Friday, October 02, 2015

Turning the world upside down

Acts 17:1-15.

After Paul and Silas* had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three sabbath days argued with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah* to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This is the Messiah,* Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you.’ Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews became jealous, and with the help of some ruffians in the market-places they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar. While they were searching for Paul and Silas to bring them out to the assembly, they attacked Jason’s house. When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some believers* before the city authorities,* shouting, ‘These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has entertained them as guests. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.’ The people and the city officials were disturbed when they heard this, and after they had taken bail from Jason and the others, they let them go. That very night the believers* sent Paul and Silas off to Beroea; and when they arrived, they went to the Jewish synagogue. These Jews were more receptive than those in Thessalonica, for they welcomed the message very eagerly and examined the scriptures every day to see whether these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, including not a few Greek women and men of high standing. But when the Jews of Thessalonica learned that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Beroea as well, they came there too, to stir up and incite the crowds. Then the believers* immediately sent Paul away to the coast, but Silas and Timothy remained behind. Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and after receiving instructions to have Silas and Timothy join him as soon as possible, they left him.

"These men, who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them; and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another King, Jesus."
Wow.  The first Christians were turning the world upside down with their message about Jesus.  It was a message that the one God, the creator of heaven and earth, had sent a Son of man to become King and to usher in a new age of peace and compassionate justice for all people.  This King lived among them as a humble servant; he gathered a following, taught disciples, healed the sick, fed the hungry, raised the dead, and challenged the religions and cultures of exclusion that denied people access to the means of grace.  This King Jesus was crucified by the Romans.  His followers believed that he had been raised from the dead and that his resurrection was vindication for his execution and validation of his divine authority and Kingship.  A power swept through the community of his followers that propelled them to act.  They took action in the streets throughout the Roman Empire.  
When we read this part of the Book of Acts, we can notice a few things. 
1.  First, the church was a movement that included men and women, Jews and Greeks. It was like a tornado when it hit.  People's lives were changed, their perspective changed, their hopes changed when they met Jesus' followers. Their way of life together was infectious. They began to see themselves as part of a bigger conspiracy to remake the world as God intended.  God's intentions were revealed to the Jews in the law and prophets; but now God's intentions had been revealed to everyone in person, in Jesus.  To summarize God's intentions, Jesus says we are made to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves.  We are made to love one another.  Those who are the most vulnerable and victimized are of particular concern to God. Dorothy Day says our love for God is demonstrated in the way we love the person we love the least.   Jesus challenges us to love our enemies and those who hate us.  In so doing, we reflect the image of God. And when we fail to do so, God forgives us, suffers with those who suffer, and promises restoration and new life where there is sin (the opposite of love) and death (the opposite of life). Jesus' death and resurrection teaches us that God's love for humanity is stronger than the worst thing we could ever do. It's stronger than our deadliest acts. God will do whatever it takes to reclaim all of humanity as sons and daughters.  
2.  The church is not confined to one location.  It travels. The church's work is public and urban.  Population centers are the soil of the movement.   This is not a stagnant church.  It is not constrained by buildings or budgets. They are not afraid to tell the story, to invite others into the story, and to share the gifts they have to offer.  They are not afraid to face doubt, skepticism, or rejection.  They are aware that their message has political implications, when it is misunderstood.  King Jesus' allies are not interested in executing a military coup.  They are not interested in a holy war. They are interested in acts of mercy for everyone, everywhere.  They want to share the story of Jesus, inspire life change, establish a community of practicing believers, and move on to the next community.  
3.  There are people of peace in every community, ready to receive the church's message and embrace it.  In this story, it's Jason. Little else is known or said about him.  But we know a church was started in Thessalonica, maybe in Jason's house.
4. The leaders of the church were sent by and for the church as representatives of King Jesus.  They worked collaboratively.  There was a team approach.  And they intended to raise up local leaders who could continue practicing ministry after the team moved on.  They started in synagogues, where they may find natural friends and people of peace.  After all, the gospel is set within the Jewish story. But they didn't stop there.  They also included non-Jews, the ones we might call "the Nones."  And the message catches the, too.  Why?  Because people are spiritual.  We are theologians.  We long for something and someone beyond our humanity that gives meaning to life.  We are curious creatures. 
5.  The church turns the world upside down.  We worship a crucified 1st century Jewish Rabbi and call him LORD.  Our highest holy day celebrates His resurrection from the dead--an astonishing claim, unprecedented, unreasonable, and implausible.  We live to serve as he taught by loving the unloved.  So we stand with criminals on death row and beg for their lives.  We spend time with people who have recently been released from prison. We feed hungry people.  We take in refugees and those displaced without a home.  We break bread with addicts and offenders.  We care for widows and orphans.  We plant gardens and share the harvest.  We rebuild homes and lives after disasters. The church's acts are demonstrative and point to King Jesus.     

