• Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • Achieve universal primary education
  • Promote gender equality and empower women
  • Reduce child mortality
  • Improve maternal health
  • Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  • Ensure environmental sustainability
  • Develop a global partnership for development

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sermon for Proper 19 - Who Do You Say That I Am?

I preached this sermon at Faith United Methodist Church in Jacksonville, FL on September 13, 2009.

Is there a more poignant question than that posed by Jesus to Peter in today's Gospel reading? "Who do you say that I am?" This probably came as a bit of a shock to Peter, who, like most of us, probably bristled at being put on the spot. The conversation began harmlessly, "Who do people say that I am?" Easy - just repeat what you've heard - the latest word on the street. No personal investment is necessary to answer this question. You and I could answer it as well without giving away anything personal about ourselves.

The challenge to this story is that Jesus didn't really care who "people" said that he was. He cared about what Peter thought. He cares about what you and I think. Peter, who do you say that I am? Greg, who do you say that I am? 'Okay, Jesus, you're putting me on the spot. But, that's okay, 'cause I have the answer. You're the Messiah.' That answer seemed to satisfy Jesus for the time, because we have no record of Jesus asking a followup question.

However, as Jesus taught his disciples that he was going to suffer, be rejected and killed, and then rise after three days, it becomes clear that Peter doesn't understand what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah. Peter doesn't like Jesus' version of messiahship at all. He takes Jesus aside and rebukes him. I can imagine him saying, "Look, Jesus. I'm excited about you being the Messiah. We've waited for so long for you to come and make things right. We've waited for someone to reestablish the kingdom of Israel and to restore us to our former glory. But there must be some mistake. The Messiah can't suffer and die. What kind of leader is that? Aren't you here to lead us to a brighter more prosperous future? Isn't that what we hear from the Sunday morning preachers – Jesus is here to make us feel good about ourselves, to bless us, to give us our heart's desires. But Jesus, you can't do that by letting them torture and kill you. Oh, and who ever heart of dying and then rising on the third day. Jesus, you've got to stop with the crazy talk!

Then it gets serious. Jesus responds to Peter's rebuke with a rebuke of his own. 'Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.' That's some serious stuff – divine things vs. human things. The way of suffering and death or the way of worldly triumph and victory. Who among us wouldn't chose Peter's way rather than that of Jesus?

After speaking with Peter, Jesus calls the crowd to join him and his disciples. He says, 'If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.'

Today, this text from Mark invites us to consider what it means to call Jesus Messiah. I assume that most of us here have no problem with that language – it’s the language of the church after all. We use the term frequently in our hymns and prayers. However, we're reminded today that discipleship is not just about what we say but about how we live. It is not enough to say that Jesus is the Messiah. We must translate that word into action.

The Epistle of James, from which we read this morning, offers us some guidance here. It is James who says, 'Faith without works is dead.' James tells us that it's not the words that we utter in this beautiful sanctuary that count but how we translate them into tangible actions throughout the week. In the first chapter, James says, 'Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.' What a profoundly simple definition of authentic religion! What an incredibly difficult definition of true religion to practice consistently in our lives!

As you know, I work for Habitat for Humanity of Jacksonville. Habitat for Humanity is committed to helping people to put their faith into action. When Millard Fuller founded Habitat in 1976, his dream was that volunteers who wanted to live their faith would work side by side with those who lived without adequate shelter. Habitat embodies the true spirit of James – that we answer Jesus' question – 'Who do I say that Jesus is' with our actions.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the tremendous privilege of listening to a young woman in her early twenties talk about her experience of growing up in what she called 'the hood.' We'll call her Annie. She described her mother as a 'crack head.' Her younger brother was killed in a drug related incident. Crime was all around her. But something happened to Annie that changed her life for ever. One of the programs that HabiJax runs is called the Hick's Prep Club. Any teenager who lives in a HabiJax home or Jacksonville Housing Authority or Section 8 housing automatically qualifies to participate. The goal of the Hicks Prep Club is to give inner-city children the tools to get into college. It's a rigorous program that requires dedication on the part of the participants. Annie went to the tutoring sessions. She studied hard. She had to work to support her family; yet she continued to study and to attend the Prep Club sessions.

Despite all odds, she did well enough to qualify for another of our programs run in partnership with the University of North Florida, the Hick's Scholarship Program. She had to apply twice, but eventually she received a scholarship to attend UNF. She went to college and studied and worked hard. Then she became pregnant and things went into a tailspin. She flunked out. But something in her told her that she couldn't give up. She had her baby and dug deep within her soul to find the strength, hope, and courage to go back. She worked at night to support her child and herself. She studied and attended classes during the day. It wasn’t' easy. There were times when she wanted to give in – times that it was just to difficult. But Annie had been given a gift as a teenager that made all the difference. That gift was hope. Hope that life could be different. Hope that regardless of her drug addicted mother and regardless of she herself being a teen aged mother, she had it within herself to pull herself out or poverty, out of hopelessness, out of the cycle of despair, and into a new life for her family and her!

When I heard Annie speak, she stood with her second child. She now has a stable, well paying, skilled job. And she is one of the newest owners of a Habitat home. She is no longer trapped in the cycle of poverty. She no longer lives with crime. She no longer lives with hopelessness. HabiJax gave her the gift of hope! People who put their faith into action gave her hope. People who knew that proclaiming Jesus as Messiah meant living it with their lives and not just their words created opportunity for Annie to make a better world.

Since its founding in 1988, Habitat for Humanity of Jacksonville has empowered over 1,700 families – offering them not a handout but a hand up. What a gift. We've helped these families to create homes of their own. We've offered them the gift of hope. I am here today to offer you the opportunity to partner with us. You can be agents of hope as you live your faith in tangible, direct ways. We have giving boxes here today – house-shaped coin boxes. I ask you to take one with you and fill it up. The resources that you provide allow us to continue our work of offering hope to people who live currently in poverty housing, people who need a hand up, not a hand out, so that they can move beyond the cycles that keep them down.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to share with you all today. May God bless you as you, as a community of faith, proclaim with your lives as well as your lips that Jesus is indeed the Messiah! Amen!

