Sunday, February 24, 2013

I Thee Covenant

Genesis 15: 1-6;  Psalm 27;  Philippians 3:15-4:1;  Luke 13: 31-35

In the current debate over same-sex marriage, the chief mystery to me is why anyone wants to prevent two adults from promising to love and care for one another.  Why would we stop two people from pledging deep devotion?  How does a till-death-do-you-part vow harm those two people, their community, or their God?  All sorts of vows, promises, pledges, pacts, treaties, agreements, contracts, and covenants can be harmful if made through coercion or in bad faith or with bad intentions.  But an earnest vow of love holds potential good for all.  The grand arc of Christian scripture testifies that the experience of the Holy is activated in committed human relatedness. The biblical concept of covenant starts in the book of Genesis and extends through the New Testament’s witness to the “new covenant” Jesus made in pouring out his life in love, which is remembered each time we come to Christ’s table.

That which is sacred happens in the loving interactions between two lovers, between parent and child, between a human being and a beloved pet, between a people and the land they tend with care.  God is there . . . in the inbetweeneness.  Or maybe it’s more accurate to say God IS the betweenness.

Oh, I know.  We tend to think of God as the object of our adoration and the One who loves us. But what if God is the generative power that forms and exists in relationships and comes out of relationships?  Sure, it’s easier to image God as a being—like a super powerful person, a heavenly parent in some distant location.  It’s harder for creatures like us, who think and relate visually, to fathom God as the force or power of love itself.  You’re probably trying visualize now a physics diagram rather than a person.  Let’s take a moment to walk around inside this idea: Picture me . . . and you . . . and flowing invisibly between us is God—not as a third party in our relationship but as the force attracting and connecting us, the glue that bonds us, the creative energy generated by and coming from our relationship -- when we’re in right relationship. Yes, some relationships emit destructiveness. But that which we call God makes possible life-giving and love-producing relationships which produce new life and love.  For Christians, Jesus's life gives us that needed visible picture of right relatedness. 

A caveat: God-as-right-relatedness may complicate your prayer life at first.  It’s easier to pray in traditional ways to a heavenly parent. But certain images of God—as father, warrior, king—might, if used exclusively, limit our growth in God. 

Let’s look specifically at relationships based on formal or informal covenants. I find little in scripture to affirm what many today hold up as traditional marriage. The Bible really knows nothing about marriage as it exists in 21st century Western culture. But the biblical word speaks volumes about commitments we make to God and to one another.  So in an age when many take too casually the responsibilities we bear one another, the word covenant is worth dusting off again.  On this evening I am interested in three specific kinds of covenant relationships: covenants a group makes with another group, covenants we as individuals make with God, and covenants we as individuals make with other individuals and groups.

As Open Table eagerly anticipates becoming a church "in full standing" in the United Church of Christ, we do so aware of covenants that congregations make with other congregations or denominations.  Our church will enter into a trustful covenant with all other congregations and expressions of the UCC to “listen, hear and carefully consider their advice, counsel and requests as they listen hear and carefully consider our advice, counsel, and requests.” Although no person and no part of the UCC has authority to require us to affirm any beliefs or behave in any ways, we will be promising one another to try to walk together in God’s ways—in love and mutuality. We will be in a committed and caring relationship.

A more ancient idea of covenant is developed in the book of Genesis.  In today’s Hebrew Bible reading, we encounter a chapter has been “judged by many scholars to be the oldest statement of Abrahamic faith, from which the others are derivative.” Although the word translated as covenant does not appear until several verses later, “there is no doubt that this chapter offers crucial resources for the theme . . . of covenant,” says Walter Brueggemann in his commentary on Genesis (p. 140 ).

Verse 1:After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision,Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”
Abram has just had a close call with some foreign armies.  His thoughts perhaps turn to his own mortality. Notice that God begins this encounter.  God's grace initiates the covenantal relationship.  This story clearly says Abram images God in human terms, but in a vision.  There are other more literalized encounters with God in scripture, but this is not.  Notice, too, the image Abram has of God includes God as a shield—clearly a metaphor.  So set your postmodern hearts at ease, my friends, and appreciate this as a nonliteral conversation with the Divine.

Verses 2-3: But Abram said (in this dream or vision), “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3“You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 

God is for Abram, something like a feudal lord who promises reward for those who serve him.  But God is also Abram’s source of life and legacy.  Eternal life for Abram is possible through his descendants since life after death is a concept early Israel had not yet evolved. To Abram, God is the power which brings a child into a human family and offers new and enduring life.

