Questions Not Answers

John 3: 1-17

When I was a teenager, growing up in Salem, Oregon, there used to be a man who would stand on street corners in the downtown area, yelling about the end-of-times and passing out pamphlets. My friends and I all knew that if we hurried past him in a small herd, he would leave us alone. So most of the time this is exactly what we did.

Unfortunately for me, one Saturday afternoon, when I was about 16-years-old, I was separated from the herd. Or maybe, going to meet the herd. I honestly don’t really remember why, but I was walking by myself. And the Street Corner Proselytizer pounced.

He blocked my way, shoved a pamphlet at me, and asked “Have you been born again and accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior???!”

Seeing how I couldn’t get around him I figured I’d have to speak, so I answered, “Yes??”

Apparently my answer was unconvincing because he replied – “Have you, have you really? Don’t lie, young lady, God will know. You don’t want to be damned to hell for lying!”

The snarky thought that ran through my 16-year-old mind at the time was “TOO LATE!” old lutheranIn a moment of uncharacteristic restraint I did not say this, instead, my response was, “Dude, I’m a Lutheran.”

He got this look of disappointment and resignation on his face, and moved on to the next unsuspecting passerby. I promptly recycled his flyer (yes – Green Team, in the mid 1990’s, Oregon had public recycling containers) and I walked on. I’m not really sure if my Lutheranism meant that I was saved and therefore a waste of his time, or if it meant that I was so far gone, I wasn’t worth his time. Regardless, on that day, I was incredibly grateful to be a Lutheran.

Pastor Matt Lenahan addressed this morning’s Gospel with this thought: “Faith involves mystery, questions, uncertainty, and conversation.”

I can’t think of a more true statement to frame this encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus. Nicodemus is a Pharisee, who came to Jesus under the guise of darkness with questions. It’s unclear if Nicodemus is skulking over to Jesus at night on his own, because he is curious about Jesus and doesn’t want anyone to know, OR if he has been sent as a representative and the darkness that John refers to is actually Nicodemus being in a state of unknowing. Perhaps it’s a combination of both.

The fact that he says, “Rabbi, WE know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God” would indicate that he is speaking on behalf of himself and others and that THEY want a concrete answer as to whether or not Jesus is from God.

Unfortunately for Nicodemus and the rest of “them”, in this particular Gospel Narrative, Jesus rarely gives anyone a straight answer. In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ response to
questions is to answer with seemingly random statements that don’t really answer anything.
questions-questions (2)During my summer Clinical Pastoral Experience, also known as CPE, we were taught not to answer questions for people, but instead have them answer them for themselves. “What do you think?” “How does that make you feel?” Help others discover answers for themselves rather than just feed it to them.

That’s what Jesus does with Nicodemus.  He CPE’s him. Jesus tells him “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” What does that mean??? Nicodemus immediately latches on to the idea of being born and fixates on how a human adult cannot be born again. Because we are all born from a woman’s womb and an adult can’t go back and do that over.

As the conversation continues Jesus tells Nicodemus that no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. Nicodemus again most likely would have taken this to describe a physical birth – waters break, a child is born, and that child takes its first breath. Water and Spirit.

But this is not what Jesus is referring to. Jesus is speaking to our rebirth – our moment of being “born again” in the waters of baptism.  For many, this occurs at infancy. For some, such as myself, it happens in early childhood, and for others it is much later. Regardless of when it occurs in Baptism God reaches down to us, establishes relationship with us, claims us as God’s own children, as members of God’s family, and we are born again into this new life.

We know this. Nicodemus did not. As the conversation progresses Jesus continues to give vague and confusing answers and even tells Nicodemus that he doesn’t understand earthly things, so how can he expect to understand heavenly things???

What is going on here? Why is Jesus being THAT GUY??? You know the guy – the one who spouts off things that sound profound, but no one really knows what they are talking about? What purpose is he trying to serve???

