Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Do Not Be Afraid -- A Sermon on Jeremiah and Jesus and You

Jeremiah 4:1-10
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Luke 4:21-30

Grace and peace from God our Creator, hope in our Redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you, always.

Okay, so, you know how in Lord of the Rings, Frodo and the rest of the fellowship are always being hunted by orcs and other gross things? There’s one particular time, at the end of the first film, where Boromir is trying to take the ring from Frodo, so Frodo puts it on and disappears? And then there’s all this frenzy with the attack and nobody knows where Frodo is? But he’s just off on the journey without them? I always think of that scene when I read this Gospel text. I know, I know, nerd life. But like, as the story goes, “Jesus passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” I think it works.

And because once I get rolling on a Lord of the Rings metaphor, I can’t let go, I think about little Frodo and his fear and disbelief that it’s he who will bear this ring, bear this responsibility across the known world. Sounds a bit like our dearest prophet Jeremiah, who said he could not possibly be a prophet of God, for he was only a boy. How often have we, in our young lives, thought that maybe God was asking too much of us? Maybe the world was too big? Too scary? Too heavy? Jeremiah knows that story. But God knows that story, too. I imagine that God chuckled warmly before saying, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.” 



Michaela Bruzzese, who writes for Sojourners, wrote that, “God never asks us to be the most eloquent speakers, the most intelligent scholars, or the most prominent citizens. The only condition is that we have the courage to stop dwelling in fear.”[1]

Are any of y’all familiar with Brené Brown? She’s a professor of Social Work who researches shame. Her books are all about vulnerability, fear, anxiety, and how we can be liberated from the shame we feel in those things. I would have said that Jeremiah would have benefited from reading Dr. Brown’s work, but he had the voice of God telling him not to fear, so I think he ended up okay. Since we do not have quite the same direct line to the divine, but we do have each other, we can take a lot from Dr. Brown’s work.

She writes about how easy it is to see how good other people are, especially at things we want to be good at, but so hard to see ourselves as ever being good enough. “We love seeing raw truth and openness in other people, but we’re afraid to let them see it in us,” she writes. “We’re afraid that our truth isn't enough—that what we have to offer isn't enough.”[2] As Jeremiah’s call story--and Moses’ before him--tells us, God knows that we are more than enough.

And though God may not call each of us in the same way he called Jeremiah, we are called “to speak truth boldly, whatever the consequences. But always tempered by love. Not anger, not frustration, not the need to be grand or glorious.” God did not raise up prophets to be mean. “It was God’s great compassion for those who suffered that put words in the mouths of the prophets.”[3] But the prophets were definitely not anybody’s favorite. Hard to love your neighbor when your neighbor is yelling out “REPENT!” all the time.

Nobody really liked hearing from the Apostle Paul, either. He wrote the letter we read from because the community at Corinth was a hot mess. You know if Paul is writing to you that you need to get your act together. It seems that in their life together, they’d “become so fixated on the gifts of the spirit that the gifts were becoming ends in themselves, rather than a means of transmitting God’s love.”[4] They’d forgotten what Jesus had taught.

If we think about Jesus’ teaching around the greatest commandments—love your God, love your neighbor as you love yourself—how does this passage challenge us? It’s not easy to be patient and kind, not to be envious or boastful or arrogant or rude; we often insist on our own way; we’re irritable and resentful; it takes work not to rejoice in wrongdoing, but rather to rejoice in truth; we struggle to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things. It’s going to be tough. Do not be afraid.

Then we rewind to Jesus standing up in the synagogue in Nazareth. He grew up in Nazareth, but he grew out of Nazareth. Most of Jesus’ ministry takes places in bigger cities, most notably Capernaum, as the crowd mentions in the story. Nazareth is a town made up almost entirely of Jews, and it’s not very big. That’s in juxtaposition to the relative cosmopolitan center of the area, Capernaum, where Jews and Gentiles mingle, and where the temple is huge and opulent. A poor Nazarene like Jesus stood out, there. And Jesus’ ministry in Capernaum, was to gentiles as much as it was to Jews. Luke’s Gospel is really focused on this, as it was the “Gospel for the Gentiles” in the early Christian world. Jesus tells the folks in the synagogue that the prophet Elijah ended the drought for the widow at Zarephath, and the prophet Elisha healed Naaman the Syrian. They--and the readers of Luke’s Gospel--would know that those places and people are not Jewish.

