Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16† Psalm 22:23-31 † Romans 4:13-25 † Mark 8:31-38
Christy Ma began her newspaper article about a day filled with extraordinary events like this: “Valentine’s Day was a day of love, passion and friendships.” The first line flowed easily, but it took a few more days to get the rest together for the student newspaper the Eagle Eye. She and her co-author Nikhita Nookala drew guidance and reinforcement from each other and from the encouragement of an adviser to get it put together.[i]
Christy and Nikhita, you see, are students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and they were writing stories about one of the deadliest mass shootings in modern history—a shooting they had experienced. They were covering the shooting and the candlelight vigil that followed, even as they were living it firsthand.
Genesis 9:8-17 † Psalm 25:1-10 † 1 Peter 3:18-22 † Mark 1:9-15
Cognitive scientists Steven Solma and Philip Fernbach have spent many a year asking anyone they can find if they know how a toilet works? How about a zipper? They want to know. Or a coffee maker? Do you know how those work?
Yeah – yeah I have a reasonable idea how they work is the answer they would first receive. So then they follow up. Okay, can you explain to me exactly what it takes? How that toilet bowl empties, how the water in the Mr Coffee gets to the pot and how it gets heated, how those little prongs attach when you put on your favorite hoody. Then they let the person think for a while and try to explain as best they can how these processes they engage every day actually work. Finally they ask – so tell me again how would you rate your knowledge of how that toilet works?
These researchers have spent time and effort measuring these dynamics very precisely - lots of well-designed questionnaires and sophisticated coding and exacting measurement - and what they have found is that in the vast majority of cases when we take the time to examine our understanding of some of the mechanisms around us we realize that we actually know quite a bit less than we think we do - on almost every subject.
Isaiah 40:21-31 † Psalm 147:1-11, 20c † 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 † Mark 1:29-39
It was a shot of darkness that I encountered this week. A blog referenced by an old friend, a single voice attempting to name what we have lost. It began with a familiar refrain, noting that in the past 23 days the United States has seen 11 school shootings.[i] According to Everytown for Gun Safety, which seems to be the source of these numbers, we would need to add nine days to the total and only one more shooting for 12 shooting in about 32 days, which lowers the frequency a bit, but frankly doesn’t feel much like good news.
The point of the blog, though, wasn’t the frequency of shootings or even gun violence in general, but what has happened to us as events like this continue to occur. Umair Haque, the blogs author, is suggesting that American culture is in decline, that this American experiment and with it, our notion of American exceptionalism, seems to be on the way out.
Haque’s diagnosis is sobering. He names five destructive tendencies, five social pathologies he observes in American culture that signal this decline. The first is signaled by this statistic about school shootings—that our kids are killing each other. Haque puts the number of shootings and its frequency in perspective in order to make his point. 11 school shootings in 23 days, or 12 shootings in 32 days, if you wish. It is more than anywhere else in the world, even Afghanistan, even Iraq. In fact, this just doesn’t happen in any other country in the world. It is, he suggests, a “new, bizarre, terrible disease striking society.”[ii]
Genesis 1:1-5 † Psalm 29:1-11 † Acts 19:1-7 † Mark 1:4-11
I bought an app for my iPhone a while ago. It was the second time ever I shelled out any money for one. I suppose it’s the principle of the thing that typically keeps me from paying for a phone app. It wasn’t a lot of money, just 99 cents, but for what I got, I’m sure you’ll be impressed. It does one thing, and it does it really well. Five times a day it sends a note, a simple reminder, “Don’t forget, you’re going to die.” That’s it. Pretty cool, huh?
According to the app website, the invitations to stop and think about death arrive at random times throughout the day—at any moment, just like death. The app is called “WeCroak” which, I think you’ll agree, is a refreshingly straight-forward and direct name for a phone app. If you click on the message, it will take you to a quote about death, or, you might say, about life.