In regards to this interaction, The Rev. Dr. Phil Ruge-Jones said this: “What if Jesus is not trying to bring Nicodemus to a place of certainty, but is nurturing Nic’s own sense of the uncertainty and living questions. I am thinking about how much rhetoric of being born again suggests that now the speaker understands all things. This is the opposite of what it means to be born. At birth we know nothing and are just beginning.”

So maybe Jesus isn’t being THAT GUY. Maybe in this whole confusing exchange he is trying to get across to Nicodemus that he doesn’t need someone else to give him all of the answers. He needs time to ponder and question and for his faith to grow through that questioning. That even if a concrete answer was immediately presented to him, he probably wouldn’t accept the truth.

I think we all are a bit like Nicodemus. We think that we should have all of the answers. And like Nicodemus and the Street Corner Proselytizer we prefer concrete answers.  Yes or No! Facts that we can pinpoint.  Keep it simple. We think that we must understand all things when it comes to God and faith and if we do not, then we are somehow lacking.

I’ve seen this repeatedly through the years as I’ve served in Child, Youth, & Family Ministry. Parents who are afraid to have intentional conversation with their children about God and about faith because they are afraid they won’t have an answer to a question. We are afraid to say – “I don’t know.”  We forget that faith involves mystery, questions, uncertainty, and conversation.

In our Gospel this morning Jesus reminds us that questions are everything when it comes to faith. And answers are honestly not really necessary and sometimes block our ability to see truth for ourselves. What we think we know, or what we are afraid we don’t know, gets in our way and we are blinded or paralyzed with fear of uncertainty.what does it all mean

So how do we move beyond this? First of all, we talk about it. With our friends, with our family, with our church community, with our children. The more we discuss faith, the less intimidating it becomes. We ask questions, we answer questions, we encourage questions. We utilize the resources before us – literature, theological writings, people who know things. Grace has a group called Questions Not Answers that meets to ponder and discuss tough topics. Join them sometime.

We think. We pray. We gather in community to hear the Word and to share Sacrament. We embrace the mystery. We grow more comfortable with uncertainty. We tell our inner Street Corner Proselytizer that concrete answers are unnecessary. We embrace and grow more comfortable with the phrase “I don’t know.”

And in this process we will more fully know, appreciate, and understand the loving and forgiving God revealed to us in Christ Jesus.

Amen.

Broken Relationships, Sin, Adultery, & Divorce

Matthew 5: 21-37

An unknown author once said: “Marriage is like a deck of cards. In the beginning all you need is two hearts and a diamond. By the end, you wish you had a club and a spade.”

Saul Antin said: “In business partnerships and marriage partnerships, O’ the cheating that goes on!”

Robert Anderson wrote that “In every marriage more than a week old, there are grounds for divorce. The trick is to find, and continue to find, grounds for marriage.

Marriage and relationships are complicated. They are hard. They take work, and commitment. So much effort goes in to trying to enmesh one’s life with another. To staying connected and committed. To loving that other person, even on days when we despise them. For anyone who has never been married or in a committed relationship, that might sound harsh, but – it’s true. In the epic words, of the band, the Plain White T’s – “Hate is a strong word, but I really, really, really don’t like you.” Some days in married life – this is exactly how we feel.

And as I shared the last time I preached, unfortunately, I am a living shining example, that some days the efforts made just aren’t enough and the complications are more than the relationship can bare.

broken-heartThe relationship shatters, and we have to pick up our portion of the broken pieces and try to put them together in some sort of new semblance of life that will never be quite as shiny or quite as pretty, or quite as perfect as it was before the fracture.

The reasons for fractured relationships are vast and varied – communication issues, financial disputes, complete lack of common interests, abuse, neglect, boredom, adultery. Whatever the reason – sin is present, and the relationship breaks. In fact, in many theological circles, sin is defined as just that – broken relationships. A broken relationship between us and God, between each other, and with oneself, internally. Our actions, behaviors, and their end results (such as adultery and divorce) are manifestations of the ultimate underlying issue of sin through the breaking of relationships.

