Acts 9:36-43 † Psalm 23 † Revelation 7:9-17 † John 10:22-30
I might just have been in a bad mood, but there were a couple of things about this Acts text that, on first read, kind of bothered me.
Tabitha, a devoted woman, loved for making clothes for the poor, gets ill and dies. They find Peter, he prays and she comes back to them.
It just seemed well, too neat; too easy.
Too easy for this woman to be called back into her assigned role – at home helping.
Too easy for the rest of the community to avoid their responsibility for some of the work.
Too easy to look for a supernatural answer to their problems.
Too easy to get a result, a restoration, when so many others, so many of us, have to struggle through loss, and have no option but to get used to new heartbreakingly difficult realities.
Zephaniah 3:14-20 † Isaiah 12:2-6 † Philippians 4:4-7 † Luke 3:7-18
Well that was quite a turn wasn’t it. From the smooth certain assurances of the psalm:
“Surely, it is God who saves me;
I will trust and not be afraid.
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense,
and God will be my Savior.”
And from the bright jubilation of Zephaniah:
“Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgements against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.”
And from the lovely appeal for gentleness and patient prayer in Philippians:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
From all of that to John:
“You brood of vipers – who told you to flee from the time to come…..His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’”
Genesis 2:18-24 † Psalm 8 † Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12 † Mark 10:2-16
Did you catch that little phrase at the beginning of Mark’s passage, “and to test him they asked...” I think that’s what bothered me the most about this text. And it took a while for me to get there because there was a lot that bothered me. But when I took some calm reflective time to read it well, I realized – it’s that phrase. “and to test him they asked……”
As I read this text from Mark, I realized I was looking through the centuries to see these men, these pharisees, dragging something that has intimately affect me, a divorced woman, into the public square, for their own agenda: to test Jesus – to have him, this dissident, weigh in on a hot topic of the day – to score some points against him, and hopefully discredit him. And frankly it made me mad.
And even though this story is from another time, my anger is not misplaced, because that’s how these stories work. Yes, the men from these texts, together with the women seldom mentioned, are in a different time and place. They are working with different laws and different cultural norms, but they do and say things that work to collapse our stories into each other. They speak to us of things we know about, care about, and they invite us to add our voices, to bring our experience, and to work with them, with God, and with each other to try to get to what is good and what will help us be well.
Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 † Psalm 34:15-22 † Ephesians 6:10-20 † John 6:56-69
The Hubris of good Intentions. That’s how one author[i], characterizes the force central to the story of the social media giant Facebook. Author and University of Virginia scholar Siva Vaidhyanathan is among scholars examining the way that social media keeps us from the work of real community building and the type of face-to-face constructive problem solving that makes for a vibrant democracy. This is a conversation that has become louder in the last year or so as we get increasingly clearer glimpses, and first-hand experience, of all manner of ills that me must guard against as we engage social media. Everything from a momentary vent of emotion from a well-meaning friend that can escalate into an embittered and hurtful debate to sophisticated nation-sponsored propaganda that has serious implications for the way we are governed. But the phrase that this author uses to try to help us understand the story of how we got here really caught my attention. The hubris of good intentions.
A friend and I were talking this week about how so often the thing we call out in others, that thing that offends us so much, just rub us the wrong way, or that turn of phrase that makes us doubletake as we are reading or talking with others, is ironically, so very often, something that powerfully exists in ourselves, something our sub-conscious knows to be true for us too, even as it somehow offends us when we see it in someone else. In some strange way, maybe it’s the Holy Spirit at work , but the thing that catches our attention is oftentimes, it seems, something that we might want to look at in ourselves – something we can or need to learn from or learn about.
1 Kings 19:4-8 † Psalm 34:1-8 † Ephesians 4:25-5:2 † John 6:35, 41-51
No-one gets to move through this life Scot-free. No, not even the Scots. We are a charmed people it’s true, but even we, must at some point, reckon with what ours to face, ours to do.
Did you know that scot in “scot-free” refers to a tax? No, I didn’t either, until I looked it up – bless you: credible sources on the internet! Here in this country we sometimes associate scot-free with the important story of Dred Scott. An 19th century American held as a slave in Virginia who first sued for his freedom in 1847 and after ten years of appeals finally ended up in the Supreme Court, but was denied the right to a trial in a federal court because of his status as a slave. His case influenced Lincoln’s nomination and of course, our country’s history.
