On the Road Between Jerusalem and Emmaus: A sermon for Easter 3A

This sermon, offered on April 30, 2017 at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison, Wisconsin, is built around the readings assigned for the Third Sunday of Easter in Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary.

You can find those readings here

This sermon was preached from the center aisle without notes.  What follows is a transcript of the recorded sermon.

 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer.

Please be seated.

 

So I don’t know if it feels this way to you. It feels to me like it was forever ago… But in reality it was only two weeks. Two weeks ago we gathered here three times on the same weekend, Saturday night and twice on Sunday, there were beautiful flowers on the ledges up front here and in all the windows, we had extra musicians up front and the choir sounded amazing. There was a palpable sense of the Spirit in this room, and between those three services 400 people came to church here at St. Andrews. It was amazing. It was just two weeks ago.

Now I don’t know about you, and I’m sure that people say this every year, and I may have said this last year too, but this past year has seemed particularly difficult to me. And so my guess is that those 400 people came here that weekend with a lot of questions in their hearts and minds;

Wondering if the tomb was indeed still empty;

Wondering if we could continue, in the light of all that’s going on around us and the world, to put our faith, our trust in, to continue to believe in the one who came to show us that we are beloved of God and that God is well pleased with us;

Who came to teach us that we are all worthy of dignity and respect;

To show us beyond doubt that nothing could ever separate us from God’s love;

And that we will never, never be alone.

There was a lot at stake that weekend: our faith, our trust, our belief… and we came here to this place to reaffirm what long to know and believe and to trust… two weeks ago… two weeks ago.

Well, in today’s gospel story we have Cleopas and his companion, so let’s just assume for the moment that it’s Cleopas and Mrs. Cleopas, and it is the exact same day that the tomb was discovered to be empty. Not two weeks later. This is the same day and Mr. and Mrs. Cleopas received the same message that we heard two weeks ago. The women who had gone to the tomb came running back to say that the tomb is empty and we’ve seen a vision of angels who told us that Jesus has been raised from the dead!

Now a few lines before the passage we read today we hear that all of the disciples gathered together heard the women’s testimony as an idol tale. And if you go back and look at the original Greek what they really thought it was, was nonsense. Nonsense. It was so far beyond what they could imagine or believe they decided that it was nonsense. And here are Mr. and Mrs. Cleopas on that same day making the 7-mile hike from Jerusalem back to their home in Emmaus defeated and broken. When Jesus encounters them on the road they say, “but we had hoped…” “But we had hoped that he would be the one to redeem Israel.” And now their hopes are dashed. The same day!

So here we are, two weeks later, and I think it’s fair and appropriate to do a little check in… “How you doing?”   We all left here two weeks ago enlivened, lifted up – I mean we were so excited we went outside and we hunted for Easter eggs. We went home and ate chocolate Easter bunnies. We made ham and lamb and all sorts of things and had meals with the people that we love… But here is two weeks later and I’m wondering if the world around us has started to kill that buzz yet. So how you doing?

I think there’s something really important in this story that only Luke shares with us. And that is the reality that it’s hard. Even for those early disciples who were there in his presence, who heard this word from Mary and the rest of the women, it’s hard cling to that state, and that trust, and that hope, in the face of the pain and the suffering that we experience and that we see in the world around us.

Something remarkable happens in that story. Jesus encounters them on the road to Emmaus in the midst and depth of their grief but he doesn’t leave them there. And this is how he pulls them out.

He shows up and they say, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard the things that have happened?” And he says, “What things?” Tell me what’s on your heart. Tell me what’s bothering you. Tell me what you are struggling with. And they tell him the story… and then he proceeds to remind them of different story, a larger story, the story that describes who they are and whose they are. He digs into their sacred Scriptures and points to all of the things in those sacred stories that describe the necessity of what’s happened in the last three days.

Then they invite him in to spend the night, and they sit down at the table, and Jesus takes the bread, blesses it, breaks, it and gives it to them. So there’s a pattern, there is a rhythm there. There’s an order you should recognize.

Yesterday morning when we were here rehearsing with the choristers who are up there in the balcony supporting us in worship this morning we walked through the ordo, the order of our worship. And here’s what we talked about.

We gather together and we say, “Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed!” We declare God’s presence and we start to pay attention in a very specific and intentional way. And then we say, “Almighty God to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid…” We open ourselves up. We open our lives to God, and offer what’s hurting, what’s broken, what needs to be mended and reconciled.

And then, we hear from the Old Testament the stories that describe who we are and whose we are, and we responded by saying a psalm together.

Then we hear a story from the New Testament and we respond to God’s missionary outreach through those words by singing another song.

Then we hear the story from the Gospels, the stories of Jesus’s life. And we try very hard to break those open and make those relevant to who we are here and now.

And then we will stand up and will say the Creed. Here’s what we believe about the God with whom we’ve been in dialogue and conversation.

Before you know it were taking that bread and we’re blessing it, and were breaking it, and we’re sharing it.

For Mr. and Mrs. Cleopas this was such an eye-opening moment, it was such a revelation, that they dared to make that 7 mile journey, after dark, back to Jerusalem to share with the rest of the disciples how the whole world had been changed for them by this meal that they shared with Jesus; how their eyes had been opened and they knew the risen Lord in the breaking of bread.

So a couple of minutes ago I said we needed to check in, we needed to see how everybody’s doing two weeks after we celebrated the feast of the resurrection. If you feel the never ending gray skies, and the events of the world around us; wars and rumors of wars, and all of the stuff that fills the news, bearing down on you, threatening to squash the joy that we felt on Easter day… then this is the place to be!

This is the place to be, where we can offer to God our struggles, our doubts, our fears, our pain, our loss; and our joys, and our successes, and our celebrations, and our loves. And then be in dialogue with God through our holy Scriptures; being reminded of who we are, and in whom we live, and move, and have our being… And then we participate in that sacred meal; the taking, and blessing, and giving of bread.