Adultery and divorce are not a new phenomenon… as the passage from Matthew goes to show, they have been a consistent aspect of human relationships for a very, very, very long time.

When Jesus begins his discourses on both topics, he begins by referring to ancient Jewish law – which also goes to prove how long these have been issues.

He states – “You shall not commit adultery” which is a direct reference to the 10 Commandments. When he states “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’” he is directly referencing laws given to the Israelites in the book of Deuteronomy.

When he speaks to these laws he is engaging societal rules and understandings that are very familiar to the people around him. Ingrained even. The Pharisees and Sadducees have reinforced for generations, that these are the rules that God has given and humanity must follow in order to earn God’s favor. These rules were extensive, at times unjust, and almost impossible to follow.

In ancient Palestine, as well as today, this text can be very discouraging, disheartening, and condemning for those in a relationship and even more so for those of us who are divorced.

Jesus said that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery. Uh oh! How many people who are either currently in a relationship or have ever been in a relationship, can honestly say, that while committed to said relationship, they never noticed another attractive man or woman? Yeesh. Busted.

Then Jesus goes on to say that anyone who divorces his wife, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman also commits adultery. This does not give much hope to people, who are in fact divorced. Or people who fall in love with a divorcee.

But the thing is – this is not a passage that can be looked at completely through the lens of modern society. That would be comparing apples and oranges.

These ancient laws were common, accepted, widely practiced, and as I said before – often unjust. They were horribly oppressive to women. In some parts of the world, horribly oppressive laws, such as these, are still widely practiced, however, in most of western society, anyone can commit adultery and anyone can initiate a divorce. This was not the case in Ancient Palestine.

Society at that time was extremely patriarchal and misogynistic. Women had little value and no rights.  Adultery was considered predominately an offense committed by a woman. Men could live promiscuous lives so long as they did not act on their passions with a married woman. This promiscuity was considered immoral by some, not all, but it was not adultery. (So – no stoning to death happening to those guys.)

However, a married woman, who engaged in any kind of extramarital sexual relationship, consensual or not, was an adulteress. Rape culture is a horrible horrific problem now, but pales in comparison to that of Ancient Palestine.

Furthermore, within the confines of the Deuteronomic Laws only men could seek a divorce. Their reasons could be trivial and allowed for the rampant abuse and discarding of women. You burned my dinner – I want a divorce. You’re annoying – I want a divorce. I found someone younger and prettier – I want a divorce. You didn’t bare me a son – divorce.

Written proof or a certificate of a divorce could offer a small measure of security for a discarded woman so that she could remarry which was her only way of securing safety and preventing her from living a life of destitution and poverty. With that said, divorce still carried a certain stigma, and even those women who remarried were often not treated with dignity or any measure of kindness by society.

So, when Jesus makes his statement about adultery he is not solely blaming women for the act.  He is placing all of the ownership and responsibility on the shoulders of the men. Those with status and power who should have been protecting the vulnerable. This viewpoint was very contrary to the accepted societal norms and very unfavorable with the traditional and staunchly literal religious authority.

And again, when Jesus speaks to divorce he is placing the responsibility on the shoulders of the men. Shifting that responsibility and blame from the powerless to the privileged powerful. Jesus is being a radical advocate for women, championing those victimized by patriarchy. Jesus, like Robert Anderson, is saying – yeah, you can find a reason to divorce your wife. But really, you should be searching even harder for reasons not to.

With all of this said – sometimes – the sin is too much, the relationship is just too broken and nothing will save it. So what then? No more happiness? No more love? No more relationships? No remarriage?

And every person in a committed relationship who is attracted to someone other than their significant other is really an adulterer? Because if that is the case – O’ the cheating that goes on!sin

Are these things really sin? Are we really all horrible, broken do
wn, hot messes, of sin filled misery?

The unpleasant answer is – yes. Yes, adultery and divorce are sin. They are blatant manifestations of broken relationships with others, within ourselves, and with our relationship with God.

