Sermon: “Helping Each Other Stand” (Luke 13:10-17) [8/21/2022]

She’d been bent and twisted for 18 years.  If she were with us today, she’d been bent and twisted since 2004.

Take a minute to imagine what life was like for the woman.  The invitation is to do this in your imagination or IRL–in real life–that is, actually stand up, bend over, and walk around a little.  What might it have been like only to see the ground for 18 years?  What might it have done to the woman’s social life?  Her family life?  How might it have affected the rest of her health?  Imagine what it must have been like to live twisted and bent for 18 years.  (Pause)

Now, imagine feeling the gentle touch of a hand on your back…a hand!  Simply to be touched…it had been so long…And not just touched, but…what was that warmth emanating from that hand?  And the words… “Set free from my weakness?”  Yes!  Something tight inside is uncurling….What for almost 2 decades has seemed impossible suddenly seems possible.  You straighten, pain-free…and look into the eyes of your healer.  Then you do the only thing you can do:  You give loud praise to the Great Spirit!  You might even do a little thank you Jesus dance.

Oh, to be healed!  To be set free from weakness!  When our physical health is restored, our emotional and spiritual lives soar.  Such joy!  And when someone else is healed, the joy spills over to just about everybody else.

Almost about everybody else…

When the twisted woman stands up straight, set free from her weakness…and when she starts her joyful celebration, the “head man,” as the First Nations Version calls him, protests.  He protests the woman’s healing.  You see, Jesus has healed someone–that is, he has worked– on the Sabbath.  In the law, working on the Sabbath is forbidden.  There are six other days of the week to heal; do your healing work then, NOT on the Sabbath!

An aside in the First Nations Version says that Jesus looked at the head man with sorrow and anger.  If Jesus was sad, it’s likely because the head man didn’t get it.  Mired in the letter of the law, he missed its spirit.  Because of his stranglehold on the law, the head man wasn’t able to experience the joy–the miracle–of the woman’s healing.

If Jesus was angry, it might have been directed at the head man’s real goal:  clinging to power, a power that came from policing religious law.  If Jesus is going to flaunt the law, where will the head man be then?  Powerless.  In his mind, there’s only one thing the head man can do:  protest.  If Jesus is angry, perhaps it’s because, once again, the religious structure that’s in place ignores and diminishes the needs of the folks living in need on the margins of their society.

“Healing” is a soft, comforting word.  Everybody wants to be healed, right?  That’s a big part of what we do here at UCT…we create space for people to heal from the wounds the world has inflicted.  Many of us come to church bent and twisted, looking for some help in standing up straight.  And when that healing comes?  What joy!

Yes, “healing” is a comforting word.  AND…it also can be disruptive.  If the social or religious structures in place thrive on people’s weakness, what happens when those weak ones experience healing?  They gain power, right?  And if the powerless gain power, what happens to those who benefit from the current power structures?   No wonder the head man felt threatened.  

Yesterday, here at the church, we heard an essay written by Leonard Scovens and read by Leonard’s grandmother, Joan Livezey.  For those who are new to UCT, 23 years ago Leonard Scovens murdered the daughter and grandson–Pat and Chris–of UCT member, Agnes Furey.  Shortly after her daughter’s and grandson’s deaths, Agnes wrote to Leonard. Until her death from Covid a year ago tomorrow, the two came into relationship and asked what it would take for each of them to heal.  Their conversations through the letters they wrote, led them to work for a transformation of our criminal justice system through restorative justice.  Eventually, Leonard joined UCT.  He is one of us.

As I listened to Leonard’s words yesterday, today’s sermon floating through my mind, something Leonard wrote resonated.  When Leonard suggests that people who are incarcerated need to be healed, guards resist, sometimes violently.  Leonard says that the stance of the guards–of the entire criminal justice system–is that “prisoners should be punished, not healed.” 

Can you imagine what would happen if people who are incarcerated were healed?  Recidivism rates would plummet, right?  Then what would happen?  Prisons would be emptied.  Profits would dwindle.  The power of those who benefit from our criminal justice system would drain away.  No!  Absolutely not!  Prisoners healed?  No way!

In response to the head man’s protest, Jesus calls his bluff by reminding him that if the head man’s horse needs a drink on the Sabbath, he’ll give the horse a drink–that is, that even the head man makes exceptions to keeping the Sabbath.  If the head man will break the Sabbath to give his horse a drink, why not heal this woman?

The Gospel writer tells us that Jesus’ enemies are shamed by Jesus’ words, but the hearts of the people jumped for joy because of the wonderful things he was doing.

To be healed is to be empowered.  After healing from two foot surgeries–a process that took a couple of years–I was empowered to go on walks again.  I am blessed beyond measure that those healing surgeries were available to me.  

Sometimes, though, healing comes from learning to live with physical limitations.  A 2001 documentary about Ram Dass called Fierce Grace chronicles Ram’s journey of living with the effects of a stroke.  In one scene, the camera captures Ram’s slow process of getting into a car’s passenger seat.  Asked if he’s frustrated about his inability to drive, Ram says, “If I get into the passenger seat thinking I’m a driver, I’m frustrated.  If I get into the passenger seat as a passenger, I enjoy the ride.”  Sometimes, the deepest healing comes in accepting our limitations.

By whatever means it comes, healing empowers us.  If we are intentional about it, communities like ours can be a great source of healing.  Think of UCT as a power plant.  We empower people through providing a space for them to heal.  Then together, we healed people can help heal the world.  What we do here is…miraculous.

I recently learned about St. Augustine’s take on miracles.  An African leader of the church in the 4th and 5th centuries,  “Augustine claimed that what the Bible calls miraculous has more to do with timing than with anything else.  According to Augustine, miracles are those moments when, for reasons of God’s own, the Holy One chooses to do quickly what that One usually does at a more deliberate pace”  (John Claypool, The Hopeful Heart, 41).

So here’s what I wonder.  I wonder if the bent-over woman came to the synagogue that Sabbath because that’s what she always did on the Sabbath.  I wonder if the people in her faith community watched for her each Sabbath, helped her to her seat, and gathered the things she would need for services.  I wonder if those same people helped her during the week… bringing her food, helping her with tasks around the house, maybe even enlisting a massage therapist to ease the pain in her back.

I wonder if the care of the woman’s community prepared her for the healing Jesus brought.  I wonder if the real miracle was a slow one, 18 years in the making.  The Gospel writer gives us no hint of anything that happened before the woman’s healing…but it does make you wonder, doesn’t it?

An update on my journey with the Gospel song, I Need You to Survive.  Written by David Frazier and popularized by Hezekiah Walker, it’s one of the most powerful songs I’ve encountered.  On a recent retreat, I was asked to play the song on guitar while my friend, the songbird, Dana, sang it.  I’m sad to say that I did not play the song well.  At all.  I butchered it.

So, I tried to learn it on piano.  The going was very slow.  My learning to play it definitely was going to take one of those slow miracles.  As I fretted and prayed for God to send a Gospel pianist, there was a knock on the door.  Rev. Jarvis Alls generously let me film him playing I Need you to Survive.  We sang it a couple of Sundays ago.

That Sunday, as she greeted me after service, Tulani said, “I’m going to teach you how to sing that song the right way.”  Caroline said she’d help.  Looks like I butchered it again.  Sigh.

Last Sunday, Erica and I were talking about the baptisms of her two beautiful children, Holland and Harper.  (September 4th!)  When Erica told me she and her mom sing in a Gospel choir, you know what I asked, don’t you?  “Do you all sing, I Need You to Survive?”  

That’s when Erica told me the story of a woman bent and twisted by grief, a woman who experienced healing in her community.  (Erica tells the story.)

Mother at 20 something year old son’s funeral.  Church was packed.  Young people stood in the aisles.  The woman was bent over with grief.  At one point, one of the young people started to sing… “I need you, you need me, we’re all a part of God’s body…”  Everyone else joined in.  By the end of the song, the grieving mother was sitting up straight.

Today, we’re going to sing I Need You to Survive with Hezekiah Walker.  Go straight to the source, right?  When Tulani said she wanted to teach me how to sing the song correctly, she mentioned the cadence of the song.  I invite you to listen for that as we sing.  Or just sing.  And listen…as we remember our deeply-loved friends, Agnes and Sue, who we miss so much, two women who taught us the power of the message of this song, Agnes and Sue taught us that we need each other to survive.  (Sing, I Need You to Survive.)

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  ©2022

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Sermon: “Following Jesus” (Luke 12:49-56) [8/14/2022]

Show of hands:  How many of you have ever thought about giving up on church?  If you’re awake, if you know even a little of the history of the Christian church, if you’ve been hurt by church, thinking about giving up on it makes sense.

If you haven’t already thought about giving up on church, today’s passage might make you start thinking about it.

Do you think I have come to bring peace to Earth? Jesus asked his disciples.  If I’d been there, I probably would have said, “Yes, Jesus!  Yes, you have come to Earth to bring peace!  The angels sang it when you were born!  Peace on Earth, goodwill to all!”  At which point, Jesus would have said, “And the survey said:  Angch!  Try again.”

Do you think that I have come to bring peace to Earth?, Jesus says.  No, I tell you, but rather division!  Then he lists all the family relationships that will be fractured because of him.

I don’t know.  There’s enough division in the world already, don’t you think?  If following Jesus is only going to create more divisions, why do it?  If the church is just as fractured as the rest of the world, why participate?

I struggled with this text all my life…until I read one scholar’s take on it.  She said the passage is descriptive, not prescriptive, which means Jesus isn’t prescribing what his followers should do, aka, create divisions.  Rather, he’s describing what happens when people follow him.  

If we follow Jesus, if we seek to create God’s kindom, it’s going to upset the societal and religious structures already in place.  People who benefit from the current structures aren’t going to be happy with anything that threatens the status quo.  If we follow Jesus, and try to create God’s kindom, there’s no way around it–divisions will be created.

I suspect most of us are here at UCT because we’ve experienced the divisions Jesus describes.  Following Jesus by simply being who God created us to be?  Following Jesus by supporting others in being who God created them to be?  How many of us have experienced divisions in our churches, in our families because we followed Jesus in simply being ourselves or accepted others for being themselves?

