Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sermon for February 23, 2014

What is Perfection?

“Be perfect, as God in Heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5:48

Many years ago, there was a full-page ad in USA Today sponsored by the sportswear company FILA. It featured NBA All-star, Grant Hill. There was a picture of Hill surrounded by copy that stated: “This year Grant Hill led his team in scoring, rebounding, assists, and steals, led his team back into the playoffs, and led the league in triple doubles.” The ad continued to declare that Hill, “didn’t punch an official; didn’t demand a contract extension; didn’t dump his high school friends; listened to his mother; made his bed daily.” Moreover, he “promised to take shorter showers in an effort to conserve water; didn’t hurt a fly; chose paper over plastic; rewound tapes before returning them; put coins into other people’s parking meters.” In addition, Hill “kept his thermostat at 68; practiced what he preached; actually paid attention to the flight attendant’s instructions; donated a kidney; and vowed to do better next year.” According to this ad, Grant Hill was perfect

I suspect that, if we were totally honest, most of us would admit that we have a desire to look that good to others. We want people to think we’ve got our lives together; that we’re successful, that our kids are the best and brightest and our relationships ideal. We want others to think that we’re on top of our game; that we would never make an error in judgment. If we were totally honest, many of us would have to admit that we have a driving desire to be perfect.

Perfection means having no flaws or shortcomings; complete excellence. A perfectionist sees life as if it were one of those little pictures at the back of Saturday’s Washington Post Magazine that says “What’s wrong with this picture?” If you look at the picture carefully you will see that the table only had three legs or the front door has no door knob. Perfection is like taking delight in finding what’s wrong – only looking for what is missing, or broken instead of what is working.

Why would we want to find such satisfaction in only seeing what is missing, in what is wrong, or in what is broken?

Perfection is one of the most important characteristics of our culture. Some have said the pursuit of perfection has become a major addiction of our time. While we strive to make our lives look flawless, we also fall short of some sort of imaginary and unattainable standard. At one time, Martha Stewart might have been seen as the high priestess of perfection: one dare not let the mask slip, even in one’s home, where all is perfect, right down the last hand-stenciled napkin ring. Of course, now we know that even Martha Stewart can make mistakes. As hard as we might try to convince other people that we have the perfect life, something usually trips us up.

Even so, many of us keep at it. We strive for a flawless life. I think we do it because we’re searching for something. We want approval and love.  We start to believe that the only way we can earn love is by never ever making a mistake or falling short. In her book Kitchen Table Wisdom, Rachel Remen talks about this very thing. In fact, she goes so far as to admit that she is a recovering perfectionist. Remen is a physician who was trained by her father in the art of being perfect long before she entered medical school. She wrote,
“As a child, when I brought home a 98 on an exam, he invariably responded, ‘What happened to the other two points?’” 
Remen goes on to say,
“I adored my Dad and my whole childhood was focused on the pursuit of the other two points. By the time I was in my twenties, I had become as much a perfectionist as he. It was no longer necessary for him to ask me about those two points. I had taken that over for myself. It was many years before I found out that those points don’t matter. That they are not the secret to living a life worth remembering. That they don’t make you loveable. Or whole.”

I read a story about the National Spelling Bee contest where the best school-aged spellers compete for lexocutionary glory (yes, I think I made that word up). The article said that the organizers of the event set up a “comfort room” for contestants after they misspell a word. There the children can go to cry in private and vent their frustration on a punching bag. It’s supposed to help them cope with the feelings of shame and the sense of failure that come with having gotten one word wrong,  even though they’ve already spelled hundreds of words correctly.

Expecting ourselves or others to be flawless can lead to a miserable existence. Sometimes we create incredible stress in our lives when we try so hard to prove that we’re perfect people. We live in constant fear of messing up or being humiliated or embarrassed when we fail or make a mistake.

The way in which we interpret God’s Word doesn’t help our situation, either. What do we do with a passage where Jesus tells us to be perfect as our God in heaven is perfect? When God gives the divine mandate for us to be perfect, isn’t that just supporting our neurotic quest to reach the unattainable grail of flawlessness? Are we called to be perfect, like God, but simultaneously fated to always fall short of the goal? Or, is it possible that we have a skewed reading of this text?