When attraction hits, even for a brief moment, it alters our relationship with our significant other. Divorce is a prime example of broken relationships and sin. So, as much as it is unpleasant and uncomfortable to admit, as much as we wish we could claim otherwise – We are all horrible, broken down, hot mess filled sinners.

Jesus is making it very apparent that this is the case to the people and to the religious authority. He is pointing out that it is impossible for anyone to be whole or righteous on their own. However, this is not a lesson of eternal condemnation. It’s a lesson of need.

God has not condemned you, or me, or anyone else, to a life of solitude and loneliness. God is always with us. In our mistakes, our heartbreak, our sorrows, as well as in our abundant joy, God is present.

God came into this world and acted in love so that we might love. Through his death and resurrection Jesus took on the burden of sin – of all of those horribly broken relationships – and lavishly gifted us with grace, compassion, forgiveness, and redemption. And we need this.

God is in the business of giving us additional attempts at getting it right.  Christ died that we might live and live abundantly – in love and in relationships.

God did not entrap us in an ancient system of laws, protocols, and cultural oppression.  God liberated us. So, when we fail, when we reach the point of awful, shattered, disrepair. When we are horrible, broken down, hot mess filled sinners, God forgives us. God gives us another chance.

We get another chance at joy, another chance at happiness, another chance at love, at relationships, at partnership, and even at marriage.

So, rejoice that we get another chance. Rejoice that Christ took a radical stance of advocacy. Be grateful that Christ liberated us from a never-ending system of oppression and failure. Be grateful to not be banished to a life of solitude and loneliness. Be grateful for abundant life, for happiness, and for additional chances to love and to be loved.

Amen.

 

 

Sermon on the Beatitudes

How often do you feel blessed? Like really and truly blessed? What kinds of things make blessedyou feel blessed? When something good happens? You get a promotion or a raise? When a baby is born? When you eat a really, really good meal. When you accomplish something great like a good grade (hey – trust me… even for adults that’s a big thing) Maybe when you perform in a play or concert? When you compete in athletic pursuits with successful results – be it winning the game you are competing in or just finishing a 5k. Retirement… I’m certainly anticipating that blessing someday.  These things make one feel pretty good… like we are blessed.

Our society elevates and praises, honors, and adores the successful. The wealthy. The attractive. The competitive. The hardworking to the point of workaholic. Those who pursue and obtain the “American Dream”. Who live “the good life”.

We place value and status in the exclusive. The prestigious. The expensive. These are the things that show us and the world around us, that we are blessed.

I mean – REALLY! How many of us have ever thought in the middle of crisis and despair – hey… I’m pretty blessed?

I can honestly say that most of the time when something stressful or tragic happens in my life, I am not feeling terribly blessed or grateful in those moments. I’m not usually giving thanks to God for the drama, trauma, and disappointment.  Not at all.

However – this past spring, I did have a moment in the midst of a very grief filled time when I did. As I was navigating through the process of terminating my marriage I felt out of control, I felt abandoned, I felt all the trauma one feels when a relationship suddenly dies. All the while I was desperately trying to keep it together on the outside for my kids and so I could get through class and because no one on my campus really seemed to want to see me sad or lonely or grieving.

And then one Monday morning, my phone rang, and it was Pastor Lynn. Calling to check on me and see if I was okay, and to see if I needed anything. Anything at all. At this point, I wasn’t coming to Grace to intern. Pastor Lynn and I had had one informal telephone interview prior to my personal life falling apart, and that was it. I figured that that ship had sailed. So, Pastor Lynn wasn’t checking on me as my future internship supervisor and coworker for Christ. He was checking on me as someone who cared.

That afternoon Pastor Schul send me an email… for the same reason. And that evening my very good friend Pastor John Boldt, who lives in Houston, TX, also called me to check on me.

It’s a good thing I didn’t wear mascara that day because I did a lot of crying… and when I went to bed that night, I felt better… I felt less alone… I felt like I didn’t have to keep it all together and put on a front… I could just be where I was and know that I wasn’t alone there. And when I prayed before I went to sleep, I thanked God – because I was very aware of how blessed I am to have these caring people in my life.

