The Radical Hospitality of Jesus

This sermon was preached on February 19, 2017 at First Presbyterian Church in Red Wing, MN by Rev. Greg Bolt. The sermon text was Luke 7: 36-50 and was entitled, "The Radical Hospitality of Jesus." 

Right after seminary, I was working as a temp at a law office. I was in one of those cubicle mazes and sat at a desk all day, filing things, and entering data into databases. It was riveting. The woman that worked in the cubicle next to me would often strike up conversations, eventually we got around to the fact that I had just graduated from seminary and that I was on the way to becoming a pastor in the Presbyterian Church. We talked a little about church but the conversation died pretty quickly after she found out I was a pastor. This is not uncommon, but one thing she said has stuck with me for the last decade. She said, “I grew up going to church, but I have to get my life together and once that happens I can get back to going to church.”

What I wanted to say was, “NO! NO! NO! Church is the place where you can go when your life is falling or has fallen apart, church is a place to find healing, church is a place where you can say, the hard thing, where you can confess, where you can be real, where you can be forgiven, where you can be loved just as you are and loved enough not to stay that way.”

I think I said, “Oh well, I’m sure you could go back to church now.” Then we both turned back to our work and went on about our day.

Unfortunately, I think her perception is the perception of many. They perceive, rightly or not, that they will be judged, if they darken the doors of the church before they’ve “figured it all out.”. This woman was a single mother, she had a few tattoos, and from what I could tell of her office stories she didn’t live the holiest life. One might say, she was “a woman in that town who lived a sinful life.” But to be honest, which one of us hasn’t.

If the church isn’t a place that we can welcome anyone, then we have lost what I believe to be a core message of, not only our Holy Scriptures, but of all Abrahamic faiths, radical hospitality. The willingness to be open, to be accepting, to welcome in all comers, the stranger, the immigrant, the refugee, the foreigner is a key tenant of our faith. That radical hospitality allows us to create a space for people to feel comfortable being themselves, being real, being authentic. Radical hospitality allows a space for people to let go of the shame of “should ofs”, the guilt of “what might of beens”, the disgust of “I knew betters”. Radical hospitality allows us to bring our history with us, it allows us to deal with our history, and it reminds us that we are loved beyond measure. God loves us, warts and all.

In our scripture reading today, Simon the Pharisee, a religious leader, has invited Jesus to dine in his home. Suddenly, an uninvited, unnamed woman appears who is described simply as a “sinner in the city.” Without speaking, she weeps, wets Jesus’ feet with her tears, wipes them with her hair, kisses them, and anoints them with perfumed oil.

There are many ways to look at this story, I first want to talk about, how this woman of ill repute gets into this dinner, like many commentators explain this as a custom of symposium, a public place in a large home where people are invited to come and talk about big issues, some talk, some listen, but the crowd is often a mix of various people from various classes, groups, and perspectives. That explains how she got in, now I want to talk about what she did, in contrast to what the Pharisee did.

She offered Jesus the ritual of hospitality, first the washing of his feet, with her tears, then she offered him a holy kiss, a kiss of welcome, and she anointed his feet with oil. This lavish hospitality is at the core of first century Palestinian culture, the oversight by the “religious leader” is egregious to say the least. Normally in his case, a servant would have done this ritual, he was/is above it, it is for others beneath him. Whereas she comes to Jesus, just as she is, she knows who she is, she knows her reputation, she knows her own sin, and yet she come to Jesus offering him hospitality as a form of repentance.

Simon, the Pharisee, appears not to believe he needs repentance, he acts as if Jesus allowing this woman to touch him was shameful. He thinks to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

Often when we sit in places of privilege we think that we don’t need repentance. We are where we are because God shined God’s light on us, or some other such idolatry. It’s far easier to point out how other people need repentance than our own issues. Jesus tells a parable about repentance and forgiveness. We all have debts, we are all in need of repentance the rich, the powerful, the poor, the powerless. As the Apostle Paul says, “We all fall short of the glory of God.”

The woman’s sins maybe different than the Pharisee’s but both of sinned. Most readily we see that the Pharisee has committed the sin of inhospitality, which is high on the list of terrible things you can do according to the Hebrew Bible. In Ezekiel, it is said that the sin of Sodom inhospitality. Radical hospitality is not a suggestion it is a mandate.

Radical hospitality is also terrifying. If anyone can walk through your doors, the anyone can walk through your doors. Registered sex offenders, felons, children, families, old people, young people, conservatives, liberals, sinners, holier than thous, loud mouths, the disabled, transgender people, haters, lovers, on an on. Radical hospitality is not safe.

In fact that radical hospitality is laid out pretty distinctly in, our denomination, the Presbyterian Church USA’s constitution, not only for our churches but for our nation. In the Book of Confessions, part 1 of our constitution, in the Confession of 1967 it says in Part 4 paragraph B.

“b. God’s reconciliation in Jesus Christ is the ground of the peace, justice, and freedom among nations which all powers of government are called to serve and defend. The church, in its own life, is called to practice the forgiveness of enemies and to commend to the nations as practical politics the search for cooperation and peace. This search requires that the nations pursue fresh and responsible relations across every line of conflict, even at risk to national security, to reduce areas of strife and to broaden international understanding. Reconciliation among nations becomes peculiarly urgent as countries develop nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, diverting their manpower and resources from constructive uses and risking the annihilation of mankind. Although nations may serve God’s purposes in history, the church which identifies the sovereignty of any one nation or any one way of life with the cause of God denies the Lordship of Christ and betrays its calling.”

Sometimes, when we read this we can say, “YEAH our nation should be more welcoming!” We should welcome refugees and immigrants, we should be hospitable to them because that would lead to less war, less conflict, and more harmony, more love.

The question is, what are we doing to display the radical hospitality of Jesus? What are you doing? What can we do in Red Wing, MN to create an environment of radical welcome? What will we do to create an atmosphere of love and trust where people can be themselves, their true selves, not their “Church Selves” not their best foot forward selves?

If we are able to find, to create, a space for people to be vulnerable, to be authentic, we can let go of the shame of our sins, we can talk about our shortcomings, our what might of beens, our should haves, and move more fully towards repentance. We can turn to God, with all that we are, with our whole heart, and finally love ourselves, so that we can love our neighbor

May it be so.

 

Do You see what I see?

This sermon was preached on February 5, 2017 at First Presbyterian Church in Red Wing, Minnesota by Rev. Heidi Bolt. The sermon text was Luke 7: 1-17.

Last week in our Scripture reading, we had the story of two different Sabbath days with Jesus pushing the boundaries of what it meant to observeSabbath in light of changing circumstances. Today, we have two towns, two healings, two very different circumstances.  In the first healing, the healing comes to one outside of the people of God, to a slave of a Roman centurion.  The Jewish elders sent toJesus appeal to him and declare the centurion worthy for he has helped the Jewish people, even built their synagogue. This was a man of means and it seems a man of faith, for while others call him worthy, he knows his own unworthiness and asks Jesus not to even come to his house but just to say the word and he knows his beloved servant will be healed.  A man of deep faith who was not a Jew. And Jesus heals the servant, expanding the boundaries yet again of who belongs in the Kingdom of God.

The second story is much different. No one calls the man who has died or his widowed mother worthy.  There is no indication that they are a family of means.  The man is not sick but already dead.  But when Jesus comes across the dead man’s mother, it says he sees her and has compassion on her.  As a widow with her only son now dead, she is a woman without hope.  Women at that time were dependent on the men in their lives for survival and she is now a woman without husband or son.  She is doubly vulnerable.  Jesus sees her and has compassion  on her and so raises her son from the dead and in that act she has now been restored to community and survival.

This word compassion is important in Luke.  Compassion is not to intellectually understand that someone is suffering, it is to feel for that person on a visceral level.  The word in Greekcomes from  the word intestines.  Jesus feels for this woman on a deep, gut-wrenching level. Two other times we hear this word compassion in Luke.  Once when the good Samaritan has compassion on the stranger in the ditch and cares for him and again when the father sees his prodigal younger son returning and has compassion for him.

The compassion that Jesus felt, that prompted him to resurrect this widow’s only son, is the call to suffer with the powerless.  Henri Nouwencalls Jesus life of compassion a life of “downward mobility”.  He says “Compassion means going directly to those people and places where suffering is most acute and building a home there. God’s compassion is total, absolute, unconditional, without reservation.”  “Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in  the condition of being human.”

