Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Come, for everything is now ready

When were you last invited to a party or a dinner with friends?  Can you think of a time when you were invited and you didn't want to attend?  Did you give an excuse?  It was for a family dinner, wasn't it?  When was the last time you gave a dinner or a party and invited others?  I admit that I enjoy a good dinner party.  I love a cookout with friends. I enjoy hosting.  My wife is a great host, but it wears her out.  She's an introvert and is exhausted by the time everyone leaves.  My wife and I have thrown open houses for large groups and cookouts for intimate friends.  We do so on a few occasions, not more than four times in a year. (We host family at Thanksgiving, too)  I was recently at a graduation party for a young person from my church.  We went after dinner for dessert, but I was compelled to try the chicken.  I was not disappointed.  We didn't stay long.  But we were glad we went.  When one does go, relationships are often strengthened or renewed.  Just by showing up.  

I recently read an article in the Christian Century called "Fibbing about Church." (Christian Century, June 11, 2014, p. 7).  The gist of the article was that, when surveyed, people lie abut their church attendance.  "On any given Sunday, even those with strong connections to a church might well miss worship."  Weekly worship is a thing of the past and "the days of full pews are behind us." So  why do people falsify their worship attendance, when asked?
In person by phone, people are more likely to claim more frequent church attendance than if surveyed online. The gap between the two surveys is attributed to social desirability bias, or the tendency to say "the right thing" or what you think a person wants to hear.  The article suggests that the survey is hopeful in that fibbing about church may mean that people who attend church infrequently may actually want to attend more frequently.  "Some of the people who aren't at church think they should be."  The article suggests that some of the responses are motivated by aspiration and not obligation.  Some people who do not participate, would like to be part of a church community.    
This morning at our regular bible discussion, we talked about attendance.  In a small church, absences are noticeable and make a difference in our life together.  Planning for children in worship is challenging when some Sundays 20 kids are here and some Sundays 2 or 3 kids are here.  We have seen many people's attendance habits change over the past 9 years.  And for those who still participate weekly or more frequently, seeing other people come and go and disappear from the community can be troubling and sad.  So then, we read the parable that Jesus' told some people about participation in the Kingdom/life/ mission of God.  What we read has implications for how we understand ourselves as church in this present context.  

Today's BS text:  Luke 14. 15-24. Jesus said, "Someone gave a great dinner and invited many.  At the time of the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, "Come, for everything is now ready."  But they all alike began to make excuses...So the slave returned and reported  this to the master.  Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, "Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.  And the slave said, "Sir, what you have ordered has been done and there is still room." Then the master said to the slave, "Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled."  What does this mean?
1.  God desires a "full house", all are invited and welcome.
2.  Anyone and everyone is to receive an invitation to the dinner. Include those who are naturally left out, ignored, overlooked, and forgotten.
3.  Excuses and absences do not cancel the event.  There will be a dinner and there will be guests.

So, out of this emerged a way of thinking about faithfulness.  Faithfulness is not showing up when you're invited.  It is not characterized by right behavior,i.e, proper participation. We think of the faithful as those who come to worship and participate in the life of a congregation. The faithful are "the givers." But authentic faithfulness, in this text, is demonstrated by the slave.  In obedience to the master, he or she invites people, any people, all people, poor people, blind people, wealthy and distracted people, I'm-too-busy-for-this people.  Church, at its best, is people gathered at table to be fed by God's abundance.  And it is invitational, open, welcoming, hospitable to those who are typically uninvited.  WE are this Church!  The good news is found in the food we share around one table. God, like the bread we bread, is for everyone.  Period.  This is what it means to be saved by grace. Unearned.  Prepaid.  Free.  No strings.  You show up, you get fed. If you are hungry in any way, you're invited.  You can make excuses. But, in the end, you'll still be hungry. So, stop making excuses and come to the table.
As for the church, we are not the church if we are not---before every gathering---inviting others to join us at the table.  Invitation is our task.  God does the rest.  Church is a people and a place where the hungry are fed. And God is found.  Or maybe we are found by the God who is never absent, always present.  And always making ready to receive you. YOU are the guest at God's banquet.  Not because you are right, worthy, well-bred, rich enough, important enough, or good enough.  You are the guest because God has said so.  And it is by invitation and participation in the meal that we are church.  Nothing more. Nothing less.
So, we gather for dinner together.  And we receive the Eucharist.  We break bread and Jesus is revealed to us and we are forgiven, healed, freed, and made ready to serve others.
So, church, let us exercise the sort of faithfulness embodied by the slave in Jesus' story.  Invite. Compel.  Invite.  For everything is ready.  And the food is good.  Amen.      

