jonah’s message of judgment, the people of the city, to his surprise, make a U-turn. They grieve, pouring ashes on their heads and dressing in sackcloth. They change their behaviors, even the people at the top. They cut off the conspiracy-fueled social medial channels. They refuse to hate their neighbors, even ones they disagree with. They care for the immigrant, the poor, and the widow. They honor God and turn away from their wickedness.

But Jonah, when he sees this, goes off, pouts, and wishes he was dead. He is disappointed that his enemies received grace rather than judgment. He is distraught, when just moments before, he was talking about all holy he wanted to be in the temple.

So we must wonder – is Jonah saying the right things to get out of his situation without actually going through any transformation? Is this prayer authentic or empty?

Jesus had something to say about religious leaders like this in Matthew 23:27:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.”

Last week, hours after being evacuated and threatened by a raging mob, many of our leaders in the Senate and House took to their podiums and apparently found God. Their words and their tune changed with the world watching. All of a sudden, they spoke somberly about unity, coming together, and debate, when moments before some of them fundraised off of the riot.

Certainly, their words were needed to cool tensions.

Maybe their words reflected a real repentance and change in their hearts.

Or maybe in a few weeks, everything will go back to the way it was.

Jonah’s prayer in the belly of that fish gives us permission to speak to God in our low points.

To cry out. To lament.

To long for something different.

To seek repentance and return.

To speak to God when we are at our rock bottom.

And trust that God that hears us – whatever our rock bottom is right now.

But just like Jonah, we will be judged for whether our prayer means something.

Some of us, therefore, need to practice holding our tongues and let a few angry tweets/posts simmer for a bit before pressing post. Some of us need to be sure that our elected leaders are on speed dial. Some of us need to do a lot more listening to those who warned us that the threat of violence and destruction was real.

Some of us simply need to hear the truth – not conspiracy theories – the truth, and understand that hearing the truth is an incredible act of love.

But most importantly, we, as faithful Christians, must offer an alternative, however imperfect and messy it is than what we saw this week, a way that leads to abundant life and liberation from the sin and injustices of this world, a way that actively rejects racism and hatred, a way that seeks to hold one another accountable, a way that seeks to serve with humility and love, a way that ends the narrative of us versus them.

Or will our thoughts and prayers and Facebook posts end up being nothing more than hot air?

After Jonah finishes his prayer, the fish literally vomits Jonah up on to the beach. Many churches this week are reflecting on the story of Jesus’ baptism, where he too was immersed in the chaotic raging water of the Jordan River and emerged with affirmation for his ministry to liberate God’s people.

When we are baptized, we too die to the fake narratives of sin and death and are vomited up to live into the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus.

Today, we are given another opportunity to show the world that our baptism means something.

God is vomiting us out after one more low point in our nation’s history.

Our call, like Jonah’s, continues.

In the words of St. Ignatius:

Pray as though everything depended on God; act as though everything depended on you.

Thanks be to God.

a #sermon from January 10, 2021 at University Christian Church from Jonah 2:2-9

Dear church,

It is Sunday after another long and painful week in our country, another low point for our nation in a string of low points. What happened on Wednesday may still have us stunned – because we are so close to Washington DC and have walked and worked and advocated on those grounds before and because we saw in the image of a Confederate flag, in the anti-semitic symbols by white supremacist groups, in the racist conspiracy-fueled madness on display, a continuation of an American history that worships violence, that celebrates us versus them.

Whether we want to call it insurrection, sedition, or a violent mob, those kinds of images are deep-seated in American history.

This year, for example, marks the 100th anniversary of the massacre of the wealthy black community called Greenwood in Tulsa, OK, where violent white mobs gunned down black citizens and set fire to businesses and homes, with the help of the National Guard.

Sometimes, we are not told that history – including those of us who grew up in lily white school systems – but that trauma and that violent mob look very familiar to those who study American history and recognize such low points. Wednesday reminded us of this refrain: America is capable of being something special, and we are capable of being something awful.

Like you, I am still sorting through it all, trying to hold my tongue and my tweets, trying to be careful in what I say and process the loss of life, including 42 year old Capitol Hill police officer, Brian Sicknick, same age as me, who was beaten to death by the mob, and recognize acts of courage and integrity all around.

And I am listening for God, seeking to craft a prayer that will capture how I feel.

Maybe you are too.

What does it mean to pray when we are at a low point, swallowed up in the depths of the deep brought on by violence, division, and injustice? What words can we choose when we are angry and afraid, when we are at risk to lose any hope?

In our scripture today, Jonah the prophet delivers a powerful prayer of repentance from a low point – quite imaginatively from the belly of a fish at the bottom of the churning, chaotic sea.

Can you imagine what it might have been like?

The smell. The damp. The cramped space.