To see those who are suffering and to feel compassion towards them is not always easy.  But it is what the example of Jesus calls us to.  In our own time, we might asked to view someone on the other side of a political argument with compassion.  It might be a woman who has  gone back to her abusive husband again and again.  It might be a teenager who is giving you nothing but trouble.

Jesus sees the grieving widow and has compassion on her.  Who do we need to see that we might overlook?  Where is there suffering?  How can we build a home there?

Dropping Sophia off at school on Friday, I noticed the flag was at half staff.  I didn’t know what significant person had died recently so I looked it up which is how I came to hear about the incredible story of the four chaplains. George Fox, Alexander Goode, Clark Poling, and John Washington died on this date in 1943 when their troop ship, TheDorchester, was torpedoed. There weren’t enough life jackets, so the four men helped soldiers to the lifeboats, then gave up their life jackets, linked arms, sang hymns, and went down with their ship.  These four men showed the ultimate compassion, the ultimate downward mobility for their soldiers.

To have compassion on another child of God.  To feel a deep, gut-wrenching sympathy and desire to alleviate their suffering. This is the way of Jesus.

After Jesus had given the dead man back to his mother, it says that the crowd was seized by fear and that they glorified God.  Jesus welcomed the worthy and the unworthy,the rich and the poor, he had compassion on those often overlooked and he offered healing to the suffering.  And he asks us to do the same.  Fear and glorifying God seems an appropriate response. 

Jesus became poor and suffered with us, to the point of death so that we might be restored to community with God and one another.  In the communion meal we will soon share,Jesus offers his very self to us and asks us to remember him.  May we do so, we receiving Christ’s compassion and extending that same compassion all.  May it be so.  Amen.

Expectations

This sermon was delivered at First Presbyterian Church in Red Wing, Minnesota on February 12, 2017. The sermon text was from Luke 7: 18-35.

Expectations are a funny thing.

They can help us to be prepared for what’s before us, they can help us to know what we’re in for, they can help us see God. They also can blind us to what’s happening, they can keep us from seeing what is happening right in front of our eyes, they can keep us from seeing God.

The truth is we all have expectations, we have expectation of ourselves, of our kids, our spouses, our parents, our friends, our pastors, our politicians, our athletes, and on and on. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, necessarily, but we do need to be open to seeing things in different ways than what we are expecting.

I also want to stop here a second, and say, for me, not all expectations are the same. I think it is totally appropriate to expect to be treated as a human being, it is totally appropriate to expect to be respected, and to be treated with dignity. Often however, those expectations mean different things to different people.

In our scripture, this morning, John the Baptist, hears about what Jesus has been doing. According to Luke they have not had any direct contact and frankly it doesn’t seem like John thinks Jesus is fitting the expectations of the one to come after him that will make the world better. So, he sends some of his disciples to ask the question, “Are you the one we are waiting for?”

Remember Jesus himself says, that God has anointed him to bring good news to the poor. God has sent him to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

For John, none of this has happened. Many scholars believe that at this point John is in prison, when this story comes up in the book of Matthew, that’s exactly where John is, captive. He hasn’t been released, he hasn’t been set free.

Rev Gord Waldie, of the UCC, tells a story about his first year in seminary over 20 years ago,

“one of the assignments in Introduction to New Testament was to look at a variety of texts and determine if Jesus is the Messiah that was expected. The texts laid out a “job description” of sorts — and Jesus fails. Not only does Jesus fail to free his people from the Roman yoke and setup a new kingdom like that of David and Solomon, he doesn’t even seem to have that task on his to-do list. John seems to have expected active and vigorous cleansing, more repentance and sin stuff. Jesus doesn’t seem to be doing that either."

Jesus wasn’t fitting into John’s expectations for the Messiah.

I can’t say that I blame John much here. I mean…when I think about Messiah I’m looking for a big hulking guy, with huge muscles, with a big scary weapon to crush people. Basically I’m thinking of Thor, not the Norse God, but the Marvel character in the Avengers’ played by Chris Hemsworth or the Marvel character Luke Cage played by Mike Colter. Basically I'm looking for a character from the Marvel Universe. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, we can watch the movies or series together. I love them both.

But I digress.

I have always believed that people will live up to your expectations of them. If you have low expectations, that’s what you’ll get, if you have high expectations the same holds true. The problem is when you hold those expectations too tightly or specifically. We must hold our expectations loosely, like sand. If you pick up a handful of sand you can hold it in your hand, only if you hold it loosely, if you hold on too tightly, the sand will slip through your fingers.

When John sends his disciples to ask Jesus a simple question, he expects a simple answer. The question, “Are you the one we have been looking for?” is a simple yes or no question. Jesus, as we’ve seen, doesn’t do what we expect. In the last few weeks, we’ve looked at stories where he has defied the Pharisees understanding of the Sabbath, he’s healed the poor and the rich, he’s even declared the year of the Lord’s favor for those outside the temple. All of this is showing us who Jesus is, Jesus is not the messiah that people were expecting. When Jesus is answered a simple yes or no question his answer to John’s disciples is “look around what do you see? What do you hear?” I take a little comfort in that even John the Baptist, the prophet who proclaimed Jesus’ arrival isn’t sure because Jesus defies expectations.

We’ve started to see and hear things about our church. One of the things I’ve heard the most here is that we are a small church. It normally, goes something like this. I hear a story about some amazing thing that this church has done even in the midst of turmoil and then the person says, but we’re a small church. It’s seems as if it has become part of our identity, one that we aren’t proud of. To be honest, I can’t see it. I know the history of the church; I recognize its effects on our congregation, but I think we are powerful beyond measure. We are blessed with particularly gifted people to do specific work in Red Wing.

Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” Let’s remember that. As we continue to be faithful to our calling, let us remember that other people’s expectations of who God is or what Churches do should not limit us. When they ask about our work, we can say, “What do you see? What do you hear?”

What that work is, I’m not sure yet, we do so many great things already, but I’m hoping that you can help us figure it out. I hope that in a year or so, people will be saying, “Do you go to that Presbyterian church?” because they are not sure how we are able to do the things we do, we are doing things in the community that might not be typically considered, “Church stuff”. I hope we will continue to defy expectations, as we follow Christ along this journey together. Part of that will mean taking a hard look at our expectations of our church, our pastors, and ourselves. We will need to name them, we will need to evaluate them, we may need to throw them out the window. When people start to ask us about our church, we can say “what do you see? What do you hear?”

This world is changing, our expressions of faith are changing, but as Lutheran pastor, Erik Parker says,

"Imagine telling anyone who has regularly been in a pew for the past 15 years that it is possible that our currently declining and aging church may be full and bustling again in a few decades. They will laugh at you.

Well, maybe they would have [a few months ago].

But now all the things we thought were important are in reversing decline like flashy worship, entertaining sermons, lattes for sale in the lobby, Nickelodeon night for the youth, and all the other things we think will “attract” people mean nothing now. Churches, especially mainline ones, will need to focus again on the core things that we have always been:

We will need to be communities of refuge because people will have fewer and fewer safe spaces.

We will need to be communities of resistance in a world that is demanding division, conflict, and violence.

We will need to be communities of hope because we cannot just go back to sleep and pretend the government will have our backs while we spend our time mindlessly consuming stuff and entertainment.

We will need to be proclaimers of the gospel."

My prayer is that people see the Lord working through us as we provide voice to the voiceless, we provide safety for those in danger, we provide comfort to the afflicted and we afflict the comforted and may we always hold loosely, how and what we do, remaining nimble and available to respond when God calls.

May it be so.

Sabbath Mystics

This sermon was preached on January 29, 2017 at First Presbyterian Church in Red Wing, Minnesota by Rev. Heidi Bolt. The sermon text was Luke 6: 1-16.

It doesn't seem like Jesus was trying to make friends, does it?  As we read through Luke, Jesus is provoking all those he encounters and today's passage is no different. On two different Sabbath days he does something that he knows will anger those who care about religious tradition. He plucks grain one day and heals in the synagogue on another. He does both these things knowing it will anger some and he does it to try and suggest that the rules are changing. The understanding about how it is to faithfully follow God is changing. The rules about Sabbath observance were good rules made by faithful people. But Jesus is telling them that the Sabbath traditions might need to change. After all, the lord of the Sabbath is now among them. I read in a commentary this week that suggests that the real question in these texts is this: How do we faithfully identify with our community's tradition in light of ever-changing circumstances? How do we faithfully identify with our community's tradition in light of ever-changing circumstances?

