Fight Hate Live Love

Tree of Life

Tree of LifeWoke up this morning thinking about the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Another shooting. Another place of safety violated. Another community rocked to its core. More families in pain and grief.

Yesterday, before a funeral, a church member came up to ask if I had heard about the shooting. He asked me, “What is wrong with our world?”

What is wrong with our world?
I’ve thought about that
… a lot.

So here it is. In a nutshell, this is what is wrong with our world: us versus them. The belief that the “other” — ethnic group, nationality, religion, party affiliation, gender, whatever — the belief that “they” are somehow less than “us.”

There is no them.
Only us.

Because we are ALL messed up, broken people, just trying to live in this messed up, broken world. And, at the same time, we are ALL beloved children of God… the God who finds actions like this shooting appalling and heartbreaking.

So…
Fight Hate. Live Love.
And don’t stop.

May the Lord bless you and protect you.
May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord show you his favor
and give you his peace.
(Numbers 6:24-26)

Fight Hate Live Love

River of Life, Bread of Heaven

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Message for World Communion Sunday, October 7, 2018

Luke 22:14-23 (NIV)
When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.

_________________

Two years ago
standing on the bank of the Jordan River
on a path worn down
by the passage of centuries of feet
Looking out at the water rushing by

I wondered
Could this be where
it all began

Hundreds of miles of shoreline
so the likelihood wasn’t high
but
somewhere along those shores
somewhere along that river
Jesus had stood
looking out at the water
rushing by

And so
I wondered

Could this be where Jesus stood
Could his feet have rested where mine
now made an impression in the muddy bank
Could this be where he walked
down the slope
his feet entering the cold water
wading out to where his cousin John waited
Could this be where it all began
Could this be where Jesus was baptized
_________________

Standing on the bank of the Jordan River
on a path worn down
by the passage of centuries of feet
Looking out at water rushing by
and thinking

This beautiful world
populated by beautiful people
made in the image of God

Daily I am amazed by the
beauty I see
in the world around me
in the kindness of strangers
in the laugh of a child
in a smile set amongst deep wrinkles

That beauty, though,
that image of God
all too often
seems overlaid
with a sharp patina
tainted sullied
damaged

This beautiful world
created by God
filled with beautiful people
created by God

and yet
we see
and experience
cruelty
disregard
callousness and care-less-ness

where human beings
become less than we are
less than we could be
less than we should be
where the image of God
is covered over
with something
quite else entirely

While this spirit inside me
longs for something pure
and holy and spotless
and joy-filled
while it longs for what is
clean and good and true

All around us the world
seems to clamor loudly for
clear-cut divisions
people
analyzed and judged
and neatly wrapped up into
unambiguous categories
of “us” and “them”

Nevermind the damage done
to the people placed
so firmly
on one side of the dividing line
or the other

Nevermind the damage done
to relationships
to communities
to countries
to the world

The lines are drawn
The sides are taken

The image of God
in each other
no longer recognized
no longer looked for
no longer seen
_________________

Standing on the bank of the Jordan River
on a path worn down
by the passage of centuries of feet
Looking out at the water rushing by
I pondered

Jesus came willingly
into that ancient, 2000-years-ago world
a world that was deeply divided

divided by politics
divided by religion
divided by financial status
by ethnicity
by race
by language
by gender
by ability
by age

And I wondered
would Jesus
born into that ancient world
in a distant land
would he
recognize his world
in ours

We who are
so deeply divided

divided by politics
divided by religion
divided by financial status
by ethnicity
by race
by language
by gender
by ability
by age

Jesus’ world
in many ways
not so different from ours

Jesus came willingly into that world
to show a different way
an alternative way
a better
life-sustaining way

He came to challenge
the self-sufficiency of the time
He came to disrupt the complacency
to confront the cruelty
to oppose the callousness
to expose the injustice

He poked and prodded and provoked
He risked scandal and censure

Without a thought
for his own comfort
for his own preferences
his own safety
_________________

In Christ’s family
In this family
There is no one in
No one out
No insider no outsider

In Christ’s family
In this family
There are only
children of God

In the deepest place in me
in the truest part of who I am
I long for this
I long for a place

where the divisions of the world
are put aside

where each person
is known and valued and loved

where flaws are seen
and challenged
but never judged

where cruelty is replaced
with compassion

where judgment is replaced
with understanding

where corruption is replaced
with justice

where difficult truths are told
in deeply embedded love

where
perfection is never expected
but always sought

which is only
only
only possible
through Christ

In Christ’s family
In this family
we are a church for all people

I long for this
I long for this place
this water
this table
this forgiveness
this joy
this peace
_________________

Standing somewhere
along the banks of the Jordan River
on a path worn down
by the passage of centuries of feet

As Jesus walked down to the river
As his feet entered the cold water
As he prepared to be baptized
As he began his public ministry

In that moment
Did Jesus pause
Did he look out at the water rushing by
and think

about all that lay ahead
about all that that moment
would set in motion
Moving as inexorably forward
as the water
in that never pausing
Jordan River?