Yesterday was my 4-month anniversary as your pastor.  One of the joys of being your pastor is getting to know you better.  Learning your stories is a true gift.    

Today, I’d like to share with you a little of my story.  Some of it you might have heard before; other parts might be new.  I share these particular parts of my story because they describe why I have chosen to follow Jesus in the work of pastoring.  You see, I too have seriously considered giving up on church.  At least twice.

The first time I thought about giving up on church was my first year of grad school.  Just a couple months after escaping the Baptist battles at my seminary, one sunny fall day I found myself standing under the chapel on the Emory University campus.  Deeply wounded by my experiences of church to that point, I had become dangerously disillusioned.

As I stood there, I thought:  “You don’t have to do this.  You don’t have to stay in church.  You don’t even have to remain Christian.  You can leave.  Do something else entirely.  Why stay?”  I stood there thinking for a long while.

Then, as he is wont to do, Jesus came to mind.  I thought about all the things Jesus said, everything he did.  I thought about how he spent time hanging out with the hurting people of the world, the outcasts, the oppressed, the abused.  And I thought of how he helped those people to see and experience the deep, abiding, non-judgmental love of God.

That’s the moment, I decided that if a community tried to follow Jesus–they didn’t even have to succeed–If a community just tried to follow Jesus:  it would change the world.  Standing there under the chapel, I committed myself to leading a community that would try—just try—to follow Jesus.  After four months with you all, I think I’ve found that community.   

The second time I seriously considered giving up on church was a crisp November morning in 1999 at the Civic Center in Macon, Georgia.  I was newly ordained and serving as Associate Minister at Virginia-Highland Baptist Church in Atlanta. 

Virginia-Highland already had left the Southern Baptists.  We were affiliated with the progressive Alliance of Baptists, but we still maintained our connection with the Georgia Baptist Convention.  That connection was important to us.

Some months before the November meeting in Macon, the GBC noted its concern about Virginia-Highland and Oakhurst Baptist Church in Decatur welcoming people of all sexual orientations.  To their credit, the Convention did offer some listening sessions.  (My favorite line from one of those sessions was an older straight woman in our church who said, “If someone tells us they’re a woman, we treat them like a woman!”  End of story.)

Sadly, the listening sessions didn’t change any minds.  A vote to disfellowship Virginia-Highland and Oakhurst was planned for the GBC meeting in November.  

As we entered the arena, I saw above us the sign for the Macon hockey team that played in the arena.  Y’all, I’m not lying about this.  This is the God’s honest truth.  The name of the Macon hockey team is Macon Whoopee.  Seeing that sign added to the absurdity of the day.

So there we were in the Macon Civic Center with 2,000 delegates of the Georgia Baptist Convention, listening to people speak to the issue of whether or not our two churches should be disfellowshipped.  

The pastors of our two churches spoke, as did two supporters.  The speakers who got the crowd riled, the ones who elicited whoops and hollers and applause and foot-stomping were the ones who called homosexuality an abomination.  That’s the only time in my life I’ve had 2,000 people cheering against me and people I cared for.  I was terrified.  We all were.

That negative encounter with so-called Christians almost did it for me.  If this is what Christianity is all about, I thought.  Forget it.  Just forget it.

But then I remembered the faces of our church members in Macon…the way they winced every time the word “abomination” spewed from another speaker’s mouth.

And I remembered another church member’s face, the person who, after hearing a sermon I’d preached on the good news that God’s love is for everyone–which seemed pretty everybody’s-heard-that to me…Even so, that person looked me in the eye and said: “Thank you.”  When I remembered that man’s “thank you”…when I saw how devastated my friends were that morning in Macon, that’s when I knew that–despite its flaws–I couldn’t leave the church.

Because, yes.  The church is deeply flawed.  There are too many parts of the body of Christ who beat up on the fragile, the vulnerable, and the different.  Christendom today is, indeed, both divided and divisive.  

Despite its flaws, though, I still believe that the church is the best means we have of sharing the Good news that God’s love is for everyone.  All of us can cite examples, personal experiences with churches that have gone bad–or worse yet, churches that have gone boring–but what might happen if church went right?  What might happen if we took the Gospel message seriously, this good news that God’s love REALLY is for everyone, the good news that God really does hope for everyone’s wholeness?  What might happen if we tried to live that message in even more radical ways?

Oh, man!  Can you imagine if the church were “clicking on all cylinders?”  What might happen to this world if the entire body of Christ lived the good news of God’s love for every person?  What might happen to this church and to the community around us if we got even more intentional about sharing the good news of God’s love?  Just think what we could do!  Think of all the people whose lives would change– people whose lives–and I don’t think this is overstating it–people whose lives would be saved–because they experienced God’s love in this place, among these people.

Don’t you know that that’s why we’re here?  We’re here to live God’s love and share it with others so that their lives can change…

so that the spiritually hungry might be fed  

so that the wounded might be healed,

so that the grieving might find comfort  

so that the lonely might find friendship,

so that the weary might find rest  

so that the outcast might find acceptance,

so that we all might experience God’s love

and in that love discover our own worth, 

our own dignity, 

our own preciousness in God’s sight.

What we’re doing here is holy work!  As so many of us already have learned, engaging in God’s holy work can create divisions between us and others.  But, as your presence here today proclaims, we can’t let the threat of divisions stop us.  The work we are doing is too important.  The world needs us too much to let up now.  So let us continue, let us continue, let us continue to follow Jesus.  Or at least to try.  

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

 Kimberleigh Buchanan   

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Sermon: “The Treasure Is Us” (Luke 12:32-34) [8/7/2022]

Ah!  The “Don’t Worry Be Happy” Scripture!  I once played Bobby McFerrin’s song “Don’t Worry Be Happy” in a sermon on this text.  Twice.  After the service, one congregant let me know that she turned her hearing aids off both times.  “I don’t like that song.”

I get it.  It’s an earworm.  It’s going in your heads right now, isn’t it?  You probably won’t even be able to hear the rest of the sermon.  Sigh.

For those who are still with me, let’s look again at Jesus’ admonition to stop worrying about what we’ll eat or wear, “for life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing.”  It sounds pretty “pie-in-the-sky,” doesn’t it?  Especially with inflation.  How can we not worry about putting food on the table or putting gas in the car?  

Consider the ravens, Jesus tells the crowd.  They neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them.  Of how much more value are you than the birds! This is the second time Jesus reminds his hearers that they are of more worth than birds.  Last week, it was sparrows.  This week, ravens.  

We remember that the people with whom Jesus chose to hang out, the people with whom he shared the Gospel, lived on the margins of Roman society.  They probably did have trouble getting food and clothing. They probably did feel like they didn’t matter as much as the birds.  They probably did worry.  A lot.  

Is it any wonder that Jesus keeps reminding people of their worth in God’s eyes?  If you don’t have access to basic resources, if the society in which you live doesn’t value who you are, being reminded of your humanity–over and over–helps.  It helps.

Jesus’ lesson on worry leads to this:  Do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying.  Your Abba knows that you need them.  Instead, strive for God’s kindom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Strive for God’s kindom, aka, the world of which God dreams.  If you do that, the things you need will be given to you, as well.  I wonder if Jesus isn’t calling for an either/or thing here, but a reassessment of priorities.  Seek ye first the kingdom of God, right?  

Sure!  Let’s just go seek the kingdom of God!  Let’s send one of the clipboards around and let us all sign up.  

It’s not that easy, is it, creating God’s kindom.  A big part of what makes the work of creating the world of which God dreams rests in the social systems in our country–the economic system, the healthcare system, the racial system.  Systems of injustice are insidious.  We’re all caught in the web they’ve created.  After last week’s sermon, someone said that they got the thing about economic justice (which I’m convinced they do), then asked, But what do we do?

I’m not sure.  I know.  I’m the pastor.  I’m supposed to know these things…but I struggle to know precisely what to do in the face of unjust social systems in which we also participate.  The work many of you are doing to get out the vote, the work for climate justice that’s beginning to solidify here at UCT, the renewed focus on advocacy for those in the LGBTQ+ community, Peter Butzin’s work with the Ethics committee…all these efforts are, I believe, kin-dom work.  All these efforts help create the world of which God dreams.

But so much more needs to be done.  So.  Much.  More.  

At one of the retreats I attended last month, I learned about the impact of racist societal structures on people who are Black.  I’ve been doing anti-racism work for a long time.  That work intensified after George Floyd’s murder.  I went to the “Building Diverse Communities” retreat saying I “just wanted to listen,” but thinking to myself, “Oh, yeah.  I know all about creating anti-racist communities.”  

In the first session, when I heard something inappropriate coming out of my mouth, it hit me:  It doesn’t matter how much anti-racism work I do, I’m always going to be caught by the racist structures in our society.  All of us are caught–people who are Black, people who are white, all people.  All of us are caught in the web of racist societal structures.

So, as the person who sent the email asked, What do we do?  How do we create the world of which God dreams when injustice in our world is so insidious?

I’m glad I made my stumble in the first session of the retreat.  Getting past it freed me up really to listen to what was being said by our four Black women presenters.  

The main presenter was Rev. Dr. Alika Galloway, a Presbyterian pastor in Minneapolis.  When she started her ministry, which was in a rough part of town, each morning she’d sit on the church’s steps and wait with her daughter for the school bus.  As Alika sat, she observed.  Sometimes, she’d invite the people she saw to come sit a spell on the church steps.

Many of the people who came and sat were engaged in survival sex…people whose rent was coming due and who were desperate for money to pay it.  When the people came– early in the morning after their work was over–Alika asked them what they needed.  Almost always, they asked for water.  None of the restaurants in the area allowed the people to get a drink.  After the water, what they most needed was a safe space to rest.

And so, Alika, her congregation, and the Presbytery created a space within the church for these survival sex workers to rest.  The red brick church building was old, including its exquisite stained glass windows.  The limits of the space became clear when a trans woman walked in one morning, looked at the stained glass windows and said, “How the bleep can I rest with that white Jesus looking at me?”  