And boy is that ever our question, too.

The world is changing at a breakneck speed. Headlines come every day or every hour that seem to signal big shifts in our world. The religious landscape in our denomination, our country and our world is changing more rapidly than we can even fathom. The church as an institution's identity and mission is in flux. Even on this Sunday when we look back at what the church has done and been in the last year through our congregational meeting, we continue to look toward our future as well, knowing that our circumstances are ever-changing. How do we do what church's do when the world seems to be so different, when what we do seems less relevant all the time to a lot of people? This is the question I've been wrestling with this week.

Then I saw that Dr. John Vest, whom I know and respect, who is the Visiting Professor of Evangelism at my seminary, Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, shared a blog post by Richard Rohr, the well known Franciscan author and speaker.  And Vest shared the blog saying, "This perfectly captures what I think Christianity ought to be encouraging today. This is what I think churches ought to be focused on. This is what I'm most interested in."

The idea that Richard Rohr was writing about as a way forward for the church was to recapture our role as mystics. That's an unfamiliar term to some of you, it's a scary one to others. To be a mystic is to be one who has moved from mere belief to actual inner experience of God. Now this is an idea that Presbyterians have often been wary of. Theologically we affirm that we are flawed, flawed creatures and so we can't fully trust our experience of God. We are more comfortable putting our trust in our interpretation ofScripture, the traditions found in our confessions, in the life of the mind. And Those are good.

But If our faith stays only in our heads, if it's only about the rules and traditions, what Calvin had to say about it or Barth or Brueggemann, then it is much less likely to transform our hearts.

Here is what Rohr had to say: Christians speak of the “paschal mystery,” the process of loss and renewal that was lived and personified in the death and raising up of Jesus, as the pattern of transformation. We Can affirm that belief in lovely song and ritual, as many Christians do in the Eucharist. However, until we have personally lost our own foundation and then experienced God upholding us so that we come out even more alive on the other side, the theological affirmation of the paschal mystery is little understood and not essentially transformative. It is a mere liturgical acclamation.

This congregation has been through this process of losing your foundations and discovering that God was there for you in the midst of it all, transforming you so that you might come out the other side more alive. I know this has been true for me personally and I know that most if not all of you have stories of transformation because of God's presence in your life. This experience of knowing God is what helps us keep going when times get scary, it's what can give us courage when we need to stand up for what Christ stood up for - feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, healing the broken. 

That is the kind of transformation that experience of God, or mysticism, helps create. How do we faithfully identify with our community's tradition in light of ever-changing circumstances? I would like to suggest one way is to invite others to experience God. Not to recite a set of beliefs about God, not to teach them into love of God, but to invite them into an experience with God. This is what Jesus did. He asked people to look less at the rules of faith and get to know more the God that the rules were meant honor. After teaching and provoking and healing, he went away to talk to God. He sought out direct experience of God before he continued with his work. Diana Butler Bass, a historian who focuses on the history of Christianity suggests that “Christianity did not begin with a confession. It began with an invitation into friendship, into creating a new community, into forming relationships based on love and service.”   

I would like to suggest that this is something that the world needs from us. Forming relationships based on love and service. With our many divisions, with our 24/7 nature, with our emphasis on doing and creating and achieving, the worlds needs us to offer another way.  An experience of God so that they know that they are loved not for what they do but because of who God is. A transformative experience of God that makes them more alive, move loving, more giving. These mystical experiences can come when we are marching or when we pray, when we are out in mission or even in church on Sunday.

And so, I'm not going to talk to you anymore about Sabbath. I am going to invite you to experience Sabbath, a brief Sabbath, just 2 minutes of silence. To be quiet before God, to know that your worth comes not from what you can achieve, a chance to breathe in and breathe out. My hope is that this experience will give you a little more peace, a little more strength as you head into another week in our fast-changing world. May you experience God.

 

Let's Go Deep

This is the manuscript as written of the sermon I delivered at First Presbyterian Church in Red Wing, Minnesota, on January 22, 2017. 

The sermon text was Luke 5: 1-11

I have a confession to make.

This week it was hard to writing this sermon. I have been distracted, distracted by the events leading up to this Sunday. The inauguration, the woman’s marches all around the globe. I have been distracted by the tenor of the conversations in our country. I have been distracted, but yesterday I was inspired. I was inspired by all things a presbytery meeting. I was inspired by seeing the pictures of men and women who are part of my life, speaking up and speaking out for justice, equality, and constitutional rights. I am hopeful, in what is happening in our country, in our town, and in our church.

In our reading from Luke today we here Jesus’s famous words, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”

But how did we get there?

Jesus comes to the lake in Gennesaret, the crowds were pressing in on him and he stepped into Simon’s boat. There just happened to be room in the boat because there were no fish in it. After he finished speaking he began talking to Simon, who was called Peter, and said, “Why you don’t you put your nets out into the deep water. Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When he did this, he caught so man fish that he thought the nets would break, it felt like the boat was going to sink, he called his partners out, and before they could get the nets securely back in the boat, Simon falls onto his knees and says, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

This is like saying, I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy.

As Rev. Mary Austin says, “When Jesus presence allows them to catch way more fish than they think is possible, Simon Peter reacts with shame. He urges Jesus to get away from him, “for I am a sinful man.” Peter knows that he is experiencing more than fish – he’s getting a glimpse of the divine, breaking into the ordinary world of fishing. It evokes the later moment, after Peter has been with Jesus for a long time, when Jesus tells Peter to get behind him, because Peter’s understanding then is so limited. In this early moment, Peter sees clearly who stands before him.”

This is why in our worship services from the Reformed tradition, we open with a call to worship then we sing a song of praise, then we confess our unworthiness. When we come into the presence of the almighty, we can’t help but confess our sins, recognize that God is God and we are God’s children.

Jesus tells Simon Peter to put his nets out in the deep water. This is a big ask. The water, the deep water, is a scary place, it’s unpredictable, it’s dangerous, it’s chaotic. In fact, the Bible begins with the fear of the deep. Genesis 1:2 says, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep,”

Peter and his crew had been fishing in the shallow water and catching nothing, Jesus calls them out of their comfort zone, out of the safety of the known. When they move into the deep they are shocked with what they find, and when they realize what they can do with God’s help. They begin a new and unknown adventure.

There are a lot of churches in the US that fish in the shallow water, it’s safe to say that this church has been in the in the deep for the last few years. You probably feel like you had no choice. But you did. You had the opportunity to say no to the Holy Spirit, but you didn’t. Given the recent history of this congregation could of sat on the shore, you could of folded up shop, but you didn’t you packed your nets back in the boat and went fishing. It hasn’t been easy, it’s been tiring, you felt like the boat was going to sink, you called in reinforcements, and the nets you have pulled in are filled with the knowledge that you are not alone, you are gifted, and you are capable of a lot more than you thought you were.

Christ is still calling; the Holy Spirit is still moving.

You know you can swim, you know you can fish. Now we are going to fish for people. We will fish for those who can’t fish for themselves. We will fish for those on the margins, we will fish for those outside the shallows of our own walls, we will go into the world proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. We will be with the lost, the lonely, the poor, the elderly, the young, the old, those in between, the parents, the kids, we will be there because we have before, we know how to swim, we know that God is with us, and we know that no matter what happens, no matter what storms come, we will be right here.

I know this from the deepest depths of my soul, we have seen the power of God to do miraculous things. Now it’s our turn to be co-creators with Christ as we step into this new, wild adventure.

May it be so.

Be Ready

This is the sermon I preached on January 15, 2017 at First Presbyterian Church in Red Wing, MN. The text is Luke 4: 14-30. This was my first sermon in this new call. Last week at the end of the service we invited you to take a star with a word on it. A word that you were asked to reflect on for the coming year. We want you to place this star somewhere you will see it, whether that’s the refrigerator, your car, your mirror, as a book mark,...somewhere you will see it. Currently my star is sitting on my desk next to my computer, where I am, a lot of the time. The word I received is “readiness”. I thought, “what am I going to do with that?” Then I read this week’s scripture.

I hope and pray that this sermon ends differently than it did for Jesus. I hope you don’t get up and drive me out of town, leading me to the top of Barn Bluff ready to toss me into the river. We really like it here. Also, our old cat, Joe might not be able to take another move.