In our Gospel this morning, Jesus is teaching his disciples about those who are blessed. The crowds of people are there, but he isn’t addressing them (like he does in Luke’s version of this same story) – he instead retreats up the mountain and is teaching only the 12. Maybe some in the crowds can hear him, maybe not. Perhaps, he pulls the 12 aside because the crowd is filled with the kind of people that Jesus is about to teach of. Those who are blessed by God.

Because Jesus, being the radical, counter cultural, unorthodox Rabbi that he was – didn’t bolster the rich and powerful. The strong and successful. The brave and the conquerors.

In a culture and community that deified rulers and generals who were all these things, Jesus didn’t say – blessed are the well-educated, for they will get good jobs or blessed are the well-connected, for their aspirations will be noticed, or blessed are you when you know what you want, and go after it because – God helps those who help themselves.

NO! Jesus reinforced a complete different set of people as those who are blessed. Not necessarily to shame or condemn those who had status and possessions, but to include those who do not. Obviously, the rich and famous are blessed, but so are others.

  • The poor in spirit
  • The mourning
  • The meek
  • Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
  • The merciful
  • The pure of heart
  • The peacemakers
  • Those persecuted for righteousness sake
  • Those reviled and persecuted in Christ’s name

Not the typical crowd that one then or now would think of as blessed. It was important as Jesus grew and developed his ministry, that his disciples know this.

The Rev. David Lose states: “The first thing that Jesus teaches them is how to recognize blessedness. Which I think is really interesting. Not how to become blessed, or even to bless each other, but rather to recognize who is already blessed by God.”

Jesus’ ministry didn’t favor those who had everything… it reached out and included those who struggled and had very little, if anything at all. He made sure that these people knew that they were loved and blessed by God. It was crucial that the disciples see this, recognize this, and understand this early in Jesus’ ministry, so that they could go and do likewise.

It is crucial that we see, recognize, and understand this as well – so that we can go and do likewise. That we can spread the good news of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to all of God’s blessed children.

So, who would this encompass today? Who should we be recognizing and encouraging as God’s blessed children? I would like to think that it’s me… as I’m sure we all would, and at times it I am, and so are you.

If Jesus were here teaching this lesson today, I’d imagine the lesson would go something like this:

blessed-are-the-poorBlessed are the poor in spirit – the agnostics, the atheists, the doubters, those who have
been hurt by and walked away from the church, the Christmas and Easter Christians, those who feel that they have nothing to offer. It’s okay to be in these places and spaces. God’s Kingdom is for you as well. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who morn – those who have lost a loved one. Those who have loved and lost. Those who have family members who are missing. Those who are alienated or estranged from their families. Parents who have lost a child. Those who must keep it all together for others around them. Those who continue to mourn weeks, months, years, and decades later. It’s okay to be in these places and spaces. God’s comfort is for you. Blessed are those who morn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek – the invisible people that no one sees. Those whom the world has forgotten. The ill-treated waitress who cannot defend herself for fear her tip will suffer and so will her ability to survive. The janitors. The shift workers. The single parents. The youth who sits alone in class and at lunch. The low-socio-economically disadvantaged. The out-of-the-cold homeless. The friendless. The unemployed. The marginalized. It’s okay to be in these places and spaces. We are all in this together and this world that we live in wouldn’t be same without you. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – the wrongly accused. The rightly accused. For those who struggle. For those who have no advocates. For foster children. For special needs individuals. For people who struggle through life and can never seem to get ahead. For the abused, the victimized, the marginalized, the oppressed. It SUCKS to be in these places and spaces. It’s lonely, and isolating, and empty. Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for righteousness – for you will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful – those who put people above profit. Those who give food and water to the homeless man sitting on the corner. The teachers, the social workers, the coaches, the pastors. Those who have a forgiving nature. Those who gently correct. Those who give constructive criticism with kindness. The runners who sacrifice their own win or personal best to help an injured fellow competitor across the finish line. You who are in these places and spaces are amazing. You get it. And the world is a better place because of you. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart – those who refuse to bully or slander or gossip. Those who call out social media trolls. Those who stand up and defend the defenseless. Those who are gifted and cursed with a prophetic voice and unabashedly proclaim truth. The Martin Luther’s. The Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s. The Ghandi’s. The Dr. King’s. The Malala’s. The world needs you in these places and spaces. You help manifest the inbreaking of God’s kingdom. Blessed are you who are pure of heart – for you will see God.16196071_866609286676_5761662380735114884_n