A recurrent theme at our retreat was the power of symbols, especially symbols in white churches…like that blond-haired blue-eyed Jesus.  The woman who came to the church that morning, needed–she needed–to see another image, an image that looked more like her.

Alika made an appointment to meet with the Presbytery…a Presbytery known for not approving much of anything.  She asked them to remove the windows.  She said, “I’m not here to shame you about your windows, I’m asking you to save some lives.”  Then she told them girls as young as 11 were practicing survival sex in her neighborhood.  She asked if there were any 11 year old girls in their lives, to think about them as they made their decision.  The Presbyters asked Alika to leave the room while they voted.  When she came back in, they told her they would remove the windows.  The church now has clear glass windows.

I wonder if Jesus spends so much time reminding people of their human worth because creating the world of which God dreams requires all of who we are for the work.  If there are people walking around–which there are–who think they aren’t worth anything because they aren’t white, we haven’t achieved the world of which God dreams.  If people who are white aren’t thinking about, learning from people who don’t look or live like them, we haven’t achieved the world of which God dreams.  We’re all caught in webs of injustice.  Until we dismantle them, the injustices will continue.

Goodness, Pastor!  Can’t you get us to some hope, like now?   Why, yes!  Yes, I can!  Listen to the last few verses of today’s Scripture story.  ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kindom.  Sell your possessions and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Where is your treasure?  Where is your heart?  It’s telling that Jesus follows “it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kindom,” with “sell your possessions and give alms.”  God’s kindom is about our connection with each other.  God’s kin-dom is about making sure that others have what they need.  God’s kin-dom is about creating a world where everyone feels safe and knows their full human worth.

What Jesus seems to be saying here is that our treasure is US…and by us, I mean all of humanity, all of creation.  I’m reminded of the African idea of ubuntu–there is no me without you.  We cannot become fully human until we live as if we need each other to survive.

I Need You to Survive is one of the best Gospel songs ever.  At the retreat, Dana, one of the presenters whom we called “the songbird,” was asked to sing I Need You to Survive at prayer with the sisters at the monastery.  Rather than using an accompaniment track, which she usually did, she wanted to sing it with guitar–as a way to embody Black and white folks working collaboratively.  Dana asked if I could play it.  I looked it up, changed the key, and thought I could manage it.  When we practiced, I did okay except for this one crucial–but for me, awkward–chord.  I told her I would practice the chord.  It should be fine for prayer the next day.

It wasn’t.  Not by a long-shot.  It was awful.  Absolutely awful.  Dana was gracious, but I was really embarrassed.  I thought about it as I drove home from Indiana.  Somewhere in northern Alabama, I decided that we would sing the song last Sunday in worship and that, since Quentin would be out of town, I would learn to play it on piano–maybe as a way to atone for botching it at the monastery on guitar.  I pulled up the chords.  I pulled up tutorials on Youtube.  I practiced and practiced…then prayed for God to send a real Gospel pianist.

Tuesday a week ago, I had just given up practicing the song and gone back to my office, when Rev. Jarvis Alls knocked on the door.  Rev. Alls pastors a small congregation in Quincy.  He said they first got to know UCT a few years back at Pride.  My eyebrows shot up.  A black church at Pride?  He also said that he’s been watching our services.  When I asked why, he said, “You might not hear from them, but you need to know that your ministry here is very important to people.  They are watching.”  When I asked if his congregation was really supportive of people in the LGBTQ+ community, Rev. Alls said, “Here’s what we believe:  God is love.  Love is love.  It’s our job to love people.  One day we’re going to have to answer to God for that.”  I could have hugged him right there.

In the conversation with Rev. Alls, I learned that he’s also a musician.  His grandmother, Dottie Alls–who sadly died of Covid in 2020–was a blues musician known as B. B. Queen.  When Jarvis showed me a video of his grandmother playing guitar and him playing piano, I asked, “Can you play I Need You to Survive and let me record it for my congregation?”  He said yes!  I was so relieved.  You should also be relieved.  

So…we’re going to sing I Need You to Survive.  Rev. Jarvis Alls will accompany us.  We’re actually going to play the video twice.  We’ll sing one set of words the first time, a second set of words the second time. 

As we sing // remember this:  our treasure is us.  There is no us and them.  There is only us.  There is only us.  Our treasure is us.  We need each other to survive.

Video:  I Need You to Survive

Kimberleigh Buchanan  © 2022

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Sermon: “The Poverty of Greed” (Luke 12:31-21) [7/31/2022]

Unless you were a Roman citizen with some authority, 1st century Palestine was a harsh place to live.  The poor were taxed oppressively.  People not part of the Roman Empire often became pawns in the political machinations of the powerful.  The stress of trying to make it through the day exacted a heavy toll for those on the margins of Roman society.

Those were the people with whom Jesus chose to hang out–the powerless, the downtrodden, folks just scraping by.  Those were people who needed to hear the good news.

Before he tells the story of the successful farmer, Jesus asks the crowd:  Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

“Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”  On the face of it, this statement elicits comfort and reassurance–You have value in God’s eyes!  But when you stop to think, you realize those people must have been pretty beaten down if Jesus was trying to convince them they were more valuable than sparrows, the slightest of birds.

As I read this familiar sentence this time, I saw something I hadn’t seen before.  When Jesus says, “Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows,” he makes a connection between fear and not feeling valued.  If your life has no meaning in the eyes of people in power, of course, you’re going to be afraid.  They can do anything to you!  It’s why so many of our siblings with brown and black skin and those in the trans, non-binary, and LGBQ+ communities (and those in the trans, non-binary, and LBGQ+ communities with brown and black skin) walk around always on their guard, always–some part of them–afraid.  

At the retreat I attended week before last, the presenter–a Black pastor from Minneapolis– asked us to imagine a time when we felt oppressed.  Once we had that feeling of oppression in our bodies, she said, “That’s what it’s like for people who are Black all the time, every second of every day.”  If you aren’t valued by the powers that be, the world can be a very scary place.

Do you feel valued?  Do you feel your worth?  So much in our world, in our country, seems to militate against human beings feeling our worth as human beings.  Good church people–that’s us–throw these words around all the time–”God loves you.  You are a beloved child of God.”  Yet, how many people really feel loved, much less loved by God?  

As Jesus is reminding people of their true worth, of God’s profound love for them, someone in the crowd says, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”  I would love to have been a fly on the wall in Jesus’ brain about then.  Jesus is telling the people about their sacred worth and all someone can think about is a family squabble.  About money.  

Net worth, human worth.  In our society–in the world–those two worths get all tangled up, don’t they?  Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that, far too often, net worth determines human worth.  Do you know what I’m talking about?  To help untangle the net worth/human worth knot, Jesus tells the grumpy brother–and anyone who will listen (including us)–a story.

“Take care!,” he says.  “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”  

Once upon a time, a farmer had a banner harvest.  The man thought to himself, ‘Where am I going to store all these crops?  I guess the only thing to do is to pull down these old barns and build some bigger ones.  I’ll store my grain and goods in the new barns, then say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 

It’s easy to beat up on this successful farmer, to call him greedy and berate him for his stingy heart.  And yet, greed (more) is pretty much what runs our country, isn’t it?  It’s why our planet is so sick–greed.  It’s why the wealth gap in our country continues to widen–greed.  Have you heard about what happened in Mississippi?  A famous ball player–with the assistance of a former governor–stole funds from state assistance for low-income Mississippians and used them for a state college’s sports program and to line their own pockets.

That’s an egregious example of greed.  But we’re all caught in the web created by greed.  What’s the sign of success in our country?  Bigger barns, bigger houses, sending our kids to fancier schools, buying fancier cars.  Even when we say and believe with all our hearts that everyone on the planet has equal value, we’ve all been indoctrinated into the mindset (I almost said “religion”) that equates net worth with sacred worth.  The doctrine of greed is insidious, isn’t it?

Allen told me this week about an economic theory called “Steady State”  As I understand it, the goal in this setup isn’t to grow the economy, but to keep it steady, to make sure everyone has what they need.  Sounds like Jesus, or those first Christians in the book of Acts who had all things in common, doesn’t it?  But, man.  How could we ever create that kind of economy in our country?  We’d have to completely rethink everything.  

I mean, that would just take so much work, creating a greedless society.  Can you even imagine?  Surely, Jesus isn’t calling us to transform the entire framework on which our country works!  Is he?  

The good news today–which might feel like bad news–is this:  Yes.  Jesus IS calling us to untangle the net worth/human worth knot.  Why?  Because until we do, none of us–not the 99%ers, not the 1%ers, none of us–is going to know our full, beautiful, beloved worth as human beings.  I have two stories to share, one about the poverty of greed, the other about the joy of generosity.   

Several years ago, a woman died with a large balance in her bank account.  Just days before illness would claim her life, she had the chance to help someone with a small sum of cash.  She refused.  Despite her healthy bank balance, despite her advanced years, that woman died a spiritual pauper.  Her greed impoverished her.  She died with a small heart.

Now, a story of joyous generosity.  Born HIV positive in South Africa, Nkosi Johnson was raised by a white mother.  That mother, Gail Johnson, worked tirelessly for Nkosi and for other people with AIDS in Southern Africa.

Among Gail’s many projects was a home for people living with AIDS, many of whom were children.  The place was called Nkosi’s House.

By the time he was 12, Nkosi was into full-blown AIDS and wasn’t doing well.  Even so, one of his favorite pastimes was going to Nkosi’s House and playing with the children there.  One evening, Nkosi asked Gail if he could spend the night at the shelter and maybe take his allowance money and buy the kids pizza for supper.  “Sure,” his mom said.

When Nkosi arrived, he asked the matron if he might treat the children to some pizza… but supper already had been prepared for the evening.  “Perhaps tomorrow night,” the woman said.  The news disappointed Nkosi–he loved pizza and wanted to share some with the children.  But he understood.

After a lively–non-pizza meal (Nkosi was quite the charmer), the diminutive child climbed into the bathtub for one of his famously long baths.  The hot water relieved his body’s significant pain.  During that bath, Nkosi had a seizure.  He lived for several more months, but never regained consciousness.

