Tuesday, July 12, 2016

This Jesus, He'll Eat With Anybody

"Why does he eat with sinners?" They asked.
Why should they care? We wonder.
Rabbis differ all the time about things.
What's the big deal?

It's a big deal
because he dared
to speak with his own authority.
He dared to say
"This is what the Kingdom of God looks like,
and it's dropped right down here slam in the middle of you all."

So when Jesus
Who is cleansing lepers
(which is bad enough mind you)
And telling the paralyzed to get up
and stroll on home....and, oh, don't forget your bedroll;
When he starts singing tenor with the wino quartet on the corner,
Handing out bottled water to the protestors,
And buying coffee for the cop on his beat;
They damn sure want to know
who he thinks he is.

And it's as clear to you as it is to me
They aren't gonna like the answer they get.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

We Will Rise

You crack your whip
"More bricks, less straw"
and think you've won.

But God has spoken from a burning bush
to a stuttering fugitive; a murderer with a price on his head.
And your oppression will be swept away
like the chariots bogged down
in the mud of the Red Sea.

A walk by the sea
where the tax on fish
makes the life of fishermen
like sharecropping on the sea
You think you've won
creating between those who pay
and those who collect
Never let them fraternize,
those who hate each other
can never rise against you.
You think you've won.
Til walking by the sea
He calls out to fishermen and tax collectors
"Follow me." And they do.

You think you've won
In the gunfire of early morning
and the killing hatred of extremists
of every stripe.
“Don’t let them fraternize, keep them
You scream at your minions of distrust and fear; cringing every time
an open word of care or prayer is spoken
across the dividing lines of race and power

Be careful
For God will speak again from a burning bush
Or walk beside the sea of blood you've spilled
And folk, once weak, will rise.
You, O hate will fall.
Love will rise.
We will rise.
Truth will rise.
Because He has risen.
O death you think you've won.
You fool.
We will rise.

Friday, July 8, 2016

With My Tears I Melt My Mattress

As of Monday I had planned, and still plan, to preach on Psalm 102:

"Hear my prayer, O Lord;
let my cry come to you.
Do not hide your face from me
in the day of my distress.
Incline your ear to me;
answer me speedily in the day when I call.

For my days pass away like smoke,
and my bones burn like a furnace.
My heart is stricken and withered like grass;
I am too wasted to eat my bead.
Because of my loud groaning
my bones cling to my skin.
I am like an owl of the wilderness,
like a little owl of the waste places.
I lie awake;
I am like a lonely bird on the housetop.
All day long my enemies taunt me;
those who deride me use my name for a curse.
For I eat ashes like bread,
and mingle tears with my drink,
because of your indignation and anger;
for you have lifted me up and thrown  me aside,
My days are like an evening shadow;
I wither away like grass."

On Monday and Tuesday my plans were to look at how this is a brutally honest prayer for the times in which we are frozen in our fear, our guilt, our shame.  But that by using this prayer we keep the conversation going so that, at some point, we can hear Jesus saying to us as He did the paralytic in Mark 2:1-12, "Your sins are forgiven.....take up your bed and go home."

But then I saw the videos of the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile....videos that look to me very much like police officers misusing the power of their office and killing black men who did not present a threat worth of their response.  I spent hours up through Thursday morning thinking of this Psalm as the prayer of a mother or father whose son has died in this fashion.  I thought about the kids in our church's Child and Family Center who never pass me without a "Hi Pastor Stephen!" and imagined the possibility of one of them one day dying due to excessive force by the police.  My heart broke.

Then Thursday night all hell broke loose in Dallas.  We don't know much about the why and all of the what....but we do know that 5 police officers were killed at the end of what had been a very peaceful protest.  It was so peaceful that protesters and police had been taking selfies together.  Then the shooting started.  And the prayer became about the families of those officers; and, indeed, about a whole nation that begins to look and sound like the old Peter, Paul and Mary song:

"Lord said fire coming judgement day
 All battle, crime and sin gon' pass away
 Hey brothers and sisters, don't you know
 We gonna reap just what we sow."

"But the world's not waitin' for the Lord's command
 We've built us a fire that's gonna sweep this land
 There's a thunder out of heaven and Gabriel's call
 And the sea's gonna boil and the sky's gonna fall."

The violence is numbing.  If a novelist opened a book with a paragraph that read, "He reached for his ID and the officer pulled his weapon and shot him four times"  or  "The man with the rifle stepped out of the shadows and shot the police officer in the back again and again" many of us would reject it as unrealistic.  But both happened this week.

This week I have heard all three approaches to this Psalm:  a parent asking me to help them find a book to assist their 10 year old in dealing with their personal trauma-"I eat ashes like bread and mingle tears with my drink";  Black parents talking about how "the talk" in their household is not about sex, but about what to do if you're stopped by the police-"my days pass away like smoke and my bones burn like a furnace"; and comments by police officers about how they never know when they leave for their watch if they will come home again-"all day long my enemies taunt me, those who deride me use my name for a curse."

It is a Psalm for all of us.  We need to cry out; to engage in a national mourning for what we've let happen here.  To pray for forgiveness for how we've fallen in love with violence as a solution.  How we've ignored the needs of traumatized children.  For how we've let people of color and of the LGBT community be devalued so that killing them is easier than killing a straight white man and arouses less outrage.

I do not have answers....at least not today....and most likely not tomorrow either.  I believe that the next week or so will be times when like Psalm 6:7, "with my tears I melt my mattress."

But this I DO believe:  If we will cry out, God will show up.  Our anguish can be turned to action that heals and restores and reconciles.  But we have to keep the conversation going; with God, with our own hearts, with one another.

When we've come this close to the edge of the Pit, melting our mattress with our tears might not be a bad thing.