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Church is dying

In the past few years, a lot has been published, on blogs, in magazines, in books, about the dying of Christianity in the west. Or the death of western Christendom, depending on who you read. Even today, I read two blogs about church death. There seems to be a great deal of anxiety about this,on the one hand. And I am also hearing a fair bit of acceptance of it on the other. To say the least, there is a grief process, a letting go process, at work in the church.  Annd there is a fair biit of denial taking place that refuses to accept a "climate change" in western culture toward  modern western Christianity.  This shift rejects institutional, scriptural hegemony and authoritative universal claims of truth and morality.  This shift involves the limits of science and the seeemingly boudless output of new technologies. There are no longer competing sources of knowledge for human unnderstanding.  There is a dominant secular world view. And there is a radicalized theological perspective characterized by fundamentalism, religious fanaticism, and theologically justified and religiously practiced intolerance.   Even aas western Christians become mroe secular, the heaart of Christianity  is movving to the global south, where the poorest and most marginalized peoples live.  Those places that wwere colonized by western Christian missionaries in the last couple of centuries have become strong, conservative, growing Christian  movements.  In some ways, christianity is the face of progress in those parts of the world---providing sexual education and human rights for women and children, as well as health care and increased educational opportunities. 
I am a church professional, a pastor, an Evangelical Lutheran pastor. I am almost 40 years old. In that time I have witnessed the mainline decline from the front row.  The mentality among many of my elder colleagues is that "we're losing the war".  First, the non-denominational megachurch phenomenon of the late 20th century seemed to replace us.  All the young people go to ______________church (fill in with your local non-denominational megachurch.  Attractional, personaliity-driven, entertaining, and highly consumeristic these churches appeal to American cultural proclivities.  But the version of church is so American that it loses its spiritual center.  The cross and resurrection of Jesus, his presence in a community gathered around the gospel story, eucharistic fellowship, and prayer have been  neglected in favor of Psalms set to pop music and homogeneous groupings of people who agree on moralistic grounds.  Church becomes a place of moral judgement and rules that govern who is in and who is out.   But even the megachurch expression is losing ground in the U.S., to the nones.
The Nones are the fastest growing religious definition in the U.S.  They are people who are not affiated with any religious group or preference.   Some of them were never affiliated and some of them are disconnected and some of them have abandoned the religious life of their family of origins.   And while mainliners were distracted by church growth and megachurches and the perceived threat to their own congregational systems, we failed to see or hear the hard, necessary truth.  The church, in its late modern, western form, is dying and will die.  It must die.  That is how Jesus Crhist and the church are incarnated over and over again for 2,000 years.  Death and resurrection.  Faith in God reires hope in the face of certain death.  It requires an openness to Spiritual renewal, God at work in a new way to make something new happen that resembles God's ultimate reality, the kingdom or reign of God in, over, with, and for the world.   
I have written about this in my blog before.  Years ago.  I can't even find the post,  its been so long.  I did not, however, set out today to write about the dying or death  of the church as we hhave known  it in the west.  I have already done that and so has pretty much everyone else.  I set out this afternoon to write about life; the Life of the Church.  The resurrection of the church.  I can only tell you what I have seen and heard.  I suspect others can confirm these things.  These are the ways I see church changing.
1. Pope Francis.  Remember, I am a Lutheran---the first ones to reject the papacy and strike out to reform the church in the 16th century.  500 years later, a shift is taking place again.  We are discovering that there is no salvation, no justification by grace through faith, without justice and peace on earth.  The marginalized, poor, and oppressed live longing for a better day.  It is not necessary to baptize a starving and sick child, as much as it is to feed them.  Francis loves the poor with a Christlike love and is calling the church to renew its biblical calling to servve, love, and bless them as Christ hidden in their suffering.  
2. Relational diversity and deep acceptance of the other.  I have seen churches become people of hospitality and welcome that intentionally include addicts, people stuck in poverty, homeless people, gay people, sick and dying people.  I get to be part of a Christian commuity that increasinngly accepts people as they are, beloved children of the same God. 
3.  Koinonia.  The art of community-building.  Churches are building community with artists, musicians, Ex-gang members, ex-offenders.  Multi-lingual, multi-cultural communities.  Churches that are intentionally small, relational, and missional/incarnational expressions of the gospel story, trying to live like the community described in  the book of Acts, in the New Testament.   I see churches plant gardens and feed neighbors.  I see churches build parks and support their public schools.  I see churches teach English and reading classes to immigrants.  I see churches create housing for low income households, and jobs for unemployable adults. 
I bellieve the church is going to be smaller and more vibrant and more contagious and more impactful in the 21st century.  Small, immersed in the culture like infiltrators, bearers of light in a dark place.    If we could just stop talkiing about death-whose dying and why, what a good death is like, and what life support should be-and start living and breathing as the body of the one who died and somehow lived and lives and will live forever among us, so that the church lives forever on earth as sign and sentinel for the age that is coming, then our light will break forth like the dawn. 