Like the elderly woman, Nkosi died with money in his pocket.  But unlike the woman, it had been Nkosi’s deepest desire to share that money with others.  Nkosi didn’t live long, but he did live generously in the few years he had.  Nkosi died free from greed.  He died understanding the value of a human life, the value of all human lives.  Nkosi died with a huge heart.

I know.  Nkosi was only 12 when he died.  He never had to think about providing for a family or saving for retirement.  He was too young to know the full value of money, or the full value of human lives.  But was he?  Was he?  Here’s a clip of Nkosi speaking at the World AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa in July 2000.

Gail Johnson Honors Adopted Son Nkosi

We are normal. We have hands. We have feet. We can walk, we can talk, we have needs just like everyone else – don’t be afraid of us – we are all the same!

Sing:  Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.

Red, brown, yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.

Jesus loves the little children of the world.

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  ©2022 (with some help from 2011)

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Sermon: “Who Is My Neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-37) [7/20/2022]

“Just then, a lawyer stands up to test him.  ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’”  As he is wont to do, Jesus answers the question with another question:  ‘What is written in the law?’”  The lawyer says, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus says, “You’ve given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

That should be the end of it, right?  The man asks a question, Jesus shows him he already knows the answer, and tells him to act on what he knows.  “Do this, and you will live.”  But the lawyer, “wanting to justify himself”….perhaps because, though he knew the law, he wasn’t acting on it?…the lawyer asks:  “Who is my neighbor?”

This time Jesus responds with a story, a story about a Samaritan who helps a person assaulted and robbed on the road to Jericho.  When he sees the man, a priest walks right by and doesn’t help.  A Levite does the same thing.  It’s the Samaritan who helps the man.

A word about Samaritans.  Samaritans lived north of Jerusalem.  Jewish people who’d stayed in that area intermarried with the locals who weren’t Jewish.  Their intermarrying also had led to the Samaritans having different worship practices.  For these reasons, at that time in history, Samaritans were treated as second class citizens by the Jewish people who lived in and around Jerusalem.  This story often is called the story of the Good Samaritan.  The assumption in calling this Samaritan “good,” is that Samaritans, in general, weren’t good.

After telling the story, Jesus asks the lawyer, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

We could spend all day speculating as to why the priest and the Levite–people who knew the law backwards and forwards–didn’t “go and do likewise.”  But here’s what I want to know.  Why did the Samaritan help?  Why did he take so much of his time and pay money out of his own pocket to see that the man was cared for?

It’s not complicated, is it?  The Samaritan saw that man on the road as a human being, as his neighbor.  In his mind, he didn’t have a thick line drawn between us and them.  For him, there was only “us.”  And when one of us is in distress, it’s our job–it’s our privilege–to help our fellow human being.  Here’s a song–based on actual events–that illustrates what I’m talking about.  (Song:  Guinevere and the Fire)

[Verse 1]

My grandmother was born in nineteen hundred

On a farm in New South Wales

She wed a dairyman

Who liked to raise a pint of ale

The first child came when she was twenty

Five more babes in seven years

That first daughter was my mother

They called her Guinevere

[Verse 2]

Little Gwen would play beneath the willow

“Yes the Queen would love some tea”

Helped with chores that never ended

Tried to mind, tried to please

Sometimes she heard the music

Wild and strange in the summer night

“They’re dirty people” warned her mother

“Never go near their campfire light”


“Stay away from the camp of the blackfellas

Little white girls have disappeared

They drink and dance when the moon is red

Better never let ’em see your golden hair”

[Verse 3]

Came the winter of ’27

So cold the milk froze in the pail

Her mum hung the nappies by the hearth

Her dad in town for a round of ale

A spark leapt from the fire that night

Wrapped her mother in a gown of flame

Flailing dancing in a frenzy

Falling down in voiceless pain

[Verse 4]

Stillness and the stench of burning

Then so soft ’twas like a ghost

“Fetch the Cunninghams” she whispered

“Bring me aid or I am lost”

The Cunningham house was not two miles away

And they the nearest whites

Past the camp of the Aboriginals

Past the demons of the night


“Stay away from the camp of the blackfellas

Little white girls have disappeared

They drink and dance when the moon is red

Better never let ’em see your golden hair”

[Verse 5]

“I will run to save my mother

I must go now, I must fly”

Still she heard her mother’s tales

Of the Devil’s drums and the evil eye

Her mother’s breathing ever fainter

Gwen frozen in her fright

Seven hours ’til dawn she waited

For the safety of the light


Now she runs till her feet are bleeding

To the house upon the hill

Now comes the doctor’s wagon speeding

To her mother cold and still

[Verse 6]

They laid her down in the Nowra graveyard

From the Bible read a verse

Children sent to aunts and uncles

Some to Melbourne, some to Perth

Gwen packed her canvas satchel

Could not hold the salt tears back

Turned to leave her home forever

Faced a woman gnarled and black

[Verse 7]

“Child our hearts are heavy

Grieving for your loss

We live so close by you

Why did you not come to us?

We have salves to heal the burning

We have herbs to stop the pain

We could have helped had we but known

To make your mother whole again”


“Stay away from the camp of the blackfellas

Little white girls have disappeared

They drink and dance when the moon is red

Better never let ’em see your golden hair”

That Aboriginal woman got it, didn’t she?  She knew that there is only us.  I know I’m preaching to the choir here.  Of course, the story of the Samaritan is about treating every human being as if they are a beautiful creation of the divine, which they absolutely are.  That’s nothing here I need to convince you about.

The challenge of this story isn’t to convince us of anything.  The challenge of this story is to LIVE what we know, to “go and do likewise.”  That’s not always easy.

Tomorrow, I’ll be leaving to participate in two continuing ed retreats.  The first one will be at Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman, Alabama.  That’s one Allen and I will do together.  The second one is at Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, Indiana.  

The theme of the second retreat is “Building Inclusive Communities.”  It will be led by a woman from my Women Touched by Grace cohort, Yolande, her sister, Deidre, who just finished her Women Touched by Grace program, and another speaker.  All three women are Black.

Here’s how the retreat came about.  Last year, Yolande, Deirdre, and 20 more of us attended a retreat at the monastery.  In one of the sessions, it became clear that the women who were Black and the women who were white were having very different experiences of what was being discussed.  The conversation became, not so much heated, as intense.

In the midst of the conversation, I related a story from the first session of our Women Touched by Grace cohort in 2008.  Toward the end of that first retreat, Yolande–who was one of two Black women in our group of 20–said, “When I first arrived, I asked myself, ‘What am I doing here with all these white women?’”  

I had been having a wonderful time.  Spending ten days with 19 other clergywomen being doted on by some really fun nuns?  It was heaven.  Yolande’s words brought me up short.  I hadn’t realized how different our experiences of the retreat were.  I was having a grand time, mostly, because I felt safe.  Surrounded by so many white people–and so few people who looked like her–Yolande didn’t feel the sense of safety that I did.

As I told this story in our session last summer, I identified that as the moment I realized I was white, that people with Black skin have a different experience in our country than I do.

When I finished the story, Yolande said, surprise on her face, “Kim, I never knew you felt that way.”  When I see her week after next, I plan to ask her what she meant when she said that.  I took it to mean that she hadn’t known I was supportive of her as a Black woman.  We had known each other for 13 years.  How could she not know I was supportive?  Yolande, her sister, and one other Black clergywoman will be leading this retreat.  That’s a lot of why I want to go.  I still have a lot to learn from Yolande.  I’m going to this retreat to listen and learn.

It’s easy for us progressive, liberal Christians to think we’re as inclusive as we could possibly be.  “We say we welcome everyone…and we mean it!”  And I know that’s our intention.  But welcoming others isn’t just a decision we make.  The lawyer, the priest, and the Levite all would have said, “Look!  It’s right here in the Torah– ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  It’s right there, plain as day!”

Welcoming others isn’t a toggle switch–we don’t welcome everyone, now we do welcome everyone, end of story.  Welcoming others is a journey, a journey built on relationship, rooted in empathy and concern for our fellow human beings.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.  UCT was among the earliest UCC congregations to vote to become Open and Affirming.  In September, we’ll celebrate the 31st anniversary of our signing our ONA covenant.  That was in 1991.  

In light of all the laws being considered and passed by state legislatures that limit the care trans children are able to receive, the UCC is inviting all ONA churches–especially those whose covenant was written a long time ago, like ours–to revise their ONA covenants to include people who are trans and non-binary.

Our first thought was simply to add “trans” and “non-binary” to the covenant.  We soon realized that we probably need to spend some time reflecting on what it means truly to welcome people who are trans or nonbinary.  Yes, yes, of course, we welcome folks who are trans and nonbinary…but what does that welcome look like?  What does it mean truly to welcome someone who is trans?  How will people who are trans know they are welcome here at UCT?  It breaks my heart that Yolande didn’t know for 13 years that I am supportive of her and see her struggle trying to negotiate life as a woman who is Black.  My welcome of Yolande stayed in my head.  But it wasn’t doing much to change the world just hanging out in my head, right?

Extending an actual welcome to people means getting to know them, right?  How can we welcome people when we don’t know what will make them feel welcome?

When asked what one thing people can do to make a difference in the world, author Paul Born tells them, “That’s simple.  Bring chicken soup to your neighbor.”  “Really? [That’s it?]” is the typical response.  Born says yes, then adds:  “‘The answer is simple.  But the act of bringing soup?  That takes work.’

“How so?  It requires that you know your neighbor.  It requires that you know whether they are vegetarian and whether they like soup.  It requires that you know them well enough and communicate regularly enough to know they are sick.  Once you know they are sick, you must feel compelled to want to help and to make this a priority among the many calls on your time and energy.  Your neighbor must know you well enough to feel comfortable in receiving your help.  And you must have enough of a relationship to know what they prefer when they are sick, whether it is chicken soup, pho, chana masala, or even ice cream.  So, you see, the work takes place long before you perform the act of bringing soup.” (Deepening Community, Paul Born)

A church I served in Georgia formed a relationship with a Mosque.  Our communities worked together to serve participants in a temporary housing program called Family Promise.  On the Sunday the Ahmadiyya community came to our worship service, I told this story about bringing soup to a neighbor in the sermon.  During prayer time after the sermon, my friend, Mahmooda, said with a smile on her face:  “I like soup!”

