Monday, February 6, 2017

Matthew 5:13-20

13“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. 14“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In 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.
17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18For 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. 19Therefore, 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. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

To Preserve and to Hold

She worked over the terra-cotta urns. Stuffing large fish into the pot followed by generous layers of salt. Her children ran at her feet in and out of their home. Today’s catch would feed her family when times got hard.

Where we add salt for flavor or to preserve our constant surplus of food— for her- salt kept her family alive. Allowed them to eat in times when food was scarce.

In a similar way, laws gave people structure and guidance on how to navigate the ins and outs of daily communal life. Where we might see laws as restrictive - laws kept people alive.

in days before light switches, street lights, and iPhone flash lights— light brought clarity. Light was a guide in the midst of darkness and chaos.

Listeners to the words of Jesus knew that salt and law and light were necessary to preserve life.

Todays text comes immediately on the heels of the Beatitudes. The great vision of the world as it should be.

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn: for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God.

These first seven blessings cast a vision for how we should live in community- they imagine a world we are called to live into each and every day.

But this was not the world as it was. The world as it was was a mess— that’s why each blessing is followed by a promise- that living in this way will have rewards— the people must trust that the rewards will come—

The end of this blessing let’s the people know that the road will not be a easy. Living in this way - working for a world where it is not the rich and powerful that gain rewards— but the meek and merciful peacemakers who do— is radical and challenges the status quo and is seen as a political threat.

So when the people live into this way — when they buck the status quo and become merciful righteous peacemakers — they will surely hit hard times.

So Jesus assures them—

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.


The Beatitudes and todays text are inseparable.

Because in order to live into the vision of a world that is ‘not yet’ .. in order to sustain real persecution and the pain of being reviled — you must preserve your strength. You must do what you need to do to maintain your light.

And for this we need to be ready. We need each other, and we need the best tools to help us on the long path of living into the kingdom of heaven on earth.

We need to become salt to preserve, and become law to guide- so that we may be light.


Salt preserves because it absorbs the water that bacteria need to grow. When salt is present it displaces the breeding ground for poison and disease - it keeps food fresh and life giving. Jesus reminds the people that they are to be salt. They are to preserve this way of being - this way of meekness and mourning, righteousness and peacemaking- in the midst of adversity and strife.


The second section of todays reading- one which is too often overlooked- or even cut from this passage— declares the law as another tool for preserving this way of being.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18For 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.

— Our protestant Christian sensibilities have an guttural adversity to any promotion of ‘the law’ as primary— but it is important to note that this is due to years of abuse and co-optation for menacing purposes—

Jesus was a man who embodied the law- every bit of it— and this law is to serve as a guide to sustain us.

Where our state and national laws negotiated, fought and politicked for - the law of God transcends - the law of God is constant- and the law of God is not a box to be checked- but a way of being to be lived.

When we live this way of being grounded in the law- boiled down to genuine ‘love of God’ - beyond our own self interest— and ‘love of neighbor’ with a constant eye to expanding our definition of ‘neighbor’

we see that we have what we need for our light to be preserved in the midst of adversity.

We have the tools. And we must activate them.

We are in an interesting time.

A time when we feel division in our selves- in our communities and in our country.

When it seems that we have lost sight of that Beatitudes world.

The world where the merciful peacemakers - those who mourn, the poor and the hungry sure don’t seem to be experience blessing.

In my work as the Director of the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, I work daily with those who experience marginalization and oppression. We work to challenge stereotypes about Muslim and refugee communities. We work to combat the racism that is poison deeply embedded in our psyches and systems. We stand with and empower those who are homeless and in deep poverty. We work for rights, equality and thriving for people who are GLBTQ, and stand up for women’s reproductive rights and choice.

These are more than political battles. This is work for the human spirit. For life and thriving and blessing for all people. Even those with whom we disagree.

This is work that is easy to feel bogged down in in these days. It is easy to feel disheartened and frustrated - even reviled and persecuted.