 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

on living wages

There is a debate again in our society about the treatment of people in poverty.  Income inequality plagues our nation.  According to Pew Research Center 2012 report, the top 1% of earners take home nearly 22% of all pre-tax income.  The bottom 90% of earners bring home just 49% of all income.  That high concentration  of wealth at the top brings with it a lot of power to assert in the maintenance of their status. The debate continues with concerns about redistribution of wealth.  One of the hot topics right now around income in America is over the minimum wage.  Federally set in 2009 at $7.25 an hour, it fails to provide a suffiicient living wage for millions of Americans.  Democrats, including the President, have called for an increase in the minimum wage to as much as $10.10 an hour.  21 states have already increased minimum wage in the past year.    
 There is an indignity that comes from working full time for a pay check that does not pay enough to feed one's family, pay for adequate housing, and provide for basic health care and transportation costs. It has to do with the human determination to provide adequately and sustainably for ones self and one's immediate family. In America, some people are denied this dignity, often because of circumstances beyond their control.
Generational poverty and lack of real opportunity keep people below potential.  And it begins with children. The bible and our own national history calls us to do better than this.    

"You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns.  You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihoods depends on them;otherwise they might cry to the Lord against you and you would incur guilt." Deuteronomy 24:14.  I'm not someone who uses a highlighter in my bible. I don't underline the parts I like and ignore the parts I don't like.  I think the bible has some things to say to us about how believers in God treat people.  There is a relatively consistent and clear picture that emerges when one considers one sub category of people vis a vis the bible: the poor.  Ethical, compassionate, just treatment of the poor is a significant biblical theme from beginning to end.  Those with wealth and means have a responsibility toward the poor in their midst, to assure their well being.  In the passage I selectively posted above, directed toward employers, workers have a right to be paid for their work in a way that assures them a livelihood.  Both timing and  amount fall into the category of livelihood.  It must be sufficient for the needs of the day.
I live in a county that is mixed with urban, rural, and suburban populations.  There is extreme wealth and poverty in Lancaster county.  This is a county where the working poor struggle.  21% of Lancaster county workers make minimum wage or less. 1 in 5 Lancaster County workers would benefit from a minimum wage increase and they would contribute more to the local economy as a result. People who work full time deserve the dignity of a living wage. It's been 5 years since federal minimum wage was increased. According to an MIT study, a living wage calculation for a family of four living in Lancaster county is $17.31/hour. A single parent household with 3 children must earn the most:$28.84/hour. According to Lancaster city data, 44% of poor households worked full or part-time. 69% of poor households are single-mother households. 1/3 of the poor are children in Lancaster.
The cry of the business community is that increasing minimum wage will force layoffs and other cuts.  They are threatening to unemploy low income workers, rather than pay them a sufficient wage.  
If someone is willing to work a low skill, low pay job to earn a living, they ought to receive a respectable wage.  Raising the wage will increase tax revenue and provide additional spending into local economies, where earners spend their money.  The wealthy will not be penalized by a minimum wage increase, but rather stand to gain greater wealth.  Wealth is created at the bottom and trickles up, not down.   
What would a biblical call for justice for the poor sound like today?  I think it would begin with an invitation to repent from the injustice of income inequality and insist that employers pay their workers living wages.  Six weeks of job training is not going to assure that my family has adequate food and housing today.  And the indignity of life below poverty for those who cannot work is another topic altogether.  Employment is not the only solution to poverty.  Compassion and sacrifice is the way up and the way out.  The walls between the wealthy and the poor must be demolished.  Empathy must be established.  And resources must be shared effectively and fairly.  