We know what is written in the law:  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”  If we do this, we will live.  If we do this, others will live, too.  If we do this, we will help to heal the world.  And so, let us go and do likewise.

In the name of our God, who creates us, sustains us, redeems us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  ©2022

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Sermon: “Always, We Begin Again” (Mark 6:1-6) [7/3/2022]

A lot has happened in our country the past two weeks…The Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade and struck down a common sense gun law in New York…Oh!  This just in–the EPA can’t regulate anything any more…but teachers in public schools can lead their students in prayer.  The startling revelations of the January 6th congressional hearings… the “Stop Woke,” “Don’t say gay,” and 15 week abortion laws that went into effect in Florida on Friday… Gay.  Anybody else want to preach a sermon on the eve of July 4th?  Where do you even start?  

Here’s a question James Baldwin asked in his 1963 book, The Fire Next Time:  Have we achieved our country?  In his 1998 collection of lectures, Achieving Our Country, Richard Rorty asks the question again at the turn of the 21st century.  Both Baldwin and Rorty answer the question with a resounding NO.  No, we have NOT achieved our country.

The question assumes that our country did not start out as a pristine democracy, as if what was written in the Constitution described the reality of our country at the time.  The Constitution laid out an ideal democracy, at least as it was imagined by a small group of landed gentry, men– some of whom owned slaves–in the 18th century.  The work of our country’s citizens, according to Baldwin and Rorty, is to work to achieve an ideal democracy.

As a gay Black American, James Baldwin struggled with his citizenship.  He tried many times to give up the US.  When Medgar, Malcolm, and Martin were assassinated, he could no longer bear to live here.  He moved to Turkey and his beloved Paris for several years.  In the end, after severe bouts of depression, he came back to the States.  Always, he said, we begin again.  Always, our country begins again the important work toward achieving its best self.

So, have we achieved our country?  Some of us might say, Well, sure!  Things are so much better than they used to be.  Others might shout NO!  Others might say, C’mon, Pastor!  Just preach a little love and let us get out of here and go to our picnics and watch our fireworks.

I wish I could.  But, with everything that’s happening in our country right now, it seems important–crucial–to ask the question:  Have we achieved our country?  Or maybe the more vital question is this one:  Do we even believe our country can be achieved?

What would an “achieved” United States look like?  If we crossed a finish line or passed some big test and finally became the AUSA–the Achieved United States of America–what would it look like?  What would we do then?  In the real world, countries can’t be achieved.  It’s something we’re always working toward.

So, I ask again:  Do we–as people of faith–believe our country can be achieved?  Do we have hope that our country is capable of being a better version of itself?  

Hope for our country?  How can we hold hope for our country with the startling revelations coming out of the January 6 hearings?  How can we hold hope for our country when states continue to enact laws that restrict access to voting?  How can we hold hope for our country when state and U.S. legislators won’t pass even the paltriest of climate laws?  How can we hold hope when many states–including our own–create laws that limit how teachers can talk about racism and sexism?  How can we hold hope when a Supreme Court justice wrote that other rights need to be revoked, like the rights to contraception and same-sex marriage?  

And that’s just current-day issues.  What about the past?  How can we hold hope for a country built on the institution of slavery?  How can we hold hope for a country that plied native peoples with alcohol and small pox-laced blankets, then herded them onto reservations?  How can we hold hope for a country that interned Japanese Americans in the 1940s?  How can we hold hope for a country that still can’t pass an Equal Rights Amendment?  How can we hold hope for a country that, on a whim, restricts and revokes human rights?

As people of faith, we don’t have the luxury of glossing over the uglier parts of our nation’s history.  Our commitment to social justice requires that we look at that history as honestly as we can.  

But hear me well.  As hopeless as things might feel right now, we can’t allow ourselves the luxury of sinking into cynicism about our country.  As people of faith, we cannot relinquish our responsibility to hope for our country’s wholeness.  If we are to achieve our country, in addition to looking at our history honestly, we must also continue to hope for its wholeness.

In Achieving Our Country, Richard Rorty says this:  “Emotional involvement with one’s country–feelings of intense shame or of glowing pride aroused by various parts of its history, and by various present-day national policies–emotional involvement with one’s country is necessary if political deliberation is to be imaginative and productive.  Such deliberation will probably not occur unless pride outweighs shame.”  (3)

Cynicism is easier, I know.  If we don’t believe our country can be achieved, then we aren’t disappointed when it fails to meet our ideals…again and again.  It’s hard to hope for a better version of our country when we’ve been disappointed so many times.  

But here’s the thing.  Yes, cynicism keeps us safe from being hurt yet again by our country, but it also prevents us from becoming the country of which we dream.  Cynicism is the opposite of hope.  It numbs us into inaction.  Cynicism kills imagination.

A case in point–the residents of Jesus’ hometown.  To this point in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus accumulates larger and larger crowds wherever he goes.  Belief comes easily for those people.  They hang on his every word.  One woman believed that if she just touched the hem of Jesus’ tunic, she’d be healed.  Such was the faith of crowds surrounding Jesus.

But when he goes home, the hometown folks don’t see Jesus as a prophet.  This is Joseph’s son!  What can he possibly say to us?  The people in Nazareth could only see Jesus in the way they always had seen him.  They could not imagine more for him, or from him…  Cynicism had atrophied the Nazareans’ imaginations.  They could not–or would not–allow themselves to see things in any way other than the way they’d always seen them.  And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.  And he was amazed at their unbelief.

 In Thursday’s “Come Sunday” email, I related a conversation I’d had with a woman who called last Monday.  She’d been here for the LifeScreening event week before last.  She told me she was disturbed to see our rainbow flag in the sanctuary.  Then she asked how I could justify doing what I do because I wasn’t telling people the truth about same-gender sex and was leading them to hell.  “You’re going to have to answer to God one day.”  By that point in the conversation, I was so livid I said, “ABSOLUTELY!  I can’t wait!”  

It had been so long since I’d had a conversation like that that I had forgotten how infuriating–and dispiriting–they can be.  I closed my mind and heart to that woman.  Had to–to protect myself.  And let’s be clear.  When Jesus realized that his hometown folks’ closed- minded-ness was preventing God from working in that place, he left to go other places where his work would be more effective.  In Luke’s account of this scene, Jesus’ hometown folks try to kill him.  Sometimes, following Jesus means leaving abusive situations.  Sometimes we just have to give up, hang up, and move on.

Some of us might be wondering if it’s time to give up on our country.  As an American, I don’t know the answer to that question.  As a follower of Jesus, though, I am called to hope.  As followers of Jesus, we’re all called to hope.  I know!  Cynicism would be easier.  Holding on to hope these days is hard.  And yet, without hope, there is no, well, hope.

After worship today, we’ll gather to do some more processing about all that’s happened in the last two weeks.  If you’re struggling, I encourage you to stay for the conversation.  Toward the end of last week’s processing session we started talking about hope–and hopelessness.  We recalled the line from my friend Lightning Lucas’ song, “Hold the Hope”:  “If you run out of hope, you can always borrow some of mine.”  Perhaps in our conversation today, we can cobble together enough hope to get through this coming week.  

As we wrestle with our feelings about our country right now, I invite you to listen to these words of Woody Guthrie.  

This is our country here as far as you can see, no matter which way you walk or no matter what spot you stand on.  Now, you will hear whole gangs of travelers and settlers arguing about her–what she is, how she come to be, what you’re supposed to do here.  And you will hear some argue at you that she is so beautiful you are supposed to spend your life just feeling her pretty parts, sucking in her sweetest breezes, ….. and looking at all her brightest colored scenes.  And I would say that gang has the wrong notion.  

And there are some bunches that tell you she is all ugly and all dirty and that there is nothing good about her, nothing free, nothing clean.  That she is all slums, shacks, rot, filth, stink and bad odors, loud words of bitter flavors.  Well, this herd is big, and I heard them often and I heard them loud, but I come to think that they, too, was just as wrong as the first outfit.  

This is our country here, as far as you can see, no matter which way you walk, no matter which spot of it you stand on.  And when you have crossed her as many times as I have, you will see as many ugly things about her as pretty things.  I looked into a million of her faces and eyes and I told myself there was a look on that face that was good if I could just see it there in back of all the shades and shadows of fear and doubt and ignorance and tangles of debts and worries.  And I guess it is these things that make our country look lopsided to some of us, locked over onto the good and easy side, or over onto the bad and hard side.  

Because I seen the pretty and I seen the ugly.  And because I knew the pretty part, I wanted to change the ugly part.  And because I hated the dirty part, I knew how to feel love for the cleaner part.  See, this is our country here, as far as you can see, no matter which way you walk, no matter what spot of it you stand on.  This is our country here.

This Land Is Your Land

This land is your land, this land is my land

From California to the New York Island

From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters

This land was made for you and me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway

I saw above me that endless skyway

I saw below me that golden valley

This land was made for you and me.   This land is your land… 

I roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps

To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts

While all around me a voice was sounding

This land was made for you and me.  This land is your land…  

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling

And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling

A voice was chanting, as the fog was lifting,

This land was made for you and me.  This land is your land…

As I went walking I saw a sign there

And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”

But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,

That side was made for you and me.  This land is your land…

In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;

By the relief office, I’d seen my people.

As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,

Is this land made for you and me?  This land is your land…  

Nobody living can ever stop me,

As I go walking that freedom highway;

Nobody living can ever make me turn back

This land was made for you and me.  This land is your land…  

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan   © 2021  (2022)

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Sermon: “Picking Up the Mantle” (2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14) [6/26/2022]

In his work as a prophet, Elijah has shared God’s message with the people, confronted foreign prophets, run from said prophets in fear for his life, and inspired many composers to write songs about him.  Elijah has led a faithful life, but now, it’s time for him to leave the scene.

In his prophetic work, Elijah planted the seeds of trees in whose shade he would not sit, to quote the old African proverb.  Elijah understands that he will not eat the fruit that will come from seeds he’s planted.  Others will be called to do that.  