Verses 4-6 4But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir. Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them. So shall your descendants be.” 6And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
The first explicit covenant in Genesis was the one in which God promised never again to flood the earth—a covenant made with Noah and all creation.  In this next covenant God promises not only to withhold destruction but actually to make a way for ongoing life and relatedness. God promises descendants and, a few verses later, land where they may dwell and multiply. What we learn about Abram’s God here is that God opens up the possibilities of relatedness and, through relatedness, life itself: the creation and continuation of life.  Now I’ll admit that Abram has a tribal notion about how life ought to continue—with his seed, with favoritism toward a particular line of the human family. But the text still holds out a larger view:  “Look at the stars, Abram,” says God.  “That’s the vast picture we’re ultimately aiming for.  The cosmos is your family.  The vastness of what God is is way above your head and all human thought.  But you are nevertheless connected to all that—through me.”

God through science has more recently been teaching us that we are the stuff of stars.  The materials that make up all life on our planet came from the stars of the wider universe.  To alter the Ash Wednesday formula:  It’s “stars to stars” rather than “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”  I wonder how human history might have changed if the human race had focused a little less on gaining territory and more on appreciating the beauty and vastness of God’s full progeny.

Still, Abram was a man of faith.  And the God of Genesis said that counted for much.  God works through trust, through trusting, committed relationships. The covenant God continues to make, metaphorically, with those who inhabit any part of our planet is this: if you can trust and be trusted, you make serve the vast and enduring enterprise of love and life. 

A third type of covenant, implied in the verses Jerry read from Philippians, is found in a covenanted community where individuals have pledged their commitment to that particular faith community.  Paul calls the church at Philippi to “hold fast” to their commitments.  This is a communal call to remain brothers and sisters—even though some “think differently” than others in that church.  Can you imagine that? Folks in a church who have different and potentially divisive thoughts?!  The “mature” brothers and sisters have the responsibility for “being of the same mind,” which Paul elsewhere says is “the mind of Christ,” which is different from saying they have to all share the same opinions.  Instead, this complex relationship of diverse members of unequal maturity and divergent opinion are equalized by their relatedness as sisters and brothers in Christ.  Their community is rooted in the love of Christ, a love Paul effusively professes and models.  It is this same love that brings us together—another group of diverse Jesus followers--to Christ’s Open Table.  We may not agree on how to think about God, but we share the theological premise that the life of God is always about relationship and relatedness.  Our congregation’s central metaphor is that of table fellowship, where relationship is based on and supported by the most elemental of human connection—a shared meal. 

The verbal covenant of membership we at Open Table make with each new member addresses them as our sisters and brothers and includes these words:
“Today we formalize a covenant that we hope has been implicit in all our dealings with you: that we will try to bear one another’s burdens, hear one another’s stories, support one another in spiritual growth, and serve God by serving one another and our world.  In our congregation and in our denomination, we will together strive for unity without seeking uniformity.”

But the covenant of love we make with God and with our church family is not a tit-for-tat contract.  In our culture we’re used to getting out of our contracts—with Verizon or AT&T—if we can get a better deal elsewhere.  The church’s covenant of love is not contingent on how happy everyone else here is making us.  In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus is warned that the epicenter of his religion’s life, Jerusalem, sometimes kills prophets—yet Jesus weeps with compassion for those within that religious system and commits himself to “finish [his] work.” Jesus expresses God’s desire to cover Jerusalem protectively as a mother hen would protect her chicks.  But Jerusalem was “not willing.” Covenant works only when both parties earnestly give and receive the challenges and blessings of church life. Sometimes we are not willing, to use Jesus’s words about those in Jerusalem.  We are not willing to extend ourselves, to trust, to listen, to risk being hurt. 

The image of Jesus as a mother hen spreading her wings protectively over her chicks might have more sacrificial connotations than we've assumed. Some have reported after a barnyard fire picking up the charred bodies of mother hens only to find living chicks beneath.  Love in general and life in a faith community in particular can call for sacrifice, more give than take at times. We aim for equality but rarely achieve it completely. Our life together requires sincere commitments from all with recognition that God’s forgiving grace will be needed by all.

Making covenants is risky.  The biblical word says covenants bring us closer to relatedness at the heart of the life of God.   

Friends, I thank God for our life together in a covenant of love and care.  

In silent prayer, let’s consider vows we would renew in our hearts as part of our Lenten journey: relationships that deserve greater attention, commitments grown dull.  