Of course, the Book of Jonah is more like a parable than an actual scientific blow by blow.

In all likelihood, if any of us were swallowed by a fish while visiting Bethany Beach, we probably wouldn’t have much time to pray.

First, how did Jonah get there?

At the beginning of this prophetic and powerful account, God says to Jonah, “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.”

But Jonah refuses – he resists God’s call. He gets the first plane ticket – or boat ticket – and leaves town.

Later, we would discover why – Jonah hated the Ninevites.

He didn’t want them to experience grace or generosity from his God, because he knew if the people heard his call and responded, God would spare them destruction. Jonah believed that those stinking Ninevites were scum of the earth. They deserved destruction. They deserved an angry mob. He had read about all the bad things they did on Facebook and decided that these people were irredeemable.

But God wasn’t having it.

A storm hits the sea, and the sailors freak out. As a last ditch effort to save their lives, they toss Jonah overboard into the churning water.

And scripture says, “But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.”

You can understand that Jonah was miserable.

He says to God,

You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. Then I said, “I am driven away from your sight; how shall I look again upon your holy temple?” The waters closed in over me; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped around my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me for ever

Jonah could have made one heck of a blues singer. His words echo with desperation, shame, sorrow, and loss. His life is practically over.

The irony of this situation was that he was in that fish because of his own choices. He made his own bed and now he was lying in it. By turning away from God’s call to share expansive grace to his enemies, Jonah was in the pits, literally. And now he longed just to go back to the temple, to sacrifice to God, to make things right.

I suggest then there are two ways to hear Jonah’s prayer.

First, we can read it as a genuine turning point in Jonah’s life. He is now in an unimaginable situation in the stinky, watery belly of a fish, deep and distant from the life he used to know. He knows he messed up. And he is ready to change, to be someone different, to pursue God’s way. His prayer wells deep from his heart, representing a U-turn, what we call repentance.

But there is another way to hear these words, because as Jonah’s story continues, we discover this prophet has work to do.

When Ninevah hears to Jonah’s message of judgment, the people of the city, to his surprise, make a U-turn. They grieve, pouring ashes on their heads and dressing in sackcloth. They change their behaviors, even the people at the top. They cut off the conspiracy-fueled social medial channels. They refuse to hate their neighbors, even ones they disagree with. They care for the immigrant, the poor, and the widow. They honor God and turn away from their wickedness.

But Jonah, when he sees this, goes off, pouts, and wishes he was dead. He is disappointed that his enemies received grace rather than judgment. He is distraught, when just moments before, he was talking about all holy he wanted to be in the temple.

So we must wonder – is Jonah saying the right things to get out of his situation without actually going through any transformation? Is this prayer authentic or empty?

Jesus had something to say about religious leaders like this in Matthew 23:27:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.”

Last week, hours after being evacuated and threatened by a raging mob, many of our leaders in the Senate and House took to their podiums and apparently found God. Their words and their tune changed with the world watching. All of a sudden, they spoke somberly about unity, coming together, and debate, when moments before some of them fundraised off of the riot.

Certainly, their words were needed to cool tensions.

Maybe their words reflected a real repentance and change in their hearts.

Or maybe in a few weeks, everything will go back to the way it was.

Jonah’s prayer in the belly of that fish gives us permission to speak to God in our low points.

To cry out. To lament.

To long for something different.

To seek repentance and return.

To speak to God when we are at our rock bottom.

And trust that God that hears us – whatever our rock bottom is right now.

But just like Jonah, we will be judged for whether our prayer means something.

Some of us, therefore, need to practice holding our tongues and let a few angry tweets/posts simmer for a bit before pressing post. Some of us need to be sure that our elected leaders are on speed dial. Some of us need to do a lot more listening to those who warned us that the threat of violence and destruction was real.

Some of us simply need to hear the truth – not conspiracy theories – the truth, and understand that hearing the truth is an incredible act of love.

But most importantly, we, as faithful Christians, must offer an alternative, however imperfect and messy it is than what we saw this week, a way that leads to abundant life and liberation from the sin and injustices of this world, a way that actively rejects racism and hatred, a way that seeks to hold one another accountable, a way that seeks to serve with humility and love, a way that ends the narrative of us versus them.

Or will our thoughts and prayers and Facebook posts end up being nothing more than hot air?

After Jonah finishes his prayer, the fish literally vomits Jonah up on to the beach. Many churches this week are reflecting on the story of Jesus’ baptism, where he too was immersed in the chaotic raging water of the Jordan River and emerged with affirmation for his ministry to liberate God’s people.

When we are baptized, we too die to the fake narratives of sin and death and are vomited up to live into the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus.

Today, we are given another opportunity to show the world that our baptism means something.

God is vomiting us out after one more low point in our nation’s history.

Our call, like Jonah’s, continues.

