Sunday, August 13, 2017

You are not alone… when you know you’re right

Psalm 26 and Matthew 14:22-33    

Standing up for yourself and others, being ready to share your faith, being willing to stand in the face of hatred for truth and justice … these are values and practices that I was taught along the path of my faith life. When I was in a high school youth group at church, when I ventured off to college, and later to seminary, we were often practicing saying what we believe in various situations.

I wonder when you have practiced speaking out about what you believe or what you value deeply? When have you stood up for yourself or advocated for someone else?
Turn to a neighbor and briefly, share that story of a time when you shared out loud something you believe in.

Depending on the circumstances, and depending on how much (or little) you usually speak out, that may have been very hard. I remember a time when I was a brand new pastor and together, the churches of Waukesha County were advocating with our local sheriff to continue a program where prisoners were worshipping with a neighboring congregation. It wasn’t even my particular congregation hosting those folks, but I was the spokesperson for the day (because when they asked for a leader, everyone else took a step back and there I was—the spokesperson). I was afraid, but I spoke up to the sheriff… and he belittled me, and I learned again a hard lesson about how lonely it can be to speak up for what you believe is right.

When the Christ women gathered in May around this Bible study that has inspired our summer theme—You are not alone—I was facilitating and moving us along from topic to topic, we were going to cover maybe three or four of the ten. I was planning to skip this topic—You are not alone when you know you’re right. But one woman stopped us. “You know, the one I want to talk about is this one... because there’s sometimes when (well, really, I always) know I’m right… but that’s not a good thing, is it?” I’ve heard something like this from many of you who have experienced these feelings. You’ve said things like this: “I sit in a room with a group of relatives and they are speaking all of this hatred and bigotry… and it’s harder and harder to speak up or have real conversations across differences because everyone knows they’re right.”
OR We congregate in groups of like-minded people and start to get uncomfortable as the tone of “righteousness” gets more and more strident, and we have this sense that we might be sinking into behaviors that border on being just as “wrong” as our opponents…

On Sept. 14, 2001, the U.S. House of Representatives considered House Joint Resolution 64, “To authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States.” The wounds of 9/11 were raw, and the lust for vengeance seemed universal. The House vote was remarkable, relative to the extreme partisanship now in evidence in Congress, since 420 House members voted in favor of the resolution. The Senate also passed the resolution, 98-0, and sent it on to President George W. Bush. 
More remarkable, though, was the one lone vote in opposition, cast by Representative Barbara Lee of San Francisco. Lee opened her statement on the resolution, “I rise today with a heavy heart, one that is filled with sorrow for the families and loved ones who were killed and injured in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania.” Her emotions were palpable as she spoke from the House floor.
“Our deepest fears now haunt us. Yet I am convinced that military action will not prevent further acts of international terrorism against the United States. ... We must not rush to judgment. Far too many innocent people have already died. Our country is in mourning. If we rush to launch a counterattack, we run too great a risk that women, children and other noncombatants will be caught in the crossfire.” Barbara Lee ended her speech by quoting the Rev. Nathan Baxter, dean of the National Cathedral: “As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore.”[1]

So how do we live in ways that are good and speak up for what is right and… refuse to stand in judgements that are not ours to make?

Here’s how Psalm 26 reads from the paraphrase by Eugene Peterson called The Message:
Clear my name, God; I’ve kept an honest shop.
I’ve thrown in my lot with you, God, and I’m not budging.
Examine me, God, from head to foot, order your battery of tests.
Make sure I’m fit inside and out
So I never lose sight of your love, but keep in step with you, never missing a beat.
I don’t hang out with tricksters, I don’t pal around with thugs; I hate that pack of gangsters, I don’t deal with double-dealers.
I scrub my hands with purest soap, then join hands with the others in the great circle,
    dancing around your altar, God,
Singing God-songs at the top of my lungs, telling God-stories.
God, I love living with you; your house glows with your glory.
When it’s time for spring cleaning, don’t sweep me out with the quacks and crooks,
People with bags of dirty tricks, others with purses stuffed with bribe-money.
You know I’ve been aboveboard with you; now be aboveboard with me.
I’m on the level with you, God; I bless you every chance I get.