In Matthew 5:48 the word translated “perfect” is the Greek word telios. It actually means “whole or complete.” That which is telios fully realizes the purpose for which it is designed. A person is perfect when he or she realizes the purpose for which we are created and sent into the world. “Perfection” does not mean to set forth an impossible goal, or that which must be attained at any cost. We get our English word “perfection” from a Latin word meaning “complete, entire, full-grown.” To be perfect, in this sense, is to make room for growth, to allow for the changes that help us fulfill the purpose of our lives.

And what is that purpose?

I can tell you what’s it’s not. We were not created for superiority over others.  Our purpose in life is not flawlessness. It’s not a moral self-righteousness that cares little for those around us. No, perfection is found in love. Perfection is found in relationship with those who seek to help us or seek to hurt us. Jesus calls us to resist manipulation and guilt and substitute it with radical love.

Perfection, as our culture defines it, is simply not intended to be part of the human condition. Being human, by its very nature, means that we are imperfect flawed creatures.

The Apostle Paul also has something to say about this. In 2 Corinthians, the author talks about having a God-given thorn in the flesh that keeps him from becoming too proud. He writes,
“Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” 
Paul says,
“That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 
Paul does not boast about being flawless. Quite the opposite. He embraces weakness so that the perfection of Jesus Christ might be known.

An understanding of radical love begins with the knowledge that we are all flawed. We all have times of weakness. We all have moments we make mistakes and miss the mark. We unite in our shortcomings, our woundedness, our brokenness and our greatest needs.

Shel Silverstein, wrote a story entitled The Missing Piece. It’s about a circle that has a large triangular wedge cut out of it. The circle wants to be whole, with no lost parts, so it starts looking for its missing piece. Because it is incomplete, however, it can only roll very slowly as it moves through the world. Kerthump. Kerthump.  As it rolls slowly along, it has a chance to admire the flowers (kerthump) and butterflies (kerthump) and sunshine (kerthump)and other miracles of nature. Along the way, the circle finds lots of pieces, but none of them fit. Then one day it finds a triangular wedge that fits perfectly. The circle is very happy. It is finally whole! It is a perfect circle. It can roll very fast. In fact, it now rolls so fast it no longer has time to talk to the butterflies or notice the flowers. When it realizes how different the world is when it rolls through it so quickly, the circle stops, drops the triangular missing piece by the side of the road, and rolls slowly away. Kerthump. Kerthump

In some strange way, we are more whole when we are incomplete. We roll toward perfection only when we kerthump along and connect with our limitations.

Master psychologist Carl Rogers put it this way: “I let myself know that I am enough. Not perfect. Perfect wouldn’t be enough. But that I am human, that is enough.” I hear God saying the very same thing God would say to us. No masks, no pretenses needed. To be ourselves, to be human—that is enough.

Sources:
William Barclay, Matthew vol. 1 (176-178).
Linda McCoy, “Mask of Perfection,” http://www.the garden.org/Sermon%20Archives/08 26 01.htm
 Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace: a Vocabulary of Faith (55-57).
“How to be Perfect, “ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-dr-eric-d-barreto/how-to-be-perfect_b_4808200.html?utm_hp_ref=tw
“Beyond Perfection,” http://www.rachelremen.com/beyond-perfection/

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sermon for February 9, 2014

“Πληρόω”
 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5: 13-20
Sermon Audio - Click HERE

In the second century, a hundred years or so after the death of Jesus, lived a man named Marcion. Marcion was a Christian. Well . . . that actually depends who you ask. Marcion called himself a Christian, but he had his own perspective about what that meant, a viewpoint that was not shared by prevailing Christian orthodoxy at the time.

Marcion read the Hebrew Scriptures and concluded that the God described there  was tyrannical and judging -- not at all like the loving, gracious God described by Jesus. So far you may be thinking, “Marcion  is right. I think the same thing. The Old Testament God is cruel. The New Testament God is love.” Hold on to that thought for a few minutes while I tell you more. Marcion wanted to account for the differences between cruel OT God and Loving NT God. He decided that these were two different gods. With the coming of Jesus, the merciful redeemer god defeated the cruel creator god. Anything to do with the mean god, he got rid of. He rejected Hebrew Scripture and a good chunk of the New Testament, too. Gospel texts, like Matthew, that frequently quote the Hebrew prophets, were thrown out by Marcion. You might see how this was threatening to the accepted view of the early church.