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Peace Through Understanding

A couple of weeks ago, Ward Ewing, Dean and President of General Theological Seminary in New York, spoke at Christ Church, Ponte Vedra, FL. During the education hour, a parishioner asked him if the seminary requires students to study other religions as part of their preparation for ordination. Dr. Ewing said that at this time comparative religion is not a required part of the curriculum. However, he did suggest that the seminary is moving towards offering more opportunity to learn about other religious traditions.

While his answer did not surprise me, I find it troubling that leaders of the Episcopal Church do not receive more comparative religion training. We live in a global world where the barriers of geography that once might have separated people of different faiths no longer exist. Islam is growing at a torrid pace in Europe and in the United States. Hindus and Buddhists continue to build temples across the country. International politics are rife with conflict dominated by religious rhetoric. In particular, people of the three primary Abrahamic religions often seem more in conflict than at peace.

Religious leaders of all faiths need a greater awareness and appreciation of each other if this is to change. I would suggest that an increased emphasis on the study of comparative religion would lead us in the direction of peace. Prejudice and misinformation often lead to a disregard of the beliefs and values of others. Xenophobia is the direct result of ignorance. On the other hand, understanding often is a first step towards tolerance, and tolerance towards peace.

Of course, nothing is ever simple. All three of the Abrahamic religions contain threads of violence. For instance, one can hardly ignore the divine warrior motif of the Hebrew Scriptures or the Christian imperialism that engendered colonialism and its attendant oppression of indigenous peoples. However, while recognizing and exploring this tradition of violence, it is also possible to see more peaceful, loving themes throughout the history of these great faith traditions. In Peace Be Upon You: The Story of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Coexistence, Zachary Karabell notes that each contains a core of peace. He points out on page 5 that Christian worshipers worldwide turn and say, "Peace be upon you" (or something similar). Muslim's greet each other with the words salaam alaykum - "Peace be upon you." Jews use the word shalom - "peace.” Might this emphasis on peace be the grounds for greater harmony between these three great religious traditions?

All of us need a greater understanding and appreciation of these traditions. The negative impact of religious fundamentalism has made religious and nonreligious people alike fearful of others. It is easy, for instance, for Christians in this country to define Islam by what we experienced on September 11, 2001 or by the almost daily news of the Taliban or al-Qaeda. News of the conflict between Jews and Palestinians in Israel leaves many feeling that contemporary Jews are nothing but land grabbing opportunists. In many parts of the world, Christians are associated with the greed of capitalism and a blatant disregard for economic justice. All of these are stereotypes that belie the undercurrent of peace that forms the basis of our religious traditions.

If you are a religious person, insist that your religious leaders learn more about other faiths. Ask that they offer courses in the history of Judaism and Islam. If you are a religious leader, invite leaders of other traditions to speak at your place of worship. Begin a conversation that will lead to greater understanding and appreciation. Our world will be a more peaceful place for it.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Become an Organ Donor!

All of us can participate in the miracle of medical science and save lives by becoming organ donors. There are four types of donation: organ and tissue donation from living donors, donation after brain death, donation after cardiac death, and whole body donation. I am concerned here with donation after brain death or cardiac death.

Here are some statistics. As of June 10, 2009, the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) listed 101,224 patients for organ transplant. On average, a new name is added to the list every thirteen minutes. An average of 17 people die each day waiting for an organ to become available to them. According to LifeQuest, 3,592 patients awaited transplants in Florida as of March 27, 2009. In 2008, Florida transplant centers performed 1,921 transplants.

The OPTN is a private, non-profit organization under contract to the Department of Health and Human Services. The US Congress established the OPTN as part of the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 (last amended in January, 2008). The United Network for Organ Sharing administers the OPTN. The OPTN runs a centralized computer network called UNet, which links all Organ Procurement Organizations (OPOs) and transplant centers throughout the country.

There are 58 OPOs serving 316 transplant centers in the United States and Puerto Rico, 39 of which are accredited by the Association of Organ Procurement Organizations). OPOs are responsible for evaluating potential donors, discussing donation with family members, arranging for the surgical removal and preservation of donated organs, and arranging for their distribution according to national organ sharing policies.

The OPO that serves northern Florida is LifeQuest Organ Recovery Services, part of the University of Florida. With offices in Gainesville, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, and Pensacola, LifeQuest works with over seventy hospitals and health care facilities to provide organs and support services for three transplant centers in northern Florida (Shands Transplant Center at the University of Florida (in Gainesville), Jacksonville Transplant Center at Shands Jacksonville (in Jacksonville), and St. Luke's Hospital (in Jacksonville)).

All major organs can be transplanted – kidney, liver, heart, lung, pancreas, intestines, skin, and eyes. By far, the most common transplants involve kidneys (76%) and livers (15%). The first successful kidney transplant took place in 1954. Since then, transplants have become more sophisticated, including a partial face transplant (2005), a double arm transplant (2008), the first baby born from a transplanted ovary (2008), and the first transplant of a human windpipe (2008). Extraordinary!

The government website organdonor.gov, (managed by the Health Services and Resources Administration) gives a brief summary of the views of major religious bodies regarding organ donation, saying “Most religions support organ and tissue donation as a charitable act of love and giving.” For instance, under Episcopal, the site says, “The Episcopal Church recognizes the life-giving benefits of organ, blood, and tissue donation. All Christians are encouraged to become organ, blood, and tissue donors "as part of their ministry to others in the name of Christ, who gave His life that we may have life in its fullness."”

According to some studies, 80% of the population supports the concept of organ donation. However, the consent rate is approximately 50%. That is a large gap that you can help to close! Becoming an organ donor is very simple. In Florida, you can become a registered organ donor at a local driver license examining station. You can also carry a donor card in your wallet or purse that will inform family and medical personnel of your wishes. You can print out a card here.

Organ donation is one way to help save lives. It costs you nothing and in no way jeopardizes your own well being. However, the rewards to the organ recipient are profound. In addition, the rewards to surviving family members can be significant as well. They will have the comfort of knowing that even in death you were able to give life to another human being. That is no small comfort in the midst of grief and loss! So, register or print out your donor card today!