Blessed are the peacemakers – The Peace Corp. The Red Cross. The U.N. Doctors Without Borders. Counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists. Mediators. The peaceful demonstrators. The Missionaries and aid workers. Those who take their vacations to go on mission trips to places like Nicaragua. The Mother Theresa’s and the Aung San Suu Kyi’s. The world needs you in these places and spaces. Working to spread peace and justice and love for all of God’s children. Blessed are you peacemakers – for you will be called children of God.

Blessed are those persecuted for righteousness sake – the honest. The whistle-blowers. The litigated Good Samaritan’s. Truth telling journalists in China and other countries where the government controls the press. You who stand up for others, who stand up for what is right, who speak truth, and suffer because of it. The world needs more people in these places and spaces. People who are unafraid and noble. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who are reviled and persecuted in Christ’s name and who have all kinds of evil uttered against them falsely. The Christians in countries where Christianity is illegal. The Christians in this country who are persecuted by fellow Christians because they have different understandings of theology and Gospel. Non-Christians who are persecuted in the name of Christ. These are horrible places and spaces to be in. Places and spaces that no one should have to encounter. But those who do are blessed. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad – for your reward is great in heaven.

Just as it was important for the disciples to recognize blessedness, it is important for us to recognize it as well. These, and so many others, are the people we should be looking to.

If we are truly going to love our neighbors as ourselves, we must understand who those neighbors are. We must reevaluate our ideas of blessings. Being blessed is not just for the sake of potential joy, but also for the sake of making it through difficult times.

Jesus breaks into our lives in moments of joy but Jesus also breaks into our lives in moments of pain and suffering. Pastor Lynn, Pastor Schul, and Pastor Boldt helped me see Jesus in my life at that really difficult point. We are called to do that for one another and for the world around us.

Jesus has taught us how to recognize blessedness and how to help others recognize it as well. Jesus reminds us to not only reach out to those who are familiar and comfortable, but those who are different as well.

Thanks be to God for blessing the poor, the mourning, the meek, those hungering for righteousness, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted. Thanks be to God for teaching us how to recognize blessedness. And thanks be to God for creating communities of people who love, support, and encourage one another through all of life’s blessings.

Amen.

Lenten Devotions 2016

golden-cross-and-candle-in-dark-surroundingsGreetings friends!

Below this year’s Lenten Social Media & Family Devotions. Please feel free to share them! May this Lenten Season bring you into a more fully realized and intentional relationship with God.

In peace,

~Ariel

Year C Family Devotional – Lent

Social Media Devo’s – Lent Year C

Advent Devotions 2015

I completed this year’s Advent Devotions today… attached are the Social Media Devotion and Family Devotion for Lectionary Year C. I hope these resources are useful to you and your family this Advent season.

Blessings & Peace as you grow and anticipate Christ’s coming!

Family Devotional – Year C 2015

Social Media Devotions – Year C

Hungering for Justice

I preached the following message at a mid-week Lenten worship service I was invited to participate in.  This congregation’s theme for this Lent is “Hunger.” I was asked to preach on Hungering for Justice.  This is what I came up with…


Micah 6: 6-8

6 ‘With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ 8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?

Word of God, Word of Life – Thanks be to God.