Jesus read the words of the prophet Isaiah (last week’s lectionary text):

“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
    to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and release to the prisoners;
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,”

and then told the Nazarenes that “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Their smiles turn quickly to frowns when they realize that Jesus has not just declared their exclusive, chosen, city-on-a-hill freedom. Jesus has declared that his life--as the Word made flesh--has set in motion this spread of God’s love to the whole world. This “is not to be interpreted as a project completed. Rather, it is to say that [you] now, like those in the synagogue, are invited to participate in a world restoration that is under way.”[5]

Those of us who have been reading Faith-Rooted Organizing in anticipation of our lecture next month from The Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, have been chewing on these concepts of oppression and liberation, and the role that we all have to play in the love and justice of the coming kingdom.

Luke’s Gospel is keeping us on our toes. “Women, the lame, the hungry, and those deemed ‘other’ are brought to the forefront of Luke[‘s Gospel], presenting Jesus as one of and for the oppressed.”[6] As we investigate our roles in organizing and advocacy, we’re recognizing the two sides of this coin. “Lukan theology is grounded in a Jesus who comes not just to offer compassion to those who are wounded but to speak to the evil of those who wound.”[7] And that second piece, naming the injustice and naming the oppressor, that’s where prophets get into trouble. We know this in the story of Jesus, for sure. We and the Nazarenes know the stories of the prophets of old--they are unwelcome, to say the least.

Does this sound familiar in our modern world? Our prophets--Gandhi, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Bobby Kennedy, Oscar Romero, Mother Teresa--have faced opposition, at minimum. Most are murdered. In our society, for those who would protect the status quo, “prophets who preach locally but who comprehend the global implications of their work, must be silenced.”[8]

We started out this sermon talking about not being afraid. And somehow we ended up with a long list of things to be afraid of. Telling the truth, being vulnerable, being powerful, standing against injustice, using our voices, listening to the voices of the unheard, talking about our God in public--eek! But what God said to Jeremiah, God also says to you and to me. “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.”

When you go out into the world, to love and to serve, God is with you. When you go out into the world and you struggle and you fail and you just kind of want to drop all your classes or quit your job or get out of that toxic friendship or whatever is weighing you down, God is with you. When you go out into the world, you are enough. You are necessary, and you are powerful, and your voice should be heard.

Do not be afraid. Amen.





[1] Michaela Bruzzese, “Which Do We Choose?” https://sojo.net/preaching-the-word/which-do-we-choose?parent=45401
[2] Brené Brown, Daring Greatly, 2012.
[3] Joyce Hollyday, “Called to Truth” https://sojo.net/preaching-the-word/called-truth?parent=45401
[4] Michaela Bruzzese, “Prophet to the Nations” https://sojo.net/preaching-the-word/prophet-nations?parent=45401
[5] Kenyatta R. Gilbert “Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany” in Preaching God’s Transformative Justice (2012)
[6] Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder, “The Gospel of Luke” in True to Our Native Land, (2007).
[7] Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder, “The Gospel of Luke” in True to Our Native Land, (2007).
[8] Renita J. Weems, “Jeremiah” in Global Bible Commentary, (2004).

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

No epiphanies, actually.

I shopped at the Davis Food Co-op on Sunday afternoon. I hadn't been in a while, mostly because I'd been in and out of town, and also it's sort of at the breaking point of my budget. Like, if I did all my shopping there, I couldn't afford to do all my shopping there? Hahaha. And also I just do not have time for artisanal oil-chore peanut butter. #skippy4lyfe

I went to the co-op because I just needed two things that weren't for sale at Safeway. Two ethnic things. And actually two pretty gringo things, frankly--pre-made tikka masala and a pack of soba noodles. Like, I wasn't seeking out some rare plant that only grows in one field in Thailand--though you bet the co-op sells that. They sell six kinds of pre-made polenta.

I love the co-op.

I joined it pretty soon after I moved here, because it hits so many of my food justice marks. It's a local business; it's a community-owned business; it gives money and food to community organizations and schools here in Davis; it sells responsibly-produced food; it sells local food; the staff is knowledgeable and only a little bit weird; they sponsor the kid's Christmas parade. They also have beer on tap.

But as I was making my plan to get the majority of my groceries at Safeway and then grab my ethnic foods from the co-op, I felt a tinge of...something. Like, I understand, from a logistical standpoint, why Safeway doesn't stock the same products as the co-op. The majority of Safeway's shoppers aren't clamoring for those things. And I do know that your local grocery store will order something for you if you don't see it on their shelves. (I did that, in Littleton, because my neighborhood Sprouts sold all sorts of Morningstar veggie burgers but not the tomato-basil ones, which are my favorite. They got them! It was great.)

But I do, of course, wonder how many people shop at my local Safeway who have never consumed the glory that is roasted veggies tikka masala because it isn't in the ASIAN FOODS 1/12th of one aisle. Admittedly, I am not the most adventurous eater or chef. But I have branched out into making some of my take-out favorites at home because the co-op has this whole south Asian extravaganza available. In a dream life, I'd spend half my afternoon venturing from the Mexican market to the Chinese grocer to the wherever, gathering up my ingredients from the raddest independent proprietors tucked away in suburbia. I'm sure they're there!