May the God who calls us into a fresh future lead us into responsible relationships with individuals, with groups, with creation. Amen.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Guided Meditation: Being Jesus, Being Simon, Being a Follower

Gospel Text:  Luke 5: 1-11

GOSPEL READING, Part 1                    Luke 5: 1-3                                      

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore.

GUIDED MEDITATION, part 1           “Being Jesus”

Our Gospel reading today is a story to experience for its evocative power. Put yourself in this story and imagine that you are Jesus, standing beside the lake of Gennesaret.  Imagine yourself exhausted from teaching all day in the sun. Feel the crowd pressing closer and closer.  Imagine then asking a nearby fisherman to take you out in his boat just a little way from the shore.  You need some distance from those calling you to do more and more. Surely you have felt pressured and exhausted by many demands.  So you can understand how Jesus might have needed a new vantage point in order to see those on the shore with renewed care and commitment.  Maybe, like Jesus, you need fresh perspective.  Maybe you need to be quiet for a moment and mindful of what is going on within you—and without.  As you put yourself in his place, imagine what Jesus is taking in through all his senses:  What might he be seeing as he sits in Simon’s fishing boat?  Hearing? Smelling? Feeling? Tasting?

The congregation shares.

Let those images draw you away from the demands in your life. Let yourself grow more distant from the worries waiting on your shore—for just a moment more.  Breathe in the sea air.  Hear only the call of the sea birds, the lap of the waves against the wooden hull of a fishing boat.  Tune out voices that are anxious, angry, judging, unkind. Listen for the voice of peace. Wait in silence as God’s spirit grows stronger within you.


GOSPEL READING, part 2                  Luke 5: 3b-4                                        

Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”

GUIDED MEDITATION, part 2          “Being Simon”

Now put yourself into this story by imaginatively taking the role of Simon the fisherman, soon to be known as Simon Peter, soon to become a disciple of Jesus—but not yet.  You’ve brought your boat in after a grueling but unsuccessful day of fishing.  Your muscles are aching from the nets you’ve cast in and pulled out, and from the task of washing those nets as you listened to Jesus teaching the crowd. Then this teacher asks you to take him out in your boat.  Your energies are already spent.  But for some reason you agree.  He settles himself in your steady ark to address the crowds--again.  He concludes at last, sends them home, and turns to you.  “Go out deeper,” he says.  “Go deeper?” you think. 

Go deeper. What would it mean to you if the Teacher were to ask you to go deeper?  Is there some area of your life where you stay on the surface of things? Are there relationships in your life that remain superficial but could deepen?  Are there commitments you’ve made that could be taken more seriously? Are there ideas that you tend to skirt because you just don’t want to plunge into those topics, because if you thought more about them you might disturb the smooth surface of your worldview?  What might it mean for you to seek God in deeper places? How might you go deeper emotionally, intellectually, spiritually?  Imagine moving out into deeper waters with Jesus.  


GOSPEL LESSON, part 3                    Luke 5: 5-11                                       

Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.     

GUIDED MEDITATION, part 3       “Being a Follower of Jesus”

After Jesus had taught the crowds with words, he then enacted a lesson that the fishermen, Simon and the sons of Zebedee, would understand.  Jesus helped them catch more fish than their nets could hold.  And after that impressive visual aid, they became, according Luke, his first disciples.

This story, told in slightly different details in all four Gospels, is essential for followers of Jesus.  This is the hinge moment when Jesus moves from teaching and healing as an individual to teaching others to teach and heal. If Jesus had not apprenticed others, his ministry would have died with him.  This is the pivotal moment that allows the Gospel to move beyond one man and become a movement.  That’s the pattern the church is always trying to replicate.  We at Open Table are called to apprentice others for the work of social and spiritual transformation. Our ministry is not about one person preaching but about a movement that taps more and more people for teaching and healing.

This story tells us what it means to follow Jesus—vitally important to a congregation that defines our common purpose as following in the ways of Jesus.  And this story tells us something about why the first disciples decided to follow Jesus—which may tell us something about why we might want to follow Jesus.

If you asked the average person on the street what it means to be a follower of Jesus, they might answer that following Jesus means going to church or believing certain things about Jesus or conforming to certain moral code or being baptized.  But look back at the verses we’ve just read.  The first disciples clearly were not following Jesus by doing any of those things. 

The church did not yet exist, so the first followers clearly were not following Jesus by being members of the church. 