In the words of St. Ignatius:

Pray as though everything depended on God; act as though everything depended on you.

Thanks be to God.

#Sermon Scripture: Luke 18:35-43

With our lives disrupted by this pandemic called COVID-19, many of us are watching with anticipation for a vaccine that could potentially save lives and return us to some kind of normal. Wouldn’t it be nice to get a shot so we can return to something of the life we used to know? Wouldn’t it be great to go grocery shopping without having to duck and weave around people? Wouldn’t it be awesome to be able to drop our kids off at school again, away from home, for several hours each day? According to a website called the History of Vaccines, a vaccine typically takes 10-15 years of development, with scientists first trying to understand a particular virus and learn how to reliably develop an antigen from the disease. The antigen itself is what prevents the disease, giving our bodies a means to fight off the virus. But to get to that point, not only must they create the antigen, scientists and researchers must test it, making sure it works safely in humans without damaging side effects. And then make enough to get to a widely available to people like us. In recent weeks, the FDA has been instructed to waive a lot of steps in order to speed up the process, but it may still take months to years before everyone has access to a safe, effective vaccine against this pandemic. I do have hope that a vaccine will be in our future for COVID-19 – vaccines of all kinds have already saved millions of lives from diseases that once preyed upon the vulnerable. But other than COVID-19, wouldn’t it be amazing if we had other kinds of vaccines? – Vaccines that inoculate us against the deadly effects of racism – Vaccines that prevent the spread of hatred against people who may seem different to us – Vaccines that eliminate violence against women – Vaccines that can topple the deep walls of division that are turn neighbors against neighbors We are hungry for a healing in this time of anxiety, fear, and injustice – ready for wholeness for our nation, for our world, and especially for our minds, bodies, and souls. Where, O God, is a vaccine that can heal that sickness? Jesus was a healer, although as far as we know, he did not develop vaccines. His healing stories remind us that Jesus had the power to mend wounds and hurting bodies. Healing stories in the Gospels are some of my favorite stories to try to understand what it means to follow Jesus. When I was a young Christian, the healing stories were simply remarkable for what they said about Jesus and his ability – I wish I could alleviate the physical diseases and conditions of my loved ones and friends. But as I have gotten older, I have noticed that the healing stories aren’t about Jesus showing off power. His healing acts give us a vision of God’s future for us, for all of us. In our scripture today, Jesus and his disciples are on the road to Jericho. This city has deep significance in our sacred stories – for we remember in the Book of Joshua how the people of God were commanded to march around the city until the walls came tumbling down. But Jesus, in Luke 10, also tells a story about a certain man who is going down to Jericho when he was beaten, robbed, and left for dead. Two religious leaders who are supposed to live and exemplify their holy scripture see the victim but pass on by down the road without stopping to help. It is a Samaritan, a non-Jewish neighbor who stops, tends to the man’s wounds, and makes sure he is moved to a place of safety. And so, as Jesus and his disciples draw close to Jericho, this parable comes to life. A blind man, hearing that Jesus is near, begins to shout, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” The crowd has forgotten the message that Jesus had given earlier and tells this blind man to shut up. To be quiet. We can think of all of the people who are ill, who are suffering right now, who are being told to be silent. We can think of the women who have been victims of sexual violence like rape or harassment being told by powerful men to be silent. We can think of families grieving the loss of loved ones due to police brutality or street violence or broken healthcare systems being told to be silent. We can think of those asking to be treated with dignity and respect because of their sexuality or their gender identity being told to be silent. Here, this blind man is told to be silent by those at the front – could that have been Jesus’ disciples, trying to ignore this person in need of God’s vaccine? But Jesus stops and notices this man on the side of the road. Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” I imagine that a hush falls over the crowd as the words come out of their Rabbi’s mouth. Doesn’t Jesus have all the answers? Doesn’t Jesus already know this man’s needs? Jesus, however, engages this man not as a caricature or an annoyance but as someone who deserves the attention and care of the Son of God. He recognizes that this man is hungry for healing, and that hunger deserves to be heard. “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man asks to “see again”. Yes, he is asking for sight to help him navigate the world, but he is also asking to be seen. Jesus sees him, hears him, and heals him. Don’t focus on just the individual being healed, but imagine all of the family members and extended community that had likely helped care for this man all the days of his life, providing meals even when times were hard, defending him against those who judged him. They too are transformed by this encounter with Jesus. The whole community when they saw what happened praise God! They can now see too that God, through Jesus, is still on the move, ushering in new possibilities for their lives and worlds, revealing that God sees their hungers for healing and offers us a way to a transformed life not just as individuals but as a whole community. If Jesus stopped by your front door today and looked at you, right into your eyes, and asked – “What do you want me to do for you?” – how would you answer? What healing do you need today – for a relationship, for a physical challenge, for a spiritual wound, for the ability to see? Think of everyone that needs to hear that question from Jesus right now. – Like those struggling on ventilators right now, those in hospitals with COVID-19, worried about never seeing their family again… – Like those struggling to battle cancer, even when the doctor’s head hangs low to tell them the bad news… – Like a gay, lesbian, or transgender teenager who came out to their parents this weekend and now find themselves without a home as their misguided parents try to punish them by showing them the door… – Like those crying out for dignity on our city streets to be heard, to be acknowledged, to be offered equal treatment under the law… – Like those who are feeling disconnected and cut off from the people they love… – Like those who are grieving the loss of their partners, their parents, their children, or their friends… “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks. Our scripture reminds us ultimately that God is in the healing business – God is interested in our deepest needs and our deepest longings to be made whole. Perhaps our call in this time of division and disease is to stop as we proceed down to the Jerichos of our lives and listen to the cries of our neighbors and the cries of our own hearts. To take to Jesus our fear, our anxiety, and our pain, trusting that Jesus is asking us that question each day of our lives, waiting for our response, “What do you want me to do for you?” One of the stories that came to my mind as I thought about this scripture was from a youth Sunday school class I attended in my home church in Anadarko, OK so many years ago. Our teacher was Verl Daugherty, an long time leader and incredible man who cared about us young people at the church. That morning he was talking about miracles and healing, and he asked us, “What is a miracle?” I remember we argued a little bit about the definition, us young people who felt like we know so much about life already and a lot about God. A miracle meant it had to be God doing something out of the blue, out of nowhere, detached from anything in the world. It’s almost like we argued that miracles couldn’t happen in hospitals or through doctors or human relationship. Verl then told his story about being diagnosed by his doctor with a rare and life-threatening condition. He had limited treatment options, the best of which included going to the Mayo Clinic up in Minnesota. Unfortunately, time was short. To have the best chance to deal with this condition, he needed to get treatment immediately and the earliest they could book him was a few months away. I know Verl and his wife and our church prayed, asking and hoping for God to move. And then – out of the blue, the Mayo Clinic called and said, “We’ve had an opening two days from now. Can you get here?” Verl dropped everything, jumped on a plane, and made the appointment – saving his life in the process. I remember he turned to us and asked, “Now, for me, that was a miracle.” Miracles can sometimes look like vaccines. Like the kindness of a stranger. Like the strong leadership of one committed to changing broken systems. Like the generosity of a normal person like you and me. And especially like those moments when we truly see each other and listen to the deep hunger we have for wholeness. I’ve invited Gladstone to play something quietly, and while he plays, I want you to quietly imagine Jesus asking you the question he asked the blind beggar that day – “What do you want me to do for you?” Offer your hurts to Jesus today and trust that Jesus sees you and listens.