The singer of this psalm seems to know that who we hang out with matters, if we go out seeking evil, we’ll be able to find it—and if we want to participate in acts of justice and mercy, if we want to live in God’s love and grace and “righteousness,” we need to surround ourselves with others who can help and inspire us listen to and follow God…

But also, as one colleague said around the table, who are we to judge who is a hypocrite (when we can all act like hypocrites from time to time)? God’s kind of righteousness is not exclusive, it’s not punishing, it’s not judgmental or self-righteous.

So, we call on God to be God—and to help us be the people that are right with God, looking to God who is trustworthy, and who is the source of all good. Over and over again, God is inviting us to let go of any motivations that are fear-based and to let go of any sense that we are the lone voice, or that no one is listening. Instead, the Psalms show us that God is deeply listening to all kinds of prayers… and especially those unpolished, not perfect, heart-felt prayers that we pray when we’re not yet at our best…. And when we, like Peter in the storm, are called out of the boat to walk, eyes on Jesus, onto the waves where we’d never go alone.


A litany against white supremacy

In response to the violence against the mosque in Bloomington, nuclear threats against North Korea, the gathering of the KKK in Charlottesville, Virginia, and local structures of division right here in Saint Paul
Written by Revs. Elizabeth Rawlings and Jennifer Chrien*
Amended for Sunday, August 13, 2017  by Rev. Dr. Joy McDonald Coltvet

Periodically, I will put out my hand to you and you are invited to say this response
We are all siblings, we are all related
Creative and transforming God,

In the beginning, you created humanity and declared us very good
We were made in Africa, came out of Egypt. Our beginnings, all of our beginnings, are rooted in dark skin. We are all siblings. We are all related. We are all your children.

We are all siblings, we are all related,
we are all your children.

Violence entered creation through Cain and Abel. Born of jealousy, rooted in fear of scarcity,
Brother turned against brother. The soil soaked with blood, Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?

We are all siblings, we are all related,
we are our siblings’ keeper.

When your people cried out in slavery, You heard them. You did not ignore their suffering.
You raised up leaders who would speak truth to power and lead your people into freedom.
Let us hear your voice; grant us the courage to answer your call.
Guide us towards justice and freedom for all people.

We are all siblings, we are all related,
we all deserve to be free.

Through the prophets you told us the worship you want is for us to loose the bonds of injustice,
   to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke;
Yet we continue to serve our own interest, 
To oppress workers, to crush our siblings by the neck because we are afraid.
Because they don’t look like us, act like us, talk like us. Yet, they are us. And we are them.

We are all siblings, we are all related,
we are not free unless all are free

In great love you sent to us Jesus, your Son,
Born in poverty, living under the rule of a foreign empire,
Non-white, dark-haired, middle-Eastern.
They called him Yeshua, your Son, Who welcomed the unwelcome, accepted the unacceptable—
The foreigners, the radicals, the illiterate, the poor, the agents of empire and the ones who sought to overthrow it, The men and women who were considered unclean because of their illnesses.

We are all siblings, we are all related,
we are all invited to be disciples.

The faith of Christ spread from region to region, culture to culture.
You delight in the many voices, many languages, raised to you.
You teach us that in Christ, “There is no Jew or Greek, there is no slave or free, there is no male and female.” In Christ, we are all one. Not in spite of our differences, but in our differences.
Black, brown, and white; people of all genders; citizen and undocumented;
In Christ we are all one.

We are all siblings, we are all related,
we are all one in Christ, sent out to love and learn from our neighbors.

As we practice faith, we confess our sin to you and to one another. 
We know that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.
We are captive to the sins of white supremacy, lack of consciousness, internalized oppression,
Which value some lives more than others,
Which believe some skin tones are more perfect than others,
Which create fear, intimidation, and commit violence against those who are already marginalized.
We confess our complicity—the things we’ve done, the things we’ve left undone—in this sin.
We humbly repent. We ask for the strength to face our sin, to dismantle it, and to be made anew.
We trust in your compassion and rely on your mercy
Praying that you will give us your wisdom and guide us in your way of peace,
That you will renew us as you renew all of creation in accordance with your will.

We ask this, we pray this, as this small part of your body…
We are all siblings, we are all related,
all beloved children of God.