We are in a time when those who seek to transcend political divisiveness and vitriol have difficult work ahead.

But there is good news. We are not the first to face a world that feels overwhelming and messy. There are millions who have gone before us - for century upon century - there are those who have worked to keep the light shining when the obstacles seemed daunting.

From the story of Hagar who demands to be blessed even after being rejected and  despised,

to a young couple - ready to deliver a baby- searching for a place to be welcomed when all have denied them shelter.

To those whose names are famous for enduring hardship and shining light in chaos- from Harriet Tubman to Rosa Parks and Ella Baker, Martin Luther King Junior, Ghandi, Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa….

But in the shadows- making a way when there was no way are thousands of women who raise children while enduring abuse and marginalization, people who find strength to speak truth to power, to engage in the difficult conversation, to stand on the side of those who are cast out, bullied and ignored.

People who everyday bring their salt to spaces filled with bacteria in order to preserve life. People who embody the letter of the law— committed to loving God and loving our neighbors- all of our neighbors— even when it isn’t ‘cool’ or a majority opinion….

How do they sustain in the face of hardship? How do they raise their voice when they know it will ‘rock the boat’…


There is a story that I have been repeating in my head in these days….

Story of the elephants and the stick….

These are days when we need something to hold onto. Something that will keep us focused on what is life-giving and good. Something that will help us endure the struggle, strife, and persecution of living into the Beatitudes world.

Hold onto me, and you can endure. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the refugee and the stranger— love one another- always—

Jesus says—
Be like salt- preserve that which brings life.
Hold onto the law. Love God and love one another before all else—-
and let your light shine.

May it be so.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Micah 6:1-8 Justice in our Time

Micah 6:1-8 Justice in our Time

Hear what the Lord says: Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. 2Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the Lord has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel. 3“O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! 4For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. 5O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”

6“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? 7Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” 8He 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?


Will you pray with me: God- Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you- amen.

I wonder what the mountains are thinking now?
Snowcapped and full of glory, unwavering strength- what perspective might they bring?

What do the streams see?
As they pass through this way and that? Through cities and towns and fields alike…

Do the birds change their song as they glide overhead? Do they know the stories happening below?

The sun and the moon - as they move through the sky— do they judge us? or hold us in constant grace?

The words of Micah call forth the witness of the mountains and the earth. The dew on the grass and the sheep in the field testify- bear witness- to the ways the people have forgotten who they are- have neglected to live into right relationship with God and with each other.

In a text we feel we know so well- there is a story behind the story. In the time post exile, most likely during the reign of king Hezekiah, in the late 8th century BCE, distant memories of slavery and oppression have been replaced by daily lives of comfort, complacency and power.

But Micah and God and the mountains remind them:

Remember! It was I who saved you. Who brought you from slavery to freedom, who helped you overcome the oppressor, who sent you leaders- Moses and Aaron and Miriam. Who guided you through the wilderness and brought you to the promised land. It was I who fed you when you were hungry, who clothed you when you were naked, who healed you when you were sick. Remember— you once were lost- and now you’re found….

And you have forgotten.

God says, “Not only have you forgotten to say thank you- but you have forgotten that I asked you to treat others with the same love, compassion, generosity and kindness that I showed you.”

You have made dishonest trades. You have robbed the poor, you’ve turned to violence, and ignored the hurting.

The prophet Micah has harsh words— as prophets often do— The people have neglect of the poor and the hurting - and to Micah - this makes them like cannibals eating their own, desolate because of their sins. They shall eat and never be satisfied, they will sow seeds but never reap a harvest. Micah is anything but subtle.

Failure to care for those in need- forgetting the call of God- has real and physical, cosmic consequences.


What a time we are in- what a week to preach the prophets- especially Micah- Thanks Melissa for the invitation to preach this one…!

It has certainly been a tumultuous and divisive week. A week of executive orders and protests.. A week when pipelines have been called for, and trade has been shut down. When walls have been ordered and refugees have been shut out. While some see jobs and security, others see degradation of the environment and oppression and neglect for the needy.