For me this word readiness, fits right into today’s passage from the Gospel of Luke. Jesus, having been baptized is sent unceremoniously into the wilderness where is tempted and then returns to the region called Galilee, to Nazareth, his home town. He goes to the synagogue, as was his custom, and he reads a familiar passage from the prophet Isaiah.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

This would have been well known to the folks in Nazareth, this is one of those passages that is uplifting, hopeful, a good rah-rah passage. Jesus puts the scroll away and says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  In Eugene Peterson’s contemporary rendering of scripture called The Message, it says, “You’ve just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place.”

The people were pretty impressed. They say, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”

At this point I imagine the crowd all patting themselves on the back, smiling, and saying “Wow, isn’t that Joseph’s son. He’s grown to be such a good boy.”

Then Jesus gives them a word that they are not ready or willing to hear.

Prophets don’t do well in their own town. He expounds on the story of Elijah saying, “You know there were widows in Israel when famine struck but Elijah wasn’t sent to any of them he was sent to a widow in Sidon. There were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha but it was only Naaman of Syria that was cleansed.”

In the retelling of those stories, Jesus is reminding the gathered, the in crowd, the haves, that God has and will always be on the side of the least of these.

Jesus is bringing Good News, but as Rev. Jose Morales, Jr. says, “Good News is not always nice news.”

On this weekend in our national calendar, this story of Jesus bringing a hard word to the in crowd seems appropriate. Jesus’s readiness to deliver a message that he knew wouldn’t sit well with the crowd, but needed to be said is apparent. Martin Luther King, Jr. was known for saying some hard words, that he knew wouldn’t sit well but needed to be said, too.

On this, our national holiday celebrating his life we remember the beautiful, soaring, and inspiring words of his “I have a dream” speech, we remember the hopeful words delivered in Oslo, Norway during his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Martin Luther King, Jr. has become a sort of talisman whenever we want to talk about equality, he is remembered as this sweet, loving, kind pastor who everyone liked. But as a student of history I know that this was not the case. It seems that at times we have not been ready to hear the Good News in Dr. King’s message but we have chosen only to hear the nice news.

This week I was reminded of the words from his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail. These are words, I do not like, I do not find comfort in them, they are not inspiring. They are convicting, they are real, they are most certainly GOOD NEWS.

“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

Every time I read this letter, I am pulled up short here. I have yet to be ready to hear these words.

I feel like, I am a person of good will, it seems that you are all people of good will. The people in the crowd that Jesus was talking to were people of good will.

It seems as if the people of Nazareth were people of good will but they weren’t ready. They weren’t ready for the not so nice, Good News, that Jesus was proclaiming. They weren’t ready to hear that they didn’t get any special treatment from God or Jesus because they were the children of Abraham or from his hometown.

The Good News, but not nice news, is and was that the “year of the Lord’s favor” was for all, Jews and Gentiles alike. The Good and nice News is that God loves you, just as you are, no strings attached. The Good and not so nice news is, that love extends to those outside the in crowd, those people you might not like very much.

The people in Nazareth got angry, got violent, because Jesus told them something that they were not ready to hear, that the God’s love wasn’t only for them, God’s justice wasn’t only for them, God’s love was for the poor, the captive, the blind, the oppressed, the immigrant, the Jew, the Muslim, the unbelievers, those in the LGBTQ community, those of all races, those people whom we might find to be unforgivable. God’s love extends to all. This is the Good News of the Gospel.

May we be ready not only to hear the Good News, but let us be ready to live the Good News, even if it isn’t nice news.

May it be so.

Prophetic Promise

This sermon was preached at First Presbyterian Church in Nebraska City, NE on November 13, 2016. The sermon text was Isaiah 6: 1-8. Audio from the sermon can be found here.

Over the last year and a half, we have been using something called the Narrative Lectionary, it’s a system that selects the readings for us, attempting to walk us through the broad story of scripture from Genesis to Revelation.

Today’s reading comes from the sixth chapter of Isaiah.

It begins, “In the year King Uzziah died…”

As Rev. Marci Glass says, “Biblical scholars love verses like that because dating a biblical text is so difficult. But King Uzziah! We know that. He died in 742 BCE.

King Uzziah had reigned for five decades in relative peace and stability. King Uzziah died as Assyria, whose capital was Nineveh, Assyria which was a vast military power in the area was coming closer and closer to Jerusalem. It would be just another 16 years before the Northern Kingdom of Israel would fall to Assyria. So the year that King Uzziah died was an uncertain time for the people of Israel, there was a lot of anxiety in the country about what their future might be.

Isaiah goes to the temple, this house that Solomon built, a holy place where God is and he has this vision. He sees God sitting on a throne so high and lofty, so large, that it is only a bit of the hem of God’s robe that fills the vast temple where Isaiah is standing. There are six-winged seraphs shouting, not of God’s might, but of God’s holiness. They are praising God so loudly that this magnificent building begins to shake.

What a powerful vision! Isaiah’s response is immediately: Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips. Do you remember Wayne’s World from the early 90s “We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!”

As soon as he sees God’s holiness, his own sinfulness becomes apparent to him. This is actually why our worship services are structured the way they are to this day. We begin with a call to worship and a song that gives praise to God. And John Calvin believed that as soon as you praise God’s goodness, you can’t help but recognize your own lack of the very same qualities. And so it is appropriate to go immediately to confession and then an assurance of your forgiveness.

Before we can become who we want to be in Christ, we must first be humbled to recognize how far we have to go. Isaiah had a good track record before this, he had a faithful life up until this point. Just as each of you has led a good life, you have helped others along the way. But all of us, when in the presence of holiness, know that we have fallen short of the glory of God.

Rev. Glass suggests, “The point is that in the middle of a particular moment in human history, Isaiah finds himself transported into the presence of God. There was a particular moment in Isaiah’s faith journey when he needed God in a new or different way. And I could give you a whole sermon on Assyria, Babylon, exile, and what was happening for Isaiah.

But I’m more interested in what is happening in our lives that requires God’s in-breaking now. Perhaps it is “In the year that the Cubs won the World Series….”. Or maybe it is more like “In the year my loved one was diagnosed with cancer….” or “In the year I lost my job….”

We all have moments in time—moments of celebration or moments of pain— when the particular context in which we find ourselves helps us realize that God is calling us to respond in a particular way.”

I’d like to propose a particular historical location where I think we are today. “In the year our pastor left.”

Over the last two weeks, the news that is both exciting, nerve wracking, and sad is that my wife and I have been called to a new congregation. Which means that now we are beginning a transition process.

Yesterday, members of the session met with our Committee on Ministry liaison to start to talk about the process for which you will undertake in the coming months. The session will have many decisions to make and I trust that they will make them prayerfully and faithfully. Also, you as a congregation will have many decisions to make and I trust that you will make them through prayer and discernment. Even each of you individually will need to make decisions. I know that God will be with you throughout this process.

Much like the seraph in Isaiah’s vision, they were shouting “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory.” God’s glory is not only in Jerusalem, not only in Israel, not only in the Presbyterian Church or the worldwide church. The whole earth is full of God’s glory. God is near wherever you may find yourself. I read a great sermon this week on this passage:

“The whole earth is full of God - all time, all space - and it is because God is here, because there is as much of the Holy Ghost in this place as ever there was in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, because the forces of God are unexhausted, because the mighty river of God which is full of water is flowing through this place, that you and I are certain of blessing. I believe that if some people had been in that very upper room itself when the Holy Ghost descended, being blinded by prejudice and passion and worldliness, they would have heard only a noise, they would have perceived no flame. On the other hand, if Peter or John were sitting where you are now, their faces would be lighted up with supernatural light and they would say “Did you not see? Did you not hear? God is here. The great God has come down from the heavens to bless these people. God has promised and he has come.”

God is near. The whole earth is full of God’s glory.

Once Isaiah recognized his own sinfulness, a live coal that had been taken from the altar was touched to his lips and he was told that his sins were blotted out and that his guilt had departed. And immediately he heard the voice of the LORD saying “Whom shall I send and who shall go for us?” and Isaiah replied “Here I am, send me!” He didn’t yet know to what. But he had been called in the fire of the coal, just as we are called in baptism. In baptism, we die to ourselves so that we can rise with Christ, living for Jesus in a world that needs to hear his message.

In the midst of precarious situations, like Isaiah was in, like our church, our nation, and our world is in, the voice continues to ask us. In a broken and fearful world, with injustice everywhere, and with brokenness in our own church, our own town, our own denomination, who will speak for the Lord. By ourselves, we are inadequate. But through God’s grace, we may stand and be his lips, confident in God’s power (not ours), that we too can express “Here am I. Send me.”