Did he think about
his life
which would be given
for us

Teaching
and healing
and challenging
and forgiving
and
loving

Jesus would spend his life
for us

All
leading up to a meal
shared with his friends
on the last night
of his life

This meal
which we celebrate
together
this day

This meal
which we share
with Christ-followers
across the world
on this
World Communion Sunday

A meal
which took simple bread
and declared it to be holy
“My body,”
he cried,
“Broken for you.”

A meal
which took simple wine
and declared it to be holy
“My blood,”
he declared,
“poured out for you.”

Why would Jesus do this
for us
Why would he give so much
for us
Why would he give
it all

for us
for you
for me

Why would Jesus do this

Jesus saw
a people
not defined by politics
not defined by religion
not defined by financial status
by ethnicity
by race
by language
not defined by gender
by ability
by age

Jesus saw
instead
the image of God
in you
in me
perhaps
somewhat sullied
perhaps
not quite luminous

But Jesus saw
that image of God
still
there

Still

It cannot be taken away
from you
It cannot be put aside
I cannot be lost

And for that
Jesus was willing

to give it
all

My body, he said, broken for you
My blood, poured out for you

And so
we come here this morning
together
recognizing the brokenness
of our lives
our families
our community
our church
our world

We come here knowing
that we have a God
who meets us here

at this water
at this table

Standing
somewhere
along the banks of the Jordan River
on a path worn down
by the passage of centuries of feet
Jesus walked down to the river
for a baptism meant to
cleanse from sin
not his sin
not his mistakes
not his

Jesus walked down to the river
for a baptism meant to
cleanse
our sin

Yours
Mine

Standing here
coming forward
on a spiritual path worn
by the passage of centuries of feet

Together we come
with the children of God
stretched across this globe

Together we come
to surrender to God’s care
to accept God’s forgiveness
to rejoice in God’s love

Thanks be to God!

Fight Hate Live Love

July ’18 Social Media Challenge!

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Our social media pages are overflowing with negativity and anger right now. Friendships have already been damaged by online disagreements that blossomed into knock-down-drag-out virtual fights. Already existing tensions in families have escalated, as sides are taken and heels dug in with postings of  memes, posts, videos, and articles. Churches are being damaged by the vilification of one “side” or the other as theologically-backward or misguided.

Frankly, all this both deeply saddens me and kinda pisses me off. Because I’m watching people God created and loves saying terrible, hurtful things to other people God created and loves.

And that’s just messed up.

And that is not the world I want to live in.

And that is not the world
I believe God created for us to live in.

Recently, a Facebook friend wrote a beautiful post about this. Her words were too perfect to paraphrase, so I’ll share a portion here. Clara wrote:

“If we don’t like someone’s political beliefs, we attack. If we don’t like their religious beliefs we attack or criticize, thinking and saying our religious beliefs are better than theirs. If they have no religious beliefs, we attack. If we don’t like the color of their skin or their heritage we attack. If someone celebrates their heritage and it’s something we disagree with we attack. If we don’t like someone’s life style, we attack. If we don’t like how someone drives we scream and tailgate and get angry and we attack, either verbally or by the way drive by them glaring or flip them off. If we don’t like how someone looks we attack. If we don’t like how they raise their children we attack. If we don’t like how someone serves us or chooses not to serve us, we attack. If we don’t like…….. it never seems to end.”

So… here’s a challenge for you, inspired by Clara…

Let’s make July 2018
the month to STOP
the downward, degrading cycle.

Through our social media,
let’s FIGHT HATE + LIVE LOVE instead!

For the month of July — for a mere 31 straight days — commit to putting up positive, loving posts on your social media. Share things that are inspiring, heartening, and Jesus’-gospel-true. Let your voices be heard in ways that are healing and hope-filled.

Caveat: This does not mean that you need to be silent about the issues that you are so passionate about … no no nonono … far from it! Just be thinking and praying about ways you can share your thoughts online in ways that don’t attack or denigrate or alienate.

Why do this? How can changing the tone and focus of our posts possibly make a difference in a world so obsessed by negativity and hate?

Admittedly, it really is a little thing. Just one small act of living love in the midst of all the hate. But, remember: when we buy into the negativity, the anger, the cyber-aggression, when we join the fray, we are helping to create a world that focuses on what is ultimately unhealthy for us all.