…which is why he takes the younger prophet, Elisha, under his wing.  For a period of time, Elijah mentors Elisha.  He teaches his protégé how to read and interpret Scripture and how to read the political and social conditions in which they live.  Elisha has observed the prophetic actions Elijah has taken.  He’s been soaking it all up….learning, learning, learning…

But now, Elijah knows it’s time for him to leave the scene, which means it’s time to pass the baton.  The time has come to anoint Elisha as the new prophet of Israel.

But Elisha isn’t having it.  The shift from protégé to prophet is a big one.  Doing what someone tells you to do is so much easier than figuring out for yourself what needs to be done, much less sharing wisdom with others.  And working with a mentor… Have you had a mentor?  It’s such an intimate, sacred relationship, isn’t it?  Mentors see things in us we can’t see ourselves.  From their wisdom, they teach us.  They point out where growth is still needed.  They walk alongside us as we grow.

I have heard from many people who considered long-term UCT member Agnes Furey their mentor–and not just UCT folks.  Though I never met Agnes, from my conversations with you all and folks engaged in restorative justice work outside UCT, I know that Agnes’ mentoring of those engaged in the work of restorative justice was significant and profound.  

I also know how hard it has been for everyone to say goodbye to Agnes.  How heartbreaking.  The prospect of losing Elijah also is hard for Elisha.  As they’re walking along, Elijah keeps trying to fake Elisha out.  “You stay here while I run over there for a minute…”  he says.  But Elijah has done his work too well; he’s taught Elisha how to read and interpret the present circumstances.  Elisha knows what’s going to happen… which is why he refuses to leave his mentor’s side.  Group after group tells Elisha, “You know Elijah is about to leave us.”  Every time, Elisha responds, “Be silent.”  (Which I’m guessing is a sanitized version of “Shut up!”)  Elisha just doesn’t want to hear about Elijah leaving.

Finally, the two prophets get to the Jordan River.  On the bank, Elijah takes his mantle–the symbol of his wisdom and teaching–rolls it up, and strikes the water.  The water parts and the two of them cross over on dry ground.  By the time they reach the other side, Elijah is retired, and Elisha transitions from protege to prophet.  

As their roles reverse, Elijah asks Elisha:  “What do you want me to do for you?”  To that point, the questions always had gone the other direction.  Now, as protégé becomes prophet, it falls on Elisha to assess what’s going on and make a plan for moving forward.

Here’s his plan.  He asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit.  Elisha knew that doing what Elijah did was going to require twice as much of whatever Elijah had to do it.  Elijah says it’s a hard request, then tells Elisha:  “Yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.”

This is significant.  Elisha will get what he needs to do the work that must be done if–and only if–he sees his teacher leave.  If he doesn’t witness the departure, he can always imagine that Elijah is just in the next room.  If Elijah is just in the next room, there really isn’t a need for Elisha to claim his own power to do what needs to be done.  Elisha needs to see Elijah leave the scene so he can understand completely that the work is now on his shoulders.  He might feel inadequate, but now the work rests solely on him, regardless of how he feels.

As gut-wrenching as it must have been to watch his beloved mentor be carried away in the chariot, watching the departure was vital to Elisha’s being able to answer his call to act the world into wellbeing.  Elisha grieves, to be sure.  When the chariot is finally out of sight, he falls down and tears his clothes, a sign of deep mourning.

Once his mourning is done, though, Elisha picks up his mentor’s mantle.  That image—of picking up the mantle—is so clear, so powerful in this story, that it’s become a near-universal symbol of carrying on a mentor’s work.  

Last week, in two unrelated conversations, people commented on my level of experience.  “You’ve been at this so long…”  Once I got past the “are they calling me old?” question in my mind, I was deeply moved by the comments.  By the time I went to seminary, I’d only heard one woman preach…and I heard her when I was visiting the seminary to see if I wanted to attend.  Though I realize now that I was called to pastoral ministry as a teenager, because my Southern Baptist church couldn’t imagine a girl or woman as a pastor, I couldn’t imagine it for myself.

The process of moving toward ordination was arduous.  Knowing who I was–a pastor–and having churches, my entire denomination, tell me that wasn’t who I was…it took its toll.  It also kept me focused on the task of declaring who I was and settling into the life I felt called to live.  It kept me focused on myself.  That’s not a judgment, just the reality of trying to be yourself in a world that wants you to be something else.

Last week, when two different people commented on my longevity in ministry, taking it as a given, I almost broke into song.  (I’m bad to do that.  🙂  It marked a vocational shift for me.  I no longer have to battle to be myself.  Now, folks take who I am as a pastor for granted.  Last week, some coil that’s been wound inside me my whole adult life finally uncurled.  I no longer have to fight to be a woman in ministry.  I’m just a pastor.

So, now what?  Now that I am solidly in my skin as a pastor, what’s next?  It’s not a long to-do list.  Now that I’m solidly in my skin as a pastor, my to-do list is this:  be a pastor.  

The shift Elisha makes in today’s scripture story is one we’re all called to make, especially, once we’ve done the hard work of becoming ourselves.  For many of us, it’s taken us a LONG time to settle into our own skin…whether because of our gender or our sexual orientation or our gender identity or our skin color or our other-mindedness or other-abled-ness…  If you’re still in that settling process, keep at it.  It’s important that you attend to that process for as long as it takes.  It took me for…ev…er…

If you are feeling comfortable in your own skin, though, if your mentors have done their work and you feel strong and happy in who you’ve become, Elisha’s story presents you–it presents all of us–with an invitation.  Now that our mentors are gone–or now that the mentoring process is through–will we mentor others?  Now that we have been formed and are walking around happy in our own skin, will we reach out to others to mentor them, to help them on their journeys?

I saw a meme on Facebook this morning.  It was a picture of Ruth Bader Ginsburg that said:  “I didn’t leave you.  I passed you the baton.  It’s your turn now.  Get up and fight!”

I’ve asked Quentin to sing “True Colors.”  Like the song we heard last week, “Rise Up,” “True Colors” is an anthem for folks in the LGBTQ community.  We’ll have the words on the screen, so feel free to sing along.

Here’s an invitation as you sing it this time.  I’m guessing that for many of us, the song has offered lots of healing because we’ve taken the words in as if they are being sung TO us.  As you sing this time, the invitation is to hear or sing the words as if you are singing them to someone else who needs to hear them, someone else who is still trying to settle into their own skin.  [True Colors.]

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Sermon: “Holding the Hope” (Luke 8:26-39) [6/19/2022]

When Jesus steps from the boat onto the shore near Gerasa, the person who greets him has been labeled “demon-possessed” by his fellow townsfolk.  The man lives among the tombs and hasn’t worn clothes in a long time.  Today, we’d say he struggled with mental illness.  

When the man sees Jesus, he knows immediately who he is–‘What do you want with me, Jesus, Only Begotten of the Most High God?’  Then he says something heartbreaking:  ‘I beg you, don’t torture me.’  One wonders just how many times he’d experienced torture already, or to what extent his own brain was torturing him.  

Perhaps the most heartbreaking part of this story is the fact that the man with the tortured mind was alone, left to fend for himself.  In town, when the demons seized him, he was chained and kept under guard.  When he escaped into the deserted places, the townsfolk were probably relieved.  As long as the man stayed among the tombs, they didn’t have to deal with him.  Out of sight, out of mind, right?  Or maybe “out of mind, out of sight” is closer to the truth.  

Historically, societies–churches, in particular–don’t have a good track record in how they’ve treated folks who struggle with mental illness.  Asylums, lobotomies, over-medication …Is it no wonder folks are sometimes afraid to talk about what’s really going on in their minds and hearts?

In today’s Scripture story, the man of Gerasa, whose mind is tortured, finds healing, he becomes whole again.  They didn’t have the powerful psycho-tropic medications we have today. So how did it happen?  How did that man find healing?

There are, of course, the pigs.  In the story, Jesus casts the man’s demons into the pigs and the pigs run head-long into the sea.  Seeing what’s happened to their livestock, the swineherds rush into town to tell everyone what’s happened.  

Yes, the thing with the pigs is pretty spectacular.  Our area has been known for pig farming for centuries.  Maybe we can work something out.  That’s a joke, y’all.  🙂

As I read the story, I wonder if the man’s healing began before the incident with the pigs.  Maybe the healing begins when Jesus looks at the man and asks, “What is your name?”

“What is your name?”  When the man had last been asked that question?  When had he last been addressed as a man, as a human being?

The townsfolk’s response to the man’s healing is curious.  When they see him sitting fully clothed and in his right mind, they are terrified.  You’d expect a celebration, right?  Look!  The one who used to live like an animal has been healed.  He has his life back.  He’s whole again!  But there is no celebration.  The folks in town are afraid…so afraid that they ask Jesus to leave.

Why are the Gerasenes afraid when they see the man healed of his affliction?  Luke doesn’t tell us, but I wonder if it had something to do with how they’d treated the man during his affliction.  Perhaps their fear was rooted in guilt over their cruel treatment of the man during his illness.  

What is a compassionate response from the church to people struggling with mental illness?  Wendell Berry’s story, Watch with Me,  might offer some ideas.  

When Nightlife appeared at Tol Proudfoot’s chicken coop that morning, he seemed off, not quite himself.  The people around Katy’s Branch creek had grown accustomed to the spells that overtook Nightlife from time to time, spells that left him sad, angry, confused, and maybe dangerous.  During his spells, no one could help Nightlife.  Sometimes, he had to go to the hospital until the spell broke and he was able to crawl back into his own skin again.

The night before he appeared at Tol’s chicken coop, Nightlife had presented himself to the preachers at the revival down at the church.  Nightlife told the two that he, Nightlife, would be preaching the sermon that night.  Tol and everybody learned later that Nightlife’s plan had been to tell what it was like to be himself.  The preachers said no.

That no–the church not wanting to hear what it was like to be him–sent Nightlife into this current spell, which sent him to Tol’s chicken coop that morning.  Before Tol knew what had happened, Nightlife had picked up Tol’s rifle, “Old Fetcher.”  Tol’s heart sank when he realized what had happened.  No telling what Nightlife might do with with the gun. 