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Will These Dry Bones Live? - A Reflection on Ezekiel 37: 1-14 for the Day of Pentecost

I attend a large, affluent, successful church in a very wealthy community in northeast Florida (Christ Church, Ponte Vedra). Each Sunday, the pews are full. The sermons are first rate and the choir sings beautifully. If I did not know better, I would be tempted to believe that every Episcopal church experienced the same dynamism, enjoyed similar opportunities, and had similar resources at its disposal. Unfortunately (or fortunately, as the case may be), I know better.

For thirteen years I worshiped in an Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Rhode Island that to this day fights for its very survival. In Rhode Island, a disproportionate number of parishes cannot pay their bills, spend down their endowments at an alarming rate, and face declining membership. This is not necessarily the fault of any one person or of the leadership of any particular parish. It is a sign of systemic cultural transformation. To put it mildly, the world in which our churches live has changed dramatically. Many church leaders in Rhode Island, for instance, have inherited aging, historic buildings, many of which are on the National Register, and all of which are incredibly expensive to maintain and whose architecture is anachronistic. The church unwittingly has found itself in the business of historic preservation rather than gospel proclamation. The church has become moribund at best, and leaders are virtually powerless to affect changes that will bring about necessary transformation.

I make this point in the context of the Day of Pentecost when we celebrate the “birthday” of the church. On this day, we read how the Spirit of God descended on the followers of Jesus, giving them power to proclaim God’s love and to continue the work of Jesus in our world. However, before we read about the Spirit, we read those famous words from Ezekiel about the dry bones.

Ezekiel was one of the great prophets of the exile. After the capture and destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E., Ezekiel’s ministry changed dramatically from offering oracles of warning to proclaiming prophetic words of hope. As a prophet of the exile, Ezekiel proffered the assurance of God’s faithfulness to people who experienced a disorienting and bewildering world. In the midst of hopelessness, Ezekiel offered the hope of restoration to homeland and temple.

Today, we read Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel. 37. 1-14). The Lord places Ezekiel in the middle of a valley that was full of dry bones – many dry bones. The Lord asks him, “Mortal, can these bones live?” Ezekiel wisely responds, “O Lord God, you know” (Probably a good idea to defer to God on this one). In fact, God does know, for the bones come together. Out of death comes new life – once dead bones resuscitated by the breath from the four winds.

This of course is a type of resurrection story. The dry bones are the exiles of Israel who had no hope of new life. They had no greater chance or restoration than the skeletons in the valley had hope of resuscitation. However, the trajectory of God’s work throughout the biblical record is from death to live. God always takes what is moribund and imbues it with new life and hope. The good news is that God moves God’s people in the direction of reconciliation, from hopelessness to hope, from division to unity, from discord to peace.

In fact, the people of Israel did enjoy restoration. The exile ended and some chose to return to a somewhat restored Jerusalem. However, it is fair to say that even restoration brought change. The old adage, “You can’t go home again” is true because while we were gone “home” changed. Therefore, anyone looking for God to restore things to “the way things were” will be sadly disappointed. That is just not the way things work.

Many churches in our Episcopal communion are moribund. They are on life support. They are spending down endowments, selling off property, transitioning from full-time to part-time clergy, cutting programs, circling the wagons – in short, doing anything to postpone the inevitable. They have become like the dry bones in Ezekiel’s valley. Can the dry, bare bones of the church live? The hard truth is that many of them cannot live in their current state.

When I served on the Congregational Development Commission of the Diocese of Rhode Island, we talked often about the need for transformation and consolidation. When something no longer works, it is time for bold, faithful action. It is time to celebrate the past and to embrace future opportunity. In many cases, future opportunity will not come until death is complete. However, we are a stubborn species. Often, we hold on until the very end, often allowing our affection for a familiar and perhaps even beautiful building, our love of tradition, or simply our comfort with the familiar, to supercede our desire to serve Jesus and to proclaim the Gospel. The work of the Commission, therefore, was virtually impossible because the churches that were closest to death were the most likely to hold on the tightest and to be the least effective.

I believe in transformation. I believe that the same God who restored the people of ancient Israel continues to work miracles of love in our world. I also believe, however, that the very institutions created to serve as vessels of God’s love have become the walls that prevent us from exercising the power that we proclaim at Pentecost. The dry bones can indeed live. God will see to that. However, we must be willing to let go, to allow some pieces of our institutions to die. Leaders will need to make difficult choices, to run the risk of offending, to speak the truth regardless of the consequences. We need to worry less about preserving institutions and more about loving people. We need to concern ourselves less with historic preservation and more with momentous transformation. God is with us, asking us, “Will these bones live?” They will indeed live – if we get out of the way!

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Hurry Up And Wait - A Reflection for the Seventh Sunday of Easter

Icon of the Ascension, by Andrei Rublev, 1408 ...Icon of the Ascension by Andrej Rublëv. Image via Wikipedia

Hurry up and wait - an overused cliché to be sure. However, it fits the spiritual life so well Life often is so busy that “hurry up and wait” seems like an apt description of what we do everyday. Teenagers hurry to grow up, only to find that growing up requires a lot of waiting. We race down the road so that we can make a meeting, only to have to wait in a traffic jam. We hurry to make it to the doctor’s office on time, because we would never want to be late for a doctor’s appointment, only to wait for what seems like an eternity when we get there. Waiting is what we do. In our immediate, I want it now, lives, waiting is just no fun. Therefore, we try to find ways to find instant gratification, like microwavable meals, fast food, and all sorts of promises to make life what we want it to be – right now.

It does not take too long before we recognize that life just does not work that way. Hurrying may be an unavoidable part of our lives, but waiting is perhaps more important. In our sacred story, there is lots of waiting. During Advent, we wait for what lies in the seemingly distant future. During the hours between Good Friday and Easter, we await the resurrection, enduring the emotional trauma of crucifixion, wanting to fast-forward to the good news.

Today, we await something else. Thursday was the Feast of the Ascension, the day that we tell the story of the resurrected Jesus’ last day on earth. What were his last words? In Acts, just before the ascension, Jesus says, “Wait in Jerusalem for the promise from the Father.” In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says, “stay here in the city until you have received power from on high.” Two words that we have a hard time hearing – wait and stay!