I am a Lutheran Pastor.  I am called to announce good news to the poor.  I cannot offer hope without a fight for justice.  I know too many children who are uncertain about their next meal or their next home.  Not in Honduras or Haiti, but right here.       

Friday, April 18, 2014

Maundy Thursday and sacramental Christians

Tonight we begin the preparations for his death and burial. He prepares us, really.  Food, last words, gentle acts of humble service and care. Tonight is a series of preparatory moves; beginning with confession and forgiveness, moving to the waters where feet that have walked with him are washed and healed; finishing with the supper that became his signature practice. Tonight is how Jesus demonstrates the act of grace---God dwelling deep in our flesh, uniting with us in simple acts of love. Tonight the sacraments are born, instituted, established.  So…here are:
7  things everyone should know about the sacraments.
1.  There are really three.  Baptism. Communion.  The office of the keys or confession.  Tonight we experience a rare combination of all three.  Footwashing is a cleaning, a regeneration, and a sharing in Christ’s suffering (a kind of baptismal act).  Confession and absolution completes the 40 day fast of Lent and prepares our souls for resurrection life in God’s kingdom.  Communion is a participation with the disciples in the last supper and the new covenant established in his death and resurrection.
        2.  Sacraments are commanded by Lord Jesus.     “Go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them all that I have commanded you.”  “Do this in remembrance of me”. “I give you a new commandment.  Love one another as I have loved you.”  About confession’ Luther said, “Here reflect on your place in life in light of the ten commandments: whether you are father, mother, son, daughter, employer, employee:  whether you have been disobedient, unfaithful, lazy; whether you have harmed anyone by word or deed; whether you have stolen, neglected, wasted, or injured anyone.
3.      3.  Sacraments carry with them the promises of God.  “The one who believes and is baptized will be saved.” Mark 16. Luther says that baptism brings about the forgiveness of sis, redeems from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe it, as the Word and promise of God declare.  He calls baptism a bath into a new birth in the Holy Spirit.  Communion carries with it the promise that it is “for you” and “for me”.  Jesus is for us and for our salvation.  Jesus intends for us to live whole, right, good, and faithful lives now and forever.  Baptism and communion physically unite us with Jesus’ body.  He is spiritually in the water, in the bread and wine.  So, he comes into us as we wash, eat, and drink. To get closer to Jesus one only needs to participate in these acts.    
4.      4.  Ordinary things carry the power of God to heal, to forgive, to save.  Jesus gives ordinary earthly elements divine properties.  Water, bread, fruit of the vine:  These are ever present on the earth.  They are building blocks of life really.  And they are signs to us that God is not up in heaven, in a royal palace, untouchable, unknowable.  God is present in these real tangible ways.  Immersed in, infused into these very real, very physical, very simple things.
5.      5.  It’s not magic.  Its faith.  We take Jesus at his word.  We say it is because he said it is. We believe because believing makes a difference.  It is a basic acceptance of a thing; like gravity or spring flowers or summer heat.  It just is.  Trust it and God will give you something.  That’s why babies and children are great examples of faith; they receive.  It’s not mechanical or philosophical.  It doesn’t require special knowledge, proofs, or evidence. It is mystery how Jesus becomes bread, wine, and water. Resurrection frees him to be present to us in these obvious and ordinary ways.     
6.      6.  They’re easy to share.  Because they are natural and safe. Because access is so easily granted us, and because we are the only obstacles to sharing them…the benefits have been experienced and acknowledged for centuries.  The command is clear.  And there are plenty of people who have not yet been offered these gifts, we are compelled by love to do so.  Tonight. This weekend and every week.
7.      7.  Pastors administer them.  God calls men and women to their service, not as protectors or gatekeepers; but as distributors and agents of invitation. We get to play host at a meal that is not mine.  We get to be deliverers of much needed good news to people estranged from God, wounded, broken, suffering in systems of injustice that alienate, accuse, judge, and condemn.  Longing for peace, real peace---shalom---wholeness, honesty, health, loving relationships, goodness---pastors get shepherd people to the waters and the bread of life.