Nor did the first disciples follow Jesus by assenting to particular doctrine.  There were no doctrines yet.  Jesus did not try to convince them of particular tenets of a new religion –and in fact they were all already members of the same religion, first century Judaism.  Think about it.  For Simon Peter there was no doctrine of incarnation, of atonement, of the Trinity, of the resurrection.  The crucifixion and resurrection had not happened.  First followers of Jesus did not have to attest to any of that. I believe successive followers are also following a way of spiritual and social transformation.

Further, there’s no mention in scripture that Jesus was teaching a particular morality code they had to live by.  Just the law of love.  Jesus said nothing about homosexuality, for instance, which some today say prevents you from being a Christ follower.

Finally, none of the first disciples was baptized, as far as we know, so that beautiful initiation rite into the Christian faith was not necessary if to follow Jesus and help others follow him. 

Following Jesus is what Christians do.  But it might be said that nonChristians might follow Jesus.  I believe that one may follow Jesus passionately and primarily but not exclusively.  I think many in this world follow in Jesus’s loving ways and are guided by that same Spirit of Love that directed his life without even knowing about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Today’s Gospel story says Simon, James, and John followed Jesus by leaving their nets and boats and everything to pull people from the sea.  Catching people is clearly not about converting people to a particular belief system.  Rather, fishing for people has a social/economic/political meaning, so following Jesus has something to do with rescuing people from the systems and situations in which they are drowning.  I say that because the fishermen’s catch symbolizes the people he and others who follow him will rescue from the waters.  

Some biblical scholars explain that the sea, in the “fishing for people” metaphor, represents the Roman Empire.  In the time in which Jesus lived, the government controlled all use of the waters and “the government regulated the fishing industry by selling fishing rights to tax collectors or publicans (brokers)” who then sold permits to fishermen. [i] The Lake of Genneseret was owned by Rome. Because of the price fishermen had to pay to fish in the Sea of Galilee (Lake Genneseret) and the frequent storms with which they had to contend, these fishermen were barely able to eke out a living, barely able to keep their heads above water, so to speak. The Empire’s tax system kept the poor drowning in debt. Luke’s first readers may have heard Jesus calling followers to rescue the poor from the waters the empire controlled, from an economic system, in other words, that threatened to drown the poorest of the people.  Certainly this metaphor is consistent with the sermon Jesus preached in Nazareth in which, as we read last week, he claimed he had been anointed to bring good news to the poor.

Following Jesus then and following Jesus now is not about—or not primarily about—believing certain facts.  Following Jesus is much harder than agreeing to ideas.  A Jesus follower leaves everything to follow him in the ways of love.

As we prepare for the beginning of Lent this Wednesday, let’s take a moment to consider something you may need to leave behind to follow more closely in the ways of Jesus. 


Simon and friends apparently believed that others deserve “saving,” and they wanted to be part of that saving work.  As Luke’s gospel continues, we see Jesus saving people by healing their bodies and spirits, by restoring them to their communities and thus healing relationships, by exposing injustices, by preaching good news to the poor, as he promised.  Immediately after this story, Luke launches into a story of Jesus healing a leper--with Simon, James, and John in tow. The first action of the first disciples is to participate in a healing that restores an isolated man to his community.

You are a Jesus follower if you, too, are trying to participate in God’s work of healing bodies, minds, and spirits.  The term Christian connotes, for many, an irrational belief system or an oppressive moral code.  But that’s not the freedom into which Jesus invited people. You must reach your own understandings about what it means to follow Jesus.  I have come to believe that we become Christians—which means “little Christs"—by dropping all that encumbers us and following the Christ.  The hopeful work of Open Table is to to help others safely into a boat that becomes—in the words of the previous hymn—our “common shelter.”

Take a moment to consider in silence what it means to YOU to follow Jesus. 



You may come forward to receive from the pastor a blessing for healing in your life—physical or spiritual healing. You may wish to share quietly your specific need. The pastor will place oil in the sign of the cross on your forehead and lay a hand on your head--an ancient sign of blessing and healing. There are no special healing properties in the oil. But touch often communicates more than words. You will know you are not alone in your pain and are part of a long tradition in which faith community members support one another with care and prayer.


We follow in Jesus’s way by contributing to God’s caring work in the world. Scripture says the first disciples left all they had to follow Jesus.  We continue in that tradition when we become less protective of our paychecks and more concerned about the common good. 


We go deeper into the life of faith when we recall Jesus’s life, death, and enduring life in God through this symbolic meal. Jesus asked his followers to follow him and become the living body of Christ. The broken bread we share binds us together in life’s celebrations and sorrows.  The healing cup of Jesus has a depth that holds all of life and blesses all who come.