So, to whom does God send us?  How does the church reclaim its energy as a movement? In what ways are we called to turn the world upside down? 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Why the Common Roots of Faith Matter

Lutherans, along with everyone else, have gotten excited about the Pope.  The last time a Lutheran got this excited about the Pope, he wrote 95 theses that got him kicked out of the Catholic church.  I think this excitement tells us something; there is a hunger, a longing in our hearts for unity, for harmony, for peace.  We long to be reconciled.  We desire healing.  We wish for a world free from violence and war and poverty.  And we believe it is possible through embodied love.  We love that he skipped a breakfast with lawmakers to dine with the homeless.  This is kingdom power.  Power with, beneath, and under.  It is love power.  And we want it, too.  It’s not that we all long to return to Roman Catholicism.  It’s that we long for this Jesus—the one who embodies perfect love on the cross for everyone. 
Today I want to clarify some things about the church, Christianity, and the ministry of the gospel.  Religion is at the center of so much of our lives these days.  Whether one is religious or not.  And the Pope’s visit seems to highlight this, because Catholics and non-Catholics seem to appreciate his message.  There is a desire for greater peace, for shared prosperity, for increased global health, and for a more secure future.  That future, in part, lies in our shared past. 
I’ll use the analogy of a tree.  Roman Catholics are Christians. So are Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Mennonites, Amish, Brethren, United Church of Christ, African Methodist Episcopal, Greek Orthodox, Pentecostals, Disciples of Christ, Moravians, and a few others I didn’t mention.  I’m saying this aloud because I have people ask me about compatibility.  And we may not realize how much we have in common with people who practice their Christian religious faith under these other names.  The Christian family tree is big, many branches, some thicker than others, some longer than others, some more tender shoots. Some of the branches have smaller branches.  Some have broader, greener leaves.  Some leaves have an autumn hue. And some as brittle as winter.  Some of the branches don’t touch the other branches.  Nevertheless all one tree; many branches.  Same roots.  Jesus of Nazareth, the God of creation, the God of Israel, the God of liberation and justice, the Spirit that gives life and breathes new life into dry bones.  The God of prophets and priests and kings.  The people of the book.  The Jews and Muslims are also on this tree.  Not three trees.  One God, three faiths, many denominations and practices.  We are not so much divided as growing in different directions.  But our roots are the same.We have far more in common than we tend to acknowledge.  Hubris and damaged egos look at our own brothers and sisters with suspicion and disdain.  Our shared roots matter more than out many colored leaves. 
We may think about the human body too, with its many parts.  Paul uses this analogy to describe the church in first Corinthians.  Not all parts have the same function.  But they are an organic and integral piece of the whole.  I wonder what life would be like if we all viewed each other as different parts of the same body.  Does it matter if you are a leg or an eye?  Sure, but not in terms of one being greater than the other. 
In all three readings a single theme emerges.  Cooperation.  Shared leadership, shared ministry.  Looking outside of one’s group to see the work of God.  Eldad and Medad were not with the group of elders called out for spiritual anointing into leadership.  And yet they prophesied.  Moses was in dire need of assistance.  He didn’t need more followers.  He needed leaders, speakers, those who would do the work of God beside him.  It didn’t matter to him who they were or where they came from, just that they shared the rights and responsibilities of bearing he covenant.  Jesus says, whoever is not against us is for us.  He says this in response to John’s concern about non-disciples casting out demons.  Anyone who is confronting the wickedness threatening God’s good creation is on our side, okay?  We don’t have to only play with members of this congregation or denomination to participate in God’s mission.  I thought about the Central PA food bank conference I attended on Thursday with Pastor Rodney Martin from Lititz Mennonite church, our Peter’s Porch mission partners.  We met up with the leadership of OMPH’s food bank. They want to work more collaboratively with Peter’s Porch as we serve our neighbors.  Jesus said whatever is preventing the body from working together as a whole, get rid of it.  The mission is too hard to undertake divided.  I can’t believe how hard it is to get Lutherans to join together.  For worship, fellowship, or ministry.  Maybe the letter of James gives us a way forward.  Prayer.  Corporate prayer.  Prayer that includes anyone.  The prayer of the just is powerful and effective. We believe that those with faith have been made right with God.   You and I are called, all of us to pray for one another in the body of Christ, the church.  Prayer begins with an expectation that God will change the circumstances about which we are praying.  Prayer presumes a desire to change. To pray for every branch of the tree, to pray for healing.  The tree does need healing in so much as we compete with one another, avoid and neglect each other, reject and demonize other believers,  and fail to demonstrate holy love for the body.   And we are called to seek first the kingdom of God, perhaps by seeking the ways in which that kingdom breaks into human lives untouched by the church’s work and witness.  God is indeed actively engaged in the world to heal, restore, and save it.  As I’ve said before, the church does not have a mission, the mission of God has a church. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