But I think step one is having a wider variety of global food options in the lowest common denominator (in my case, Safeway). Because by making these food items "niche" we've made them only for fancy white people like me to enjoy, timidly. We've made it so that international students (and other students of color) at UC Davis have to trek all over town to try and find those sweet potatoes like they eat at home (if they can find them). Or awkwardly excuse themselves from the group trip to Safeway--a classic social activity--with their roommates, because the food they want to buy isn't sold there. Or maybe I'm inventing this problem for these kids--maybe they are stoked to eat horrible American foods.

There are no epiphanies in this blog post. You've thought about this before and I've thought about this before and there's a whole nationwide movement to change food access blah blah blah. I just want every kid to eat stuff that's delicious and good for them and interesting! And I want kids to eat food from all over the world so that they don't think American food (whatever that is) is better that Asian-American food or African-American food. And I want their parents to be able to afford it. That's all.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

How long, O Lord?

The massacre in San Bernardino today was the second mass shooting in recent memory to occur during Advent. The first, of course, being in Newtown in December of 2012. It's upsetting to me that this is is a thing that occurs so regularly that it has sub-sets and patterns.

During Advent, these mass murders strike a different chord.

A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.

In 2012, the children in Newtown were killed on December 14--my mom's birthday--squarely in the middle of our season of hope. Of expectant anticipatory waiting for the Christ child to burst forth into our world of pain, crying out that God will make us new.

Pastor Dave put those words from John out on our marquee. We changed the hymns for Sunday morning.

Three years later, I'm in my car, thinking "do we have enough candles to light one for each victim at worship?" again. [#altarguildproblems, amirite?]

It's really painful to sing "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" and read John's cry from the wilderness...because we so desperately need it.

In a few hours, I'll be leading our Lessons and Carols service, where we'll read the prophecies and the familiar tales, and sing the words we likely know by heart--though with all the verses because this is church!

At first, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to do it. Like, that I'd get four words out and then cry.

But I'm reminded that this is what we do here. The world around us crumbles, and we gather to sing and pray and eat.

Do this for the re-membrance of me.



Saturday, October 24, 2015

Retreating.

I'm drinking a dirty chai in a cozy cafe just yards from the shore of Lake Tahoe. I just ate the best croissant of recent memory?

It's just past 7am. Yeah, you read that right.

I'm on retreat with my LEVNeers, after a whirlwind of UCD Welcome Week, and travel to Chicago and Salt Lake City. I'm not 100% sure where I am, again, yet.

It's nice to just sit here. I walked about five minutes from camp in the 37-degree morning, which was as excellent as I imagined. So fresh, cool, calm, and quiet. I woke up before the sun and headed out the door in the brightening dawn. It's been quite some time since I've had that opportunity.

I've been working hard and playing hard for several months now, and have technically been on three retreats in that time, but this is the first one that actually feels like I'm on retreat. Yes, I'm "at work" technically.

But there's a crackling fire in the grate, and sunlight peeking through pines, and quiet.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Sacrifice/Abundance

[Jesus] came so that you may have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10).

Y'all, I live an abundant life.

I'm writing this in my notebook on a turbulent Southwest flight from Phoenix to Salt Lake City. This morning, I woke up in Chicago, the final day of our Episcopal Service Corps Program Director meeting. I woke up exhausted, given that I'd slept less than 6 hours three nights in a row...and had been talked into a tequila shot for the first time in who knows how long. It's impossible to resists following a full day of work conferencing with dinner and drinking and endless laughter with my ESC colleagues--especially when we get to visit incredible cities like Chicago!

It was so much more abundant this time, too. My first ESC PD meeting was ~3 months into my new job--a little overwhelming. I met many wonderful folks and so this time got to say "good to see you" instead of just "nice to meet you"--one of the best transitions we make as humans.

There were a few new faces this time (including my roommate, Broderick, who I already knew from the internet hahaha) and folks absent from the Philly meeting regarded me as "new" again.

Our work, too, reflects this idea of abundance. We spend our days with excellent young adults, exploring and absorbing the world around them.

They live simply, in close quarters, with a lot on their plates. We could focus on the sacrifice (autonomy, money, privacy) but choose rather to see abundance (relationships, spiritual and vocational discernment, group fun times).

I could focus on my lack of sleep, inconsistent hours, cross-country responsibilities, middle-distance relationship, and vocational exhaustion. But choose rather to see my plethora of new experiences, never-a-dull-moment opportunities, support from my partner, and continuing reformation.