Using paper provided, you may write a brief prayer for a particular person who may need to hear the hopes you express for him or her.  You may name that person in the prayer or not. Or write a general prayer for those who need healing.  The pastor will read these aloud to close our prayer time.

[i] Pilch, John.  The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1999,  p.188

Sunday, February 3, 2013

A Real Cliffhanger: A Sermon That Did Not Go Well

Texts:  Jeremiah 1: 4-11; Luke 4: 21-30

When we left our hero last week, Jesus of Nazareth, having made a name for himself preaching in the synagogues throughout Galilee, had returned to his hometown and his home synagogue.  There he read impressively from the scroll of prophet Isaiah that one day God would tap someone to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed.  Jesus's one-sentence commentary afterward was a sermon disguised as a mission statement.  With it Jesus initially wowed the hometown crowd by announcing: "And I’m taking this on, y'all."

It seemed at first they were all with him.  But Jesus could tell from their overly enthusiastic reaction that the congregation had misunderstood him.  They hadn't really grasped the radical reforming he had in mind in order to bring good news to the poor and imprisoned and blind and oppressed.  They thought they knew the hometown boy-turned-preacher.  But at the very moment when they were bursting with hometown pride, he had to correct this misunderstanding.  Awkward.

Having returned to my hometown eight years ago, I've had the awkward experience of receiving praise from old friends who have misunderstood the purpose of my new ministry in Mobile. With kindness toward me and with an understanding of Christianity that is limited by their experiences, some have said to me, in effect, "Well, I don't necessarily agree that women should be preachers, Ellen, but when your mother told me you were starting a church, I thanked God that you'd be bringing more people to Christ."  Others have whispered something along the lines of: "Ellen, I understand your church invites, um,  gay people to worship with you. Well, I'm praying for you. I believe God can use you to convert them."  Sigh. Sometimes it just hasn't seemed possible for me to try to explain to Mrs. So-and-So the finer points of Open Table's mission statement or our Open and Affirming statement--while she and I are standing in the checkout line at the Winn-Dixie. God forgive me, I've sometimes let some souls live with the illusion that I'm out saving sinners from hell fire, and I've accepted their praise or prayers under false pretenses.

But Jesus had more courage and scruples than I.  When his former neighbors and third cousins applauded his performance in the synagogue, Jesus realized he'd been misunderstood and immediately made it painfully clear to them the difference between their expectations of his ministry and his intentions. He was out to change some things.  And he was not going to be staying in Nazareth.  No. Prophets weren't usually welcomed or effective in their hometowns.  No. He'd be taking his ministry elsewhere as, he explained, the prophets of old had done.  Elijah went to Sidon and there saved a widow and her son from starvation even though there were plenty of starving widows and orphans in Israel. Likewise, Elisha went to Syria to heal Naaman from leprosy even though many right there in Israel suffered from that same disease. No. “It's been nice visiting y'all again,” Jesus said, “but I'm taking my ministry elsewhere.  That stuff about good news for the poor and captives and blind and oppressed--well, that's for the poor and captives and blind and oppressed somewhere else because they are not beyond God's reach."

So that sermon did not go well.  Maybe it was a case of TMI.  I’d have advised Jesus just to say, "Thanks for your vote of confidence" and move on quietly, no forwarding address. Of course, not even a prophet could have predicted that clarifying his more expansive mission would enrage them so.  Luke's gospel says the congregation "drove him out of town"--and it doesn't mean in a limo. Fresh from worship, a murderous phalanx jostled him and shoved him and pushed Jesus to the edge of town and almost over a cliff. 

Identifying with the Hebrew prophets of some 700 years earlier, Jesus should have expected as much.  Jeremiah, who (as we read earlier) reluctantly agreed as a boy to become a prophet, was nearly killed years later by the priests of Anathoth who felt threated by his preaching.  Prophets had then--and have still today--a dangerous job.

The danger comes from their role as change makers and because prophets are both agents of social change and instruments of spiritual transformation. 

Richard Rohr believes the early Hebrew prophets played a significant role in reuniting two diverging strands of Judaism: "Very early in the Judeo-Christian tradition there is a split between the Exodus tradition, . . . the mainline and original tradition of full liberation [that defies the pharaohs of this world], and the tradition that develops in Leviticus and Numbers, which is called the ‘priestly’ tradition, which seems more concerned about how to organize and control and perpetuate the [religious] experience.”