Here’s one of the problems. If you are an early church theologian, you believe that the Hebrew Prophets predict the coming of Jesus as Messiah. Those proof texts are important. Without the Old Testament, there is no case for Jesus as the Christ who comes to fulfill the law and the prophets. Along comes Marcion, throwing away the law over here, ignoring the prophets over there. For Marcion, Jesus can’t be the fulfillment of the law and prophets because that would make Jesus the spawn of the tyrannical deity of the Old Testament. Marcion said Jesus was the son of the unnamable good god who came to refute the god of the Jews, the law and the prophets.

Marcion was excommunicated from the Catholic Church because he threatened to make divisions. Church leaders denounced him as a heretic, and the Catholic Church gave back large donation he previously made. Marcion used his personal wealth to fund his own church organization, which continued in the West for 300 years. Pretty soon, there were schisms in Marcionism, and the official movement fizzled out.

Marcion was not the first person to find themes of judgment in the Old Testament that seemed at odds with the message of grace in the New Testament. And he was not the last person, either. Take a random survey of Western Christians and ask them about what God is like and you will get all kinds of answers. One person will tell you God is a strict, punitive authority figure: a creator and enforcer of rules who has harsh punishments for those who don’t toe the line.

Ask another Christian, and you get a picture of a loving parent, occasionally firm but mostly gentle and supportive, who only wants you to be happy and to be your own best self while  giving lots of latitude to find your own path.

Others see God as a hands-off manager who mostly sits back and lets creation run itself. Still others see God as an impersonal abstraction, an intellectual ideal, the encapsulation of ideals such as love, justice and compassion. So, is one of them right? Or, do people shape their image of God to fit what seems right to them?

Christian theology has always insisted that there is one God. At times, God seems vindictive, vengeful and just plain mean. But there are plenty of times when God is kind and tender, showing forgiveness and compassion to all. Love, mercy, redemption, and judgment are all attributes of God’s character, and they always have been.

Today’s passage from Matthew makes Christianity’s case. Jesus preaches the beatitudes – this poetic and memorable list of blessings. Then he says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” Paraphrase: “Do not suppose that I came to loosen the law or the prophets.  I have not come to loosen, but to make full.” Matthew uses a Greek verb here for fullness: πληρόω. It means to fill up or make whole. In this case, it means to complete an incomplete thing. Jesus does not come to negate or undo the law. The law remains very much intact. Jesus comes to make it whole – to not only complete, but to exceed the law and the prophets.

The author of Matthew’s gospel wants us to know that Jesus always one-ups the law. Jesus delivers five major speeches, which parallel the five great books of Moses known as the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). The first and most important of Jesus' speeches is the Sermon on the Mount (the text from which we are reading today). One of the characteristics of his sermon is the repetition of the words, "You have heard it said . . . But I say to you . . ." For instance, Jesus says “You have heard it said do not murder, but I am saying if you even think angry thoughts you are guilty.” Jesus gives a updated interpretation of the Law. It’s as if he is saying, “Moses said to you ____, but I’m saying you can do even better. When Moses said, ‘Do not murder,’ he didn't only mean, ‘Try to make it through the day without killing anyone.’  He also meant, ‘Don't devalue others by thinking yourself superior to them or harboring anger toward them.’” For Jesus, devaluing others is ultimately the source of murder. Jesus reclaims the heart of Jewish religious law as it is interpreted through the prophets and made flesh in lives of justice, mercy, and faith.

So, why go through all this legal reinterpretation? One word: Pharisees. Matthew sets Jesus up against the Pharisees. He will continue the theme throughout the entire Gospel.

By the second century before Jesus, Pharisees had become known as "the Separated Ones." They were not priests, but lay-theologians, lay-teachers. A Pharisee invested his life in an all-out effort to keep the Law of Moses down to the smallest detail. They not only followed the Law, they also had rules about how to follow the rules. Determined not to break any of God’s laws, they devised an intricate system of oral tradition to keep them straying. One would think with such a desire to obey God, they might have recognized Jesus as an ally. Yet they were His most bitter and relentless opponents. For the Pharisees, God made demands. For them, the law and prophets provided a set of guidelines that had to be kept at all costs. For Jesus, God was primarily gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Matthew writes Jesus stories for a predominately Jewish community who sees Jesus, not the Pharisees, as the rightful interpreter of the Law. We think what’s really going on is that there are two Jewish communities who are at odds over the future of Judaism. The Pharisees see Moses as the steward of God’s law. Matthew’s community of Jewish Christians sees Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s law. Matthew wants to undermine the legitimacy and authority of the Pharisees who criticize Jesus. Matthew uses Jesus to insists that the newly-forming Christian community needs to be better. He says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  There are some politics and polemics going on here.