In the midst of it all- I wonder — have we forgotten? Have we forgotten from where we came? Have we forgotten what God has done, and to whom we belong?


I have to tell you- I wanted to share some lighter stories here- a poem, a vignette, anything to avoid the messy, harsh truth of Micah…

But on a weekend like this….

The words are undeniable. The words of God through the prophet Micah are ‘convicting’.

Over the past few days we have seen what many thought were simply threats to keep out immigrants, to build walls, and to restrict refugees - have come to fruition.

Tens of thousands of people are left stranded. In airports, at borders- visas and green cards in hand. Many fleeing persecution- escaping war and violence and oppression- leaving everything— leaving their homes seeking safety and freedom.


What would it take for you to leave your home and set out with the clothes on your back, and the belongings you could fit in a backpack? How bad would it have to be to make that choice?

Somali refugee poet Warsaw Shire writes:

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

—-How did your family come here? ___
Did they flee?
Were they brought by their own will, or forced on a slave ship? Were they looking for opportunity?
Seeking a better life?
Seeking safety?

Was it your generation that first came?
Or one, two three or four generations ago?

Micah, God, and the mountains remind the people:

Remember what I did for you? Remember how I saved you from slavery in Egypt? How I led you and guided you and provided opportunity- even when you made it difficult?

Deuteronomy 10 says God defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”

Leviticus 19  says that When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

Hundreds of verses throughout the bible- Old and New Testaments- call us to care for refugees, immigrants, and the poor and needy. There is just no getting around it.

Faced with the reality of their own failures- their own shortcomings— seeing clearly now the ways they have oppressed others the same ways they were oppressed… seeing that they have robbed the poor, made deals out of greed, and forgotten those in need— they say….

Well, What do you want from us?
Shall we sacrifice a ram?
Shall we gather gallons of oil?
Do you want our first born for goodness sake?

God says-

What I want is what I’ve always wanted.

I want you to do justice.
I want you to love kindness.
I want you to walk humbly with God.

I want a relationship with you- and I want you to be in right relationship with others.

So simple. Yet so profound.


There is an old story of a man who sees far away a shadowy figure.. filled with fear he knows knows this is a monster. As the figure comes closer the features become a little more clear and he thinks ‘ahhh. This is an animal.”, the figure comes closer still and he realizes that it is actually a human… the person keeps coming closer until he is right at his face when he notices that the figure is actually his brother.

As I watch the people- piled in shelters at the border, sitting in airport waiting rooms lost in limbo, hear tales of people who have gone through years of vetting, filled with hope and ready to move to the US— only to be detained and derailed at the airport, I wonder:
Have we fallen victim to what others have told us about those who are struggling and suffering…

Do we see the one who is our brother, our sister, as a monster instead?

Have we forgotten who we are and where we have been?
Have we forgotten compassion?
Has a narrative of division and fear clouded our common humanity?

And then when we see- when our eyes are opened to our own failures and shortcomings— what do we do?

This is the question I have been getting every day in my work in the community… What do we do?

Yesterday- after international travel was put into chaos, and families were left torn apart and confused- thousands gathered in airports across the country to stand up for refugees and for our Muslim neighbors. People cried, sang songs, prayed in many ways, and stood up for those who couldn’t protect themselves. The mountains cried out, the seas crashed as people came- showed up- to say— What more can we do? How might I better show love, kindness, mercy and justice?


We are in a time when the words of Micah bring a shining light in the midst of chaos and confusion.
What must we do?

We must return again and again..
We must Show up again and again..
We must Stand up and cry out, sing and pray again and again..

We must stand in right relationship - loving God- moving beyond our own self interest and our petty divisions and deep fears.

And we must reach out- to see the face of the other as our brother, our sister- of the divine image of God.

And we must assure that each person is treated fairly, welcomed for their full humanity, provided safe harbor, food to eat, and a community in which to belong.

For the time is now. The mountains are watching.