He continues: "About eight centuries before Christ we finally meet the spiritual geniuses—the Jewish prophets—who tried desperately to link two traditions: inner God experience and outer work for justice and truth. That linkage is forever needed and yet forever resented and avoided to this day. We continue to have halfhearted religious divisions in the form of Right or Left, liberal or conservative, establishment or disestablishment, contemplative or activist. They really do need one another, but in most of history the priestly tradition has been in control and defined religion. We always and forever need the prophets, who are invariably pushed off to the side."

Prophets risk getting "pushed off to the side," Rohr says.  Or pushed nearly off a cliff, as the Gospel of Luke says.

We've had a chance earlier in the service to name modern day prophets.  King and Gandhi seem to fit Rohr’s definition especially well to me because they were both concerned with spiritual as well as social goals.

But let’s now consider that a congregation might collectively be a prophet, might together bear prophetic witness to the human/divine capacity for transformation.  I believe, friends, we at Open Table have a calling and a capability to be a Prophetic Church.  In fact, in the heart of our mission statement, printed on the front page of every worship bulletin, is a reminder that we are trying to follow the ways of Jesus through spiritual and social transformation.  We're trying to do what Rohr says is the work of a prophet--pulling together two religious tasks by journeying both inwardly and outwardly.  Because to do one form of transformation without the other gives too much power either to our own ego or to a religious system. To emphasize societal change to the exclusion of the inner life can create an ideologue more concerned about a cause than about living beings.  To emphasize spiritual transformation to the exclusion of addressing systemic problems in the culture can create a religious fanatic or an emotionally detached navel gazer.

As I've thought about it this week, sharing together this prophetic work has its challenges but also makes good sense.  Some of us prefer the adventure of social reformation; others the adventure of spiritual transformation.  When we come together as a diverse faith community, we can draw from both the liberation and priestly traditions we've inherited. At times our diversity may seem to threaten our ability to move forward together. But we can appreciate this difference, by which I mean we can both recognize these differences within Open Table and be thankful for them.

How might you classify your primary or favorite way of engaging at Open Table?  How would you describe your way of following Jesus’s way?   Does church give you a way to engage in some action that contributes to some systemic change in our world--or does it primarily deepen your experience of God ?  So here’s a self-quiz: Would you rather spend a night hosting families through Family Promise, demonstrating for LGBT rights in the We Do Campaign, writing your legislators to supporting immigration reform, planning a tutoring project for at risk children, etc.?   Or would you rather take time to participate in a worship service, find some quiet time for meditation or introspection, read a book that triggers inner examination, attend or lead a class or discussion session with religious content, write in a spiritual journal, take a walk on a beautiful day like today with gratitude in your heart, etc.?

A few of you will be pulled equally between both of these responses to God.  Others will feel much more at home in either the first category (as a liberator) or the second category (as a priest).  But when we combine our gifts and goals as a faith community, we have a chance to do what the Hebrew prophets and Jesus were trying to do:  bring both social and spiritual transformation together in a recursive and mutually reinforcing process.

So let’s hear one another’s diverse perspectives as we make decisions together, recognizing our individual tendency toward either social or spiritual change and remembering our favored means of achieving change through either action or contemplation. Some of us, for instance, will urge the rest of us to take to the streets and worry that we're worshiping in a pretty space far from the neediest places in our city. Others will focus on inviting visitors and offering more programs and worry if we are not planning and organizing well for our future.

When someone offers a different perspective, let’s see it as a necessary counterpoint to our own.  As we move forward with decisions, large and small, let’s value our differences while remaining united around a common mission to follow in the ways of Jesus. We do so not believing it’s his way or the highway.  But we look to Jesus’s life as a picture of how we can love others, create social and spiritual change, extend hospitality, value inclusion, and worship—together.

There will be times when others—within or outside our faith community—are angered or afraid of a prophetic stance. We will try to hear different voices, remaining humble that we may be wrong.  But if someone wants to be angry about a position we’ve taken, we’ll remember we’re called to love others, not to be loved by others. Although I don’t expect we’ll be driven out of town, if we’re being prophetic, we will not always be loved and admired and understood.  

The story of Jesus’s short and not so sweet sermon ends with him at the edge of cliff. Being on the edge of a new thought or action is exactly where a sermon should take us. But Luke says that Jesus, at the edge of the cliff, then “passed through the midst of the crowd and went on his way.”  We don’t know exactly how Jesus escaped the mob, but in the midst of the accusations, the disappointment, the anger—he went on his way, a way that was always a way of peace and justice.


God who works in action and stillness, grant us the wisdom and courage of the prophets.  Amen