I think there are a couple of caveats to all of this, to this process. First of all we have to be prepared to say what things… what it is that we have on our hearts, and in our minds. We have to be prepared to open ourselves and be vulnerable. To say I’m struggling, I’m wrestling, I have doubts, I have fears. And then to engage in those Scriptures as if they were our own story. And then to come to this table ready to be fed and to be sent on that road back to Jerusalem, back to share the story, back to give to others what has been given to us.

The most important thing I think though in all of this is the sanctification, the acceptance, the embrace of how difficult this path can be. Walking from Emmaus to Jerusalem, and back to Emmaus, and back to Jerusalem. We’re bound to go back to Emmaus and have to make our way back to Jerusalem yet again.

Maybe there are some people for whom a switch is thrown, a light comes on, fingers are snapped; and all of the doubt, and pain, and struggle that we experience in this life goes away. But I haven’t met that person yet. I wish I could tell you that was my story but it’s not. The thing is we don’t have to feel bad or guilty for finding ourselves back in Emmaus.

What we need to do is come to this table, to come to this gathering and share those stories, and hold out our hands, and receive that bread, so that our eyes can be reopened, and we can be reminded; we can come back to ourselves, and go back out into the world.

So here we are this morning. I don’t know if you’re still in Jerusalem. I don’t know if you are in Emmaus. I don’t know if you’re somewhere on the road in between or even which direction you’re facing at this moment. But wherever it is that you are Jesus will meet you in that place. And you are beloved, and with you, no matter where you are on that journey, God is well pleased.

So come to this table. Be nourished and fed for the journey. Take a look around you at your companions on the way. Mr. and Mrs. Cleopas… I see a lot more people on the road than that…

Amen

Finding Our Home: A sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter

This sermon, offered by the Very Rev. Andy Jones, on April 23, 2017 at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison, Wisconsin, is built on the readings assigned for the Second Sunday of Easter, year A in the Revised Common Lectionary.

You can find those readings here

This sermon was preached without a text form the center aisle.  What follow is a transcript of the attached recording.

 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

Please be seated.

I don’t know about you all but I feel a little sorry Thomas. We have a three-year lectionary cycle and so our readings for any given Sunday change every year on a three-year rotating basis, with the exception of just a few, and today being one of them. Every year on the Sunday after Easter, when we celebrate the feast of the resurrection, we trot Thomas out and let him say these difficult words.

Now, I don’t know if we can imagine what it was like for him in that moment but I’ve got an idea for a way that might get us close. So I want to try something, and it’s a little interactive so you’re going to have to participate…

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

But unless I see the mark of the the nails in his hand…

(faintly from the congregation)  But unless I see the mark of the nails… (laughter)

Ooooh! See! You guys were right there… You can imagine what that would be like! It would be really hard!

Thomas walks into the room where all of his friends, his companions for these past three years are gathered and they greet him with this joyous news, tell him about an event that he wasn’t a part of, and he doesn’t want to believe them. He asks to see some evidence; “Let me see the body, show me the flesh and blood, show me the wounds, and then I’ll believe what you’re telling me.

It’s really interesting how all of this moves forward. It would seem that Thomas doesn’t believe that this was the same person who hung on the cross, whom his friends have met, and who has been raised from the dead. He wants some factual evidence.

But sometime later when Jesus shows up for a second time, Thomas now present in the room, and Jesus offers him the factual evidence he’s required, Thomas doesn’t say “Oh wow! There are the wounds! It really is you! You’re the one! Wow! My friends were right and you’ve been raised from the dead!”

What he says instead is, My Lord and my God!”

That doesn’t sound like a response to factual evidence to me. It doesn’t sound like some switched has been flipped for him, some Christian apologetic has finally convinced him that this is all true. Something much deeper has happened in this moment. I think that in this moment Thomas has come to trust, to trust.

Ten years ago Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury from 2002 to 2012, wrote this book called Tokens of Trust and here’s how he opens chapter 1.

“A few years ago the British philosopher Onora O’Neill, argued in some broadcast lectures that our society was suffering from a crisis of trust…”

 

“It isn’t simply that we have become remarkably cynical in many of our attitudes, that we approach people in public life with unusual levels of suspicion, it’s also, more disturbingly, that we don’t feel the great institutions of our society are working for us. This means we are unhappy and mistrustful about our educational system, our healthcare service and police – let alone our representatives in government.”  (Tokens of Trust p. 3)

Ten years ago… suffering from a crisis in trust… maybe we can understand what’s going on in Thomas’s mind in this moment.

So we need to talk a little bit about the word “believe.” Thomas says unless I have this evidence I won’t believe. Jesus shows up and says, “See my wounds. Put your hands in them. Do not doubt but believe.” And Thomas says, “My Lord and my God. I trust in you,” and Jesus credits him in that moment with belief.

“Have you believed because you have seen me? Have you trusted because you can see me?”

All throughout John’s Gospel the words believe and belief are relational words. They are verbs that have to do with trusting in… Not so much believing facts, not so much in believing in data and evidence, but coming to trust in someone in some thing.

Shortly after the introduction that I read to you from Rowan Williams’s book he’s talking about the fact that we, as a community, gather every Sunday and we say these words together

 “We believe in God the father Almighty…”

And he tweaks that word “believe” the same way that John would have us tweak it. Williams says

“It is the beginning of a series of statements about where I find in the anchorage of my life, where I find solid ground, where I find home.” (Tokens of Trust p. 6)

In a world and a culture where trust is a difficult thing, where we can’t believe, or we need to question the sources of information that we once relied on, where we’re not sure who’s telling us the truth and who is working to forward their own agenda, we need to have something in which we can trust, an Anchorage, solid ground, home.

