~ God is calling for a prophetic community to emerge, drawn from the nations of the world, that is characterized by uncommon devotion to the compassion and peace of God revealed in Jesus Christ. – D&C 163:11a
“I’ll spread my wings | And I’ll learn how to fly | Though it’s not easy to tell you goodbye | I gotta take a risk, take a chance, make a change | And breakaway | Out of the darkness and into the sun | But I won’t forget the place I come from | I gotta take a risk, take a chance, make a change | And breakaway”
– Lyrics from “Breakaway”, as sung by Kelly Clarkson –
In August I posted a meme that said, “And suddenly you just know it’s time to start something new and trust in the magic of beginnings.” You see, just a day prior my attention was drawn to a job posting for Mission Center President of the Rocky Mountain Mission Center. It was now the first night of the Adult Reunion and I was having a sleepless night thinking about a potential job change and what that might mean for me, if I decided to send my letter of interest and was offered the position. Not being able to sleep, I opened my phone and the very first post I see is that meme. Oh, did it hit me! It was my first confirmation that I should send in my letter of interest for the position. 10 days later, I would. The funny thing is that after I shared the meme, a friend said that it appeared as if a work change must be coming. HOW COULD THEY KNOW!? Haha.
Now let’s go back. In the summer of 2011, I was let known that a half-time Director of Youth Camping position was being created in the Greater Pacific Northwest USA Mission Center. I expressed my interest and started working as an employed minister with Community of Christ in January 2012. A year later that increased to ¾ time with more responsibilities added. Then in September 2015, my time was increased to full time.
It has been a deep joy to serve the GPNW USA Mission Center but a little over a year ago, I sensed that it was time to begin preparing for a change in my ministry. I wasn’t sure what, but I sensed that I needed to be open to the ways in which the Holy Spirit might be moving in my life. This past summer had me experiencing several things that signaled a change. I found myself engaging in conversations that had me thinking about my future. I also was invited to preach at Spectacular, our Community of Christ Youth Camp at Graceland University. That was an amazing experience that caused me to reflect on my ministry and where the focus should be. So, after over a year of being open to what may be shifting in my life, I believe that the Holy Spirit was preparing me for this change.
As a local boy, I have been so blessed to spend the first 37 years of my life here in the Pacific Northwest. While serving the GPNW USA Mission Center, I have greatly benefited by serving under the leadership of Kathy Sharp, Mike Bessonette, and Kim Naten. I take what I have learned from each of them as I transition into the role of Mission Center President. I have also been fortunate to have many co-workers, friends, and companions on the journey who have helped shape me into the minister I am today. It is with that that I now say, it is time for me to “take a risk, take a chance, make a change, and breakaway.”
Let me be honest for a moment, my soul is weary and I’m not in a great place. As could be expected, 2021 is already producing a shit show of emotions for many people. I’ve come to realize that the events in D.C. on January 6 have affected me more than I originally anticipated they would. It’s important to me that people understand that when something like the domestic terrorist invasion on our US Capitol Building takes place, people in communities who are marginalized simply for being who they are as a child of God, view those acts through a different lens. We recognize that the folks who are willing to do that are the same ones who would be willing to harm us while going about our everyday routines of life. Though, my soul has certainly been weary at times since then, especially as someone who is in the LGBTQIA+ community, I haven’t felt like this since the Orlando Nightclub massacre. Back then, I just didn’t have an outlet for expressing so since I was not yet out to the world in 2016.
Trust me, I want to be able to simply embrace the call for unity and a way forward. I can’t do so though without acknowledging that the division in this country is deeper than just a difference of opinion. When who you are is not only subject to debate but outright hate from groups of people, a call for unity and peace is met with deep distrust.
I have friends and family who I love and care about but who support a political party with a platform which promotes values that are harmful to people like me. A platform that emboldens behaviors in folks that are acted out in harmful ways towards people like me. Friends and family who seem to follow rather than honor the worth of all people and help change the culture within. I don’t see how this is in any way reflective of the teachings of Christ. My soul is weary and my heart aches because I do care deeply about many of these folks. They are an important part of the relational fabric woven within my soul and throughout my community.
I want unity. I want peace. Unity and peace are not possible though if marginalized groups of people have to feel unsafe for it to occur. Unity and peace are not possible if we have to try and hide parts of who we are to make you more comfortable with being around us. We can respectfully disagree and try to find common space on many things in our society but human dignity and worth is not one of them.