Tol’s nephew Sam had dropped by, so Tol sent Sam to tell Tol’s wife, Miss Minnie, what was going on, and then to go get some of the neighbors to come help.  Then Tol set out after Nightlife.  He wasn’t sure what he could do, but Tol was certain Nightlife needed following.  

All told, 9 of Nightlife’s neighbors follow him that day and into the next.  They follow him up the hill.  They follow him to Uncle Othy and Aunt Cordie Dagget’s house and gasp when he walks in the door with the gun.  (They later learn all he wanted to do was to pray over their lunch.)  The neighbors follow him along Katy’s Branch creek.  

When Nightlife goes into the woods that night and they lose him, the 9 of them fall asleep.  At sunrise, they wake up to Nightlife standing over them, crying in disbelief, “Could you not stay awake?  Could you not stay awake?”  Then he wanders off again.  They pick up Nightlife’s trail a little later and continue to follow him…until a rainstorm comes.  At that point, they head for Tol’s barn.  

One wonders how the man of Gerasa’s story might have been different if some of those townsfolk had been following him all those years.  What if they’d watched him from afar, making sure he didn’t hurt himself or others?  What if they’d left food and clothes for him sometimes?  What if they hadn’t judged him or labeled him, but simply accompanied him while his brain tortured him?  

It’s telling that the people who reject Nightlife are the people who represent the church.  Too often, the church has failed people who struggle with mental illness.  Too often the church has offered “thoughts and prayers” and little else.

Nightlife didn’t need empty prayers.  Nightlife needed people to look after him while he wasn’t himself.  He needed people to keep him safe.  Tol and all the neighbors tracking Nightlife for a day and a half–being present to Nightlife in his darkness–that was the best prayer they could have prayed for him.  

The story of Tol and his friends caring for Nightlife in the best way they could, offers a picture of how we might be church to folks who struggle with mental health issues–we look to each other and band together to offer our support, even if we don’t quite know what to do.  And we stay present until the spell is broken…or until the meds kick in…or until the light begins to seep in through the cracks.

As Tol and company talk in the barn, rain pelting the roof, Nightlife walks in, still holding Old Fetcher.  Nightlife’s neighbors froze, uncertain what he would do.  Here’s what Nightlife said: “Brethren, let us stand and sing.”  As the rain pours, they sing “Unclouded Day.”  

After the hymn, Nightlife preaches the sermon he’d been wanting to preach about his life.  He tells the story of the lost sheep.  “Oh, it’s a dark place, my brethren.  It’s a dark place where the lost sheep tries to find his way, and can’t.  The slopes is steep and the footing hard.  The ground is rough and stumbly and dark, and overgrown with bushes and briars, a hilly and a hollery place.  And the shepherd comes a-looking and a-calling to his lost sheep, and the sheep knows the shepherd’s voice and he wants to go to it, but he can’t find the path, and he can’t make it.”  “The others knew that Nightlife knew what he was talking about.  They knew he was telling what it was to be him.”

While Nightlife preached, Miss Minnie’s old setting hen came in.  She–the hen–was none too happy to find Nightlife preaching right in front of her nest.  “She began to walk back and forth at Nightlife’s feet…Now and again, she squatted and opened her wings as if to fly up to her nest, and then changed her mind.  At last, she crouched almost directly in front of Nightlife, and with a leap, a desperate, panic-stricken, determined outcry, and a great flapping of wings, she launched herself upward…she hung there in front of Nightlife’s face, flapping and squawking… until Nightlife slapped her away.”

By the time the hen hit the ground, Nightlife’s spell was broken.  He was back in his own skin and handed Old Fetcher back to Tol.  About that time, they heard the dinner bell ring and headed back to Tol’s house to partake of the feast Miss Minnie had prepared.

Years later, Miss Minnie summed up the story of what happened that day and a half this way.  “Poor Thacker Hample,” (that was Nightlife’s given name).  “They kept him alive that time, anyhow.  They and the Good Lord.”

“And that old hen,” Sam Hanks said.

“Yes, that old hen,” Miss Minnie said.  She mused a while, rocking in her chair.  Finally she said, “And don’t you know that old hen survived it all.  She hatched fourteen chicks and raised them, every one!”

They kept him alive that time, anyhow.  They and the Good Lord.  Yes.  That is our calling as a compassionate community–do what we can to keep each other alive and whole, us and the Good Lord.  As a beloved and loving community, we are called to hold the hope for each other.  (Video)   A Song About Hope | Hold The Hope by Lightning Lucas | Feat. C.S. Hurst and Nichole Barrows

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Sermon: “Dancing with the Trinity” (John 3:1-9; Genesis 18:1-15) [6/12/2022]

Poor Nicodemus.  A leader in his faith community, Nicodemus comes at night to visit Jesus.  Jesus has just arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover.  His first act in the holy city is to visit the Temple … and throw a hissy fit.  He overturns the tables of the moneychangers and yells:  “Take these things out of here!  Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

It’s not long after this scene that Nicodemus comes to visit Jesus.  It’s no mystery why he comes at night.  After the scene in the Temple, it wouldn’t be wise for a religious leader to be seen fraternizing with the angry-crazy guy.  

If Jesus’ behavior in the Temple was confusing, the things he says to Nicodemus are downright opaque.  Be born again?  Of water and Spirit?  How can this be?  Indeed.  The lectionary folks probably chose this story for Trinity Sunday because Jesus, God, and the Spirit all show up.  All three “persons” of the Trinity are accounted for…or, as my theology prof said, “All three hypostatic forms of being…”  But maybe the strongest connection between the story of Nicodemus and the doctrine of the Trinity is his question:  How can this be?   

Have you ever asked that question when contemplating the Trinity?  How can this be?  How is your relationship with the Trinity these days?  Do you understand it?  No?  Good news!  All is about to be revealed!  

Back in the 12th c. teachers of the church figured out a way to diagram the Trinity.  It’s called the Trinity shield:

All clear now?  No?  Let’s try a little color.  And a circle.

Okay.  You’re a hard crowd.  

Here it is in Latin.  

Latin always makes things clearer, doesn’t it?

Maybe it will help to see it as a literal shield.

The Trinity–it’s not a doctrine for the faint of heart, is it?  Just ask Moses.

What about the Celts?  How did they depict the Trinity?

Colored and labeled.

Oh, let’s just throw a circle in there.  The Celts always seem to be doing that!

A rainbow Celtic Trinity-circle-knot!  It is Pride month, after all!

Or let’s just go with the shamrock!

Here are a few more depictions.  

Maybe one of these will help.

You can make anything with Legos!

Apparently, this is the Holy Trinity of Cajun cooking.

Maybe a more sartorial depiction will help:  

I present the Trinity Knot!

Yep.  Just like the doctrine of the Trinity, 

Trinity knot construction also is complicated!

And sometimes our theology of the Trinity ends up looking like this:

Maybe we need to try some science and math.  

Ah!  Florida is the perfect place to figure out a theology of the Trinity.  We can’t do math here!

Or maybe a more artistic rendering would be helpful:

Yikes!  My apologies for any nightmares that painting might cause!

Here’s a more inviting artistic depiction of the Trinity.  We’ll stay with this one for a bit.

                      (Leave this image up all the way through Bryce’s solo)

Ann Persson had just had eye surgery.  The recovery process required her to lie face down for two weeks.  Ann’s husband fashioned a bed for her, with a hole cut out for her face.  The bed was surprisingly comfortable…but staring at the floor for hours on end was boring.

Ann had her husband place her Rublev Holy Trinity icon on the floor so she’d have something to look at….which might sound just as boring as staring at the carpet.  But spending time with an icon is different than simply looking at a poster.  Coming from the Orthodox tradition, icons are invitations to prayer.  Every step of their creation is itself an act of prayer— from the preparation of the wood on which they’re written to the materials, objects, and colors used.  Icons aren’t meant to be glimpsed and quickly understood.  They’re meant to be sat with, entered into, and taken into the pray-er’s deepest self. 

On this Trinity Sunday, the invitation is to enter into the Rublev icon.  It was created by a monk named Andrei Rublev in the early 1400s to honor St. Sergei, one-time abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery near Moscow.  Like many iconographers before him, Rublev set his depiction of the Trinity in the context of the story of Abraham and Sarah hosting three visitors.  It seems odd that Christian iconographers would use an Old Testament story to illustrate the Trinity.  Let’s listen to Genesis 18 and see if we can figure out why they did. 

A reading from Genesis.

Yahweh appeared to Abraham by the oak grove of Mamre, while Abraham sat at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day.  Looking up, Abraham saw three travelers standing nearby.  When he saw them, Abraham ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them; and bowing to the ground, said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, please do not pass by our tent.  Let some water be brought, that you may bathe your feet, and then rest yourselves beneath this tree.  As you have come to your faithful one, let me bring you a little food, that you may refresh yourselves.  Afterward, you may go on your way.” “Very well,” they replied, “do as you have said.”  

Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick— take a bushel of fine flour and knead it into loaves of bread.”  Abraham then ran to the herd, selected a choice and tender calf, and sent a worker hurrying to prepare it. Then Abraham took cheese and milk and the calf which had been prepared, and placed it before the travelers; and he waited on them under the tree while they ate.

After the visitors have eaten and rested, they promise the elderly couple that, in a year’s time, Sarah will bear Abraham a son.

In the icon, we see a couple of references to the Genesis story.  There are three visitors, who first are identified as “YHWH.”  We see the tree, which could be a reference to the oaks of Mamre where Abraham was camped.  There’s the building, which could be Abraham’s house, though in the story he and Sarah live in a tent.  The three sit at a table; that recalls the hospitality Abraham extends to the visitors.  In the original, that blob in the middle of the chalice is the head of the calf mentioned in the story.

Generally, rooting around in the Old Testament looking for Jesus isn’t the most responsible form of biblical exegesis.  Even so, I’m intrigued by our faithful forebears connecting this story to the Trinity, not so much for the three-in-one God thing, but because  Genesis 18 fundamentally is a story of hospitality.  When the three visitors appear, Abraham bows to them, he washes their feet and offers them food and a place to rest.  He whips up some milk and curds then has the fatted calf killed and served to the visitors.  It’s only after all the rituals of hospitality have been completed that God gets down to business promising a son for the elderly couple…which suggests just how important these rituals—and hospitality—are.