And so what we do every week is come here together, to this place, and say, “We trust, we find our anchorage, solid ground, home it’s here in this place, and in this person Jesus of Nazareth, and in the God whom he made manifest and describes, whose behavior he exhibited here in this world, that we trust.

Jesus says to the disciples there in that upper room “Just as the father has sent me I now send you” and he breathes the Holy Spirit upon them. And so having been shored up, having been rooted, having been given our ground where we live and move and have our being, Jesus sends us out in the world to invite others to come home, to hold tightly to what it is that we trust, and to share that with others.

Now just in case you started to roll your eyes a little bit in the last few minutes, we need to acknowledge Thomas’s presence in the midst of all this and our ability to relate to him. Because Thomas, and we don’t know how he’s been wounded or how he’s been shaped by his culture and his time, he’s often credited I think with being a scientist and needing some scientific evidence. Maybe that’s what’s going on here, but I think fundamentally what’s happening in him is an inability to trust. Sometimes life comes at us in ways it makes it difficult for us to trust. That’s why I’m so grateful for Thomas’s presence in this story. Jesus could have taken any route, any measure, to help us to find our way to recognize the importance and value of trust. John the gospeler or could have crafted his story differently and moved us to the same point, but if they had excised Thomas from the story then I think we would’ve all left here afraid at the possibility that life would somehow steal away from us, even for a fleeting moment, our ability to trust.

So Thomas stands here in our midst, Thomas with whom we’ve discovered we can in fact identify, and asks for what he needs. “I need Jesus to come back and to show me, to show me! I know you all say you’ve seen him but I need him to show me! And Thomas authorizes, empowers, gives us permission to say those same words.

So I’d like to tell you that in 30 seconds I’ve arranged to have Jesus come through the locked doors here, and stand in our midst, and offer us his wounds. That would be great but I don’t think it’s likely to happen.

What we do have however in this space, gathered together, are the wounds of people we love, people who have been hurt, people who have survived that hurt. We ourselves who bear our scars into this place and dare to stand up every Sunday and say we believe! We believe in a God who loves us beyond measure, who has proven to us that we will never be abandoned and never be alone, a God who has told us that we all have value, and are worthy of dignity and respect; a God who tells us that what God wants for us more than anything is life in his name.

Thomas took a great risk by standing up in the middle of that room and saying I won’t believe unless I get to see this list of things. I think we take a similar risk when we stand up together and say, “We believe, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, despite the pain that I have experienced, despite the pain that people I love are feeling right at this moment. We believe. We trust in the one who came to set us free, to allow us to walk in the light, and to give us life tinged with, suffused with, glowing with eternity.

Thanks be to God for Thomas who helps us to see. Thanks be to God for Jesus who comes back to us again and again. And thanks be to God for this community where we can wrestle and struggle find God in one another.

Amen.

 

Williams, Rowan. Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2007. Print.

Go to Galilee. There You Will Meet Him: A sermon for Easter Day 2017

This sermon, offered at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, by the Very Rev. Andy Jones, on Easter Day 2017, is built around the readings assigned for Easter Day in Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary.

You can find those readings here

 

 

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Thank you. I so needed to hear that this morning…. Please be seated.

I really needed to be here this morning; to sing these hymns, to tell this story, to proclaim that Christ, Emmanuel, God among us, is alive and present with us here and now…

And then to have you, the Church gathered, affirm that proclamation with joy and conviction. I think maybe I can breathe now….

You might think that a little strange. We do this every year. We have been doing this for almost 2,000 years and without fail, every year, the tomb is still empty. In fact, the tomb has been so reliably empty that we gather every week and together we say, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

Every year, every week, every day, God’s unfailing, unconditional love; the truth that nothing, not even death, can separate us from that love; God’s promise to be with us always, even to the end of the age, is reliably, without fail, true! Every year, every week, every day… the same…

But we all know that not every year, every week, every day is the same.

Some years are harder than others.

Some years tragedy and loss, pain and fear seem to rise from the ashes of defeat and assert themselves in ways that threaten to overwhelm us.

We are an Easter People. We claim this moment of resurrection, of rebirth, a world made news by God’s love, as the key to the way we understand ourselves, one another, the world around us, and God.

But sometimes the circumstances of life, our own lives, the life of our community, the life of the world in which we live, can break our hearts in ways that we aren’t sure can be mended and we run the risk of finding ourselves stuck in Good Friday.

I have talked with an awful lot of people over the last six months who have felt the weight of Good Friday sinking into their bones, trying to lay claim and lay waste, and  I have to confess to you that I have been there too.

It may have sounded strange to you when I shared how badly I needed to hear our Easter proclamation this morning, but among the truths that we proclaim it’s important to name Good Friday, to make space for our varied experience of life, and to point in this moment of truth telling we are not alone.

Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” arrived at the tomb this morning their hearts broken their hopes and dreams dashed. While other accounts of the story have them arriving to anoint Jesus for burial, Matthew offers no explanation for their coming. We can only assume that their grief and suffering they come to the only place that makes sense, the place where Jesus’s body has been laid. What is next healed their broken hearts but it might just as easily have stopped them altogether.

There’s an earthquake, the stone is rolled away, and an angel of the Lord whose appearance was like lightning and whose clothes were as white as snow sat upon the stone and spoke to them. The guards, who were there to keep watch over the tomb, fainted dead away, but the women who had come to the tomb with their bleeding hearts their hands kept their senses and their wits about them, and received the gift that changed the world forever.

“Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.”

So they left the tomb with fear great joy and ran to tell his disciples. Imagine how that joy was multiplied when on their way to tell the disciples Jesus himself greets them. He says to them, “Greetings.” They fall to their knees at his feet and worship him. Here in the midst of fulfilling the mission that they have been given, to go tell the disciples that Jesus has been raised from the dead, they are given the gift of Jesus presence and they find him on their way to Galilee. The two “Marys” then go to the disciples with a new message.

