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.
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]
Deuteronomy 18:15-20 † Psalm 111 † 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 † Mark 1:21-28
According to those who have spent their lives studying the subject, mosquitos are, as it turns out, really quite smart, and also therefore, as it turns out, really quite trainable. Mosquitos identify who is good to eat based on how they smell. Clearly, they love my own sweet smell of coffee…and Scotland. They smell that hearty Northwest base of Pike Place roast laced ever so subtly with exotic notes of heather, and shortbread, and maybe a little peat bog, and they can’t help themselves. and who could blame them.
But here is the thing, if when that mosquito is buzzing close by and I swat at it, even if I miss, which I usually do, they feel the vibration of my hand tearing through the air, and their hunger pangs turn to alarm bells. If I keep at it pretty soon they associate my unique perfume with danger and they steer clear. Smart little pests, as it turns out. And also quite trainable. What I am hoping is that some dedicated scientist will spend their life working out how to teach these clever little pests how to communicate and then they can spread the news about which smells spell danger and I’ll be bite free. In the meantime, I’ll flap away happy to know I am contributing to a more highly trained mosquito population.
A number of colleagues and mentors have, at various time, told me, that when you are in the swamp you must stay vigilant, hold steady – it’s not the crocodiles that’ll get you, its the mosquitos. It’s the little things, the close things, the hard to get to, buzzing in your ear things, that’ll take you out, that’ll keep you from where you want to go, and who you want to be.
Isaiah 61:10-62:3 † Psalm 148 † Galatians 4:4-7 † Luke 2:22-40
“The old man held the boy, but the boy held the old man.”
The old antiphon, the poetic couplet the church has sung from ancient times during the feast of Simeon captures it perfectly, doesn’t it? The old man held the boy, but the boy held the old man.
The old man Simeon, who has spent his waning years waiting for a Messiah, for a promise of better times for a people who will outlast him, of God’s goodness and justice, of peace and liberty and vitality once again being unleashed on the world was waiting on the temple grounds, waiting for God to show up. No doubt he had been there many other days waiting. Most days. Watching, praying, expecting.
But on this day when that poor couple walked with their new baby and their meager offering into the temple to have their child marked as God’s and blessed, Simeon knew at once that the promise lay before him in their arms. The Spirit told him Luke tells us—three times to make sure we see the connection, hear the proof. And he reached out and took the child and cradled him, and his heart was full. And as so many actors do in Luke, his heart spilled out in song.
The old man held the boy, but the boy held the old man.
Judges 4:1-7 † Psalm 123 † 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 † Matthew 25:14-30
Did you hear about Danica Roem? She will soon be seated as a Delegate in the Virginia House after soundly defeating 13-term incumbent Bob Marshall.
Now, that may not strike you as especially noteworthy. Incumbents lose all the time. What does a state race all the way across the country have to do with us or with these texts? Well you may remember Bob Marshall for something that made national news not that long ago; he sponsored a statewide bill restricting access to public bathrooms for transgender people. He has been one of those loud voices calling for restrictions of LGBTQ rights and his politics have concentrated on so-called social issues, which is another way of saying Marshall has consistently sought to restrict and discredit people whose lives do not conform to the ways of so-called traditional values. In fact, Bob Marshall has proudly referred to himself as Virginia’s “chief homophobe.”[i]
Roem, Marshall’s opponent is something of a policy wonk. A journalist living in the weeds of local policy matters before running for political office. During the race, congestion on Route 28 was her most consistent talking point, along with extending commuter rail to the Innovation Park business incubator in Manassas to lure more high-paying jobs, and eliminating local taxes on business and professional licenses.
But that’s not what caught the attention of the outside world or of Bob Marshall. It was that Roem was transgender after recently completing the transition from male to the female identity she had always understood to be her true self.
Deuteronomy 34:1-12 † Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17 Thessalonians 2:1-8 † Matthew 22:34-46
Tuesday is the day—the quincentenary, the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation—182,500 days after another Tuesday, another October 31st, the year 1517, when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the church at Wittenberg, Germany. This week Protestant, and even Catholic traditions are marking the day, and asking about its significance.
It is a day to commemorate. Remember. Consider, but not to celebrate, I suspect. What could we possibly find to celebrate about a split, a divorce, a tearing in two. Yet, it is a day to commemorate, an important marker. Our churches, Catholic and Protestant, Orthodox and Free, and religions throughout the world are becoming more attentive to our need to be together—because we belong together, because we are one human family, and because our survival as a species is dependent on us knowing this, remembering this.
That Tuesday, 500 years ago, Luther posted a long-list of complaints to a church that he loved, a church that had lost its way, neglected its purpose to shape and bless and lead, to draw people to God and to one another. Indulgences were Luther’s primary concern—an arcane notion for us today, but a big deal then—a way of selling forgiveness and of funding the building account. St. Peter’s was not going to build itself, after all.
And a thirty-three year-old[i] priest, professor, composer, and monk decided he had had enough. So he started a conversation that took on a life of its own, and changed the course of history.
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.
Genesis 28:10-19a † Psalms 139:1-12, 23-24 † Romans 8:12-25 † Matthew 24-30, 36-43
It is important for us to remember who this Jacob was. First of all, he was a “heel-grabber”—a usurper, an ambitious, despicable, cheat. He exploits his brother’s hunger for his own gain. He defrauds his brother of his rightful inheritance, and deceives their father to seal the deal. If anyone is a weed, this is the guy.
And for the first time in the story about him, we find him alone. We shouldn’t be surprised. He’s now on the run from his twin Esau. He’s burned all of his bridges. And now, with nothing but a rock for a pillow, his hardness and his vulnerability are on full display, and, in the deathly silence under the vast stars of the sky, he is surely confronted with his own character.
But there’s more on display as well. There is this place. Six times, the place is mentioned—so often in this short story that it is awkward, or significant. Place, and with it, earth and land five times, and stone three times. And after his dream when the heavens open and the chasm between heaven and earth is closed, and God shows up with that promise once again, Jacob doesn’t miss the significance of what is hiding in plain sight.
Julie Kae Sigars
Isaiah 35:1-10 • Psalm 146:5-10 • James 5:7-10 • Matthew 11:2-11
It was a strange quarter. Beginning as all quarters do: hopeful…This time, I will keep up with my grading. This time, I will give extra time to my students. This time…this time…Fresh starts are hopeful times….
It was an odd class. Not really, all classes have their quirks. And frankly, my classes are known for being welcoming for the quirky. But this particular class, Song of the Church (yes, really) started out with barely enough students to make the class continue, and then kept adding students as the first two weeks went along. Each had their stories. And several had the need to state them right up front.
“I was raised in the church…not sure about all of this God stuff now….DON’T JUDGE ME.” She actually said this as if it was all capital letters. This young woman also used to sing, but she lost her voice. I remember smiling and saying, welcome. You are in the right class.
“I was raised in the church. [notice the pattern?] And I do not attend now. I think the church thinks they have all the right answers. I think the church pretends to be loving when it really isn’t. The church….the church….Don’t judge me….” but this was a soft, lower case letters plea.
St. Andrew Sermons