sermons / Thoughts on Faith

Unfinished reflections on a long week

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Before…

Saturday: My daughter shares that a lockdown drill has been announced for her high school. It will happen sometime in the coming week, not on Wednesday because of the Walkout, but during a passing period. Curious, I ask what students do when they are in the hallways. I learn a lot about safety procedures that are largely invisible to parents (things I will not share on the internet to ensure student safety). I am at once grateful for the school’s preparation and security measures and tearful that our teenagers have given considerable thought to which areas of school provide the most protection.

Sunday: I get teary in the sacristy because we don’t have 17 candles of one kind. I consider stocking up for the next tragedy and realize what a morbid thought is. During Sunday school, I ask youth to consider what the Bible and our Social principles have to say about violence. I am surprised when they find the passage in Luke I was going to end  with on their own. I am impressed with their ability to make a claim against violence using the Social Principles stance on the death penalty. I search through my kindle version of the Social Principles and confirm that the word gun is not mentioned. Not once.

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After

Tuesday night: Home late from a busy day, I search for something to paint our interfaith clergy sign on. Rummaging through the pile of old canvases in the basement, I find the largest one. When I pull it out, I see that it is the painting of a white tiger that my daughter painted in 4th grade, with my help. I have fond memories of this summer day spent doing art together. “What world is this?”  I think, as she asks if she can help paint over the cuddly tiger with the “Enough is Enough” message.

Wednesday 10 a.m.:  I arrive at the interfaith clergy gathering in solidarity with the student Walk Out, held at the corner of our suburban downtown. We hold the cuddly tiger- turned-solidarity sign. We read the names of the Parkland victims. I watch silently as two clergy people of different faiths use their hands to shelter the single candle from the wind. Several times they relight it, struggling together to bear the light. I am struck by the unity symbolized in this simple gesture. My daughters text me from school to say their walkout was successful and uneventful. I offer a prayer of thanks that the walkouts in our area were safe for students.

Later on Wednesday:  I am in my church office when I receive an email that my seminary is on lockdown – a gunman has been reported on campus. The seminary is surrounded by the university where I received both my undergraduate and my master’s degree. I tell my pastor who is headed out the door to a conference there. My dear friend lives near the intersection where the police have responded. I text her quickly to confirm she is at work. On Facebook I see friends from the university and the seminary checking in saying they are safe, but scared,doing what they can to hide behind locked doors. I consider that though my family knows I am usually not on campus on Wednesdays, if they see the news they may be worried. I craft a text to my children that mentions my location without mentioning the lockdown at the seminary. Things feel strangely reversed. Later we learn that there was no gunman, it was a hoax. Even so, colleagues and friends are rattled.

Thursday: My daughters tell me that the lockdown drill happened as scheduled at their high school.  They were told about it before the alarm went off. I am grateful that the school does this to save them from needless terror and confusion. From the conversation I can tell that they have been paying even more attention to the safety at their school. They know which doors are made of steel and which ones have locks. They know where cameras are. They’ve considered what do do and where to go in every class and the hallways between. 

It is Thursday evening. We are home. The girls are finishing homework. I am exhausted. I am grateful. I am indignant. I am tearful. I am resolved. I write all this down.

Friday morning: I consider whether to post these observations without some sort of commentary. What else is there to say, really? I remember the words of Dr. Gennifer Brooks: if it doesn’t share the Good News, it isn’t a sermon. I realize that I preached a Lenten sermon on John 12:36-43 recently that I need to hear again for myself. So, I share it below.

Grace and Peace,

Christine

Excerpts from a Sermon Preached on February 21:

If, as it says in the bulletin, Lent is our “annual check up,”  then this reading from the Gospel of John is the vision and neurology  part of our exam. Jesus has just ridden into Jerusalem on a colt, palm branches waving, the people shouting “Hosanna, blessings on the king of Israel!”. He’s drawn a lot of attention because he has raised a Lazarus from the dead. News of the miracle has gotten around, people show up to see who this man they call Jesus is. The large crowd is making the already nervous Pharisees, even more anxious.

After his arrival in Jerusalem, Jesus begins teaching about his death. The people are confused because they understand from Scripture that the Messiah is meant to live forever. Could this man be who they are looking for? Jesus tries another approach, telling them to believe in the light as long as they have it.  Even after raising Lazarus from the dead, people do not believe. Why? Because as it says in the prophet Isaiah, which John quotes, “their eyes are blind and their minds are closed.” My Bible notes state that this is a reference to idolatry. In their worship of idols, the people have become like the statues of false Gods- unable to see or understand.

I am no stranger to doubt and disbelief. I was that kid in confirmation. You know the one who asks for proof of the resurrection. The one who persistently asks for a scientific explanation of the miracles. I do like to believe though, that if I had seen Jesus raise a man from the dead with my very own eyes, that I would not have doubted what was right in front of me, unlike this motley crowd of doubters. Surely my eyes would see Jesus right in front of me. What’s wrong with these people?

To continue the medical metaphor, the people are not well. They’ve failed their vision and neurology tests. Any decent doctor would order more tests to see what the root of their illness is.  The answer, is found in verse 42 they are afraid of being expelled from the synagogue. The significance of this is a bit hard for us to imagine. If we were barred from our houses of worship, we could go across town to another.

This wasn’t the case in Jesus’ time. My professor pointed out in class the other day just how big a deal his was. You see, being kicked out to synagogue meant the loss of your community – your children’s future becomes very uncertain. I’m sure many of us can relate to a time when doing the right thing meant losing a job, or a friend, or even connection to family. Jobs, houses of worship, community – these are good things. But, when they get in the way of our relationship with God, they become idols.

Recently a student texted me to ask if the church had a microphone they could borrow for their upcoming Walkout. I admit that my first thought was, “what if the microphone gets broken? Or lost? I’ll be responsible.” Sure, I probably wouldn’t lose my job over it, but people will be pretty unhappy with me. But, if we keep the microphone locked in a closet, then we have silenced the voices of students working something sacred and holy- justice and peace. The microphone becomes a silent, empty idol.

Failing to believe or follow Christ because it costs us too much – our societal standing, our possessions, perhaps even our safety or financial security… this is the illness in Isaiah, that closes our eyes and our hearts. Ouch. I say that because I know I am in trouble, friends. I am going to fall short of putting God first over and over again.

Thank God that this is not the end of the story. I know we are still in Lent, but we have to remember the power of Easter – the resurrection. Christ did not remain lifeless in the tomb. Christ lives and reigns eternally with God. Just 2 chapters later in John, Jesus explains that he is not leaving them – they will receive the advocate, the Holy Spirit.

Lent is not just our annual checkup, it is also the traditional time for preparing for baptism. Baptism is a covenant, God’s gift to us, that brings us into the church community, calls us to ministries of justice and mercy in the world, and renews our hearts and minds. Though we all fall short of the promises we make at baptism to resist evil, injustice and oppression, God’s covenant with us is unfailing. God’s grace is never ending.

In the church I serve we use Godly Play, to explain baptism to the children. During the story we say, “Once there was a man who did such amazing things and said such wonderful things that people would follow him. They asked him many questions. They asked him, ‘Who are you.’ The man said, ‘I am the light.’” Then, we ask each child to share their name as we light a candle. We remember that baptism is the day we receive the light of Christ.

Through baptism we journey in the light of Christ. The light of Christ that heals our blinded eyes. The light of Christ that opens our hearts and minds. The hope of Christ that sustains us in our unbelief. The grace of Christ that sees beyond our failures and our imperfection and enables us to live as children of the light.

 

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