Jesus says to them,

“Do not afraid; tell my brothers to go to Galilee there they will see me.”

That message has the power to mend our broken and bleeding hearts, to make us whole, to give us hope again, and to send us into the world search in search of the risen Christ.

But it’s not without good reason that both the angel of the Lord and Jesus start their messages to those they address with the words, “Do not be afraid.”

once our hearts have been broken, once our dreams have been dashed, it gets harder the venture out into the world. It get harder to risk being hurt again. It gets harder to make ourselves vulnerable in that way by hoping beyond hope that the promises, which we have been given, are in fact true.

Good Friday is always lurking on the periphery waiting to assert its hold on us, waiting to creep into our consciousness, and to dark our vision and our ability to see. That’s why, I think, both the Angel and Jesus himself, in the post-resurrection appearances, tell us to search for Jesus in Galilee.

Galilee, near the place where Jesus was born, the place where in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus spends half 0f the chapters devoted to describing his ministry. The other half being devoted to his Journey to Jerusalem and the cross. Galilee, the place where Jesus preached, taught, and showed us the way to heaven, where he healed the sick, where for a sinners, where he cast out demons, where he taught us that the way to experience a life that is suffused with and color forever by the eternal, is to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves. It is there, in that place, in Galilee that we will meet him.

We will meet him there in the loving signatures of the people write us cards expressing their understanding of our grief and pain in ways that only someone loves us can understand. We’ll find him there in the eyes of the people who with compassion turn to the people on the margins and the oppressed, and offer them a hand, lifting them up so that we might all stand together. It’s there in Galilee in communities that gather around the risen Christ and offer the proclamation that we shared this morning, that he will meet him, that we will feel his love, and where we will know that we are never alone.

So no matter how you came in here this morning, whether it was with your broken heart in your hand and the weight of Good Friday riding on shoulders, or whether it was to have reaffirmed and strengthened the sense of joy and peace that you feel knowing that God is alive and present, even if you only came this morning for the Easter Egg Hunt… It is good that we are here.

Jesus said this to the Mary’s, go and tell my brothers, and my sisters, to go to Galilee. There they will see me. This my brothers and sisters, is Galilee…

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Where Were They When They Crucified Our Lord? A sermon for Good Friday 2017

This sermon, offered at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church on April 14, 2017, is built on the readings assigned for Good Friday in the Revised Common Lectionary.

You can find those readings here.

If this sermon sounds familiar to you that is probably because it is the sermon, with a few tweaks and a little fine tuning, that I offered on Good Friday last year.

Many of you know that I am a musician.  As a musician, I know that the same riff, or melodic figure, can sound very different when played against a different chord.  The harmonic context against which a melody is heard has a huge impact on the way that we hear, receive and interpret that melody.  I thought that this sermon worked last year.  But based on the feedback I received today I believe that this sermon works even better in our current “harmonic context.”  Oh how I wish that were not the case….

 

Good Friday Sermon 2017

“What is truth?” I wonder how Pilate spoke those words? Was he sincere? Did he utter them with a plaintive longing in his voice? Was it merely a rhetorical question? Or…. Did he ask it with a derisive sneer?

The story would seem to indicate that, at least at first, Pilate was trying to discern the truth. He goes out to meet the crowd that is clamoring for Jesus’s death and asks, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” He comes back inside to question Jesus and asks, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  “What have you done?”

He goes back outside and tells the crowd that He can find no case against him and offers to release him, but the crowd continues to insist that Jesus be put to death.

So, seeking to placate the crowd, Pilate has Jesus flogged, and, understanding Jesus to be innocent, and trying to honor the truth as he understood it, again tries to release him.

But the crowd roars for Jesus’ death and tells Pilate that Jesus has claimed to be the Son of God.

Pilate returns to Jesus and continues to ask him questions, still trying to understand, still seeking the truth, almost begging Jesus to respond and spare himself the fate the crowd demands.

Pilate is frightened. The crowd’s charge, Jesus’ responses have him beginning to recognize that there is something going on here that is beyond him, something that he doesn’t understand… and he continues to work the crowd trying to find a way to have Jesus released…

And then something devastating happens…

The crowd finds a way to turn their threats against Pilate…

“If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”

Pontius Pilate was a mid level bureaucrat, a career military man and politician whose position rested on his ability to curry favor with those above him, especially with the Emperor.

If word got back to Rome that he had released someone who was undermining Cesar’s claims to divinity, Cesar’s claim to divine kingship, if he released someone who was seeking to usurp the basis of the Emperor’s power… Pilate’s career, maybe even his life, would be over.

The fear that Pilate felt as he began to approach the truth about Jesus was suddenly supplanted by fear for his own career, fear for his status and rank in society, fear for his position in the only hierarchy he knew and understood.

So in this moment of crisis, Pilate turns his back on truth and condemns an innocent man.

He turns his back on truth…

Jesus told Pilate, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Apparently Pilate wasn’t listening.

Jesus told us that we are all, all of us, beloved of God. This truth that Jesus proclaimed has the power to break down the walls that divide us, to heal the instinctual tribalism that causes us to see the world as “us” and “them,” to reconcile us one to another and to God.

Jesus told us that we are all, all of us, children of the same God and that we are called to care for the weak and the poor, the disenfranchised, those on the margins, the alien in our midst, even those who have harmed or wronged us!

The truth that Jesus proclaimed has the power to bring our border conflicts, our police actions, our wars to an end.

Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

And he taught us that the way to true life, a life that is shaped by and infused with the eternal, comes through loving God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and through loving our neighbor as ourselves.

When push came to shove, and the harsh political realities of believing and living by the truth to which Jesus testified became clear… Pilate stopped listening to the truth and, instead, bought into the false promises of demagoguery and empire…

Demagoguery and Empire cannot abide this truth and so, when it is confronted by The Truth, it seeks to destroy it…

It seeks to destroy The Truth

Here’s the thing….