This church is NOT awesome

This church is not awesome.  We are not special.  We are not uniquely called to grow.  We do not offer worship or programs that inspire.  Your pastor is not so funny or super generous or really kind or an amazing preacher.  I will not entertain or make you feel good.  We are not awesome. If you’re looking for something more awesome, you’ll have to go somewhere else.  Sorry to burst your bubble, if I did.   
When Jesus returns to his teaching about suffering, death, and resurrection the disciples, according to Mark, did not understand him and were afraid to ask.  In Greek they were literally frightened agnostics. An agnostic is someone who is uncertain about their beliefs, on the fence as it were.  Agnostics lean on empirical knowledge, evidence, scientific facts.  Maybe the disciples get tripped up about the rising again bit.  More likely they don’t understand the suffering and death part.  It didn’t jive with their version of the future with Jesus Messiah.  This Kingdom of God movement has a leader, if he dies so dies the movement.  We’ve been over this.  They were expecting greatness.  Power.  Authority.  Demonstration of divine might—plagues, fire, brimstone, armed angels ready to battle.  They were expecting a superhero.  And they believed that Jesus was him.  And they expected a personal reward for choosing or being chosen as his followers, his men.  Why were they afraid?  They didn’t want to look stupid, doubtful, incompetent.  And certainly not in front of the other guys.  Can you imagine being the guy on the team who still doesn’t get the game plan?  Nobody wants to be that guy.  That guy sits the bench.  That guy gets ridiculed.  That guy gets dumped from the team.   
So, along the way they argue about rank and position and rewards for fidelity and proximity to Jesus. Who knew him the best? Who did he trust the most?  Who was his lieutenant?  Who was his favorite?  Who was the strongest?  Smartest?  Most loyal?  I don’t think this was a fight, more of a playful game of male dominance and pecking order.  Everything’s a competition here. Everyone is vying for attention and the right to be where they are.  Everyone wants to have their seat at the table, to prove their worth, that they deserve to be here.   
When they get home, Jesus sits down to teach.  He says, “Whoever would be the greatest must be the last and servant of all.  And he brings a child into his arms and says, “Whoever welcomes a child like this one, welcomes me and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”  I don’t think this was the most offensive thing Jesus ever said or did. Even though children were disregarded, undervalued, and dismissed in that culture.  Especially by men.  I don’t think that was the point this time. 
I think congregations are acting like agnostic disciples.  We don’t get the whole suffering, death, and resurrection bit as it applies to ourselves and the advancement of the Kingdom.  And we are in competition with all the other congregations for resources, people and money.  We’re silent about this, would never pray that God send us more people and money, but we wish it.  I think Lutherans are competing over which congregation serves the best. Who does the most serving, giving, feeding, etc…Our badge of honor is how many people we serve.  Same as McDonalds.  Over a billion served.  People always ask, how big is your congregation?  How many members?  And we tend to say something like:  “We’re a small congregation, but we do a lot of good things.”  We have to prove ourselves with empirical evidence, like agnostics.  Because of our insecurity.  When only 40 people show up on Sunday, we feel disappointed. I know I do.  I’m embarrassed to say that I get frustrated still when there are “only 40 people here”.  We have a purpose because we served this many people, gave this much money to Malaria, assembled this many kits.  We should exist.  We’re still a church with value.  Maybe most of you don’t care about these things at this stage.  Maybe you don’t think about the future of Zion, Akron much.  Maybe you’re content to come when you feel like it or when you’re not out of town.  Maybe you’re not reminiscent for the good ol’ days.  Maybe you just love one another.  And that’s good enough. 
Don’t get me wrong, I am impressed by the production of this congregation.  I brag about us more than I should.  And today I am grateful for every person who participates.  I’m grateful for Pastor Bob and Dodie, who bring wisdom, servant hearts, and the high calling of the gospel to us.  But none of this matters. It does not matter how many baptisms or new members we receive.  It doesn’t matter how many people we served at Peter’s Porch or failed to serve.  That is not the gospel. The good news is not that Zion is growing, that we have enough money to pay the bills, that worship is so awesome, dinner church is thriving, Malaria goals are reached. 
 The gospel is Jesus the Messiah was crucified and raised from the dead.  The gospel is Jesus is in the house and on the way with us.  His death and resurrection joins God to this world of suffering and joins this world of suffering and death to the God of life.  This is so because God loves what God made, all of it.  And love does what love must do to insure the life of the beloved.  We are safe.  Jesus is always in the house.  God is always with us where we are.  And a sign of it is one child in our midst.  So long as there is one child to welcome, we have a calling and a purpose and a way to live.  We are servants of all. Nothing else makes us church.  Servants of All.  A disciples question is only this one:  “How may we serve today?”  We are not awesome, powerful, and super good. But the one I’m following is.  And that’s the only thing that counts now and in the end.  Amen.        