So every act, no matter how seemingly small, can make a difference! And not just for those who see our posts and comments… but for our own spirits, as well. In a letter to a church that he loved, the Apostle Paul wrote this:

Fix your thoughts on what is true,
and honorable, and right,
and pure, and lovely, and admirable.
Think about things that are
excellent and w
orthy of praise.
Keep putting into practice all you
learned and received from me —
everything you heard from me and saw me doing.
Then the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9, NLT

The Greek word for “peace” used in that last line is eirene. It has the same meaning as the Hebrew word shalom: peace, wholeness, completeness. It means all the disparate pieces being tied into a beautiful whole.

I don’t know about you, but I sure think our world needs a bit of that eirene right about now…

So… what do you think?
Are you in?

#fighthatelivelove #July2018

Fight Hate Live Love

No More

Stoneman Douglas - AP Photo
Parents wait for news after a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. | Joel Auerbach

The church where I serve as Senior Pastor is just a few miles south of Stoneman Douglas High School, where yesterday seventeen people were murdered, many others injured, and countless more deeply traumatized.

I am heartbroken. Again. And I’m just so damn tired of being heartbroken. This is the eighth school shooting in the United States that resulted in death or injury in 2018 alone. We are only forty-eight days into the year, and already eighteen incidents have been reported of guns going off inside schools.

Yes, I am so very, very heartbroken.
We need to pray.
We need to seek God’s guidance and wisdom.

But it doesn’t — it can’t! — stop there.

We need to fight hate (taking actions that confront hate) and live love (taking actions that demonstrate God’s love). We must take what we say with our lips and believe in our hearts… and DO something with it!

So… what action am I taking this day after February 14 2018, after Ash Wednesday, after Valentine’s Day, after the shooting at Stoneman Douglas? I am letting my government’s leaders know where I stand. It’s one thing I can do, right now, as I also look for more ways to help.

You can, too.
Let your voice be heard.

Write to your government leaders

#fighthate #livelove

Fight Hate Live Love

Faith Like a Child

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Mark 10:13-16 (New International Version)
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

Several years ago, I was stuck in the Orlando airport, waiting for a long-delayed flight back to Washington. I had been in Orlando for a meeting, but we all know that the Orlando airport is really the Disney airport. Waiting in the terminal with me there were a ton of families with small children. When we heard about the first flight delay at about noon, we all settled in, taking out our phones, tablets, books. The parents took out coloring books for the kids, or bags of Cheerios.

But after about an hour, the kids were restless. They had had constant Disney-fied entertainment for many days, and now this delay was wreaking havoc on their little overstimulated brains.

Then I saw it happen. One little boy crossed between the seats to make friends with another little boy seated with his family. They started playing together with their toy cars. Then a little girl joined them, and a boy loaned her one of his extra cars. Their giggles and squeals of delight attracted more children. And then more.

These kids didn’t all speak the same language. But giggles sound the same in every country. They didn’t all look alike. They were a beautiful array of different colors. They certainly didn’t all know each other before that day. They were strangers to one another.

But you know what? They couldn’t have cared less.

I remember thinking: Right there. Right there is what the Kingdom of God looks like. Children of God, from many different kinds of backgrounds, many different cultures, all coming together, to enjoy each other, to share with each other, to love and appreciate each other, and to help each other get through the difficult patches of life.

The Kingdom of God
… about which Jesus talked so often.

In the above scripture passage from the 10th chapter of Mark, we see families bringing their children to see Jesus. Many of these families may have traveled a long distance, and not in the comfort of an air-conditioned car or plane.

But this was an important journey for these parents. It was common to bring young children to the rabbi to receive a blessing. The parents have probably heard about Jesus’ teachings and miracles, and they want their beloved children to receive a blessing from this incredibly powerful man. How disappointed they must have been to hear Jesus’ disciples say that Jesus was too busy.

The disciples weren’t trying to be mean. They truly believed that Jesus was too occupied with “important” issues to bless these children. They don’t even bother to tell Jesus that the families are there. They started to shoo them away.

Before the disciples can send the families on their way, Jesus calls out and demands that the children be brought to him.

The Message translation of Mark 10:14-16 reads like this:
“Don’t push these children away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.” Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them.

Can you imagine a more beautiful picture? Jesus, picking up each child gently, resting his hand upon their heads, and giving them a blessing.

But Jesus’ followers must have been confused. Children in their society were not considered to be full human beings. They were of very low status, and usually were just kept out of the way. But Jesus pulls them center stage, and then — shockingly — uses them as an example of how we all should be.

Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.

But what does it mean for us to accept the kingdom of God like a little child?

It starts with trust. And that has never been more important.