So back to the question: How do we understand the πλήρωμα (pleroma) the fullness of God? How do we know God when even our sacred texts are filled with conflict and questions? The UCC tradition doesn’t excommunicate heretics who disagree with us, like the Catholic Church did with Marcion. We don’t want to use our sacred texts as weapons to bludgeon those who follow the law and the prophets differently. How do we understand the fullness of God when there may not be a clear set of directions?

Here is my personal challenge. What if discomfort with the God of the law and prophets is a projective – a Rorschach test?  If we believe that what makes someone good is kindness, we construct a God who takes care of people. If we believe that what makes someone good is justice, we construct a God who rewards goodness and punishes evil. If we believe that what makes someone good is mercy, we construct a God who’s forgiving. If we believe that what makes someone good is intellect, we construct a God who’s a complex theological abstraction. If we believe that what makes someone good is respect for authority, we construct a God who issues clear rules and expects them to be obeyed. Here’s the point: What if my beliefs and hang ups have nothing to do with God, but say way too much about me?

Here’s the deal; I have, at times, hidden behind the veneer of respectable, righteous religiosity. I can be vengeful. I can be envious. I can be insular. I can be tempted to descend into inactivity in order to perpetuate the status quo. I can be more in tune with the letter of the law than the spirit of the law. Sometimes I put question marks around the prospect of radical change in human beings. In other words, my behavior mirrors that troublesome tyrant of an Old Testament God whom I want to ignore or dismiss. I am more like that God than I want to admit. I want it to be different, but the journey of change needs to begin with the elimination of self-deception.

What might happen if I begin to take responsibility for my own values and not try to put it on God? If I value kindness and justice, I should own it and not try to use God as a way to justify it. If someone else values intellect or mercy, then just own it. We don’t need to invent and follow one image of God that fits our own values. We don’t need to twist our holy texts to fit a certain worldview, and then persuade ourselves that our values really come from the Divine. I’m looking for a different model. For me, it’s about πληρόω – wholeness, fullness, completeness. The journey to fullness begins with honesty; honesty with ourselves that we do not have all the answers; honesty with those whom we disagree; honesty that says you don’t have to be wrong for me to be right; honesty that admits we do not have all the answers; honesty that knows we fail and need our faith and our scriptures to hold us accountable; honesty that faces the times when we are scared and unsure with an awareness of God’s presence; honesty that remembers Christ can complete something that is loosened and unfinished in you. In me. It’s about πληρόω – fullness – complete and overflowing grace.

Sources:
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/story/mmmatthew.html
http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/five-short-stories-of-grace-chris-tiller-sermon-on-gods-forgiveness-85277.asp?Page=4
http://www.preaching.com/sermons/11549713/page-5/
http://mysticpolitics.com/psychology-of-belief-is-religion-a-rorschach-test/


Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sermon for February 2, 2014

The Life of Justice
February 2, 2014
What can we bring to the Lord?
    What kind of offerings should we give?
Should we bow before God
    with offerings of yearling calves?
Should we offer thousands of rams
    and ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Should we sacrifice our firstborn children
    to pay for our sins?
No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
    This is what is required of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:6-8
Audio version - click HERE

Have you ever heard someone say something like this: “There’s so much pain in the world. I suppose someone’s got to address it, but why should I have to do it? My hands are quite full right now, what with working 60 hours a week and my family commitments and all. Besides, I’ve worked hard to get what I have. Why shouldn’t be able to enjoy it?” That’s what might be called the “I’ve Got Mine” theory of social justice: I’ve got mine; let someone else take care of the world’s problems. It’s not much of a social justice theory, but I hear it a lot.

How about this one as an alternative? “Yes, I know. The world is full of injustice and all. It needs to be corrected, but that will take a better person than I. It will take a Martin Luther King, Jr., a Gandhi, a Mother Theresa. Maybe all three rolled into one. I can’t to that; I’m just an ordinary sort of person” That’s the Great Healer Theory of social justice: It takes a few great people to make a difference, and since I’m not a great person, I’ll wait for one to come along and follow that one. In the meantime, there’s not much I can do. Again, not much of a social justice theory. But I’ve heard it.