Jesus didn’t just give voice to truth… he himself is The Truth.

Jesus, Emanuel, God among us. Jesus, The Truth, manifest in our midst, trying to help us to grasp the reality, that we, all of us, with all of our scars, imperfections and flaws, are beloved of God, have value in God’s sight, and are worthy of dignity, respect, of love.

Jesus’s words, his testimony, his teaching countered the claims and lies of empire.

Jesus, The Truth’s very presence among us, represents a challenge to the fear, competition, scapegoating, and the tribalism that fuels and undergirds empire… so empire had him killed.

Rome killed The Truth to suppress its voice and oppress a people.

Pilate killed The Truth to suppress its voice and protect his own position, status, and power.

The temple authorities killed The Truth to suppress its voice and protect a way of life, their traditions, their religion, their heritage… all of which supported their power and their privileged place in society.

Today, standing at the foot of the cross we look upon the work of empire and we are called to acknowledge and confess

The evil we have done

The evil that enslaves us

And the evil done on our behalf

Whenever we fail to care for the poor, the hungry, the naked, or the prisoner, we are here, standing at the foot of the cross.

Whenever we diminish, degrade, or dehumanize another in order to maintain our power, status or privilege… we are here, standing at the foot of the cross.

Whenever we scapegoat a person, or a people, in order to justify their oppression and our own acts of aggression… we are here, standing at the foot of the cross.

Whenever we deny our connection to, and responsibility for one another, whenever we deny a child of God the dignity and respect that, by virtue of our common origins, belong to all of us… we are here standing at the foot of the cross.

We are here standing at the foot of the cross…

So why is it that when we sing, we ask, “Where you there when they crucified my Lord?”

I think that we want to hear that song as filled with pathos and shared grief. We sing those words in search of others who share our pain and dismay at the spectacle of The Truth, dead, nailed to a tree, its side pierced, its breath stolen away. We sing that hymn as observers of an event that happened long ago in a land far, far away…

But the truth is that we, we are standing right here, at the foot of the cross… and right now, around the world, and here at home, the voice of demagoguery and empire is ringing out, telling its lies, looking for people to devour in its insatiable appetite for destruction and death.

The question isn’t so much “Where you there?

Against this backdrop of fear mongering, of incitement, of tribalism; against empire’s howl of rage and confusion at the threat to its power and privilege, we must hear the words of this hymn as a call to action.

The question this hymn is truly asking is “will we be there?”

Will we be there when they try, again and again, to crucify our Lord?

Will we be there to raise The Voice of Truth in protest?

Will we be there, risking the wrath of empire and proclaiming the kingship of The Truth?

Will we be there beginning to heal the wounds inflicted on the Body of Christ…. by following his commandment and loving one another as he has loved us…

Or will God’s people someday look back at us and ask,

“Where were they, when they crucified our Lord?”

 

Leaving it All Behind: A Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent

This sermon, offered at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church by the Very Rev. Andy Jones, on March 12, 2017, is built on the readings for the Second Sunday in Lent in year A of the Revised Common Lectionary.

You can find those readings here.

What follows is the transcript of a sermon preached without a text from the center aisle at the 10:30 service.

 

It was a dark and stormy night.  The wind howled across the moors.  And somewhere in the distance a wolf began to howl.  And then there came… a knock at the door…

So if a story starts that way you know what’s coming right?  You know what to expect. I think in the same way maybe we some expectations and some ideas about where today’s gospel reading might be going, based on the way that it begins.

“There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews, and he came to Jesus by night, and said to him….”

Right away we have some negative ideas about Jesus’ interlocutor in this moment. He’s shown up in the middle of the night. I bet he’s here to try and trap him and to try to test him in some way, trying to get him to misspeak so that he can be arrested…

Well now wait a minute. This is a Nicodemus. This is the same person who in just a few short chapters, after Jesus has overturned the money changers tables in the Temple and the religious leaders have gathered to plot to kill him… Nicodemus will stand up him his defense. And after Jesus is crucified and Nicodemus will show up hundred pounds appointment and balm, an absurdly extravagant amount, to help anoint Jesus’s body for burial. So maybe we better back up just a little bit and cut Nicodemus some slack here.

I think that he is really a legitimate seeker. He has come to Jesus in the middle of the night hoping that the crowds will be thin and he’ll have some extended access, a time for some conversation. He is also probably trying to avoid being seen because the other Pharisees are going to be happy if he is seen to be hanging around with the other side. You know that doesn’t look good on your resume.

Nicodemus shows up and he starts the conversation in sort of the way you always start out, “and how about the Packers,” and the weather, and throws in a little compliment to get this started…

“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

and Jesus says, “no, no, no, no, no… We’re not doing this. I know why you’re here!” He says to Nicodemus,

“Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

Nicodemus is in a position of leadership in his religious community and that community is at odds with itself. There are people who believe in the resurrection. There people who don’t believe in the resurrection, and there’s this conflict going on internally at the same time that they are being oppressed by the Romans. They can’t celebrate their festivals. There are money-changers in the temple. They are being taxed to their very last penny to support the empire that’s invaded them. And to make it even worse, wealth is being concentrated in the urban centers and the rural folks are really struggling to get by… There’s all this tension and struggle in the land and he wants more than anything to see the kingdom of heaven.

I’m sure that he has in mind the words of the prophet Isaiah. Nicodemus wants to see a time, to see a land, to see our vision where the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and fatling together. The nursing child shall play over the whole of an asp and the weaned child shall put his hand in the adders den, and they will not hurt or destroy on all my holy Mountain…

Wow. So that sounds pretty good doesn’t it? I think Nicodemus is a character in the story deserving of our sympathy because he’s struggling with a lot of things with which we can identify. And what he wants more than anything is for Jesus to help them to understand how all of this could be, and help him to see what God has promised through the ages and through the prophets.