God is here. God has promised and God has come. You are the message bearers in this time to that reality. The world needs to know of God’s holiness, of Jesus’ compassion, of the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

To that end, I will be inviting you to the baptismal font during the offering to remember that you have been baptized and called for such a time as this. When you come forward I will make a sign of the cross on your hand and say “Remember your baptism, remember your calling and be thankful.” To which you may reply “Here am I. Send me.”

Like Isaiah, we come for God in the sanctuary, we take God with us. Here am I, send me.

May it be so.

Perpetuity's Promise

This sermon was preached at First Presbyterian Church in Nebraska City, NE on October 23, 2017. The text was 2 Samuel 7:1-17. Audio of the sermon can be found here.

We’ve come a long way since last week. Last week we talked Hannah and her giving over of her son Samuel to God, to be raised by Eli as a nazirite. Since that reading, Samuel grew up, he responded to God’s call by saying “Here I am, Lord” and became the prophet of Israel. The Israelites became convinced that they wanted, that they need a king. To quote Baptist blogger Chuck Hooten, “Israel wanted a king. For years God had acted as their provider, protector, and sovereign but in the face of mounting pressure from rival nations and the innate human desire to look and sound like everyone around them Israel wanted a change. They wanted a king that was made of flesh and blood. The prophet Samuel begged them to reconsider. He told them that a king would tax them, oppress them, force them to work for his pleasure, and take their sons off to war. The people were unswayed. It was a king of flesh that they wanted and so it was a king of flesh that God would provide.

When we meet Saul in the book of 1 Samuel he is everything and more that the people wanted. He was tall, athletic, and handsome. If a group of people were in the market for a king and Saul walked in the room the search would always be over. Saul was king material...or so they thought. Saul proves to be a reflection of the people themselves. Just like Israel he was brash, prideful, arrogant, and quick to make hasty decisions that would have lasting consequences.”

It didn’t take long for Saul, to royally (pun intended) mess things up. David was chosen as a boy to be faithful to God and to serve Saul, he was taken from a pasture, he slayed Goliath, he marched in battle with Saul, when Saul and David ‘s companion Jonathan were ultimately killed David became the King of Israel, he was a warrior king, and to this day is the model for kingship in for the Israelites. He, with God’s help, defeated all of Israel’s enemies, he even conquered Jerusalem to where it became the capital of the nation of Israel, it is still called Royal David’s City, we often sing about it during Advent. The King of Tyre builds David a royal palace and then… Deep Breath

David sits down, all the enemies are defeated, he has a moment to rest, probably one of the first moments since he was a boy. He surveys home, his kingdom, and he reflects on his life. He decides that God wants, God needs the same things that he needs or wants. He decides that he will build God a house of cedar.

He takes this notion to his trusted advisor, Nathan, a prophet, who initially says, “sounds like a good idea.”

Then God comes to Nathan and gives him a different word, “Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in?I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders[a] of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”

David is then reminded, we are reminded of how God has been with David from the beginning: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you. Then comes the promise, not only has God been with David, God promises to BE with David. “I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. 15 But I will not take[b] my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me;[c] your throne shall be established forever.”

In short, God tells David, thanks but I got this. You do your job and I’ll do mine.

I will tell you, the first time I read this passage I was reminded of a catch phrase used by The Rock during his time in the WWE, he would say, “Know your role!”

It reminded me of playing football. Each person on the team has a role, quarterback, wide receivers, linemen, running backs, linebackers, defensive backs, coaches, trainers, equipment managers, cheerleaders, on and on. They all have a role, and the teams that do have players that focus on their role, they don’t try to do too much, they do their job and they do it well.

This also works in the communities, in companies, on farms, in churches, even in households. When everyone knows their role, and when others are willing to support them in that role, the whole house, church, farm, company, or community benefits.

I have a role here at First Presbyterian Church, our session has a role, our deacons have a role, our Presbyterian Women have a role, our Sunday School teachers have a role, each and every one of you has a role to play in our vision of Planting Seeds of God’s Light here in Nebraska City and throughout the world. For some this role is performed outside the walls of this church. I asked in a recent Builder article for you to start to think about where you volunteer your time, where to donate money, where do you serve? In your bulletins there is a slip of paper for you to start to thinking about that and write it down. In a few minutes during the offering I would like you to place it in the offering plate so we can compile of a list of all the places that First Presbyterian is working.

My guess is that some of you, do too much, some of you do too much not because you are greedy or controlling, but because you care, because you want to give back to God and to the community that raised you, that has done so much for you. This is not a bad thing, but it might also not be a good thing.

David was reminded of his role, he was reminded that is wasn’t his job to build a house for God, that God was, is, and will always be in charge. God had tapped someone else for that job. God promises David that he will never let him or his household go. This is the beginning of the Davidic line that leads straight to Jesus. There are ups and down, valleys and mountaintops, righteous and wicked players, but God never forgets God’s promise to David.

God will not, has not, forgotten his promise to us.

We have been here for almost exactly 161 years, we have had 30 pastors, we have had over a 1,000 members. Currently our doors are open and our facilities are used by groups from around the community. Last week alone, we hosted two funerals that were attended by so many people we had to open up the wall. We have members on just about every board in the city, we have members who volunteer their time, energy, intelligence, and love for organizations on the local, state, and national level. We have members who do things for others, in the name of God, that we will never hear about or never see.

God is abounding in steadfast love here. It’s not always pretty, it’s not always a mountaintop, but even in the valleys we have seen that God is with us. Now for us, we have discerned that our job our role as a church here in Nebraska City is to Plant Seeds of God’s Light. Let us remember is not our role to save the world, or solve all of its ills, it is not our role to do everything or be all things to all people. Our role, to quote borrow from Rev. Dr. Joel Lundak, is to plant as many seeds as we can, for as many people as we can, for as long as we can. We might not get to see the fruits of our labor and we may never get to know if the harvest was good, but we do know that God is faithful and that, like David, God will never take away God’s steadfast love from us.

May it be so.

Principled Promises

This sermon was preached at First Presbyterian Church in Nebraska City, NE on November 6, 2017. The sermon text was Jonah 1:1-17; 3:1-10, 4:1-11. Audio from the sermon can be heard here.

This morning I want us to take a look at a story that many of us have heard since we were kids.

Roger Nam, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at George Fox Evangelical Seminary, tells us that “The book of Jonah is one of those unique Old Testament stories that easily transfers to children’s Sunday School. This has resulted in a cottage industry of Jonah-themed Bible materials for children, whether flannel board materials, coloring books and, of course, the creation of the first VeggieTales movie, which grossed $25 million in box office sales.”

Today, however, we are going to take a look at the Jonah story with fresh eyes and like many of the stories of the Bible we will see that it’s not really a children’s story about a man in a big fish.

It’s a story about the grace and justice of God. It’s a story that stretches our understanding of the width, breadth, and depth of God’s love. It broadens by a mile our original definitions of justice and mercy. We imagine a merciful God but then God shows greater breadth to that mercy that we could have imagined, and then a justice that is broader still.

Now that we have a little context, let’s dive in.

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.

But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god. They threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. Jonah, meanwhile, had gone down into the hold of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep. The captain came and said to him, “What are you doing sound asleep? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps the god will spare us a thought so that we do not perish.”

The sailors[a] said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, so that we may know on whose account this calamity has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us why this calamity has come upon us. What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” “I am a Hebrew,” he replied. “I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 Then the men were even more afraid, and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them so.

11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea was growing more and more tempestuous. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.”13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more stormy against them. 14 Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, O Lord, we pray, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life. Do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” 15 So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.

17 [b] But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

 

The title of this section of Jonah is “Jonah Tries to Run Away from God”. How does that work out for anybody in the Bible or now? Jonah is told to go to Nineveh and he doesn’t want to. So he flees. The more you learn about Nineveh, the more you understand where Jonah is coming from. Nineveh is the capital city of the Assyrians. The Assyrians were a violent people who regularly killed Israelites. In fact, it would be the Assyrians who would come and destroy the northern kingdom is Israel. These are truly enemies for Jonah. One commentator suggested that this would be similar to God asking a Jew to go, preach to a guard at a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. No wonder he doesn’t want to go give them God’s message.