Friday, September 18, 2015

agnostic servants of all

"They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” ---Gospel of Mark.

Mark humiliates the disciples of Jesus.  Time and again, these guys are imbeciles.  They just don't get it.   This may be the good news.  If they didn't get it and they lived it, maybe our agnosticism and doubts aren't so egregious.  It may be okay to NOT totally understand Jesus' teachings.  Disciples are learners, conscious of their incompetence.  I have days when I don't know what I'm doing or how to do what I'm "supposed to do".  I sometimes don't believe what I'm saying or praying.  Maybe we don't have to get it.  Not totally. I'll go out on a limb here and suggest that Jesus chose and chooses disciples who are incompetent, doubtful, fearful, and egotistical.  That's how he gets to me and you.  Maybe we need to learn to live with our ignorance about God. Not other people's ignorance about God, but my own.  Jesus chooses people who understand that neither wisdom nor personal accomplishment gets us in the house.  Jesus lets us in and sits with us, in our stupidity.    
Jesus is teaching them privately now, the hard stuff.  And he does so openly and clearly. He's not using parables or riddles or metaphors.  He speaks of three steps in the son of man's process of becoming the suffering servant; betrayal, killing, and rising. Their response to this teaching is agnosticism (literally in the Greek, their lack of understanding) and fear. This is a little better than the last time he taught them about suffering. On that day, Peter out right, publicly rebuked Jesus, making a fool of himself on behalf of all the rest.  NO WAY! he said.  This time, NO Comment. These guys are slick politicians, aren't they?  
Not only do they not hear and understand the future, they refuse to believe it.  Instead, they discuss positions of leadership and rank within the 12 members of Jesus' party. Who's his top lieutenant?  What's the pecking order?  They continue to expect a Messiah who will overthrow the Roman Emperor and his puppets (Herod's sons).  They expect a restoration of Davidic Monarchy, in which they will share in Jesus' rule.  They seek reward and privilege and honor.
 When he asks them what they were arguing about on the way, they fall silent.  They know him well enough to know that their petty bickering about rank and power was inappropriate.  It was not his message.  And yet they still wanted it to be.
Jesus teaches this about becoming his church, his disciples:  "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." What about competition and winning and 1st place?  Isn't it good to succeed?  Isn't it right to pursue accomplishment and achievement?  Isn't a little glory good for the soul?  Granted, I think America is obsessed with greatness in the most unhealthy ways possible.  From sports and fitness to money and finance, our goals are always to be better, faster, stronger, and richer.  We compare, judge, and belittle to our own advantage.  And, admittedly it feels good to win.  Who doesn't like to kick a little ass once and awhile? 
But Jesus says, be the 12th man on the bench, the guy who fills the water bottles and picks up the sweaty towels after the game.  When he says "servant of all", I suspect he means among themselves.  But he may have more universal or broader application in mind.  After all, he came as a servant to all the people---gentile children possessed by demons and blind Jewish men.  He indiscriminately fed two very large crowds of hungry people.  As an example of the kind of service he renders, he welcomes a child into their group.  And he says that to welcome a child is to welcome him and to welcome him is to welcome the one who sent him.
In some ways, there is simplicity here.  Welcome a child--welcome God. Serve a child, serve Him.  In our world, caring for children with dignity and love makes sense.  We believe in the compassionate treatment of children, to provide for and protect them.  We believe the children are our future.  But in the 1st century world, children were inconsequential to men.  They were non-entities, not full persons.  The women tended them until they were old enough to be useful.  That a child had something to teach them would have been scandalous, absurd, and foolish.  Jesus elevated the status of children.   The way of the servant is to welcome the invisible unloved, unnoticed, and undervalued members of the human family.  In the 1st century world, there was no better example than a child. Who are they in our world?
Children living in poverty?
Formerly incarcerated young adults?
How about the 1.2 million African American children who are missing a parent due to mass incarceration? 
Or single black moms?
How about a Muslim teen who brings a homemade clock to school, only to be arrested as a suspected terrorist making a bomb threat?
The servant of all has welcomed me into his household.  Not because I understood something.  But because he loves me. That's the good news.   



Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Why we're talking about racial prejudice at church

This is complex.  One blog post won't do it justice.  But I wanted to open up a space for further conversation about race and faith, because it is important.
Culturally, we are experiencing the pressure of a failed economic system that favors the extremely wealthy and bashes the poor, a broken criminal justice system that disproportionately harms black and brown communities, and a disparate education system that geographically favors white suburban communities.  From political commentators to local news, race relations are a central part of life in America.  When a white "Lutheran" entered Emanuel AME church in Charleston this summer and murdered 9 people- including two pastors, we joined many others around the country in expressing grief, anger, and powerlessness.  Why, along with all of the other violent deaths of young lack people, is this happening with such frequency?  We know that violence in the black community has been a problem caused by the formation of ghettos, economic depression and poverty, and drug crime.  Some of us in the faith community have begun to examine more deeply and more critically our personal and public failures and our responsibility to affect change that honors the lives of black and brown people around us.  How do we begin?      
First, prejudice has always existed in human community.  The bible attests to it and is partly responsible for the perpetuation of racial prejudice and injustice.  Despite the fact that the bible's authors and first audience were minorities, the good book hasn't always been so good for minorities. Since biblical times, Israeli/Palestinian relations are partly related to deep-seeded religious assumptions about the other.  The bible, in the hands of European whites, has been used to justify the oppression of women and people of color.  Colonialization and the displacement and annihilation of native peoples in the name of Christ may have started the American story of racial injustice.  In the 19th century, many southern ministers advocated the biblical justification for slavery.

The bible also has a lot to say about overcoming racial hatred and prejudice, about ending hypocrisy and judgment that leads to violence, and about welcoming the stranger and the foreigner with respect and hospitality.  The book of Jonah is a fabulous parable on God's concern for the future of a people beyond the borders of Israel, beyond the chosen covenant family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  It is also about Jonah's hidden prejudice that compels him to "abandon ship"and ignore God's true intentions.  
Jonah was called to deliver a message from God to the people of Nineveh.  He refuses to go, because of his prejudice against Ninevites.  Jonah believed that his proclamation of judgment on the Ninevites would lead to their repentance and God's mercy.  He did not believe that they deserved mercy, but rather judgment and destruction.  He was disappointed when God chose to deal compassionately with them.  God's position toward human kind is not legalistic, moralistic judgment of our failures to live according to God's will.  God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Slow and steady.  God is patiently coaxing humanity toward a future that looks more like heaven than hell.  Despite centuries of insistence that God is angry and wrathful and that few will escape God's vengeance, the bible tells a story of a God who loves what God has made.  God cherishes humans and desires that we learn to live together in harmony and peace.            

