Hope

Sermon Given at Lake Washington Christian Church
February 22, 2015


rainbow-landskape

Genesis 9:12-17  12God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations:13I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

Psalm 25:5-6 5Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long. 6Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.

1 Peter 3:21  21And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

Mathew 1:15-15 14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Awhile back a friend asked me what was my favorite scripture and without hesitation I said Micah 6:8 “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Then she asked the question … Why? I had to think about that for awhile.  I could have said that it was how my Father ended all of our dinner prayers and hearing it always brings back wonderful memories.  Or, I might have told her my Disciples tradition has based its mission and vision statement on it and those statements have opened the door to a witness in social justice and peace in the greater world.  But while each of those reasons are truth the real reason is this one verse from Hebrew scripture gives me Hope.

It is the hope of the rainbow that symbolizes the covenant between God, one-another and all creation.  It is the cry of the Psalmist who says “O, Lord, Teach me your paths, Lead me in your truth and teach me,” and the voice of the Gospel writer of Mark who writes “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.”

In our world today hope seems to be too little and too late.  We watch the news and it’s filled with killing, greed, anger, hate, and very little that would give us hope for a better world.  Killing, whether of the body or spirit, disrupts God’s purpose for our lives. To kill a human being  made in the divine image is to subvert our lives which were purposely created to be lived in mutuality, support and respect, to live in right relationship with each other, God, and creation.  Killing for greed, hate, and anger is to kill a little of ourselves and build a wall, brick by terrible brick, between us and God.

So what does the word “Hope” mean for us then? Those who define words say it is to expect with confidence.  For others it means to expect things will get better, not only to get us through the difficult times in our lives, but also for our world, we will have a place of peace and justice for all creation, not tomorrow, or sometime in the far future but NOW, today.  We in all of our faith communities across the globe are called to seek justice, offer kindness, and be examples of living in peace to the world, to be a living hope.

God promised the descendants of Noah, and all creation that God would no longer destroy the world.  As a covenantal symbol of God’s own self-limiting, God’s disarmament, God placed a rainbow in the sky. In Noah’s time bows were symbols of violence just as guns are for us today.  So God laid down his weapon of mass destruction and placed it in the sky and said ‘I will no longer destroy what I have created.’  I wonder what God would place in the sky today, a nuclear bomb maybe?

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t forgotten all of the killing done in the name of God in Scripture.  And, I must admit I have difficulty with the genocidal practices of Joshua when the Israelites crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land.  But I also know that just because a practice is in the Bible doesn’t make it an acceptable practice for today.  And, that is the reason I so firmly believe in God’s promises of hope.

You see God’s covenant of the rainbow means that we, you and I, all humans, are in a covenantal relationship with God, each other, and creation and that means that all life matters, my life, your life, white, black, yellow and brown life, furred and feathered life and (much to my discomfort) insect and spider life.  The Psalmist makes a claim of hope and trust in God and tells us that God’s protection flows from the mouths of those who have no hope or trust in systems of violence, injustice, and oppression. Not just overt physical acts of injustice but injustice and violence and oppression brought about by attitudes, social structures, and any other “isms” that threatens the peace and justice of God’s Kingdom.

God’s rainbow of hope spoken in the Good News of the Gospels goes beyond a “me-centered” interpretation of the world. God’s hope reaches out across our selfish desires to those who need hope, justice, and mercy. Where do you find God’s hope? It is placed where there is justice and peace and there you will find Kingdom of God. Jesus preached the Good News of hope. Hopeful news that leads not only to the salvation of those who accept the gift freely given, but is also the promise of something more, a new and different life for those who are the most victimized.  All faith communities are called to be participants in our own salvation by working for justice, now, in the context of our present world, thereby helping to bring the good news to those who need it, where ever and whenever it is needed.

We as believing members of our faith communities are to point the way to the kingdom breaking into our world right now. The kingdom of God isn’t a future event it is happening right now. Every time we offer a helping hand to someone who is hungry, or cold, or afraid the door to God’s Kingdom opens just a bit more.  Every time we stand up to those who would harm one of God’s children, the kingdom shines a bit brighter.  Every time we stand between victims of injustice and the perpetrators God let’s a little more light out of the door.   Every time we speak out when we see an injustice God smiles and sends another rainbow.

You know the Irish tell us that there is gold at the end of the rainbow, and I believe that is true.  Because I believe that God’s kingdom is that golden treasure and we are to seek it just as the man who sought out the pearl of great price.  What could be more beautiful than walking across the rainbow into the Golden Kingdom?