As we live out the story through our liturgy, we sit today in the waiting phase, waiting for the power from on high, waiting for the promise of God to become reality in our lives. Liturgically, we will experience the fulfillment of that promise next Sunday on the Feast of Pentecost. It is then that we celebrate the beginning of the era of the church, the era of the Holy Spirit, the era when God’s people possess the power to change the world. We will get to that next week.

However, this week we contemplate what it means to wait, what it means to anticipate God’s action in our lives in ways that we cannot imagine. We contemplate the exercise of spiritual waiting. The Lutheran author, Holly Whitcomb recently wrote a book entitled, “Seven Spiritual Gifts of Waiting.” She says that she wrote the book for those of us who have been brainwashed by the media to think that we have to have our desires fulfilled instantly. Waiting, she says, is a spiritual teacher that tutors us in patience, loss of control, living in the present, compassion, gratitude, humility and trust in God. She uses the metaphor of a river, suggesting that we spend our time pushing against the river, trying to redirect it to suit our needs and desires rather than learning to let go and to let the river take us where it will. Whitcomb quotes the Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who advised: “Trust the slow work of God.”

Consider the ancient Israelites. After God liberated them from slavery in Egypt, they did not march directly to the Promised Land. They spent forty years waiting in the desert, no doubt frustrated, confused, and even angry as they wondered what God was doing with them. Even Jesus spent forty days waiting in the wilderness before he began his ministry – waiting, learning, struggling, questioning, allowing God to form him. These days were not wasted. They were days of formation, days when God prepared Jesus, taught him, gave him the told necessary for the days to come.

All of this waiting! Living with the slow work of God. It is enough to drive even the most patient among us a little stir crazy! In what parts of your life are you waiting? Are you able to trust in the slow work of God? Are you able to put aside your own agenda, your own timetable, and to let God lead you in ways that are best for you? Whitcomb challenges us to quit worrying and to relax into the grace of God. Of course, that is much easier to talk about than to live out in our lives. It is a great challenge to let go, to let the river of life take us where it will instead of fighting to go somewhere else. It takes great trust that God loves us, that God knows what is best for us, and that we live most completely when we place our lives in the hands of God.

Like any spiritual discipline, spiritual waiting requires that we be intentional about what we do. The best way to exercise this discipline is to take moments throughout the day simply to be in God’s presence, stilling the mind and the soul, letting go of our frantic quest to get somewhere. Letting go means training our mind to relax, practicing moving from busyness to stillness, learning simply to be in God’s presence.

We have a hard time with this – even in church. We move from one prayer to another, one piece of music to another. We become uncomfortable with silence. We want things to keep moving. And that is how we live our lives. On a personal note, I have been waiting a long time for the next chapter in my call to discipleship to unfold. It has been frustrating, agonizing at times, as I have tried to force my agenda, my goals, and my dreams. However, it has not worked. It is time for me to be still, to trust the slow work of God, to know that in this in-between time God is shaping me, healing me, equipping me for what is to come. I admit that it is painfully difficult. Yet, it is necessary work, work that entails letting life’s river take me where it will, work that requires me to stop paddling frantically upstream, work that necessitates that I trust that the God who has been with me so far will not forsake or abandon me.

If, like me, you are frustrated and wondering what on earth God is doing in your life, I encourage you to sit, to wait, to allow God to reveal God’s path in God’s time. Allow the slow hand of God to guide you where God would have you to go. Embrace the opportunity to wait, to rest, to regroup, and to refresh before God sends you back into the world to proclaim God’s love. Amen.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Consider the Lilies

Today’s Daily Office Gospel reading presents us with Jesus’ teaching about anxiety (Luke 12. 22-31). It opens with these words, “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear.” Jesus encourages us to consider the ravens that God feeds, and the lilies that God clothes. Jesus teaches us not to strive for what we will eat or drink because God knows what we need. Instead, Jesus says, we should “strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given you as well.”

The Collect for the Sixth Sunday of Easter prays, “ . . . you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding . . .” Finally, the Prayer for our Country, found in the Book of Common Prayer, says, “In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in you to fail.”

Jesus’ words and these prayers speak about trust. Our job is to walk God’s path. God’s job is to provide what we need. Sounds great! However, I live in the real world – a world where manna does not rain down from heaven and water does not pour forth from a rock. I live in a world where worrying about just surviving is the reality for many people. So, how do we proclaim this gospel of hope and trust in the real world?

It is hard to trust. I will be the first to admit it. It is hard. When your back is against the wall, when you wonder how you are going to live, it is tempting to give up hope, to fall into the pit of despair. It is easy to become angry, to deny God’s existence, to believe that no one really cares. In moments like that, how do we proclaim the gospel of hope? Well, the only way to do it with any integrity is to speak from personal experience. Sure, we can speak of the biblical record, of how time and again God stepped in to rescue God’s people, to lead them to a new place, to provide for them. We can speak of the fact that God did not remove the difficulties, but rather provided a way through them. God provided the strength to endure, to survive, and even to thrive in the midst of the struggles. That is why the story is so compelling and endures to this day. It provides hope.

Ultimately, though, that hope needs to move from words we read in the Bible to expectation that we experience in the present. We have to believe that the same God who rescued the ancient Israelites will rescue us as well. We have to believe that Jesus is right – that the same God who provides for the raven and the lily will provide for us as well. But, who can proclaim that message unless they have experienced that reality for themselves? Who can ask someone else to trust who hasn’t themselves trusted? Authentic proclamation comes when we speak from our own experience, when we can say that we have stared anxiety in the face and, despite the temptation, have not lost hope, have not lost trust, have not lost the believe that regardless of what happens, God is with us.

Jesus’ message is simple. Keep your focus on living according to the values that Jesus has taught us. Keep believing that love is the most powerful force that exists, that compassion is the principle that will see us through, that justice is the guide that will shape our life decisions. When we live lives of love, compassion, and justice, life may not take the shape that we anticipated. However, a life lived in pursuit of the kingdom of God, of God’s values, will be a life worth living, a life where what we have is enough.