So, tonight we receive the sacraments. He prepares us for death and new life.  He invites us to participate in his life, his death, his resurrection over and over again. As we enter into the story of his passion and death, may you enter with the strength and comfort of having received grace, love, and the forgiveness of all your sins.  Amen.  

On the 6th Day

 It is Good Friday.  The Sabbath has already begun, for darkness has fallen here tonight.  But at the hour of his death, on the day of preparation for the Sabbath, on the day when the Passover lambs were slaughtered in Jerusalem, it was still Friday and the sixth day of the week.  According to the story of creation, the sixth day is the day we were born.  On the sixth day, God said let us create humans in our image.  In the image of God, God created them.  Male and female.  And God said, “it is very good.”  On the sixth day, human kind comes into existence.  It is the final creative act, according to Genesis.  For on the 7th day, God rests.  The work of creation is completed and yet, there is a deeper reality at work that threatens; the darkness and chaos press against the goodness and the light.  They threaten to drown what God has made in the struggle for power and control.  Made in God’s image, we imagine ourselves too much like gods. Selfishly greedy, with insatiable appetites for more than our fair share that must be protected by violent opposition toward any human threat to our liberty.  The current debates in our culture over guns and gays is about power and control. Who has it?  Who should have it?  Me, you, them, us, the government?  In our superior egotism, we forget our vulnerabilities, our fallibilities, our mortality collectively earned and evenly distributed to all.  We forget that what we do unto others, we are doing to ourselves.  We let the chaos and the darkness in.  In our politics, in our private thoughts, in our foolish games, we let the darkness overwhelm us.  We let the chaos of a thousand mass shootings, of unending war, of intractable poverty, of tyrannical injustices too many to name, too painful to ignore and too entangling to fight overwhelm us.  To avoid the nakedness, we cover ourselves in shame.  We say “there is no God” while we play and work and self-medicate with toys and sex and food and drugs and treadmills and unworthy, vain pursuits.  We run from the light like blind moles emerging from winter’s earthen depths only to retreat at the touch of the sun’s rays.  We shop and watch and drive at the expense of hungry, dying children.  We take sides and blame and judge to protect ourselves and hold our own power over them.  We cast out, we oppress, we abuse and neglect.  We lash out and ignore.  What have we become but the shadows of our true selves? No longer innocent babes.  We have grown up, but we have not matured. We have not embraced the truth of our identities.  When faced with the reality of the God who dwells with and in us, we put him to death.             
On the sixth day, the man of God, the son of God, the Word of God who was with God in the beginning, is put to death on a cross.  He is shamefully executed by the government and religious powers.  Their authority was established by the will of the people who cried out, “Crucify him.”  On the sixth day, the crowning achievement of God’s good creation goes the way every single one of God’s children has gone; by the way of death; death that is the fruit of human sin; turning away from God to serve ourselves.  “We have no king but Caesar,” is to admit total infidelity to the creator God and full allegiance with Tiberias—who called himself son of God.  On a Friday afternoon, the sixth day, darkness and chaos close in and push God out, swallowing Him up and ending His life.  They extinguish the light of the world.  They lay waste the bread of life and pour out the living waters.  And as he hangs on the cross, life draining from his broken and pierced body he says, “It is finished.”  That which God started on the sixth day of creation, divine fellowship with humankind,  is completed in the death of Jesus.  God enters creation and loves creation so completely that God dies with creation; so that creation can be fully restored, healed, made whole.  On the cross, God makes peace with us.  Jesus finishes the work of creation by claiming death as the portal out of the darkness and chaos and into the light and life of God. Tomorrow, we must rest.  Because, on the 8th day the new creation begins. 
   