Well Jesus cutting right to the chase, getting past the small talk jumps right in there and gives him the answer just like that.

If you want to see the kingdom of heaven all you have to do is be born from above! Okay. Thanks for coming. See you!

Well we have been fighting about that I can’t tell you how long. Born from above, born again… what does that language mean? And we start to talk about being born again Episcopalians start to turn and head in the other direction right away!

It’s a good thing that we’ve got today’s reading from Genesis to help us figure out what Jesus is talking about here. I think the writers of the lectionary knew what they were doing when they gave us this text this morning. So here’s a little background.

Abram left the land of Ur of the Chaldeans with his father Terah to go to the promised land. But Terah was pretty old so made a pit stop in Haran, I think that there was a Sheetz or something there… So they stop for a while and you know as these things go it was pretty comfortable. So they settled down, settled in, and lived there until Terah died.

And then God shows up again and speaks to Abram and says your journey isn’t done yet. This is what he says,

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”

Okay, so leaving country and kindred and father’s house… that sounds pretty difficult. But if we stop here for just a minute and consider what he’s being asked to leave behind we’ll pretty quickly come to recognize that God is asking Abram to walk away from his entire identity.

People in this time we were known by their name and the land that they came from, Jesus of Nazareth. And they were known by their parents. This is Abram the son of Terah. So being asked to walk away from his country and his father’s house was asking him to leave behind all of the things that named him, that identified him, that said who he was.

And you know it’s really pretty impressive that he was willing to do this because God didn’t offer him a new identity in this command. It you notice he doesn’t say leave your father’s house, and your country, and your kindred behind and go to Cleveland, and be Abram of Cleveland, and be well and prosper in that place. He says I’ll tell you later where you’re going just get on the road.

I think there’s something very instructive in this moment for us as we ponder what it means to be born from above. What would it be like if we placed our whole identity in our relationship with God. What if someone asked you who you were and your answer was “I am a beloved child of God, on the road… to a destination that God has yet to reveal.”

Now that might be a little risky. That might feel a little scary, but think about what might come of that.

Nicodemus comes to Jesus wanting to see the kingdom of heaven realized in the world around him. What would it be like if we could all really believe that in Christ there is no Greek nor Jew, no slave nor free, no male no female, no east or west? What if all of us had the same core identity at the center of our being and we knew that fundamentally that’s who we are? bound to one another by our common humanity, bound to one another by and through the love of God and the workings of the Holy Spirit, we just might begin to see a world where the wolf and the lamb could lie down together, and where no one hurt or destroyed anything in all of God’s creation!

So I haven’t we done it? Why haven’t we taken that step? Why haven’t we abandoned the markers that identify us: liberal conservative, Republican Democrat, Wisconsinite… I don’t know… what do you call people from Illinois… no, no, don’t answer that question…

Why haven’t we dropped all of those things and just named ourselves as who we really are?

I think that for some reason it would feel like we were losing something, like we were giving something up if I renounced the fact that I’m a Packers fan, if I renounced my political party, if I were renounced my family and my state…

But let’s think about that from the other side for just a minute. If what I claim as my identity, is the love of God and my membership in the whole human family then to say that I’m from Wisconsin somehow narrows, diminishes, reduces me. The more labels I choose for myself to set myself apart from or over and against other people, the smaller I become. So while it might feel risky at first, it might feel like we’re losing something giving something up, I think that what we are really losing when we are reborn from above, when we set our identify in our relationship with God, in the journey we are on, and on our willingness to allow God to lead us into the future, are labels spoken out of fear that diminish our ability to love one another as God loves us.

Nicodemus comes to Jesus and he starts out with some small talk but what he really wants to know is how to see and enter, to live life as if I’m already there, in the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven. Jesus tells him he must be born from above.

So this morning I think we should finish with a prayer.

Gracious and loving God, we gather before you this morning seeking courage and strength, the will look to let go of labels and names that divide and separate us from one another and from you, and even from ourselves. We ask you to help us, as we kneel at this rail and extend our hands, to place our trust, our lives, our very being and identity in you, and to remember that we are all yours, and that we are all one, and that anything or anyone that says differently is wrong.

Amen.

Love Your Enemies and Pray for Those Who Persecute You… Seriously?

This sermon, offered on February 19,2017 at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, by the Very Rev. Andy Jones, is built on the Gospel reading assigned for the seventh Sunday after Epiphany in year a of the Revised Common Lectionary.

You can find that reading here.

The blog post by David Lose referenced int he sermon is titled Epiphany 7A: Telos and appears on his web site “…in the Meantime”

 

It seems that there’s just no escaping it.

In the Gospel reading assigned for Martin Luther King on January 15th, in the middle Luke’s recounting of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says:

“I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28).

We talked about that imperative a week later in the Forum on the 22nd and you could hear it echoing through the readings again on the 29th.

It came up in our Monday night Adult Formation offering just this past week, and then today in Matthew’s account of that event Jesus says:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-44).

Love your enemies.

It just won’t go away. There is a clear imperative in the Gospel to love our neighbors; even if they don’t look, dress and smell like us; even if they don’t believe and worship like we do; even if they don’t love like us. We are called to love.

That’s a pretty tall task in and of itself, but it’s not enough.

No matter how much we might want to ignore or deny it there is also a clear imperative in the Gospel to love our enemies; the people around whom we feel unsure or unsafe; the people whose beliefs, actions, or policies threaten us and those we love; the people who threaten our own beliefs, our freedom, our way of life… We are called to love them too!

It’s been hard! People spoke to me on their way out the door back on January 15th and told me that they were feeling really challenged by a call to love their enemies. I got four emails that week, and in sixteen yeas of preaching I have never had four emails in one week about a sermon, from people telling me that they were having a very hard time figuring out how to live into that call.

We have been wrestling with the call to love our enemies. And now, almost a month later, just when we thought it was safe to go back in the water… we get hit with the sequel from Matthew! That call just won’t go away!