A swift, fierce river separates two sides. If you find yourself in the middle of the bridge because it is safe and you are not comfortable engaging in the hard conversations for fear of alienating people you love on one side while others who you also love continue to stand in harm’s way on the other side, the bridge is crumbling underneath, and the water will continue to drown the moral fabric of humanity. You are not helping anyone, if this is where you find yourself. If you are willing to cross the bridge and build more of them though, thank you. We need bridge builders more than ever before. When it comes to human worth though, we can’t simply meet in the middle of the bridge. If peace and unity is truly desired, we have to do the hard work that is necessary to cross it. We have to listen and then respond.
I pray for peace. I pray for unity. I know many of us do. Often times though, prayer without action lacks authenticity and is just words muttered rather than heart and soul engaged.
Koolulam, a gibberish word based on the Hebrew word for “everyone.”, is a social-musical initiative based in Israel that is aimed at strengthening the fabric of society. The project centers around mass singing events in which large groups of non-professionals come together to form a collaborative musical creation. Koolulam brings together people from all walks of life to do one thing: stop everything for a few hours and just sing – together.
In this video that we just saw, 3000 Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others came together on February 14, 2018, in Haifa to sing a song of unity and the interwoven fabric of humanity in a spirit of peace. 3 languages sung, 1 hope for the world.
All my life I’ve been waiting for | I’ve been praying for | For the people to say | That we don’t wanna fight no more | They’ll be no more wars | And our children will play | One day | One day | One day
Our scripture passage this morning from the book of Isaiah, Chapter 61, Verses 1-4 and 8-11. I’ll be reading from the NRSV.
61 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. 4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing;[a] I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. 9 Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed. 10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.
Our scripture this morning is about making the wrong right. About injustice becoming just again. It is here that God’s anointed are sent to bring hope to the hopeless, comfort to those in despair, liberation to those who are oppressed. For those who have been in Babylonian exile are returning and all is not what they had hoped it would be. It is a story of those who are in need of the Good News! In Luke, this scripture is referred to when Jesus opened the scroll in the Temple and read the first two verses of this scripture today. He points towards him as the fulfillment of this prophecy. We refer to that part as Christ’s mission statement. And Christ’s mission is our mission. So, this text is a guide can be seen as a guide for how we are to live out our lives as a people committed to the pursuit of peace as Disciples of The Way.
There are many inconvenient truths that this scripture causes us to wrestle with. Where we are invited to examine how we interact with the world and those around us. We could literally go through every part and discover examples in our world today that relate to that part and spend time in exploration. We don’t have time for that, but we could.
So, what are those hard inconvenient truths happening in our world today that this scripture of the wrong becoming reconciled can point us towards? Where is the Good News of Christ needed? There are so many places. I want to focus on one in particular this morning. The death penalty is back in the news again this week. Personally, I find many reasons to be against the death penalty but here is a big one. A 2017 NAACP study found that in states across the U.S., that even though, “Black people make up 13 percent of the population, they make up 42 percent of death row and 35 percent of those executed.” And that when it came to the Federal level, the statistics were about the same. The same study found that if the victim was white, there was a greater likelihood of the accused receiving the death penalty. The study goes on to share that “Several reviews of the federal death penalty have found troubling racial disparities in charging, plea bargaining, sentencing, and executions. For example, a review conducted by the United States Department of Justice found that 48 percent of White defendants were able to receive a sentence less than death through plea bargaining. Yet, only 25 percent of Black defendants and 28 percent of Hispanic defendants were able to plead guilty in exchange for life sentences.” And folks, I’m not even talking about the unnerving reality that for “every ten people executed, more than one person has been exonerated.” Let alone others who may have been executed but not even guilty. How is any of this aligned with God’s vision for the world?
At the April 2000 World Conference, Community of Christ passed the Healing Ministry and Capital Punishment resolution which declared, “That we stand in opposition to the use of the death penalty” and “That as a peace church we seek ways to achieve healing and restorative justice.”
This is who we are and what we are to be about. Today our scripture is filled with examples of restoration. So how can we be people who are passionate about forgiveness and the restoring of relationships and support government sponsored murder? I get the emotion behind it. I even get the justification for it at times. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that there aren’t people out there who haven’t committed horrific crimes. But as a faith community, we don’t believe that it is the way of Christ and the way of Christ is what we’re called to strive to be about in the world. Death penalty is simply justice in the form of revenge. I have to believe that God is calling us to a better way of addressing our justice systems in the world today. And that we are called to take it seriously and not dismiss as something that is not realistic for our world today.