This story reminds us to be wary of any faith that tries to narrowly define who is in and who is out of God’s kingdom. It reminds us that God repeatedly tells us to welcome the foreigner, the stranger, that we ultimately are Gentiles grafted into the vine of God’s kingdom. And of course, it begs the question: Who is your Nineveh, the people you really don’t want to believe could be part of God’s salvation plan? In this week of the election, is your Nineveh Democrats or Republicans? Is it immigrants? It is Muslims? Who is your enemy? The Feasting on the Word commentary says, If God intends real salvation for all the peoples, then in all seriousness, we must at least talk to our enemies …… In this deadly serious mess, the only way to avert total catastrophe is to talk. What an appropriate message during this week of the election when the rhetoric on both sides has become so divisive, and it seems that people can’t even comprehend talking to someone on the other side. The only way to avert total catastrophe is to talk to one another.

But all of this is centered on us. How do we respond to God’s call, how are we like Jonah? What if we read the Jonah story and asked a different question? What does this story tell us about God? What about God is revealed to us in this story?

The first thing revealed about God’s nature in Jonah is that God calls us to surprising, even ridiculous things. What is the most shocking, ridiculous thing you can think God might call you to? That’s what is happening in this story. God doesn’t always work in clear, straight paths that make sense. Sometimes God works in astounding, confounding ways. And sometimes God call us to join him in these surprising things.

Let’s read Jonah 3 now and see some more about what this story might reveal about God’s nature:

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.”

10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

I know that we are skipping the time that Jonah spent in the big fish, which is the part that we focus on most of the time. Some have said that it seems implausible that a big fish would swallow a human whole and then spit them out on the beach three days later, often the image of a whale is used, like Pinocchio we think of Jonah with a candle sitting in the belly of the whale. One commentator said that the idea of Jonah spending three days in a whale and coming out unscathed is more believable than what happened when he reached Nineveh.

Can you imagine all those cows and horses in sackcloth? What I wouldn’t give for a Polaroid of the whole city, including the animals covered in sackcloth. I read this week that Jonah is considered the most proficient of all the prophets. He speaks a total of 8 words and the whole city repents. No other prophet can say that.

For a second time, God gives Jonah the message. The second thing we can say about what we learn about God is that God journeys with us, even in our stubborn rebellion. When we try to run, God is there. When we are in the pits of despair, God is there. When we come to our senses and return to God, God is there. God journeys with us, no matter where we are or how much we are currently rebelling against God.

Let’s finish the Jonah story:

But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.

The Lord God appointed a bush,[a] and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” 10 Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

We finally hear from Jonah why he fled to begin with. Because he knew that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. And Jonah didn’t want any part of that if it was extended to his enemies. Here is what we learn about God. God’s love is extraordinary. God’s grace is for all. In this story, the just thing would be for Nineveh to suffer. They had caused and would in the future cause so much suffering for Jonah’s people.

God is asking for the right to love our enemies regardless of the consequences. When God’s grace and God’s justice come into conflict, grace wins. Love wins. Sometimes that means that we are going to get burned, we are not going to get the justice we want. The God who calls us into surprising adventures, who journeys with us even as we rebel, who chooses to extend love and salvation to all people, that God whom we worship and serve has chosen grace - for us and for all, our friends and our enemies. This is the good news that we proclaim.

May it be so.

 

Covenantal Promise 

This sermon was preached on November 20, 2016 at First Presbyterian Church in Nebraska City, NE. The sermon text was Jeremiah 36: 1-8, 21-23, 27-28 then 31: 31-34. Audio for the sermon can be found here.

Last week we read the calling of the prophet Isaiah, this week we flash forward about 200 years to the reign of Jehoiakim, near the end of the career of the prophet Jeremiah.

Last week, Israel was facing destruction by the Assyrians, yet now it is the Babylonians who have conquered and begun to send the nations of Israel and Judah into exile. Jeremiah has been rather unpopular in his homeland. As the Babylonians begin to take over, Jeremiah calls upon the Judeans to submit, this is the consequence of the unfaithfulness of God’s people. Their lives and history will be forever changed. Jeremiah acts out the destruction of the kingdom and for his trouble he is confined to the palace, a prison of sorts. He can no longer go to the temple; he can no longer be with the people.

So here we are in Chapter 36. Jeremiah is instructed to write down all the words that the Lord has revealed to him. Jeremiah dictated the Lord’s words to Baruch, Baruch then read them to the people, then placed them in a room, Jehoiakim sends Jehudi to retrieve the scrolls.

As Jehudi read the scroll, little by little the king rips it a part and throws it in the fire.

Rev. Mary Austin says, “Curiously, the king doesn’t have the whole scroll burned immediately. He listens to each section, and throws it into the fire, as if caught between wanting to hear that God and the prophet have to say, and wanting to stop up his ears and ignore the whole thing. We can’t tell if he just wants to hear what the people have already heard, or if he’s interested in what God has to say. We don’t know if he’s burning the sections as a sign of defiance, or in despair that he won’t be able to comply with what God is saying. He is caught between what is and what should be.

I sort of understand where Jehoiakim is coming from. Have you ever received a performance review that you didn’t agree with. I have you ever been scolded, especially in adulthood, by someone and taken it well.

We, I, get defensive. We lash out, we crumble up the paper and throw it out the window, we tear it up and burn it, we quit our job, we quit our church, we break our relationship, we refuse to listen, we lash out. This happens all the time, we see it on social media, we see it in regular media, we see it from friends, family, we see it from our politicians, our police, our military, our pastors, our members, our kids.

How many times in your life have you looked back and realized that the person who corrected you, who called you out, who spoke prophetically to you was right?

For me it’s innumerable. My camp director who told me I was a born leader but that I ran right up to the line of appropriate and stopped and the people I was leading didn’t know where the line was and regularly ran past it. My CPE supervisor, who told me that I was a fundamentalist. My Committee on Preparation for Ministry that told me I wasn’t ready to be ordained, that I would have to do a few more steps.

I was so angry, sometimes I’m still angry. I wanted to cuss all of them out, I wanted to walk away, I wanted to quit, I wanted to tear up their words and burn them.

The thing is, they were all right. They helped me see my own sins and shortcomings and make changes. Some days, those changes are visible, some days they are they aren’t. I try to do my best every day.

Jehoiakim, didn’t have to listen, he was the king after all. Well at least that’s what he thinks. Let’s read a little more of Chapter 36 starting with verse 30.

"30 Therefore thus says the Lord concerning King Jehoiakim of Judah: He shall have no one to sit upon the throne of David, and his dead body shall be cast out to the heat by day and the frost by night. 31 And I will punish him and his offspring and his servants for their iniquity; I will bring on them, and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and on the people of Judah, all the disasters with which I have threatened them—but they would not listen."

This shows us that God’s word is more powerful and lasting than the actions of a narcissistic king. This is what happens when people in power, when we don’t heed the prophetic words of God. When we dismiss pain, when we dismiss fear, when we dismiss people because they don’t look, sound, or worship like us. This is what happens when we forget that it is Jesus Christ who is king and we are not citizens of this world, we are citizens of the Kingdom of God. We are aliens in a foreign land, and regardless of ruler, senator, representative, or president, it is Christ who is King of our land and our hearts.

Today is Christ the King Sunday, the Sunday before the beginning the season of preparation of expectation we call Advent that we celebrate with the birth of our savior, the in breaking of the God with us, Emmanuel, the reminder that it even in the darkest night, the light of Christ shines in the darkness and nothing can overcome it.

We remember that Christ, our king, came in the form of a helpless baby, grew up and taught us to love God with everything we have, and love our neighbor as ourselves, He taught us to care for the least of these, he taught us to love each other as he loved us. The Apostle Paul, in the second chapter of the book of Ephesians, reminds of that Christ came to break down the dividing wall that is built between us.

Christ who reminds us that God is with us.

The prophet Jeremiah tells us in chapter 31.

"31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband,[a] says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more."

The beauty of this new covenant, as Professor Roger Nam says, is that it is:

* Inclusive, not divisive (Jeremiah 31:31) -- It includes both the northern and southern kingdoms. This is a remarkable break from the tensions and outright animosity between the two kingdoms, which continued through the life of Christ (John 4:4-26); the participants explicitly include the “least to the greatest” (Jeremiah 31:34).

* Lawful, not lawless (Jeremiah 31:33) -- The new covenant will build on the Torah of God. Now, the people have a new strategy for staying faithful to God. Pursuant to the Jeremiah 36 episode, it will center on the written word. It is better to think of a Torah in the sense of God’s “teaching,” rather than New Testament constructs of Torah as legalism. Torah was an expression of how the community could maintain covenantal fidelity.