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Celebrating the Good News in Africa

Farmer in Rulindo, RwandaImage by jon gos via Flickr

Each week, I wait with great anticipation for Nicholas Kristof's opinion pieces in The New York Times. I think that his writing is insightful, full of compassion, and in some ways prophetic. In fact, I get so much out of his writing that I decided to follow him on Twitter. He has not let me down. Tonight, he tweeted the following: "We journalists focus on Africa's wars, failed states and famines. Here's a site to put it in context . . . " The site is www.seeafricadifferently.com. As the site name suggests, its creators want us to look not just at the considerable problems that the people of Africa face, but also to celebrate the progress that has been made as the world has come together to make a difference.

Here are some facts from the site:
- 30% of Africans use mobile phones; Egypt, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda have mobile coverage of over 90%.
- Eighteen countries, representing one third of the continent's population, have averaged annual growth rates of 5.5% over the past 10 years.
- Since 2003, 29 million more children have started primary school.
- In 2007, L1.6 billion was spent globally on Fairtrade certified products, benefiting 7 million farmers, workers, and their families.
- In the last five years, the number of HIV patients receiving treatment has risen from 1% to 30%.
- Rwanda has the largest proportion of women in parliament of any country in the world.

These are great statistics and should encourage all of us to believe that the goal of eliminating extreme global poverty is reachable with hard work and sufficient investment. In does not mean that we can reduce our level of commitment or think that the crisis is over, because it certainly is not, particularly given the fact that the current economic crisis if causing millions to slide back into extreme poverty. However, it is important to celebrate the accomplishments even as we confront the challenges.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

G20 Summit

Tomorrow leaders from the G20 will gather in London to continue their discussions regarding the world economic crisis.

The countries comprising the G20 account for approximately 90% of world GNP, 80% of world trade, and 2/3 of the world's population, so they pull some serious economic weight. Membership is comprised of the finance ministers and central bank governors of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, and also the European Union who is represented by the rotating Council presidency and the European Central Bank. In addition, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the President of the World Bank, plus the chairs of the International Monetary and Financial Committee and Development Committee of the IMF and World Bank, also participate in G-20 meetings on an ex-officio basis.

According to the G20 website, "the Group of Twenty (G-20) Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors was established in 1999 to bring together systemically important industrialized and developing economies to discuss key issues in the global economy." The G20 "is an informal forum that promotes open and constructive discussion between industrial and emerging-market countries on key issues related to global economic stability. By contributing to the strengthening of the international financial architecture and providing opportunities for dialogue on national policies, international co-operation, and international financial institutions, the G-20 helps to support growth and development across the globe.

This gathering, of course, presents tremendous opportunity for the rich nations of our world to collaborate on a unified response to the challenges that affect each member nation. It is an opportunity to look not only at the specific challenges facing our nation, but to recognize the role that we play and the responsibility that we share, in making sound choices for all people, not just our own. We cannot only take into consideration what is best for Americans, but must also consider how our mismanagement of the financial system affects millions of people around the world.

Barbara Stocking, chief executive of Oxfam International, said today, "Rich governments whose policies contributed to the crisis have a responsibility to help those who cannot afford their own bailouts" (read the article here). The press release from Oxfam actually is entitled, "Bank bailout could end poverty for 50 years – Oxfam tells G20." That's quite a statement and should give us pause. Rich countries have committed $8.42 trillion to bail out troubled banks. That is the equivalent of $1,250 for every man, woman, and child on the planet. According to Oxfam, the annual cost of lifting the 1.4 billion people living on less than $1.25 per day is $173 billion. Something to consider as we spend so much to try to preserve our comfortable way of life here in the rich world.

One of the best places to follow teh G20 from a development perspective, particularly from teh perspective of those seekign to end global poverty is at the ONE website. There is lots of great information, their policy recommendations, and daily updates.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Third Sunday in Lent, Year B - The Ten Commandments - Exodus 20: 1-17

The Ten Commandments displayImage via Wikipedia

The Propers for the third Sunday in Lent include the Exodus version of the Ten Commandments. They are set in the context of God's redemptive act of release from slavery in Egypt. The preface reads, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Ex. 30.2). Jewish tradition considers this to be the first commandment, but most scholars see this as a preface, leading to the first commandment about fidelity to God. In any event, it is important to note that the commandments are a response to the call of a people. God first chose the people of ancient Israel, freed them from slavery, and then gave them the law to guide them into right relationship with God and with each other.

A few days ago, I blogged about the importance of a rule of life. I think it fair to view the Ten Commandments as a rule of life for the people of ancient Israel, both as they wondered in the desert and later as they settled in a new land and became a nation.

The Decalogue became a liturgical text in ancient Israel, recited in the context of worship, as it used to be in the Anglican tradition (provision is still made in the Book of Common Prayer to do so in the Penitential Order used by some during Lent). The Ten Commandments were used, as were so many liturgical texts, to wrestle with what it meant to be the people of God. They served as a standard by which their actions could be judged and challenged. The Apostle Paul certainly saw the law (oracles as he called them) in this way - guidelines that made people aware of their condition (see Romans 3.1-20)

We can use the Ten Commandments as guides to our behavior today. For instance, take the first commandment - "You shall have no other gods before me" (Ex. 20.3). When it was first articulated, the people of the just forming Israelite community lived in a polytheistic world. It would have seemed strange, perhaps, to consider offering fidelity to one God only. However, this is what the God of Israel asked of them - that they choose to offer allegiance to Yahweh alone in response to Yahweh's gracious and generous prior saving act.

In our world, we don't think in terms of multiple gods. However, if we chose to define God, as Paul Tillich and others have, as "that which is of ultimate concern," we can see that, in fact, many gods exist in our lives and in our world. So, the first commandment calls us to examine that reality, to consider what really is of ultimate concern to us. What do we really worship? What is of ultimate concern in our lives when all else is stripped away? This is an important question that deserves our attention, especially during this season of Lent.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Powerful Noise

Countries fall into three broad categories bas...Image via Wikipedia

Last week, I wrote about the A Powerful Noise event that was to take place in 450 theaters around the country as part of the International Women's Day celebration. The evening consisted of the film, A Powerful Noise, and a live panel discussion moderated by Ann Curry and including Helene Gayle, CEO of CARE, Nicholas Kristof, columnist for The New York Times, Madeleine Albright, Natalie Portman, and Christie Turlington Burns, all outspoken advocates of the effort to lift women out of poverty. You can read a news article about the event on CARE's website here, and can view a substantial preview of the film here.