And I just have to say… thanks be to God!

Thanks be to God that we are hearing this again today because we so need to be reminded of this central tenant of Jesus’ teachings right now. We need to be reminded again and again, because loving our enemies is a vocation, a commitment, a skill that seems to be in very short supply right now.

It doesn’t much matter which side of the argument you inhabit right now. The one thing that we seem to be able to agree on is that the tenor of our dialog is out of control. We are assaulted with a steady stream of personal invective and attack. It seems as if it’s not enough to disagree, to challenge someone’s position or opinion. If you are at odds with someone you need to publicly humiliate and destroy them.

What happened to respecting the dignity of every human being? What happened to the truth that we are all one, bound together by God’s love? How can it be that we can’t even bring ourselves to pray for the people with whom we struggle and disagree?

Perhaps if we could learn how to love our enemies, to disagree without denying, diminishing, or demeaning our opponent’s humanity, we might actually begin to find our way forward, together, through dialog, compromise, and common ground.

So let’s see what we can do about increasing our desire and our proficiency shall we?

Here’s a little exercise. I want you to imagine the person who you find it most difficult to love. That person doesn’t have to be living. It can be a historical figure. It can be someone you know personally. It can be someone you know of, or about, but have never met…

Got it? Ok. Now ask yourself, you don’t have to do this out loud or share it with the person next to you… Ask yourself, “Does God love this person? Is this person wrapped in God’s Mercy, Grace and Love?”

Before you answer I have another question to ask.

How do we justify hating our enemies?

It seems to me that the only way to do that is to say that they have lost the right to lay claim on us through our common bonds of humanity, that they are undeserving of our consideration, that they are not worthy of love.

But every time we try to make that move, asserting that someone is unworthy of love, we are confronted by St. Paul’s bold teaching in The Letter to the Romans:

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”  (Romans 8:38-39).

When we try to justify hating our enemies we are confronted by Jesus’ words in the Gospel According to Matthew:

“for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).

When we try to justify hating our enemies we are confronted by Jesus, who experienced us at our very worst; Jesus who came to share God’s love, to teach, preach and show us how to experience eternal life; Jesus, dead at our hands, murdered, hung on a tree. When we try to justify hating our enemies we are confronted by the Jesus who refused to turn his back on us and walk away; Jesus who came back and loved us anyway.

Nothing can separate us from the Love of God! God makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Not even evil and unrighteousness can separate us from God’s love! God has experienced us at our very worst and loves us anyway!

 

Now let’s go back to our unlovable person. What were you thinking? Does God love this person? Is this person wrapped in God’s Mercy, Grace and Love? This is really important. How we answer this question makes a big difference in the way that we experience ourselves, one another, the world, and God.

If we can convince ourselves that the person we can’t love has done something so awful that they have lost God’s love, that has caused God to turn God’s back on them and walk away… then isn’t is just possible that we could share that same fate?

If we decide to believe, despite the scriptural testimony, that it is in fact possible to lose God’s love… we could find ourselves walking around terrified, constantly looking over our shoulder, guarding our every step, burying the master’s treasure in the ground, for fear that we might do something to lose the love that God so wants to share with us.

When we justify our failure to love by asserting that someone isn’t worthy, that they are somehow inherently unlovable, we have done violence to them, to the God who loves us all unconditionally, and to ourselves. Our failure to love diminishes us by impairing our ability to experience the love that God so wants us to know and share.

There is one more imperative in today’s Gospel that we nee to consider. In the very last sentence of our reading from Matthew Jesus says,

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

I know that may sound even more daunting than loving our enemies and, for some of us, a call to be perfect may sound like a call to a way of being that we have been trying to outgrow. But don’t go there too fast.

In a recent blog post, David Lose, biblical scholar and President of The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, tells us that,

“…the word we translate “perfect” is actually the Greek word telos and implies less a moral perfection than it does reaching one’s intended outcome.”

“…which means that we might translate this passage more loosely to mean, “Be the person and community God created you to be, just as God is the One God is supposed to be.”

It is our call, our vocation, our telos, our purpose, our end… to be a people who love our enemies, who work to end the cycle of retributive hate and violence. God creates us to be a community of love.

That makes the call to love even stronger but I’m not sure that makes it any easier.

Loving our enemies requires a decision to love, a commitment, maybe even a skill that we have to learn. It will take work!

So I would like to propose that today we make a start, that we begin the journey towards the life to which God calls us and for which God created us by praying together.

Would you please open your Book of Common Prayer to page 816 and join me in a Prayer for our Enemies…


O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love
our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth:
deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in
your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly with your God: A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year A

This sermon, offered at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison Wisconsin on January 29, 2017 is built on the readings assigned for the fourth Sunday after the Epiphany in Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary.

You can find those readings here.

 

We awake this morning and read that there is a lawsuit being filed. Legal briefs have been filed already. People are lining up on one side or the other. There are defendants in this case and there is a plaintiff. But this is no ordinary lawsuit and it deserves our special attention. Thank goodness we have the prophet Micah as our courtroom reporter to help us to understand just what is happening.

Micah starts out describing the way that the jury is selected:

“Hear what the Lord says:
Rise, plead your case before the mountains,
and let the hills hear your voice.

Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord,
and you enduring foundations of the earth” (Micah 6:1-2a)

The plaintiff in this case is none other than the Lord God Almighty, Yahweh. And Yahweh calls into the jury box the very foundations of the earth, things that have been true for all eternity. Yahweh goes on, or Micah goes on to tell us the Lord has a controversy with his people and he will contend with Israel.

At this moment the lawyers break in and refer us to some briefs that have been filed previously in the second and third chapters of the book of the prophet Micah. The issue that Yahweh has with Yahweh’s beloved people is this:

“Alas for those who devise wickedness
and evil deeds on their beds!
When the morning dawns, they perform it,
because it is in their power.
They covet fields, and seize them;
houses, and take them away;
they oppress householder and house,
people and their inheritance” (Micah 2:1-2).