Here’s one example from this week, from the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda:
Death arrives among all that sound
Like a shoe with no foot in it,
Like a suit with no man in it.
Or this more didactic one from the German philosopher Martin Heidegger:
If I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life—and only then will I be free to become myself.
Ezekiel 34:11-24 † Psalm 100 † Ephesians.1:15-23 † Matthew 25:31-46
It’s all hindsight. All of it. No one was doing what they were doing in the parable because they thought they were doing it “unto Christ.” They were just doing it. It was just what they did or didn’t do. Everyone was surprised, in other words. Everyone was surprised that this would be the thing that would set them apart—right from left, sheep from goats. When did we see you hungry or thirsty, or a stranger or naked, or in prison?
Which kind of begs the question. What were they expecting? Not so much for the goats. We know all-too-well the world in which people do “goaty” things, do for themselves, vote for their own interests, look out for number one, shove and claw and occupy and foul more space than they need to. This story is as old as the hills, or at least as old as Ezekiel who sounds like a modern-day prophet for climate change. “Is it not enough,” the prophet asks,
for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?[i]
There’s more than enough of that to go around. And, of course, we know that part in us. Because we all have a little sheep, a little goat—we all have contested space within us, a DMZ between Thanksgiving feeding at the REACH meal and that feeding-frenzy we call Black Friday.
But they were all surprised—sheep and goats together. No one was expecting this. It just kind of surfaced. So if it wasn’t about pleasing, about caring, about serving as a way to meet the holy, to do it “unto Christ,” what was the motivation? Why did they do it? What did it mean? What does it say?
Revelation 7:9-17 † Psalm 34:1-10, 22 † 1 John 3:1-3 † Matthew 5:1-12
“We have to stop and get Gran some ice cream.”
That was the memory that pressed in most strongly as I looked down at the rough map of my family that I had drawn. It was for a class, this map, and I wasn’t at all happy that I had to do it. We were to draw out the relational and emotional map of our families 3 generations back so that we could examine together the dynamics and the forces that are at play; so we could see what had formed us, and what has power over us.
I looked down at my map, all colored boxes and tiny dates and squiggly lines. “We have to stop and get Gran some Ice cream”, I heard my mom say, and my dad, and my uncle Hugh, my Uncle Ralph, my cousin James, my cousin Helen.
You see, when we gathered at my Gran’s house with family, everyone knew that someone had to stop at the corner shop right below her apartment and grab a little tub of the soft serve ice cream they sold there.
Now all these years later, it is this thing that I remember, so fondly. So much more happened in my family as shown by the rough contours of my map. Rough times, and happier times. People, regular, complex people trying to do the best they could, struggling with hurt passed down over the generations. Family gatherings could get difficult, old patterns kicked in. But she would always look forward to ice cream, and she would laugh when we brought it, and she would sit with her grandkids, while the other adults did their thing, she would sit and share a little ice cream.
Exodus 32:1-14 † Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23 † Philippians 4:1-9 † Matthew 22:1-14
Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi social entrepreneur and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his pioneering work in microcredit got a message one day from the office of Franck Riboud. Riboud was the chairman and CEO of the Danone Group, a French food conglomerate whose American brand is most familiar to us, I suspect, for the yogurt in our grocery stores and refrigerators.
Riboud had heard of Yunus’ work in Bangladesh creating a banking system that made small loans available to people full of ideas, but too poor to qualify for traditional bank loans to fund them. It began in 1976 when Yunus lent $27 from his own pocket to 42 women in the Bangladeshi village of Jobra. By 2007, the Grameen or “village” Bank had issued over $6 billion to more than 7 million borrowers, with more than 94% of Grameen loans going to women.[i]
Grameen Bank put into action Yunus’ belief that, very small loans could make a disproportionate difference to a poor person. Contrary to the practices of our Western system which is built on the assumption that the more you have, the more you get, Yunus believed, that the poorest of the poor, given the chance, would not only take the opportunity to improve their lives and escape from poverty, but that they would be at least as reliable as other loan recipients in repaying their loans. And he was right. To date, less than 1% of Grameen loans have defaulted, and the system of microcredit has exploded across the globe, even extending to a number of branches in New York City.