Grace to you and peace from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Hungering for Justice. As I sat and reflected on what it means to hunger for justice I couldn’t help but immediately think of my family.  I am a first year seminarian, the mother of two, and a wife. My husband is African-American, so I’m sure you can imagine that I have a lot of thoughts and opinions on what it means to seek racial justice. What it means to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly.

Then I thought… no one wants to hear another sermon about racial justice… pick something else! Pick anything else, Ariel!!!  I immediately started running down the checklist of marginalized whom Christ called us to seek justice on behalf of in Matthew Chapter 25. Many are familiar with this passage… “35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

As I thought about who these people are in our society I thought of those who are in prison and realized that the vast majority of those imprisoned in our “justice” system are minorities. I thought of the homeless. According to The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration nearly 60% of the homeless in the United States are minorities.  I thought of those who are hungry… according the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) 71% of participants were minorities… predominately women and children. I thought of those places in the world where there is no access to clean drinking water… Africa, Central and South America, Asia. Who inhabits these places?

Then it struck me… it doesn’t matter what form of justice I choose… racial inequality is ALWAYS a factor.

So back to plan A… racial justice, and why I hunger for it. My daughter is 8-years-old.  My son is 9.  As I follow some of the current movements going on in the United States and hear about people like Treyvon Martin, and Michael Brown, and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice; as I follow movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #ICan’tBreathe there’s a part of me that also can’t breathe. That lives in fear because that could be MY son. My husband and I don’t let our son play with toy guns unless they are some fluorescent bright Nerf thing that is CLEARLY a toy.  It is unfathomable to me that a 12-year-old child was killed because of a toy.  We don’t let our son wear his hood up on his sweatshirt jackets… it may not be a problem now, but when he is 16 who knows?  My beautiful, funny, kind, smart, articulate, incredible son could be in the wrong place at the wrong time and become a statistic.

Like any parent, I want the world for my children. I want them to be who God is calling them to be. I want them to grow and to develop their passions and interests and learn and to live. They will have to work harder for the same opportunities others receive, just because of their race.

I’m sure you are sitting here and thinking… wow… this depressing and in some respects it feels a little hopeless. When do we get to the whole grace and Jesus part? To be completely honest… This sat partially completed for about a week and half and I had NO CLUE how I was getting there. I just knew that this message is important.

Then last week my son came home with a writing assignment. He was to write a 150-250 word essay on What Freedom Means to His Family.  I posted a picture of this essay on Facebook and it is one of the most popular things I have every posted. It received 115 likes and 28 comments. For someone like me who is not a social media super-star, this is a lot of activity!  This is his first paragraph:10985308_10100658853644514_1507094474445309109_n

“What freedom means to my family is that my family gets to be a family. In some parts of the world people like blacks and whites cannot get married.  If my mom and dad did not get married, Izzy and I would not exist.”

Wow… out of the mouths of babes comes Good News!  I hope these words give you as much hope as they give me.  Because my children do exist. And they are beautiful, amazing, grace filled children of God. God created them to do justice, and to love mercy, and walk humbly in this world.  If a 9-year-old boy can so articulately address racial justice, then so can I.

I can do for the least of these just as Christ instructed me to. And so can you. I’m not going to give a laundry list of things to go out and do… you are all smart people and I’m sure you know what injustices in this world make it hard for you to breathe.  You know what form of justice you hunger for and you can determine how you are going to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly. The beautiful part of being The Body of Christ in the world is that we are all called to act differently and to show Christ’s love in many varies ways. I am called as a church leader, as the mother of two bi-racial children, and as the wife of an African-American to speak to racism and issues of racial justice. How are you called to act? To what are you called to speak out about? What issues squeeze your chest so tight that you feel as if you’re having an asthma attack?

Christ came into this world and addressed justice issues. He hungered for justice just as we do. And he died so that through his death and resurrection we all might receive new life. Through the sacrament of Holy Baptism we are drown and reborn into new people. Let us live into that new identity! Let us never forget our brothers and sisters who have less. Less resources, less privilege, less justice.  Let us never stop hungering for justice and always seek mercy and humility. Amen.