The gospel is the story of Jesus of Nazareth, first century Jewish Rabbi who taught healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation as the foundation for a new humanity.  He confronted the powerful who used fear, religious purity, and violence to subjugate and marginalize people.  He did so by compassionately seeing and hearing and touching people who were paralyzed, cast out, driven to insanity, and isolated.  He sought to dismantle the system of isolation and annihilation that powerful people use to maintain their power over others. In the process, he crossed boundaries and borders and ethnic prejudices to teach people what it means to flourish.  Human flourishing requires that we learn to accept and honor diversity as a gift from the creator.  It also requires that people with wealth and privilege see the poor and seek their welfare.  That means more than redistribution of wealth. God's provision is not equal, but just.  That means, everyone is supposed to get what they need to live as full a life as possible on earth.  When some people do not have access to what they need to live, how do we expect justice?  Prejudice and privilege create a system whereby some people have access and others do not.  By virtue of race, ethnicity, or sexuality humans relegate fellow humans to a marginalized state of existence.
Jesus lived in solidarity with those people on the margins.  Jesus worked to dismantle the dividing walls of hostility that existed.  He did so not by political mandate or by leveraging wealth to change the system.  He entered oppressed and marginal communities.  He brought healing to peolpe who suffered in isolation.  He formed an alternative community, the ecclesia.  This group was literally called out of the dominant system of privilege and oppression to embody a different way of being human in communion with God and with one another.  He called this movement the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of heaven or eternal life.  It was not about a post-death reality somewhere else reserved for the chosen religious faithful.  It was a movement to reclaim and restore our divinely made humanity on earth here and now.  And it included people with wealth, the working poor, racial and social outcasts, women and children, urban academics and rural farmers.
Jesus' opposition to the powers-that-be risked a high level of vulnerability, of which he was personally aware. He expected to be killed.  Jesus was crushed by the dominant system, crucified by the Roman empire, abandoned by his own people.  But unlike so many other movements to overcome human failure to live in harmony and peace, Jesus' movement persisted.  It persists, precisely because his followers said that he was raised from the dead. The perpetual movement of Christianity is just that precisely because the teacher and Lord lives on as a new human with a new life, transcendent of the broken old systems of oppression and tyranny and marginalization.  He did not die a failed martyr.  He died and was raised from the dead as a sign of God's promise to make all things new.

But the church has not always followed its Lord.  The church has been co-opted and corrupted by dominant system values. And we perpetuate segregation and prejudice. Christians have narrowly defined the gospel message in order to avoid challenges.  The gospel is about personal salvation and a post-death trip to heaven.  The gospel justifies sinners without transformation.  We prefer comfortable, segregated Sunday morning churches where we are not forced to examine our consciences.  Even confession of sins has been relegated to personal moral failings, rather than broader systemic and structural sin. Dancing, swearing, sex, alcohol, and smoking became the sins churches were willing to discuss. Bias against the underclass and the deprivileged has not been discussed for fear that we would lose members over challenging talk.  

But, recently I've met some people who are looking to be part of a church that will examine itself critically and attempt to embody the alternative way of Jesus' ecclesia.  So we are talking about racial prejudice because the kingdom of God continues to emerge among us. We see glimpses of hope through struggle.  We identify small victories and mountains to climb.  We stand on the shoulders of giants and know that another day is coming.  We long for a world where harmony and peace prevail,where people see skin color and language diversity and cultural diversity as gifts from the creator to be cherished and enjoyed.  We long for a world where basic provisions and protections are afforded to every creature. We desire a higher government and a prince of peace who will rule with compassionate justice and all-inclusive love.  We're talking about racial prejudice because we have some that we need help to overcome. We want to be in recovery from our sins.
This week, we will hear a gospel story about a Lebanese woman who begs Jesus for help. Lebanon and Israel are enemies to this day.  She is humble and she is insistent.  Jesus, on the other hand, is dismissive and resistant.  Like Jonah, he is not interested in handing out God's mercy to "those people".  The encounter changes Jesus.  I think it is meant to change us, too. Come and see.  Sunday at 9:30 am at Zion on Main Street or 6 om for dinner church at Roland/Akron park.  Worship is relaxed and includes an open communion table, where all are invited to share the great and promised feast.  We sing songs from the rich diversity of Christian community around the world.  Join us.