Yes, on the first Sunday in Lent, all of the Lectionary scriptures are about hope.  Whether you read Genesis, Psalm 25, 1 Peter, or Mark each of them has an element of hope for dark times, in a dark world.  Each one offers a ray of light to bring us out of darkness. The light calls us, bright and shinning, multicolored, and golden with hope and promise.  God first gave the rainbow as a promise that She would never forget any of her children.  The Psalmist tells us that God will always be there to sustain us.  And, Jesus, rekindled the hope in the hopeless that a better life was there for them.  Jesus reminds all of us that God will sustain us as we work to be the witness’ against injustice, violence and oppression.

God said, “When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”  How does Micah fit into this, well Micah reminds us which path we are to take, “what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  We are called to be living communities of hope, of God’s promise in every moment of our individual and communal lives.

AMEN

Ruth Jewell, ©February 23, 2015

Journey, A Guided Meditation – Prayerful Tuesday

Journey
Journey

 

Galatians 3:26-29 The Message (MSG) 25-27 But now you have arrived at your destination: By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe—Christ’s life, the fulfillment of God’s original promise.
28-29 In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. Also, since you are Christ’s family, then you are Abraham’s famous “descendant,” heirs according to the covenant promises.

I am traveling this week. I am attending a wedding in Long Beach WA  this weekend but my first stop was in Yakima where I attended  the Turner Lectures., an interfaith lecture series held every year in the first week of October by the North West Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (NWRCC). The NWRCC invites prominent authors and theologians and hosts for three days of a teaching, discussion, good conversation, and meaningful worship. This year Michael Kinnamon and Carol Howard Merrit are our guest lectures and their talks and discussions of the Past and Future Church: From the Ends of the Earth to Our Doorstep are inspiring. I am part of the team that planned the worship services and one of the elements of our morning worships has been guided meditation on the morning’s scripture. Guided meditation is a wonderful spiritual tool that uses our imagination to enter into story, or scripture, in a very personal way. In our imagination we are feel the warmth of the sun, stirring of the wind, all of the natural elements. We can smell food, or feel the presence of crowds or feel emptiness. Using our imagination we “see” the story from a new perspective, not as a distant reader, but as a participant.

Monday I read Galatians 3:26-29 and led the morning’s guided meditation. I invite you to take a few minutes, get comfortable and listen to the scripture and meditation. The full text of the meditation is below

 

 

I invite you to get comfortable, with feet on the floor

Take a deep breath and another one.

You have been walking a long time you are tired and covered in road dust

Ahead of you a small village appears at the edge of lake. You have arrived

You have been searching anticipating the end of your journey and now it is in sight

Villagers wave to you and you wave in return the people walk out to greet you the young and the old, people of every color in the human rainbow, people wearing clothes of every cultures all come out to welcome you In front the growing group, God, waits for you with open arms

Someone relieves you of your back pack as God enfolds you in an embrace a flask of water is pressed into your hand Jesus, offers you a place to rest, breaks bread with you and offers you wine. you didn’t know how hungry you were.

They take you to the lake where you bathe in it’s cool, refreshing waters when you step out of the water new clothes await you, new shoes, soft as down for your tired feet.

The villagers celebrate your coming with a great dinner food from every culture, every ethnic group all created for a joyful feast

God dances with joy

You are home a child of the village

You have new clothes

you have eaten food that has fed you deeper than any food possibly could

the villagers hand you your pack, cleaned and freshly filled

God, Jesus, and the villagers shoulder their own packs

together you walk on
Together you complete the journey

 

Ruth Jewell, ©October 7, 2014,

The Cost of Life

 

Sermon, Queen Anne Christian Church
June 15, 2014

Romans 6:1b-11
Romans 6:1b-11

 

Roman 6:1-11  What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Matthew 10:24-39 ‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master;25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! 26 ‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.* 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 ‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.34 ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father,and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

For 10 years I was an environmental consultant performing Human Health and Ecological risk assessments for the military and private concerns.  One of the uses of my reports was to define what would be the cost of a cleanup of a contaminated site both as risk of exposure and monetary cost of cleanup.  The EPA has a basic cleanup target of 1 in 10000 chances of illness or death from exposure to contaminated soil, water, or air.  Of course all is negotiable but that is what is desired. The EPA doesn’t really care about cost but companies do and so does the military.  Cleanup is not popular with those who own the property. There is a balancing act that goes on at the negotiation table between the EPA and the owners of the property. The property owners want to remove as little as possible to keep cost down and the EPA wants as much removed as possible to keep risk down.  When you add in resident and ecological groups to the mix you probably get some idea of how complicated such negotiations can be.  But the key word is negotiable.