For those who did not see the film, a DVD will be available sometime in May or June. Preordering starts on May 5 (click here for more information). You can find discussion guides on the A Powerful Noise website as well.

I'm telling you this with the hope that you will plan an event using the DVD and study guide at your place of worship, your school or office, or even in your living room. It is so important that we hear the stories of the three women featured in the film - women who overcame tremendous personal obstacles and found small nonprofits to empower others to make better lives for themselves. As CARE makes clear, helping women to move out of poverty is the surest way to lift whole families and communities out of poverty.

So, start planning now to use this fabulous resource to educate and inspire the people of your community!

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Living the Life

"Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Je...Image via Wikipedia

Today's Propers for the Daily Office include readings from Jeremiah, Romans and the Gospel of John. Each reminds us that God always stands ready to receive us, to reconcile us to God's self, and to bring us into right relationship with God. In Romans, Paul says, "Do you not realize that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance" (3.4b). In John, Jesus heals a man who had been ill for thirty-eight years - a true act of generosity and kindness. This kindness led Jesus to attend to the man's spiritual well-being as well, offering him the gift of right relationship with God (5.14).

In Jeremiah, the prophet laments that both Israel and Judah have strayed and lived "faithlessly." Both have "played the whore." God sends Jeremiah to say to the people of Israel, "I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful" (3.12). Then, in a prose addition that is probably later, Jeremiah has God say, "I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding" (3.15).

Jumping a couple of chapters, we read a challenge proclaimed by Jeremiah in a sermon at the temple: "For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly with one another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever" (7.5-7).

These texts each remind us that living as God's disciples requires commitment, a conscious choice, and a willingness to repent and reorient when we go astray. Discipleship requires that we create for ourselves and our spiritual communities a rule of life that shapes our thoughts, our decisions, our interactions with other people and the world around us, and that makes provision for return when necessary.

Episcopalians find this rule embodied in the words of our liturgy. We celebrate the presence of God in our lives as we hear the good news of the Gospel, pray for ourselves and others, ask for forgiveness and receive absolution, and then break the bread of God's presence as a community of redeemed people. As we live out that liturgical drama during the week by functioning in the world, we recognize that God continues to call and guide us and to push/pull us towards the reconciled relationship that God has for us.

There are many rules of life, of course. Some take the liturgical ebb and flow and apply it to our daily living. Others modify existing trditional rules in creative ways. John McQuiston has written a little book called, Always We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living, in which he takes the Rule of St. Benedict and applies it to the busy modern world. You can read this little book at Google Book Search.

McQuiston states his first rule: "Live this life and do whatever is done in a spirit of thanksgiving. Abandon attempts to achieve security, they are futile. Give up the search for wealth, it is demeaning. Quit the search for salvation, it is selfish. And come to comfortable rest in the certainty that those who participate in this life with an attitude of Thanksgiving will receive its full promise" (17-18). Tough, counter-cultural, perhaps counter-intuitive words - but words to consider carefully as we travel the spiritual path!

Another rule was written by the folks at Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation, and can be found here. This rule incorporates careful attention, through prayer, study, and action, to the Millennium Development Goals as part of a broader spiritual discipline that will help us to live faithfully according to God's purposes and desires. It fits particularly well with the words of Jeremiah 7 quoted above.

To summarize, regardless of our shortfalls, our fits and starts, our turning away, God responds with kindness, reaching out with God's unconditional and gratuitous love with the singular intention of restoring us to right relationship with God. As we exercise the discipline of discipleship, we find that we turn from whatever distracts or pulls us away and move back onto the path that God has set for us. How blessed we are that God is with us regardless of the challenges that we face, regardless of the stubbornness of the human heart, regardless of our spiritual blindness. God opens our eyes to God's truth, to love, to compassion, to generosity!

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

International Women's Day

International Women's Day rally in Dhaka, Bang...Image via Wikipedia

March 8 is International Women's Day. IWD is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. You can learn all about its history and all the events planned for this year's celebration by clicking here. Two hundred and forty-four events are scheduled to take place in the UK, 175 in the USA, 156 in Australia, 28 in India, etc. Click here for a list of gender facts, such as, "Women use 20,000 words a day while men only use 7,000," and "Of 1.2 billion people living in poverty worldwide, 70% are women."

The well-being of women is central to the Millennium Development Goals, of course. Goal #3 is to promote gender equality and to empower women and #5 is to improve maternal health. In fact, women play at least an equal role in each of the goals. Since more women live in poverty and less women receive adequate formal education, the plight of women is central to the fight against global poverty.

CARE is an humanitarian organization that believes that working alongside poor women has the potential to lift whole families and communities out of poverty. Tomorrow evening, March 5, CARE and ONE will sponsor a grand event called A Powerful Noise Live. A Powerful Noise is a movie that follows three women from different countries who overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to bring lasting solutions to their communities. The movie will be followed by a a town hall discussion with Madeleine K. Albright, Natalie Portman, Nicholas Kristof, Christy Turlington Burns and Dr. Helene Gayle (President and CEO of CARE). Click here to get information on participating theaters and ticket information.

I'll be there tomorrow night and will blog about it afterwards. If anyone out there in the Jacksonville, FL area wants to meet up for it, send me an email.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and You

Bill Gates - World Economic Forum Annual Meeti...Image by World Economic Forum via FlickrHere’s a paradox: In these brutal economic times, one of the leading advocates for the world’s poorest people is one of the richest.

So begins Nicholas Kristof's January 24 op-ed piece in the New York Times. Kristof visited Gates in advance of Gates' 2009 Annual Letter, his first. You can watch part of the conversation between Kristof and Gates below.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the world's largest philanthropy, with assets of approximately $38.7 billion - and that is after a 20% decline in value last year (referenced in Stephanie Strom's article in the NYT). In 2009, the Foundation plans to give $3.9 billion to improve health in the world's poorest countries and to improve education in the US. That's some serious coin!!! It is extraordinary to think that one man (and those who work with him) has the power, quite literally, to change the lives of millions of people throughout the world. It's hard to comprehend!