Some of you have heard me share this movie illustration before but it gets to the heart of what I’m talking about here, so I’ll share it again. In the 2005 movie “The Interpreter”, there is a scene that addresses this topic. It unfolds like this… “Everyone who loses somebody wants revenge on someone, on God if they can’t find anyone else. But in Africa, in Matobo, the Ku believe that the only way to end grief is to save a life. If someone is murdered, a year of mourning ends with a ritual that we call the Drowning Man Trial. There’s an all-night party beside a river. At dawn, the killer is put in a boat. He’s taken out on the water and he’s dropped. He’s bound so that he can’t swim. The family of the dead then has to make a choice. They can let him drown or they can swim out and save him. The Ku believe that if the family lets the killer drown, they’ll have justice but spend the rest of their lives in mourning. But if they save him, if they admit that life isn’t always just… that very act can take away their sorrow.”
Folks, it’s Advent. Our journey towards Christmas is in full swing. But life isn’t always Hot Cocoa with whip cream and sprinkles or Jingle Bells or unwrapping a new video game. If we truly are to be a people of the Good News, we need to also make sure that while we are celebrating the materialistic and fun side of Christmas… and friends, I freely admit that I fully engage in that side of Christmas as well… and that I need to hear my own words as well… and that is this… The Good News that is ushered in by the birth of Christ is one that has to radically change the way we look at the world. And I gotta admit, it often feels like the way we celebrate that is the antithesis of what his message is calling us to. It’s kind of ironic. Jesus didn’t come to begin a new religion… and I’m gonna bet there are many ways that we celebrate his birth that may cause him to shake his head…. But for us, he is our leading example of the Way. So how are you sharing the Good News? Not just during the Holiday Season but year-round?
Well, I have already seen examples resident within our community of just that…
I see peace being created in the world through notes of love and compassion. You have heard at least two people share on here the past few months to write a note and send it to people. Margaret Polly gave us a challenge to send 20 cards using Bugs Bunny stamps back in September and I believe it was Donald Welch who also recently shared the importance of doing so. I have also seen it suggested by many people on Facebook. This is already a season of isolation for so many, now that is compounded by COVID loneliness and grief, so reach out to folks, let them know you care. Send them a card, give them a call, and you can even text them. In fact, as your listening to the song following my sermon. Send someone a text. Let them know you care. We have over 225 devices on this worship, that likely represents over 450 people. If we all send someone a text in the next 20 minutes, imagine how many people will have received some Good News in their life today from you. If your bored by my sermon and want to do it now, that’s okay too.
Become a people of the Temple–those who see violence but proclaim peace, who feel conflict yet extend the hand of reconciliation, who encounter broken spirits and find pathways for healing.
Fulfill the purposes of the Temple by making its ministries manifest in your hearts. It was built from your sacrifices and searching over many generations. Let it stand as a towering symbol of a people who knew injustice and strife on the frontier and who now seek the peace of Jesus Christ throughout the world.
I see peace being created in the world by the work of our North American Climate Justice Team. This team is sponsored by our Mission Center but it is actually a group of amazing folks throughout the USA and Canada. A primary focus of the work they do is to bring about education, awareness, and formation related to climate justice in our world. In the Doctrine & Covenants, a collection of Community of Christ Sacred Texts, we read “The earth, lovingly created as an environment for life to flourish, shudders in distress because creation’s natural and living systems are becoming exhausted from carrying the burden of human greed and conflict. Humankind must awaken from its illusion of independence and unrestrained consumption without lasting consequences.” I see peace that this group of committed disciples are seeking to do something about this in Community of Christ. If you haven’t done so yet, I encourage you to go to cofchristclimatejustice.org and register so that you receive their updates about future online events that they are sponsoring. You only have to register once to get on their email list. Join, learn, Be transformed, act.
I see peace being created in the world by the many wonderful ways that I witness our young adult parents raising their children. I got permission to share this particular story. Recently a kid in my home congregation here in Eugene turned 8. His name is Jaron. His ministry in our congregation is already very apparent. So, there was a birthday parade scheduled to celebrate his 8th birthday. I wasn’t able to go so I asked Carron, his mother, what he might like as a gift so that I could drop it off a different day. She gave me some ideas but after reading the first one, to be honest, I didn’t really read the rest. She mentioned that he had been learning a lot about the Black Lives Matter movement and had become passionate about racial justice and that he would love a Black Lives Matter shirt. As soon as I read that, I knew that was the gift I had to get for him. She went on to share that recently when her young boy was watching a movie where an African-American boy was being beat up, he stood up and said, “BLACK LIVES MATTER” and was then able to explain to one of his grandmothers what that meant. And a child shall lead.