Because, let’s be honest, our world right now has some serious, legitimate trust issues. Our news is tragically filled with stories of distrust. And that distrust is erupting in anger and violence. Flick on your TV, and you’ll see suspicion and pain and confusion. Open up the newspaper, and you’ll read stories about yet another tragic shooting, another life lost, another family in grief. Turn on your computer, and you’ll see headlines about unrest, chaos, injustice, suffering, abuse.

I have absolutely not one tiny bit of doubt that this deeply grieves our God. Watching children of God harm and kill other children of God. Witnessing human beings made in God’s image doing terrible harm to other human beings made in God’s image. This is not what our loving God has in mind for God’s children.

So how do we respond? How do we trust in the midst of such painful distrust? What would it mean for us fight hate, to live love, to be a witness of childlike trust in the midst of a culture of distrust? And where do we even begin?

Kel'sKidsI have an image of trust in my head that I’d like to share with you today. My sister-in-law Kelly has seven kids, but back in 2003 there were just four of them: Sydney, Jesse, Andrew, and Liam. I loved going over to Kel’s house to visit them. It was always joyfully chaotic in that house. One day I walked in (the front door was always unlocked) and headed up the stairs.

Kelly shouted out that she was in the kitchen. I stood at the base of the short stairway that led up to the kids’ bedrooms, and yelled out a hello. Andrew, the oldest, came out first. He ran down the steps, gave me a hug, then went into the kitchen. Next came little Liam, the youngest, tottering down the steps. I picked him up and held him in a hug on my right hip. Next was Sydney, at that time the only girl. She ran down, too, and I scooped her up on my other hip.

Then Jesse peeked his head around the bedroom door. He had a devilish look in his big brown eyes. He stood at the end of the hallway, crouched down in a starting position, and then took off. Holding Liam on one hip and Sydney on the other, I suddenly realized that Jesse was going to leap off the top of the stairs, and come flying through the air to me.

It was one of those moments when time slows down. I can still picture the look of wild joy on his face as he raced towards me. And the feeling of panic that I had. I quickly dropped Sydney to her feet, and leaned over to put Liam down, standing back up just as Jesse reached the top step, and caught air with his arms reached out to me.

I caught him. He gave me a hug and a kiss, then shrugged out of my arms and followed his big brother into the kitchen. It all happened in about 10 seconds.

But here’s the thing. Jesse trusted me. In his face there was no shadow of doubt. He knew — he trusted — that his aunt would safely catch him. Because he knew that what would make me happiest would be to pull him into my arms, kiss his little forehead, and give him a big, huge hug. Because he trusted in my love for him.

That is childlike trust. I found this definition of trust online: to have complete confidence in; to rely or depend on; to expect confidently.

Our world has lost — if it ever really had it at all — the ability to trust like that. To trust in God. To trust in each other. In some cases to even trust in ourselves.

It’s no wonder that people are reacting out of their pain, when there is no foundation of grace and forgiveness and love on which to fall safely back.

Ever since I read Stride Toward Freedom, Martin Luther King, Jr. has been one of my spiritual heroes. Before I even became a Christian in the late 90s, I listened to a compilation of his beautiful, wise sermons.

Several times over these past few difficult years for our country and our world, this quote has popped up on my Facebook feed, posted by people all around the globe: “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding a deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

mlk

That sounds great. I mean really, really great. And it is! But it is only when we trust in God’s care for us, that we can do exactly what Dr. King implores us to do.

It is when we trust God’s love that we can have the boldness to face hatred with love. Only when we trust God’s promises that we can return peace for violence. Only when we trust in God’s guidance that we can carry light into the darkness.

It’s only when we trust that deeply that, like my nephew Jesse, we can with complete confidence leap into whatever God has in mind for us.

Because we know that God will be there already,
waiting for us with open arms.

As I pray for our world, begging God to help us, Proverbs 3:5-6 has been guiding my prayers:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
lean not on your own understanding.
Acknowledge him in all your ways,
and he will direct your paths.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart.” That word for “heart” in Hebrew is leb. It means far more than just feelings. It means who you are in your innermost self. It is the very core of who you are.

Trust in the Lord with your entire being, with all of yourself. Without reserve, with full confidence, with eager expectation of God’s doing something amazing. That is childlike trust in God.

When we trust in God’s love for us, God can use us in powerful ways. We can boldly step in to offer our support to people in pain as a reflection of God love for us. We can offer peace and healing in answer to violence. We can fight against injustice with bold grace.

Having that kind of trust gives rise to a powerful witness to the world.

It can turn enemies into allies.
Darkness into light.
Strangers into friends.
A world in pain into the Kingdom of God on earth.

#fighthate #livelove