A variation on this theory is this: “There’s so much to do I wouldn’t know where to begin. I need someone to tell me. In the meantime, all I can do is wring my hands.” That one at least has the merit that it does not pretend to be anything but an excuse for not getting involved. Still, it has little to do with social justice. And it won’t heal any of the pain the world.

Of course, we can always use guilt as a way to motivate people into action. Churches are good at this. “How can you possibly just stand there and do nothing? The world is falling to pieces all round you, from famine to racism. And if you don’t do anything about it, you are as guilty as those who perpetuate the pain, because your inaction allows the pain to continue and grow.” I know you’ve all heard some version of this. I’ve even preached it on occasion. It Guilt really can motivate people. But there has to be something better, something that really will motivate people to get involved and touch the world with the loving compassion that Jesus demonstrated. This morning we will think about this as we listen to a word from a Hebrew Prophet.

We just heard from the prophet Micah. Here’s what’s going on. Micah imagines God and the people of Israel in the middle of a lawsuit. They have come to court to see who is at fault in their fractured relationship. God charges that the people of Israel have ignored the covenant. They have forgotten how God saved them from the land of Egypt and brought them to the Promised Land. In choosing not to remember their own history of bondage and the struggles leading up to liberation, the people grow indifferent. Israel comes up with a defense. “What can we bring before the Lord to make up for what we’ve done? Maybe God would be happy if we took a valuable yearling calf and sacrificed it. No, God, you will want more. Maybe we should raise the value by sacrificing not one, but a thousand rams, and then smother it with rivers of precious olive oil. Then will you be pleased, God? What if we sacrificed our firstborn children to pay for the sins of our souls? Then would God forgive? Tell us the cost, and we will pay.”

The urgent cries of Israel don’t sound very different than our own laments today. We mess something up and we have a compulsion to clear our consciences. We want a sign that God still loves us. We cry, “God, what do you want from me. What can I do to make up for what I’ve done? Will you be happy if I promise to go to church every Sunday for a month? How about a year? What if I make good on my stewardship pledge? I’ll even put a little extra in? Then would you be pleased, God? How much do I need to give in order to secure your love? Do I need to find the people and things that are most valuable to me and offer them to you, Lord? Then would you forgive? Tell me the cost, and I will pay.”

So, what does the Lord require?

Micah gives a surprise answer. God doesn’t want stuff. God wants you. God doesn’t require sacrifice of physical objects. God wants your heart. Micah says that if you want to make it right then do justice, love mercy, and walk in humility with your God. Let’s think about this for a minute.

First God says do justice or do what is right. In Micah’s day, most of the county’s leaders were caught up in their own comfort and prosperity. But Micah saw the suffering of the general population. He knew that justice would not come from the state or the power structure. Justice rises from people who dare to envision dynamic alternatives to their current unjust conditions. To do justice is not a romantic ideal nor an abstract concept. Rather, justice means hard work. A life of justice asks us to work together, to analyze the present unjust system and to find ways to change the system. Justice is able to disrupt, dismantle, break down, disarm, and transform the world when we dare to see what is really happening without growing cynical. Living a life of justice means being willing to risk seeing another person’s suffering as our own.

Doing justice is hard because it means that life has to change. And many of us have a strong allergic reaction to change of any kind. Many also have a strong revulsion to the church getting involved in politics. I want to address this for a moment. The important decisions in our time – whether there will be peace or war, safety from terrorism and random shootings in public spaces, racial equality or discrimination, homophilia or homophobia, food or famine, economy parity or disparity – all these are, in part, political decisions. Not every political issue of the day demands a stand from the churches. I don’t think churches should pursue political goals that are self-serving. I hate to see Christians try to legislate their convictions into state and federal law. I love to see Christians speak up and act up on behalf of the poor and disadvantaged, to fight for housing for low-income families, for decent health care for the aging, for fair treatment of all people. In these times that are neither safe nor sane, I love to see Christens put it all on the line, knowing that we can expect minimal support from the culture around us. Anyone can love the healthy, the successful, and the glamorous. There’s little dignity or courage in that. God calls us to a higher standard—to love and serve the world with compassion; to understand that when one suffers, we all suffer. When one person is given dignity, we are all brought a little higher. So, we DO justice. Think of those two words together -- justice as a verb. We don’t think justice. We don’t hope justice. We don’t pray justice. We DO justice. We DO.