Folks, this is the Good News. This is what we are called to be about. Whether your act of peace is in the form of a text message or card, whether it is working to change the systems of incarceration and capital punishment, or maybe it’s raising a child that will help make the world a better place. Whatever it is… The ushering in of the Good News is what we are celebrating this time of year and as disciples of Jesus Christ, may we continue to find ways big and small to share that Good News with others all year round.
Also, from our sacred text…
One day this all will change | Treat people the same | Stop with the violence | Down with the hate | One day we’ll all be free | And proud to be | Under the same sun | Singing songs of freedom like | | | All my life I’ve been waiting for | I’ve been praying for | For the people to say | That we don’t wanna fight no more | They’ll be no more wars | And our children will play | One day | One day | One day
It’s almost like following the teachings of Christ… authentically… without being watered down by our own biases of prejudice and hate and competing loyalties and indifference… could be the greatest Christmas gift we can give back to God and to honor Christ for the well-being of humanity.
One Day. One Day.
This sermon was preached for the Community Connections Online Worship on Sunday, December 13, 2020.
“God, the Eternal Creator, weeps for the poor, displaced, mistreated, and diseased of the world because of their unnecessary suffering. Such conditions are not God’s will. Open your ears to hear the pleading of mothers and fathers in all nations who desperately seek a future of hope for their children. Do not turn away from them. For in their welfare resides your welfare.” – Community of Christ Holy Text
This past week there has been an image of the nativity scene at Claremont United Methodist Church in California in where Baby Jesus, Joseph, and Mary find each of themselves in their own cage. It’s a protest visual in response to our governments border policies. To view the image, check out this article from CNN. To use the nativity in this way is provocative, sad, disconcerting, and even maddening, and that is why it is incredibly appropriate. I wish more faith communities were brave enough to make a similar statements. For the purpose of Christ’s message wasn’t to spread a message of rainbows and butterflies with pats on the back for good deeds done. It was to challenge unjust laws and spread a message of Joy, Hope, Love, and Peace in the midst of a society that seemed to contradict that message. It was to bring hope to those who were lonely, oppressed, marginalized, and forgotten. It was to live within a spirit of shalom, not fear.
That was the sentiment on the screen as Sugarland sang a cover of “Tony” by Patty Griffin. They went on to share messages like “It is UP TO US to protect all of our LGBTQ kids whether they are our kids, our neighbors’ kids, or our classmates”, “Our homes can be affirming places. Our schools. Our churches. Our communities.”, and “We must STAND UP for them when other don’t and TALK TO and resist those who reject and bully them.” They ended the song with information shared about The Trevor Project and Human Rights Campaign.
Overcome with emotion and pride, I immediately posted this on my Facebook as Sugarland kept on singing:
As if I didn’t already love them, Sugarland just sang “Tony” by Patty Griffin. I was moved by the song as they sang it with these words and more behind them on the screen. As I now read the actual lyrics on my phone, I am even more deeply moved that they choose to highlight LGBTQ suicide among youth in their concert and that they chose this song to do so. 🏳️🌈💚💛🏳️🌈🧡🏳️🌈❤️💜🏳️🌈
Pride isn’t about needing to feel special and recognized for our sexuality. It is about being seen. It is about being loved and having safe space to express love. It’s about equality. It’s about bringing awareness to the fact that people are literally dying or hurting themselves because of the hateful words and actions taken by churches, families, classmates, bakers, businesses, governments, and more. Pride is about experiencing freedom. The freedom to be. The freedom to love. The freedom to claim our own truth.
Thank you, Sugarland! You had me on the edge of tears! Deep gratitude for bringing your spirit of equality to the country music community, a community that I love but one that isn’t usually the most supportive of LGBTQIA+ rights.
As I approached this summer, I pondered how I was going to express myself as a human who was part of the LGBTQIA+ community during the various youth ministry events that I staffed this summer. It wasn’t about feeling the need to do it for myself but for everyone else that was present. For the youth who were out and publicly living their truth, it was to be a sign of solidarity. For those who were still hiding an integral part of themselves from the world, it was to be a sign of hope and safety. To know there were others in leadership roles who had a similar identity and who had walked a similar journey as a teen. To everyone else, it was to help normalize same-sex attraction (because guess what… It’s normal.). Continue reading →