an Easter #sermon sunrise meditation

Have you ever noticed that two of the most important moments of the Bible happen in a garden?

In the Book of Genesis, we discover the story of the first humans living in right relationship with their Creator in a garden, a garden which supplies all of their needs – only to have that balanced, just, abundant life shattered and broken when we humans mess everything up.

And then in the Gospel of John, the one God sent who came to heal the brokenness of our lives, to teach another way, and to offer abundance here and now, was arrested who we call Jesus was convicted in a sham trial, tortured, and crucified on a cross. He is laid to rest in a tomb in a garden nearby. His death too seemed to be another instance of we humans messing up something good that God gives us.

On this Easter morning, we are deeply aware of how we can mess things up.

We see in COVID-19 a virus that harms us physically but also exposes the continued brokenness and fragility of our society. We bear witness to the deep veins of racism and inequality in our healthcare and economic systems that especially put our black neighbors at risk. We have learned that some people are worthy of getting tests and resources first while the rest of us have to wait at the back of the line. We have been unable to look away when insults and slurs and violence have been inflicted upon immigrants and people whose grandparents are from another part of God’s planet.

And we have marveled at how the Earth has gasped for a desperate breath when we stop for just a minute – stop driving in circles, stop producing more and more, stop and wait and be silent. Did we realize how our busy-ness poisons the air and harms our precious Creation?

What will it take to break these cycles?

The good news of this Easter morning and the story of both gardens is that they do not end in defeat and loss. Though the first humans must leave the garden, God goes with them and continues to covenant with them to bring wholeness to this blessed Creation.

Though Jesus is crucified, on Easter morning, the garden teems with life as the angel proclaims, He is not here – he has risen!

These are the stories of God – God reaches out again and again to repair that broken relationship and gather us into a new way of living together.

Today, on this beautiful Easter, as the sun rises over our lives, know that God invites you to receive that gift.

We are able to write a new story for our lives, for our society, and for our world.

May we walk with God and write it together.

Christ has risen. He has risen indeed!