It was October 2005 when Riboud reached out to Yunus who tells of the meeting and the handshake that led to the creation of one of the first social businesses. Unlike most of our businesses in the west, organized around the primary goal of making money for its investors, social businesses are created to meet a social goal; they are built around a mission. They pay no dividends. They sell products at prices that make the business self-sustaining. Owners get back their investment over time, but no profits, which instead stay in the business to finance expansion, create new products, and do more good. [ii]
Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 † Psalm 19 † Philippians 3:4b-14 † Matthew 21:33-46
Am I the only one who thinks that this landowner is a little naïve?
I mean, what did you really think they would do with the son, given what they had done in the past with the landowner’s other representatives? Killed one. Stoned another. Did the same to the next group. Past performance may not be an indicator of future success, but it does provide some meaningful information. Right?
That’s what I was thinking about this week as we watched another act of “pure evil,” as our president put it, another heartbreaking tragedy, unfold in Las Vegas. By now we know the drill so well. There is nothing new under the sun. This is perhaps the most devastating aspect of it for those of us disconnected from the real life toll—it seems beyond our control, so rooted and rutted that we no longer expect anything to change. We feel helpless. It is such a part of the landscape—as established as Mt. Rainier, as rooted as an ancient Cedar.
Everybody has their role to play. There are those who will predictably resist—"now is not the time to debate gun laws,” comes the refrain; “it’s a time to come together.” Sure, with just about any other kind of tragedy, the response is different. This one seems to have its own rules.
Exodus 1:8-2:10 † Psalm 124 † Romans 12:1-8 † Matthew 16:13-20
The midwives “feared God.” Like me, you may have sped right past that little phrase in the long Exodus reading. The Pharaoh commands the Hebrew midwives who bear the new life of Hebrew babies into the world, if they are boys, to drown them into the Nile: “But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live.” And then, when they are summoned into the imposing “East Room,” they spin a story for the king that sounds, dangerously, like fake news: “These Hebrew women! They are so strong, so vigorous. By the time we get there, they’ve already given birth.” Not only that, they are already back out in the fields lifting 50 pounds bags of straw and running ultra-marathons and developing flying cars. It’s a tall tale, and yet, it works!
They feared God. It’s easy to blow right by for how often it is thrown around, but the phrase is worth pulling off to the shelf to take a closer look. The midwives, Shiphrah and Puah—their names preserved for all of history as monuments to heroic acts that save an oppressed people—feared God. They feared God more than they feared this king, this Pharaoh and his ruthless ecosystem of intimidation and oppression—the tyrannical managers to enforce it; the military industrial infrastructure to support it; a public works project that constructed whole cities to sustain these systems of oppression against a people whose vitality puts the Egyptians to shame.
Julie Kae Sigars
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 † Psalm 105 † Romans 10:5-15 † Matthew 14:22-33
It’s a dark and stormy night.
Well, not stormy, but it was raining.
And it is very dark, almost midnight.
And some of the streets were not main streets.
And I just dropped my son off at a warehouse in the rain for his first job that doesn’t start for another hour.
Nothing says that this is the right place for him to be.
And he is all alone. And he wants me to leave.
And I think I might be terrified.
I pull around the corner and spy on him.
Someone else is there, and they are waiting together.
OK. I will leave.
He texts me that a little group has formed. They are in the right spot. All shall be well. They will wait together.
Later I get the text I really need: They are inside. All good!
We need other people, most of the time, to have courage to do what needs to be done. Sounds like church.
This has been a dark and stormy week. Each day has reminded us of terrors that we thought had been put away.
But of course, they haven’t.
St. Andrew Sermons