  

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

the one about the bones

Can these bones live?  Can the dead live?  Can those bound in the dark silence of the tomb breathe again? Can those whose lives are cut short be given another chance?  
There is a fascination with life after death.  From “The Walking Dead” to Zombie Apocalpyse, Vampire Diaries to Resurrection popular TV is a reflection of popular culture’s interest in the mystery and uncertainty of the future.  But neither the ancient Jews nor the first Christians were concerned only with the question; is there a personal life after death?  Their understanding of resurrection, the restoration of life, was about the dire present circumstances of the whole community of God’s faithful and whether there would be vindication for them after long-suffering. 
Ezekiel the prophet speaks to the exiled Jewish community in despair.  They longed for days of freedom.  They remembered Jerusalem before the great day of destruction.  And now they were living in a foreign land, deported from their homeland; their holy city and God’s holy temple destroyed.  It was the middle of the 6th century BC.  The Babylonian empire had conquered Israel, destroyed the temple, left the weak to die, deported the strong to Babylon.  When Ezekiel prophesies (a word which means one who publicly announces the Word of God), to Israel, he prophesies to a people who had seen death and grave loss.  They were desolate, lost, deep in despair.  They assumed their history, their way of life, had been destroyed forever.  God has abandoned them to die in a foreign country.  They were in bondage, captives to a people who did not know their God and their story.  Who were they apart from David’s city and solomon’s temple?  Their great story of Passover and liberation, a story that was meant to bring hope, brought sorrow.  Where was God now?  Their hope was gone. 
The Valley of Dry Bones symbolizes Israel’s hopeless sense of abandonment.  Their God had left them to die.  But, Ezekiel announces that the Ruah, the Spirit breath of God, was about to return to them.  The community would be restored.  Not because they were righteous, faithful, or pious. But because God is faithful and merciful and good.   Because God’s love for Israel was eternal.  The community would be restored as a holy people, the covenant restored by God for them.  And so God does restore them.  And Jerusalem is rebuilt.  And there is peace.  For a time. 
But 500 years pass and the people are in bondage again.  This time it is the Roman empire that violently oppresses with military force and high taxation.  They kill rebels and crucify messiahs.  And although the temple has been restored, it has been corrupted by money changers and turned into a system of economic oppression that benefited a few and hurt many.  And the nation is torn apart.  Some want to rise up and wage war.  Others want to quietly obey the Torah and pray for God to send a deliverer.  There was much suffering and senseless death. Jesus and the church emerge in this context. There is death because of poverty and violence.  
A brother died.  We do not know Lazarus’ story. How did he get sick? What illness overcame him and led to his death?  Jesus was familiar with this family, Mary and Martha and Lazarus of Bethany.  They had shown hospitality to Jesus.  And he cared for them like sisters.  And a brother.  But when he died, Jesus was off with his disciples.  If he had been there, perhaps he could’ve done something to save him.  That is the accusation leveled against Jesus.  His absence was almost as responsible for death as the disease itself.  Doctors take mortality seriously, seemingly holding life in their hands sometimes. Jesus had stayed away and Lazarus had died.  And although Jesus suggests that his death is a sign of God's life-giving power, it seems that he is too late.  Now it was four days later.  Past the point of return.  And yet, he arrives and promises more than a hopeful future.  Not "one day you will reunite in heaven."  He promises them life.  Resurrection.  Now.  In that hour. Our "too late" becomes God's "right now". 