The Gates Foundation gives financial gifts to many organizations throughout the world. However, the real power of the Foundation, because of its enormous scale, is its ability to make very large, concentrated gifts in areas where significant, systemic change is possible. Gates' describes them: "These investments are high-risk and high-reward. But the reward isn't measured by financial gain, it's measured by the number of lives saved or people lifted out of poverty." For instance, approximately 50% of total giving goes to the Foundation's Global Health Program that focuses on the prevention of disease - including "diarrheal diseases (including rotavirus), pneumonia, and malaria—which mostly kill kids—and AIDS and TB, which mostly kill adults."

The world desperately needs people like Bill and Melinda Gates - people who put their vast resources to work helping the neediest among us. But what about the rest of us - what can we do that matters? It would be misguided to think that the Bill Gates's of the world can solve these problems alone. Kristof asked Gates what those of us with tens or hundreds to give rather than billions could do. His answer: pick a cause that interests you and get some in-depth knowledge. Travel to see the problem firsthand. Then find an organization that does the kind of work that you've learned about and care about. Support it with your time and dollars. As Kristof says, "So try it. The only difference between you and Mr. Gates is scale."

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Thank You President Obama for Addressing Global Poverty

In his inaugural address yesterday, President Barack Obama said many powerful things. Soberly and honestly, he highlighted the challenges that face our nation and charted a course very different from that of his predecessor. In his powerful peroration, he rallied people throughout this nation with these words:

Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

While focussing on the challenges facing this country, he did not forget the plight of the poor around the world. He said:

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

Over 100,000 ONE members, including me, signed a petition to Mr. Obama, asking him to speak directly to the issue of global poverty. I could not be more pleased with President Obama's response.

ONE wants to thank President Obama and to encourage his continued support for the fight against global poverty. Click http://one.org/thankobama/, and you can sign a thank you note that says:

Thank you for making the fight against global poverty an important part of your inaugural address. I applaud your words and support you turning this vision into a reality for millions of the world's neediest people, beginning with your first presidential budget request.

The fight continues. Strong leadership by the world's decision makers will make a significant difference. Thank you President Obama for adding your invaluable voice!

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Bono's Message to ONE Members from the Steps of the Lincoln Memorial

The latest from Bono, who's unwavering commitment to the world's poor truly is an inspiration. Check it out and then go to ONE, the "grassroots campaign and advocacy organization backed by more than 2 million people from around the world and every walk of life who are committed to the fight against extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa." You can read and sign the ONE Declaration here.

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A Day of Hope for All Americans!

Living the Dream, President Barack Obama, Dr. ...Image by BL1961 via FlickrWhat a moment in time today is. We celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day on the eve of the inauguration of our nation's first black president. How can we not be excited?! I woke up this morning with a heightened sense of anticipation. It's not that the struggles of the present moment have gone away. They are as real as ever. However, in the midst of personal struggle, we gather as a nation to celebrate hope, to believe together that there is something greater at play in our world than the day-to-day toils of life. What better time to reflect on the larger picture of hope than today.

As I so often do, I started the day by watching King's "I Have a Dream" speech. I've watched it so many times over the years that I've lost count. I have never watched it without being moved to tears at King's soaring expression of hope. His was a moment in time that will never be repeated. It was one of those "thin places" spoken of by spiritual leaders to describe the times when the line between heaven and earth seems to fade away and we catch a glimpse of the divine. My priest said in his sermon yesterday that the reason that King's speech had and continues to have such power is that it is not only an expression of King's dream, but of God's dream. King had the privilege of articulating that dream for all of us - but ultimately, it is God's dream that we live according to the conviction that all people are created equal.

King spoke of the promissory note given by the architects of our republic - a note that has been returned for "insufficient funds." He said, however, that he refused to believe that "the bank of justice is bankrupt." His dream was of a bank with sufficient capital to make good on its promises. He understood, however, that it was going to take a long time to get to the promised land where that note would be honored. In his final speech in Memphis on April 3, 1968, King spoke of seeing the promised land. He said that he might not get there, but he knew that the people would eventually make it.

And that brings us to tomorrow and the inauguration of our first black president. Perhaps King's speech and Barack Obama's inauguration form bookends on one chapter of our nation's history. The dream reaches its highest expression of fulfillment as Obama takes the ultimate mantle of leadership. What better sign of progress could exist?!

Hopes and expectations are sky high as we move into the Obama presidency. In part, this is dues to the abject failure of the Bush years and the longing of the American people for something better. However, it is about so much more than that. Perhaps this is another "thin place," another moment in our nation's history where we take a leap forward towards the ideals of our founding identity.

Some have said that expectations are too high, that we have set up Obama for failure because we expect so much of him. That would be true if we saw the task as being his alone. However, the challenge of moving towards freedom does not rest only on Obama's shoulders. It rests on the collective shoulders of everyone of us who believes in the dream articulated by King 45 years ago. Now is the time for everyone of us to stand up and, with Obama, say "yes we can." Now is the time to say that America is better than ponzi schemes, corporate corruption, illegal detainment, war under false pretense, etc. America is about freedom.

King said that we need to meet "physical force with soul force." It is time that the soul of America is strengthened such that it (we) become a light to the nations, that we become agents of transformation, not by the strength of our army but by the strength of our collective soul. The mantra "Yes We Can" means more that that we can defeat our enemy. It means that one day we can meet our enemies, whoever they may be, and through soul force, find common ground that will usher in a new era of peace and prosperity for all people - not only here in America but for people throughout the world. YES WE CAN!

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Give Africa the Voice It Needs, continued

ONE CampaignImage via WikipediaIf you want to add your voice to those who think that Africa should have a voice at the G20 summit in April, you can sign a petition organized by the ONE Campaign by clicking here. You will also have the opportunity to add your own personal comments. ONE has set a goal of 30,000 petitioners. As of this morning, they were at 27,443! Help them reach their goal by clicking here.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Give Africa the Voice It Needs

Satellite Photo of AfricaImage via WikipediaIn April, the G20 will meet in the United Kingdom to discuss the international economic crisis. The G20 is comprised of representatives of 19 of the world's 25 largest national economies plus the European Union. Only one member country is from the African continent - South Africa.