Ezekiel 2:1-5 † Psalm 123 † 2 Corinthians 12:-10 † Mark 6:1-13
So I lead a bit of a double life. I have since I started in this work of ministry. I work part of my time here at St Andrew thinking and learning with you all about how we offer our gifts for the sake of compassion and justice and peace, and for part of the time I work outside of this congregation thinking and learning with others about how the church and people of faith best show up and partner to make a difference in the world. This arrangement is partly by necessity. The church is changing, and pastors’ jobs must look different if we are going to be sustainable. And it’s partly, maybe more so, by design. Jobs like mine and Julie Kae’s, and many others in bi-vocational roles, help position the church to be in closer conversation with how this life we proclaim gets lived out and what we can learn from the Spirit as it is at work in the world.
Currently the work outside of the walls of the church has me at Seattle University working with scholars and practitioners to see what we can learn around what it takes for congregations, and faith-based service organizations, advocacy groups, and community organizers to be effective in moving society towards one where all neighbors are able to flourish.
In the course of this work I get to talk with all sorts of people. I get to hear from leaders and activists and ordinary folks of all stripes about the work they are called to, what they are challenged by and what they are learning as they meet these challenges in innovative and life-giving ways. On Friday, I was sitting with two folks who work with an organization that has been on the streets caring for those with no safe place to go for years and years. They are out of a tradition that has the care of unhoused neighbors deep in their DNA. They work long hours and are grounded in a deep faith and prayer life. They have extensive partnerships and are looked to by their local police, hospitals and government as a reliable place to turn to when no one else can help. And on the spectrum of progressive to conservative, liberal to evangelical, it is pretty widely known that their tradition sits, for the most, part right of center.
Job 38:1-11 † Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32 † 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 † Mark 4:35-41
My Kids and I were watching Iron Man 3 on Friday night. We are working our way through Marvel movies – escaping the news, looking for the good guy, enjoying the quick wit. We were laying on various couches when the scene turned to Pepper Potts, the hero’s very capable assistant and now girlfriend. She was driving a car, fleeing a dangerous scene, with another woman Maya Hansen in the passenger seat.
Maya is a brilliant scientist and previous acquaintance of the aforementioned hero – Mr. Stark. One woman turns to the other and they talk very briefly about the work in which the woman scientist is engaged
Molly pointed from her couch and gasped – oh, I think this means this movie passes the feminist movie test. Wait, what? There is a feminist movie test?
Yes, she explained there is this test used to rate movies. You ask of a movie – does it have two women in it, does they have names, and do they talk to each other about something other than their thoughts or their relationship with a man. In that one scene Iron Man 3 just scraped over the bar.
This test it turns out is called the Bechdel test.
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.
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 61:1-4, 8-11; Luke 1:47-55; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28
I have heard it said, and I have also said myself, that movement towards justice and peace takes time. In times of discouragement and doubt, I have gone to those I trust, I have come to this place on a Sunday, and I have asked how to hang on. I have been encouraged to try to do so, as best I can, by trusting that in small actions of love and in steady movement to the side of those who are vulnerable and excluded, we not only get powerful glimpses of love and hope in the moment, but get a sense that we connected to something bigger than ourselves, a power that is good and faithful, that gives life meaning and that moves the arc of the moral universe towards justice.
There have been a trail of Mary’s in the path of this arc. They have shown up in their own vulnerabilities, shown up on behalf of those who suffer and those who do not have equal control over their lives, or full access to the opportunities that others are afforded. A trail of Mary’s who hoped, I imagine, that maybe in the moment, their contribution would be the one to topple in some decisive way the systems that oppressed them and others, but who ultimately had to trust that the justice and sense of hope that propelled them would come in a larger way in the future, a future illuminated in important parts of their own lives for sure, but also bigger than who they were and what they could fully know. Mary, the mother of Jesus was in a line of Mary’s who’s heart sang, and whose heart pined for the world to turn.
St. Andrew Sermons