Look again at the icon.  The guests are seated at a table.  There is a cup; there is food.  In the way the 3 figures lean toward one another, the connection among them is clear.  All these pieces of the icon—along with the allusions to the Abraham story—clearly portray hospitality. 

There is one more thing about it that fairly shouts hospitality.  Can you discern what it is?  (Responses)  The gap.  That gap invites us to pull up a chair and join the three figures at the table.  Rublev’s icon isn’t just a picture of the Trinity; it’s an invitation to participate in the Trinity.  Despite all those great pictures we saw earlier, none of them invited us to participate with, to live in the Trinity.  Almost to a one, those diagrams and depictions invite us only to look at the Trinity from the outside, to observe it, to analyze it, to come up with a mathematical equation for it.  None of those depictions invited us into the Trinity.  Rublev’s 15th century icon does exactly that.

So…How can these things be?  Let’s say we accept the Trinity’s invitation to pull up a chair—Then what?  How does one go about participating in, with, and out of the Trinity?  Ann Persson, the woman who prayed the Rublev icon as she recovered from eye surgery, calls Rublev’s depiction of the Trinity a “circle of love.”  The icon invites us to join that circle of love….not just for our own edification, but so that we can work with God in the world.  Persson writes:  “Just as Rublev’s icon leaves a space for us to enter the circle, so the Trinity makes space for us to join in.  The dance is in full swing but a hand is extended, as it were, so that we, the people of God can join in and live life out of relationship with the Trinity.  This life is to be expressed in the world in which we live, in our attitudes and actions, our thoughts and words.  God is at work and calls us to join in that work.”  (K848) 

What might it be like to join the Trinity’s dance?  What does it mean for us—as individuals and as a community—to live in and with the Trinity?  Another quote from Ann Persson:  If we lived in, with, and out of the Trinity, “we would see a genuine honoring of each other, the people of God in whom the same Spirit dwells.  We would serve one another without feeling threatened.  This attitude would release us to be the people God created us to be, both individually and as a community of believers.  We would recognize the differing gifts that lie in one another and find contexts in which they could be expressed.  Instead of hierarchy, we would create a fellowship built on relationships emanating from God’s own love” (K963).

We’ve only scratched the surface of praying this icon.  In truth, we haven’t prayed it at all.  I’ve just been talking about it.  So….we’re going to take a couple of minutes of silence.  In the silence, I invite you to pray this icon.  Allow yourself to experience the hospitality that’s being extended.  Allow yourself to accept God’s invitation into God’s own heart.  Adn if you’re really feeling brave, join in the dance!  To help us in our prayer, Bryce, on this his last Sunday with us, will be playing a piece on violin for us.  Let us pray.   

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  © 2015

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Sermon: “An Extravagantly Welcoming Pentecost: Canaanites, Cowboys, and Indians” (Acts 2:1-21, FNV) [6/5/2022]

It’s Pentecost, the Scripture story known as the Birthday of the Church.  (And, yes, at tonight’s Musical Pentecost Celebration, there WILL be birthday cake!)  

Here’s the church’s birth story.  Once upon a time, a child grew up to be a wiser teacher.  He taught people about God’s love for every person!  As he taught and healed, he helped people imagine a new way of living…and loving…a way that included everyone.  

Some people–like the religious authorities– weren’t happy about this God-loving-every– person thing.  Not at all.  So, those unhappy and threatened folks–this is the sad and ugly part of the story–those unhappy and threatened folks colluded with the state to have Jesus executed.

But the people who condemned and killed Jesus didn’t have the last word, did they?  No, Jesus was resurrected!  He came back to life!  And for 40 days, he taught and hung out with his followers…until it came time for him to go for good.

We heard that part of the story last week.  The Ascension, it’s called.  Jesus took his disciples to a hill outside of Jerusalem.  He told them to be his witnesses–to tell others about the radical inclusivity of God’s love–in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth.  But first, they were to go back to Jerusalem and await the coming of God’s Spirit.  If they were going to be Jesus’ witnesses to the end of the Earth, they were going to need some Spirit power!

Waiting on a birth…can anyone relate?  What do you do when you’re waiting on a birth?  You prepare…you tell stories…you imagine the future…When you’re waiting on a birth, the air becomes electric with joy!  

In my second interview with the Search Committee, Kathy Heinz mentioned there being four pregnant people in the congregation.  (At the time, I didn’t know that one of those pregnant people was participating in that very zoom call!)  Something shifted when I learned of those pregnant people.  A congregation with babies is alive…and intends to stay that way.  That’s the moment I knew this was a congregation I wanted to serve.

So, the people were hanging out in Jerusalem, the air electric with anticipation…they waited …and waited… waited… until one morning–it happened!  The divine water broke, the contractions began, and all joy broke loose!

Wind whooshed in!  Tongues, as of fire, appeared on each person’s head!  People talked together–and understood each other–even though they spoke a multitude of languages!    

That’s often what happens with births, isn’t it?  Some something beyond us pulls us all together, connects us.  It’s said that multi-faith encounters require three things:  that we pray together, eat together, and hold each other’s babies.  Yes.  There’s something about newborns that brings us all together, connects us, unites us.  The same was true on the day the church was born, the day God’s Spirit whooshed in and empowered Jesus’ followers.  

The day of a birth is a day of unbridled joy, perhaps even euphoria.  Eventually, of course, though the joy remains, the euphoria wanes and you get to the important, sometimes exhausting work of raising that newborn.  That’s when you learn that, while the joy attending the birth of newborns might be similar, what it takes to raise each newborn can be very different… Because each newborn is unique and lives in unique circumstances.

Today’s Scripture story came from the recently published First Nations Version of the New Testament.  The Introduction says this about the birth of the FNV.  “The FNV is a retelling of Creator’s Story from the Scriptures, attempting to follow the tradition of the storytellers of our oral cultures.  Many of our Native tribes still resonate with the cultural and linguistic thought patterns found in their original tongues.  This way of speaking, with its simple yet profound beauty and rich cultural idioms, still resonates in the hearts of Native people.”  (FNV, ix)

Last week, Allen and I visited San Luis Mission, the living museum of the Spanish mission established there in the 17th century.  As we visited the Council House, fort, and Church, we learned about how Spanish and Apalachee people lived together at the mission.  

This picture on one of the interpretive signs gave me pause. 

In one place, I read that when the Apalachee’s religion failed them, they asked the Spanish to tell them about their faith.  That certainly might have happened.  But looking at the larger historical context, we know that the Spanish came to Florida to convert the indigenous people…ultimately, as a way to subdue them.  When I look at this picture, I wonder what those Apalachee people were losing as they raised that cross.

The sub-title of today’s sermon, Canaanites, Cowboys, and Indians, comes from a book that looks at biblical interpretation through diverse cultural lenses.  Canaanites, Cowboys, and Indians is Robert Allen Warrior’s contribution from a Native American perspective.  When I read it, it blew my mind.

To the point of reading the article, I’d always understood the story of the Exodus as a story of liberation.  The story is pivotal for many African American Christians.  The parallels between their and the Israelites’ stories are clear–enslaved, abused, crying out for freedom, then finally receiving it.  The Israelites do have to wander around the wilderness for a few decades, but after that, they move into their new land, a land flowing with milk and honey.  They settle there, create their own farms, produce their own crops.  It’s a great story, a hopeful story for an enslaved people longing to be free…

But what if you identify, not with the people who are freed, but with those who are displaced from their native land by those freed people?  In the story of the exodus, the Canaanites are the people who get pushed off the land when the freed slaves from Egypt arrive.  Sound similar to the history of any other countries you know?  Like our own?  As an indigenous person, Robert Warrior’s point is that, for him, the exodus story is not a story of liberation.  For him, it’s a text of terror, a story of how he and his people lost everything.

After reading Warrior’s article, I had to completely rethink how I interpreted Scripture.  Though reading Scripture through a feminist lens at my Southern Baptist seminary was nothing to sneeze at, Warrior’s article showed me that my interpretation of Scripture still centered my white experience.  Since then, I’ve tried to become more aware of how I read Scripture…but I know I still have some really big, shiny-white blind spots.

We all have blind spots.  We all read Scripture through our own cultural and historical lenses.  But this story, the story of Pentecost, shows us how to come together despite those differences.  

With all its wind, fire, and understanding-each-other-though-they-spoke-different-  languages, the Pentecost story comes off as magical.  I wonder, though, if it wasn’t so much magic as it was that, caught up in the euphoria of the birth that was happening in their midst, people simply were paying better attention to each other, really seeing and listening to each other.  And maybe it wasn’t even the words others were speaking that people understood… maybe it was their expressions, their clothing, the family groupings they were in.  Maybe they were holding each others babies.

Friday, Allen and I attended two events related to reducing gun violence.  The first was a “Call to Conscience” panel discussion called by Pastor R. B. Holmes at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church.  All of the panelists and most of the people present were Black.  As we heard about how the epidemic of gun violence impacts people in Black communities, we realized that, though our common concern to end gun violence brought us together, our experiences of the impacts of gun violence differ significantly.

Friday evening, Allen and I arrived early at City Hall for a rally sponsored by Moms Demand Action.  A man wearing a bright orange yarmulke was leading a prayer service.  Jeremy told me it was Rabbi Shields from Temple Israel just down the road.  Again, though our common concern about gun violence brought us together, the rabbi offered a response from his own tradition.  As the sun was setting, and Sabbath was beginning, he wished us Shabbat Shalom, Sabbath peace.

At our last church, at every prayer service, Allen prayed for a new Pentecost for the church, not only for our church, but for the wider church, as well.  You know, of course, that we have the ability, we have the power to create space for that Pentecost to happen, right?  If we wait together, if we seek out what we have in common as human beings, if we respect and listen to and from each other from our different cultural contexts…Oh, yes.  If we do these things, God’s spirit will come.  God’s spirit WILL come!

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  ©2022

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