David Lane, of ONE, reminds us that only a handful of nations participated in creating the current financial system that has been in use since the end of World War II. As the world's most powerful financial leaders gather to discuss what could be far-reaching changes to this system, it is paramount that the voices of those who do not currently hold positions of economic power be heard.

One way to do that is for the chair of April's summit, UK Prime Minster Gordon Brown, to invite representatives of the African Union and the African Development Bank to participate. In 1999, the Organization for African Unity called for the establishment of an African union, with a view to "to accelerating the process of integration in the continent to enable it (to) play its rightful role in the global economy while addressing multifaceted social, economic and political problems compounded as they are by certain negative aspects of globalisation." The African Development Bank is "a regional multilateral development finance institution established in 1964 and engaged in mobilising resources towards the economic and social progress of its Regional Member Countries (RMCs). It is headquartered in Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire)."

By allowing these two institutions to participate in the G20 summit, Prime Minister Brown will ensure that the interests of approximately one billion people will be heard. In our global world, we desperately need to hear all voices. Rich countries simply cannot pretend that the concerns of less developed nations do not matter. We cannot solve many of the problems of African nations that are caught in the grip of political turmoil and corruption, economic exploitation, or other causes of poverty. However, we can bring their voices to the table as we seek solutions to the current international financial crisis that threatens to derail so much of the economic progress that we have made over the last decades.

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

People of the Light - A Reflection for Epiphany I on Genesis 1:1-5 and Mark 1: 4-11

Representation of baptism in early Christian art.Image via Wikipedia“People of the Light”
A reflection for the First Sunday after the Epiphany
Genesis 1.1-5 and Mark 1.4-11

“In the beginning, darkness covered the face of the deep. Then God said, ‘Let there be light.’” So goes the first part of the Genesis creation story.

Light is a powerful symbol and has great significance for our faith. In the creation story, God created the light and then separated the light from the darkness. In Isaiah 60, the prophet says to the people of Israel, “Darkness shall cover the earth.” He also says, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” The great symbol of the season of Epiphany is the star, the light that led the magi to Jesus. Light leads us into the very presence of God.

We are people of the light. What does that mean to us? We find clues in Mark’s account of the baptism of Jesus. John the baptizer proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He said, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” John had it all wrong. John thought that Jesus was about power. John and his followers anticipated a Messiah of power, one who could stand up to the Roman Empire, one who could meet force with force, one who could establish peace by means of the sword. John looked for a Messiah who would stand against the forces of evil and oppression.

Isn’t that what we do? We define ourselves by that which we are against. We are against terrorists. We are against those who would jeopardize our freedom or our way of life. We are against dictators and communists, against our enemies and those we fear. The problem with defining ourselves by what we are against is that we end up looking in the mirror only to recognize that we have become the enemy. We become so against someone or something that we demonize it so that we can destroy it. Once we decide to destroy it or them, we have become children not of light but of darkness.

In contradistinction to our way of being, Jesus does not stand against John the Baptist. He submits and receives the baptism of John. After this, Mark tells us that the heavens were torn apart and that a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” This is an important detail for several reasons, not least of which is that the Greek word translated “torn apart” is used only twice by Mark - here, and at the crucifixion, when the curtain of the temple is torn in two. Mark connects Jesus’ baptism to his death. Just as Jesus stood for the people rather than against them at his baptism, so he stands for them rather than against them at his death.

John told us that Jesus was powerful. However, when his enemies came to destroy him, he did not define himself by what he was against. He did not say, “I am against violence or terrorism and therefore I will resist it even if it means becoming violent myself.” Instead, Jesus said, “I am for peace. I am for love. And regardless of what happens to me, regardless of what you do to me, what I am for will govern my response and my behavior. And, under no circumstances will I demonize the enemy and resort to violence, thereby using what I am against in order to protect what I am for.”

On the first Sunday after the Epiphany, many churches will celebrate the sacrament of baptism. As we have said, baptism and crucifixion go together. We are not baptized into a culture that uses violence to combat violence or destruction to wipe away all threats. We are not baptized into a way of life that exercises power to control or protect. We are baptized into a way of living that uses love and peace as the means to bring about God’s vision for our world. Great spiritual leaders, from Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr. recognized that love is the force that ultimately will defeat the forces of chaos. Love is the light created by God in the beginning, given by God to God’s chosen people, and shared with us so that those who live in darkness can see the truth.

Imagine with me for a minute what our world would look like if millions of people in America and around the world said that they were no longer willing to fight violence with violence. What if millions said that they were no longer willing to stand against their enemies but rather would stand for love and peace. Would it work? Frankly, I do not know what would happen. However, I do know that the way of violence and hatred does not work, that responding to worldly power with worldly power does not disarm the evil that is around us, and that God calls us to a different way.

Speaking of millions of people admittedly is a little far fetched. So, let’s think instead about the dozens or even hundreds of people that comprise our spiritual communities. Or, let us start by talking about each one of us, about ourselves. What are you against? What gets you blood boiling. What creates passion such that you want to stand up and say, “No, I won’t stand for it”? Now think about what you are for. Are you for love? Are you for generosity? Are you for peace, justice, and those other things that we affirm in the baptismal covenant? If so, how can you use what you are for to make a difference with what you are against? How can you allow what you are for determine how you will respond to those whom you are against?

This does not have to be complicated. Are you against the colleague who gets under your skin? Are you against the mother in law who can be so annoying? Are you against the terrorists who threaten your way of life? Being against people can tear us apart, rob us of our joy, and take away our ability to live with the freedom of soul. Instead, try being for loving the colleague. Try being for loving the mother in law, try being for loving the terrorist. Let love determine your response. Be a person of light, of love, of conviction not against but for. Then, you and I will not become the enemy. We will not compromise what we are for so that we can fight for what we are for. That does not make sense. Jesus offers a different way. Jesus did not stand against those who crucified him. Rather, he was for love, for forgiveness, for peace. May all who are baptized into the light and love of Christ do likewise! Amen.

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