Matthew writes in this passage what the cost of discipleship will be for those who follow in the path of Jesus.  He tells his community what the risks are when you commit to following Jesus’ teaching and he doesn’t mince any words and the cost is not negotiable. For those who are faithful to God and Christ will face criticism, be misunderstood, run out town, and face death at the hands of the Romans just as Jesus did.  How is that for a recruiting statement?  I can hear the thought of a potential follower now.  “Ok, my family will disown me, I will most likely be run out of town on rail, I will have my words twisted around to mean something other than what I said, and the Romans are going to kill me, tell me again why I should sign up for this.”  If a follower of the WAY ever thought about the risks they wouldn’t sign up.  I mean would you give up everything to go out and teach others about the WAY of Jesus.  Would you give up the king-size bed, the running water, the clean clothes, or 3 meals a day?  What is amazing to me is that anyone actually did and I am grateful to those who had, and have, the courage to walk that difficult path.

Matthew wanted his community to understand those risks while having the courage to choose a way of life that would be difficult but result in a life lived within God as found in the life of Jesus. Matthew’s words challenge us to stand up for injustice just as Jesus did.  To use our voice to speak for those who are silenced.  To live a life of compassion and peace towards everyone no matter how different they may be from us; from a different culture or socio-economic class, differently abled, or differently gendered, or (and this is the hard part) even if they have done harm to us or someone we love.  Matthew says we are called to right injustice even at the expense of our own comfort, reputation, relationships, financial security, or even our lives.  That is a hard decision to make and I know I (as a risk assessor and a seminary student) that discernment before that decision to be baptized and commit to that life is often very difficult.  And let’s face it the reasons to proceed are not all that well laid out.  So where do we find some answers.

Well before Matthew wrote his Gospel Paul wrote a letter of introduction to the Roman community and in that letter we have this short passage that summarizes reasons for following the WAY and those reasons are just as valid today as they were in the 1st century. Following the WAY was dangerous and even Paul doesn’t deny that but the benefit is a life lived into love.

Paul tells the Romans, and us, that when we commit ourselves to being baptized we are baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ.  Just as Christ died to sin and lives to God we are to recognize our baptism as dying to sin and living into God.  Notice I didn’t say Christ died FOR our sins, Paul did not believe Jesus died because God wanted a sacrifice for our sins.  No, Jesus death on the cross saves us because God overcame and said No to sin through his resurrection of Christ.  God’s message of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection was to reconcile those who are separated from God back into those loving arms.  Called Atonement, or better still “at-one-ment,” reconciliation is the means of re-membering those who have spent their lives lost in a wilderness far from God back into the body of God through Christ.

When Paul writes “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” he is talking about saying no to sin and moving toward God as experienced in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan in their book Meeting Paul open the verse 6:3-4 to a new insight

“all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

We are graced with newness of life that includes a transformed way we see our world.  A commitment leading to the ritual sacrament of Baptism results in a “renewing of [our] minds.” We being to see the world differently, living our lives into a richer and fuller life in love. We no longer see the world as other and different from ourselves but rather we see ourselves and the world as part of the body of God and Christ.

For Matthew, for Paul and for us these changes and commitments have political implications.  It means we as followers of the WAY are to stand against the “wisdom of this world” as it is known today.  We are to refuse to follow a path that results in harm, injustice, or death for anyone, whether we agree with them or not.

That is hard to do, I know it is hard for me. I too have watched the news and read the papers about mass shootings, people who demonize the poor and needy and I get angry.  Sometimes I say things I might regret because I want them punished; you see I also forget they are part of God’s body.  As a consultant I tried to tell the truth as I calculated it and saw it but I dealt with people who had very different agendas from mine. I grew frustrated and angry at people who only looked at the “bottom line” or a single unachievable number instead of considering how what they had done, and will do, affects those who live in the area, human and ecological.  I wanted things to change and it wasn’t until I realized that the change must begin with me that I knew what I would do. I had to stop seeing the world with a “bottom line” perspective because all of creation, human and non-human are simply too important..

In Matthew Jesus says “Those who find their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”  The life I lost is the one that holds tight to the world I see in the news reports while the life I gain is a life lived in relationship with God. While I often forget that I try to remember, what all of us need to remember are these words of Jesus’ “Do not be afraid … I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Ruth Jewell, ©June 15, 2014