Micah also mentions kindness. Showing kindness means choosing to recognize and respond to the needy among us. In his book, The Power of the Powerless, Chris deVinck writes about his brother Oliver who was severely handicapped, blind, and bedridden. No one was sure whether Oliver was aware of the world around him, although he did eat when he was fed. Though he lived to be over 30, feeding him was like feeding an eight-month-old child. He required 24-hour care, which his mother gave him until the day he died. Chris remembers it like this:
When I was in my early 20s, I met a girl, and I fell in love. After a few months I brought her home for dinner to meet my family. After the introductions and some small talk, my mother went to the kitchen to check the meal, and I asked the girl, “Would you like to see Oliver?” for I had, of course, told her about my brother. “No,” she answered. She did not want to see him. It was as if she slapped me in the face. In response I mumbled something polite and walked to the dining room. Soon after, I met Rosemary—a dark-haired, dark-eyed, lovely girl. She asked me the names of my brothers and sisters. She bought me a copy of The Little Prince. She loved children. I thought she was wonderful. I brought her home after a few months to meet my family. The introductions. The small talk. We ate dinner; then it was time for me to feed Oliver. I walked into the kitchen … and prepared Oliver’s meal. Then, I sheepishly asked Roe if she’d like to come upstairs and see Oliver. “Sure,” she said, and up the stairs we went. I sat on Oliver’s bed as Roe stood and watched over my shoulder. I gave him his first spoonful, then his second. “Can I do that?” she asked with ease, with freedom, with compassion. So I gave her the bowl, and she fed Oliver one spoonful at a time. Which girl would you marry? Today Roe and I have three children.
If we want to live in God’s forgiving grace, then we walk in kindness, meeting the needs around us with the ease, freedom and compassion of God.

Micah also mentions humility.  Humility means recognizing that the universe doesn’t revolve around us. In fact, it means serving others in a way that doesn’t even draw attention to the good deeds we do. It means that we do acts of justice and kindness with quiet simplicity.

As we think about the life of Pete Seeger and mark his passing, I’m reminded of humility. Pete Seeger’s death leaves a void that must be filled with new voices. Clear voices. Committed voices. Determined voices. I wonder who will take up the guitar, the banjo, or the microphone; camera, pen and tablet to speak, sing, write, shout in a clear humble voice – who will remind us about love, and peace, and justice, and freedom. Who will be the new leaders? One of the tributes I read recalled Pete Seeger leading a march with the Occupy Movement in 2010. He was quoted as saying: "Be wary of great leaders. Hope that there are many, many small leaders." That’s humility, right? It’s not about the big grand scheme, as much as the long obedience in the same direction.

Justice. Kindness. Humility. Honestly, it would be a lot easier to buy God off.  The life of justice is risky and uncomfortable. It refuses to back down in the face of evil. It never relents shining the light of grace into the worst places in the world.

In the spirit of starting with small leaders, and for those whom this is new, let me suggest some first steps in living a life of justice, kindness and humility:

Write a kind or encouraging letter, perhaps to someone who is struggling with a decision, or a failure, or disappointment. Or write notes of encouragement to those who are fighting the good fight in our area, against all odds.

Volunteer to help at a food bank or Shepherd’s Table.

Guard the reputation of another person. Refuse to take part in discussions that focus on fault-finding or gossip, or discriminatory joking.

Ask yourself, “Am I doing something that oppresses someone else? Have I taken advantage of another person?" By examining yourself, you will be able to see the injustice around you.

Take a stand. All around is there is racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination. You have the power to make a difference in Christ’s name. Even a small one. Come join us on Lawyers Mall in Annapolis aon Feb. 17 to lobby for Transgender Equality. Learn about mass incarceration with us next week. Join one of our Peace in the Middle East events. We have lots of opportunities for eduction and service!

And remember, God doesn’t want stuff. God wants you. God has shown us what is good, and what is require of us. DO justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with God.

Sermon for January 21, 2018

How Far Would You Go? 1 Samuel 17 I had a sermon all ready to go today. It was a NICE sermon. You would have felt really good about i...