* Divine, not human (Jeremiah 31:33) -- Whereas the older covenant was broken by the people, God pre-empts this possibility by making Himself the primary agent of the new covenant. Note the first person emphasis, “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God.”

* Relational, not distant (Jeremiah 31:34) -- The earlier covenant was intimate in that it involved a God who “takes by the hand” and the metaphor of marriage. The new covenant incorporates these features in that they will fully know the Lord in both intellectual acknowledgement, but also inclusive in the intimate ideals that they will know the Lord and be known by Him.

Most significantly, the new covenant is indeed new! The cloud of sin no longer hangs above the community. For God declares, “For I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” With the freedom from sin, the people can now move forward in their relationship with God.

This new covenant is much more protective and lasting. In the midst of the Babylonian sufferings, it enables the faithful to be grateful to God. Although politically oppressed, with little economic hope and an unknown future, the covenant of God brings rise to thanksgiving to all.

As we gather on this Christ the King Sunday, as we remember that the covenant, the knowledge that God has placed on our hearts, let us continue to work so that all feel safe. At school, walking down the street, in the class room, even in the theater, but let us not be so safe that we can not hear when God is speaking truth to us, for often times the Good News is not Nice News.

Rev. Mary Austin says, “God promises a new covenant, when fragile, temporary scrolls won’t be needed anymore because God’s law will live in our hearts. We won’t need a book or a tablet or a scroll. We won’t need someone to read it to us, or teach it to us. We won’t need an intermediary. No ruler will be able to do away with God’s word simply by burning it up. It will live fully in our hearts.

We haven’t arrived there yet, but God’s promises still stand. In a time when our own country is buffeted by violence in words and actions, when we seem to be overtaken by a spirit of division, God’s word comes back to us through the prophet. The invaders at our gate are the inner armies of hatred and separation, but God’s promises endure for those who are willing to hear, and to live with God’s persistence.

Let us have ears to hear and hearts open to repentance as we are called back to be the people of God, the hands and feet of Christ in this foreign land.

May it be so.

Hearing God in Conversation

I am convinced that one of the key roles of the church in our time is helping people to see that there is no separation between the sacred and the secular.  That every moment of every day has the potential to be holy and God-filled.  Thus, I was intrigued by the title of the new book "Hearing God in Conversation: How to Recognize His Voice Everywhere".  

Overall, I found this book very accessible, written in a style that made the pages go quickly.  The author used every day examples that were relatable to my life. As I read through the chapters, the book increased my desire to seek God's voice in my life.

There were a few issues for me with this book, however. The book is written with exclusively male language for God which I find troublesome.  I believe the author could have made his point while reaching a broader audience had he used inclusive language.  Also, in several chapters the author is discussing ways of encountering God that are long held traditions within the Christian faith such as Lectio Divina and spiritual direction.  He writes as if these were new concepts not ancient ones.

I am glad I read this book and feel like it helped spur me to seek a deeper conversation with God.  Despite my critiques, I would recommend this book to those searching for a more intimate relationship with God.

 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Far More Than a Parenting Book- Review of "Rule #2: Don't Be an Asshat"

This book is fabulous. It's great for young people about to go out into the world. It's wonderful for soon to be parents as they set their goals and plans for parenthood. It's a balm for parents who are already riding the roller coaster of parenting reminding them to get back to basics, encouraging them, and assuring them that they are on the right track, or at least there is a track that fits them. 

I will be sharing this book not only with parents, but also, with graduates. 

Great Work, More to Do

While at the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church last week in Portland, Oregon, I was asked to contribute a blog post to the Presbyterian Outlook regarding dependent care at General Assembly. This has been a long conversation for my wife and I, if you want to know the whole saga you can follow this link.

Here is the text of my post:

"I am so thankful for the new Dependent Care Reimbursement Policy that the Office of the General Assembly made available for the 222nd General Assembly. This solution has been a blessing to our family and is a beautiful third way that helps alleviate some of the stress of parents and caregivers who are called to service as commissioners and advisory delegates to the assembly. This, for us was a giant step forward.

I’m also thankful for the work of the Committee on Local Arrangements who has provided a family room to change diapers, nurse babies, and give kids and parents a place to be while here at the assembly, complete with live streams of the plenary sessions. I am so thankful for all those that helped make it possible for more people with dependents to be a part of this, the signature gathering of our denomination.

In 2012, my wife and I, both Teaching Elders, decided that we would meet my family in Pittsburgh for the 220th General Assembly of the PCUSA as observers, a chance to have a family reunion of sorts. It was a great opportunity for us to see family and connect with colleagues from around the nation, as well as, be a part of the beautiful connectional nature of our church. It was a reunion that Co-Moderator Jan Edmiston described as, “by blood and by baptism.”

We inquired with the Office of General Assembly about the options for childcare, family rooms, etc. as my son was stilling nursing at the time and my daughter was only two years old. The response from the OGA was suboptimal. At the assembly after talking to several people, including COLA, PCCCA, and OGA we were told that the office would take it under consideration.

Two years later, at the 221st General Assembly in Detroit, I was elected as a commissioner from Homestead Presbytery and my wife, again, planned to attend as an observer with our children. My father was volunteering in the newsroom and my mom was an observer. Once again, there were no options for parents or those with dependents; no quiet space to nurse babies, no dedicated space for children to be children, no place for them to be welcome in worship, no place to tend to the needs of people in our charge. Needless to say I was disappointed. 

That’s when Joseph Morrow of Chicago Presbytery and I submitted a commissioner’s resolution regarding, specifically, childcare at General Assembly meetings. Moments before I was to speak on the floor of the plenary I walked to the back of the hall, where I saw a woman huddled next to a stack of chairs nursing her young child. It further strengthened my belief that we could do better as particular churches, as mid councils, and as a denomination. The vote did not go our way, it was referred to the OGA in committee, after a heartfelt debate on the resolution on the floor of plenary, the assembly approved the recommendation to the committee. Our resolution had lost, we were sad and angry, but we are people of the resurrection.

I was so ecstatic to hear the news that the OGA was implementing the Dependent Care Reimbursement Policy. I think that the OGA and COLA have worked together to help those of us with children and dependents to have an opportunity to be here.

There is still some work to do. An overture (05-05) that would amend the Book of Order to require all councils to adopt a dependent care policy was disapproved by a close vote in committee. I would urge this assembly to disagree with the committee when if comes before you and vote to amend G-3.0106. As Overture Advocate, Kathy Stoner-Lasala, Teaching Elder from Great Rivers Presbytery said, “There are many in the cloud of witnesses who are not here. These are excluded disciples.” 

In my own presbytery, there are a significant number of teaching elders with young children, ruling elders with spouses who are sick or in need of care, there are people who have the energy, the passion, and the calling, but they can not answer the call to serve because we have not opened our hearts, minds, and souls to the needs of those with dependents. We have not listened to their struggles; we have not worked together to do better.

I believe the OGA and COLA have done their part, they have answered the call of welcome. I want to thank Joann Lee and the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns for carrying this mantle for so long, I want to thank the OGA and COLA for their work, I want to thank Great Rivers Presbytery , New Castle Presbytery, and Santa Fe Presbytery for picking up the mantle and taking it on. The question, now, is will our sessions, will our presbyteries, will our synods provide a policy that meets the needs of those in their communities?

May it be so."

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!

My mom is amazing, there's really no two ways about it.
 
A few years ago, I was going to host a bowl watching party to watch West Virginia University play University of Maryland, College Park in the Gator Bowl. You will note that I was hosting this party at in my parent's basement (if you know when that game was, you'll know how old I was living with my parents, still) anywho...I thought I'd get some beers, maybe some chips. Margaret Bolt went with me to the grocery store, when we got back, we had sub sandwiches, ingredients for dip, chips, an assortment of drinks, cookies, and some flowers for the table.
 
WVU got killed by Maryland that day, but man did we eat well. My mom is the best host, helper, organizer, creator, designer I know.
 
She also has been and continues to be the best mom I could ask for. She has been my most voracious cheerleader in sports and in life. Another story. When I was 8, I was playing little league baseball. My season wasn't going well. I couldn't hit a lick. My mom was also about 8 months pregnant with my little sister, Julia Bolt (who's birthday is today.) during that particular game I made the first solid contact of the season and hit a ground rule double (my mom says it was a home run, but that's a testament to her always seeing the best in her kids) She was jumping up and down and cheering so much that all the other parents were worried because they were afraid she was going to give birth right there.
 