And so, with a loud voice he raises Lazarus.  Lazarus emerges.  Alive.  Not so that the people can believe that heaven is for real.  But so that they might believe that Jesus is the son of God come to save the world from sin and death.   And he calls the community to unbind him and set him free. 
Can the dead live?  When we think about these two stories, death is linked with despair and hopelessness.  It is linked with "too late".  Who lives with such despair today?  Who are the living dead? Who are bound by injustice and oppression?  Who are hopeless? We aren’t.  We are safe and privileged and healthy.  The bible was written by those on the bottom of the human pyramid. The bible was written in the blood and suffering of martyrs.  We are not them.  How can we say it is our story? It is the story of those who are stepped on, abused, hated, rejected, cursed, unjustly treated. It is the story of the jews facing the gas chambers at Auschwitz.  It is the story of Native Americans facing extermination; of Rwandan Genocide.  It is the story of people who are stripped of human dignity and the possibility of a good, whole, and healthy life.  We may think of people in poverty, people dealing with oppressive governments, people living through the hell of war.  We may think of children living through famine, seeing death every day.  We may think of 2 million incarcerated Americans, the free-est country in the world incarcerates the most people.  Over 3, 000 Americans face life sentences without parole for nonviolent offenses. They do so in states where there are mandatory sentencing guidelines for multiple offenders.  Mostly they are drug-related offenses.  Are drugs nonviolent?  Perhaps not.  Nevertheless, the U.S, incarcerates a higher percentage of its citizens than any other country.  Can these bones live?  Hundreds of thousands of people are deported from the U.S. every year.  Families are divided.  Children watch their parents get deported.  People who have lived and worked here and paid taxes here without opportunity to apply for citizenship are deported.  1,200 people every day.  One of the largest detention centers for illegal immigrants is in York County.  A nation of immigrants has made it very hard for immigrants to become citizens. And so they live in fear.  Can these bones live?
We live in an age where there is reason to despair.  With all of our advances in medicine and science and technology, some people live with privileges that others are denied because of their skin color, their sexual orientation, their economic status.  We live in an age where food can be wasted in one house, while people hunger in the next one.  We live in an age where wealthy business owners build mansions in Manheim Township while a single mom and her 4 month old face eviction and homelessness.  Can these bones live?  
The bible was written in and for a community of people.  It is not a rule book for individuals.  It is community’s story, a national charter, a corporate manifesto.  It is the message, voice, and intention of God. It is a covenant between God and people.  WE are called to take up the prophetic work of setting the oppressed free. You will ask, but how? I cannot answer that.  God will breathe it into us.  God speaks and the dead listen.  We must shout against it. Death threats, incarcerations, what have you they will not prevent God’s people from saying what is true.  God desires that the oppressed, the poor, the imprisoned, the detained and deported will be free. We must not silently and idly stand by while injustice reigns.  We must stand for hope and truth and justice. One day it will be so.    Can these bones live?  Yes, they can.  Make it so, O Lord. Make it so.  Amen.