In the second brief filed with the court Yahweh says,

“And I said:
Listen, you heads of Jacob
and rulers of the house of Israel!
Should you not know justice?—
you who hate the good and love the evil,
who tear the skin off my people,
and the flesh off their bones;
who eat the flesh of my people,
flay their skin off them,
break their bones in pieces,
and chop them up like meat in a kettle,
like flesh in a cauldron” (Micah 3:1-3).

In his briefs filed with the court Yahweh compares the judges, the ones in power to decide justice in their courts, to cannibals devouring the people for their own benefit.

And yet, even in the face of these horrible offenses Yahweh does not judge and does not seem angry. His opening statement to the jury

“O my people, what have I done to you?
In what have I wearied you? Answer me” (Micah 6:3).

Dismayed, hurt, bewildered that God’s beloved people have Lost Their Way, Yahweh Launches into a recitation of their history together.

“For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
and redeemed you from the house of slavery” (Micah 6:4a)

Egypt was the place where the people of Israel had been in bondage and suffered under cruel task Masters, had been oppressed, had been abused, God reached in to that terrible situation, hearing the groans of God’s people and brought them out, brought them out of oppression into a land of promise.

And Yahweh didn’t leave them alone on that journey on their way to the promised land, a place of freedom and dreams. God reminds them that Moses and Aaron Miriam were there to guide them to lead them on Their Way.

Yahweh reminds them that when they were fleeing from Israel, and they entered the land of Moab, King Balak, conspired with the prophet Balaam, asking Balaam to curse the people so that Balak’s armies might defeat them. But Yahweh entered into that moment and refused to allow Balaam to curse the people, instead leading him to bless them.

Then when Joshua had the people just outside the land of Canaan, ready to pass through that entrance gate into the place that had been promised them, Yahweh stopped up the waters of the river Jordan so that they could pass from Shittim into Gilgal in peace and in safety with their feet walking on dry land.

It seems that the people of Israel have forgotten their own history, have forgotten their relationship with the Lord their God, and have forgotten how they got to the land of promise, where they now live the land; that they have dreamed of a land where they could be free. But in the face of this recitation, in the face of this accusation, they turn and they offer compensation;

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?

Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings,
with calves a year old?

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with tens of thousands of rivers of oil” (Micah 6: 6-7a)?

Wealth beyond imagining shortly this is compensation. This is what the Lord wants and desires from us. And this will put us back in right relationship. For certainly wealth is the end of all things. Perhaps beginning to sense that this isn’t enough, they even offer to sacrifice their own children:

“Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul” (Micah 6:7b )

Micah the courtroom reporter steps in it in this moment tells us:

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6: 8).

Rams, rivers of oil, wealth mean nothing to Yahweh. It is the way we live with one another, the way that we are in relationship with one another, the way that we treat our fellow creatures all created by the hand of the same loving God. It is in this role that the prophet Micah functions, to call the people of Israel back to their true nature, to remind them who they are, and of their history, and to point out where they have gone astray. Because Micah knows, and we know if were being honest, that is dangerous to forget our history. It’s dangerous to forget from whence we come, dangerous to forget the core foundations of truth that have resided in the mountains from the beginning of time, the foundations on which God created all that is.

Among those foundations are these words that Matthew relays to us, words spoken by Jesus of Nazareth,

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.   Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

And these words,

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22”37-39).

If Micah were here today I’m sure that he would use those words to begin the history lesson that we all need to hear this morning. Those words spoken by Jesus of Nazareth are at the foundation of our story and who we are. Words which, if you really think about it, formed the basis for these words,

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door”(The New Colossus)!

Those words comment from a sonnet called the new Colossus which was written by Emma Lazarus and they are inscribed on a plaque inside the pedestal upon which stands The Statue of liberty in New York harbor. They are part of our history, and our foundation, and they name who we are. They reflect the ideals upon which this nation was founded, ideals that have endured since the beginning of all time, ideals to which the prophet Micah calls us this morning.

A history lesson: Friday, January 20 17th, just two days ago, was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Do we need a history lesson? We need to ask ourselves how many people the US government turned away during the Holocaust fearing that they were Nazi spies. You don’t have to look very far to find stories like that of the German ocean liner St. Louis and its 937 passengers almost all Jewish, who were turned away from the Port of Miami, the ship forced to return to Europe were more than a quarter of those 937 passengers were murdered during the Holocaust.

History indicts us. History calls us to account. And history sharpens our focus on the times in which we live and move have our being. In the face of this history we might begin to ask, “What can we do in recompense for all that has transpired? How can we make ourselves right with the Lord our God? And just like in the case of the people of Israel, God will turn God’s back on our offerings of wealth and prosperity, our burnt offerings of rams and our rivers of oil. For there is only one thing that the Lord our God demands and requires of us.

To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God!

The prophet Micah lived almost 3,000 years ago calling the people to account. Only his words and his spirit are with us today. But they are ours and we need to stand in the long line, the tradition of prophets that reach back to Micah, and Isaiah, and to Ezekiel, and to Jeremiah. We need to stand in that place and remind ourselves of our history, and call people to account.

There will be lots of opportunities for us to stand in that place. Today at noon at the capital there will be a vigil for Muslim immigrants and refugees. And from two until 5 o’clock this afternoon at the Monona Terrace there will be a conference to talk about the ways that we can support the immigrants, the aliens in our midst in this community. I hope that some of you will join me at that conference this afternoon and I hope that all of you will feel the prophet Micah standing at your back, urging you to speak, urging you to fulfill our unique vocation as the church; to call people to repentance, to call our people to remember our history, and to remember what can happen when we lose track of who we are, of where we come from, and of who we serve.

Amen