I could regale you with stories about her being there, about her staying up late to help with projects, about her holding my hand through my diabetes diagnosis, about her being there when I called to give me a reassuring word.
 
My mom is the best.
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One Big Issue - Bullying

This is a copy of the text of my column that appeared in the Nebraska City News-Press last week regarding the issue of bullying in our schools. As you may know I, and eleven of my fellow community members, are running for a seat on the Nebraska City Public School Board. A few weeks ago, one of those candidates, Matt Watkins, asked a question, “What is the one issue you would like to see the school board address?

The overwhelming response was the issue of bullying. Matt has said that one of the main reasons his kids are now attending Lourdes Central Catholic was because of bullying and the response to that bullying. I know bullying happens everywhere, and it doesn’t stop with kids. I’ve seen church members be bullies, I’ve seen board members be bullies, there are presidential candidates who are bullies, there are state senators who are bullies. I’ve seen bullying at every level of human from 5-80 year olds, I’ve seen in corporations, small businesses, non-profits, you name it. Bullying is a problem.

It’s a problem because the bully, for the most part, feels inadequate. All they know how to do is harass, belittle, and intimidate. There are as many reasons that people become bullies, as there are bullies. I would also venture a guess that if we took a long look and were honest with ourselves that each and every one of us has been a bully in someway at sometime in our lives.

According to StopBullying.gov:

“Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.

In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include:

An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people. Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.

Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.”

I would disagree with this definition but only because I would not limit bullying to “behavior among school aged children”. Other than that I think it’s spot on.

I will admit that I have been a bully in the past, I will also admit to having been bullied in the past. I’m not proud of any of it, but it is part of my story (and I’m not just talking about when I was a kid). I’m also sure that they are related. After being bullied, when I got the upper hand I became a bully, because I felt like I had to take control or assert my dominance or show how important I was. Luckily, I had people in my life that would tell me to cut it out.

Now, as a parent, I want to know if you see my kid bullying other kids or your kid. If my child is exhibiting any of these bullying behaviors I want to know about it. I want their teachers, staff, and administrators to tell me, I want their Sunday School teachers to tell me, I want other parents to tell me.

Don’t demonize my kid, do let me know that there is something I need to address at the home. It’s hard enough as a parent to raise kids, it takes a community to raise positive and well adjusted kids. Some kids (and some adults) in our town have a good support system that will help them learn and grow. (Sometimes that support system makes the problem worse, but that’s another column). A lot of kids (and some adults) don’t have the support they need to grow. It’s up to us do better, as a community.

We can do better by speaking up, we can do better by teaching rather than punishing, we can do better by engaging rather than gossiping. We can do better to stop bullying in our schools and in our community.

 

 

Throwing My Hat in The Ring

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Over the past couple of weeks several people have asked me why I was running for School Board in Nebraska City. Here is my answer:

A few weeks ago I did something I’ve never done before; I filed to run for an elected office. I am running for a position on the Nebraska City Public School Board. There are a lot of reasons that I choose to put my name in the hat, but they all boil down to a sentiment that I heard growing up. “You may lose your friends, you may lose your money, you may lose your home…but the one thing that no one can ever take away from you is your education.”

In the past couple of years the school board and the administration of Nebraska City Public Schools have be working hard, not only to provide the best education possible, but also provide as many options for learning as possible. With the announcement of the purchase of the old clinic building on 14th and the old Food Pride building on Central I’m looking forward to see what’s next for our students. My hope is to do my best to clear the way for our students, all our students, to have an opportunity for success. An opportunity to pursue education after they graduate from high school, if they want, at a four year school, a two year school, a trade school, or in the military. I also hope to help set the stage for our students to be successful in the classroom, on the athletic field, the performing stage, and, ultimately, in our community.

We are blessed with many caring teachers, administrators, and staff. I have done my best in the short time that I have lived here to get to know them. Whether that’s been serving as a chaperone for After-School programs for Hayward and the Middle School, working with United Against Violence to host a Kids Day Out, or meeting with teachers, principals, and even folks in the Central Office to find out what they need. I have tried my best to listen and to learn. My hope is to help lift those great, skilled, and caring educators up so they can do their job. My role on the School Board will be to insure they have the infrastructure they need to succeed. It’s all part of the puzzle and we have to work together in order to insure that our students, and our community, have something that no change in the stock or agricultural markets will take away, a solid well-rounded education.

My children are just starting out in the education system here in Nebraska City and we have been very excited with their teachers, the paraprofessionals, and the support staff at Northside. I hope that having young children in the system I will be able to give voice to parents, who make up a key piece in the education of their children. I also want to show my children that it is far more important to get involved than it is to sit on the sidelines and hope for someone to listen to you.

When I was in seminary, I found myself complaining about some of the administrative decisions of the faculty and staff. Someone said, “What are you going to do about it?” I decided right then and there that I would no longer sit on the sidelines and complain or judge the actions of the decision makers. I would become a decision maker. I ran for student government and served as vice-moderator and moderator of the Student Government Assembly. I meet monthly with faculty, twice yearly with trustees, and almost daily with other students. I think we were able to get a lot done and make some positive change.

Now, I know that being the student body president of a small school is very different from serving in an elected position here, but that started my commitment to be a positive influence in my community and I think this is the next step.

I would really appreciate your vote in the upcoming election.

If you have any questions or want to share your thoughts I love to connect on social media. You can see more of my writing and thoughts on my wife’s and my blog (nebraskabolt.wordpress.com) or follow me on twitter (@ggbolt16) or show your support by liking my Greg Bolt for Nebraska City School Board facebook page.

Rewilding The Way - a review

In his book Rewilding the Way - Break Free to Follow an Untamed God, Todd Wynward asks many questions about the state of Western Christianity and the state of our planet.  One of the most intriguing for me was: How can Christians who have a spouse and children that they want to care for and support also radically follow the call from God through Jesus in the times in which we live? This is a question that I often ponder as a Christian who loves God deeply and who also loves my spouse and children deeply. The book offers biblical background, historical examples and modern day prophets that point to these questions.  I think I was hoping for a more prescriptive approach vs. a descriptive vision because I tend to like lists and steps vs. dreams and stories but that is a difference of style than a critique of the content.  My only wish is that the examples had been a little more broad.  If I'm unable to move to New Mexico or the East or West Coast and not interested in becoming a Mennonite, the stories that relate to my circumstances become thin.

Overall, the book offered me glimpses of what the way forward could be, introduced me to people and movements I knew little about and provided another perspective on what Christianity in the future could look like.

 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network.  I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions I have expressed are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR,Part 255.

You Said Don't Be Afraid (A Good Friday Meditation)

14034459259_d245cc820d_o This is a spoken word piece that I wrote a few years ago that I revisited recently, it's entitled "You Said Don't Be Afraid"

You can listen to the audio by following this link

You said don't be afraid

It is finished?

It can’t be finished…It can’t be over

You said follow me and I did,

You said pray with me and I tried,

You said trust me and…well that one was hard.

How can I trust you now?

You were the one; you were the Christ, the Messiah, the one who fed us, who healed us, who challenged us All that you said seems a lie, You’re dead, just like the criminals next to you,

Just like all that have come before you,

You were executed just like your cousin John. He even said you were the one.

You were supposed to be different,

You were supposed to change everything

You were supposed to fix it.

You said don’t be afraid.

How can it be finished?

Do you know how hard it has been to stand with you?

Do you know all the trouble you’ve caused me?

I had to watch you on trial

I had to watch you be humiliated

I had to watch you take it

You didn’t even fight back

You didn’t even stand up for yourself

I had to run for my own safety

I had to hide who I was

I had to watch you be whipped and beaten

If you were who you said you were why didn’t you do anything?

And now you’re dead

What now?

I can’t go back

I can’t start over

You spoke of freedom but everywhere I look there are chains

You said don’t be afraid

I was supposed to have an easier life

I was supposed to have a seat at the table

I was supposed to be part of something.

I was supposed to be a part of the change

I was going to be special

I was going to be safe

It was going to be easy

I was going to be able to be open about who I was

It was going to be different

You said don’t be afraid

But how can I not be afraid?

You’re dead

They won

And now they are coming for me.

I guess you’re right

It is finished.

(image by Pabak Sarkar)