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likely during the reign of king Hezekiah, in the late 8th century BCE, distant memories of slavery and oppression have been replaced by daily lives of comfort, complacency and power.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.


Saturday, January 28, 2017

Time to Gather Our People

Matthew 4: 12-23

12Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” 17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
18As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
23Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Matthew 4:12-23

I can’t tell you what a gift it is to be here with you this morning. This morning during a pivotal weekend in our American history. A weekend when we need each other more than ever.

Our lectionary text today couldn’t be a better fit- isn’t it amazing how that happens!

Today’s text comes early in the book of Matthew and marks the beginning of the ministry of Jesus.

The text is preceded by the baptism of Jesus, which you heard about last week, and by the temptation of Jesus.

Immediately before we meet Jesus today, he has spent time in the Wilderness where Satan offered him personal glory, power and comfort— at the expense of fulfilling God’s will to provide care, wellbeing, healing and connection for all.

Jesus has been tested. He experienced adversity and struggle, and has remained committed to the blessing he received at his baptism.

But the struggle is really just beginning. In todays text Jesus has heard that John has been imprisoned- the radical message of love, inclusion, and reversal of social order is seen as a threat to the Roman Empire— and Jesus knows things are about to get real. Fulfilling the predictions of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus goes to Galilee, to Capernaum by the Sea and declares that the time is NOW. The words of Isaiah, and in turn the words of Mary spoken at the start will become realized.

The powerful are brought down from their thrones
The hungry are fed and the rich will walk away empty.
For those in the shadow off death, the light has dawned.

A new world is being born that is about more than personal power and comfort. A Beatitudes world where the poor, the mourning, the meek and the hungry, the merciful, the peacemakers, and the persecuted are blessed as a new community walking together on a path of life where all are able to thrive.


These are the words of Matthew. The text that guides us and reflects wisdom.


But this is today. A weekend  which feels odd, confusing, and heartbreaking, and inspiring, powerful and hopeful all at once.

My experience of this weekend starts back in October.

In October I helped host the first of a three part conversation series called Healing the Divide. In my work as the Director of the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado- we coordinated a series in partnership with four institutions which can seem to be at odds on the surface: Iliff School of Theology, Denver Seminary, Regis University and The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado. Our original intent was formed in the context of seeing the deep divides of our election season and wanting to build bridges and talk about difficult issues. And I have to admit— the idea was born in the fall, when I was pretty sure we would have a progressive minded president at the helm come November.

The first conversation was a huge success. People came together bringing real differences in perspective on the topic of religious freedom. We had a panel that included a top executive from Focus on the Family sitting next to a Muslim civil rights attorney and a female Catholic professor from Regis. We developed empathy and understanding for different views.

The next day- I was participating in a Rabbi Clergy study group I am a part of and a few people who were at the gathering were speaking of their experience. And then all of a sudden- my friend and long time power-house Rabbi Steve Foster looked at me and said, “I think you are wasting your time”.

Pretty sure the shock on my face was clear when I said, “tell me more” - because I actually LOVE these kind of conversations…

He went on to express that he has spent enough time with people on the far right to have no desire to spend anytime trying to build bridges— he would rather focus his time and energy on building up and strengthening his people who are working to win— to bring their views and policies to laws.

A good and fruitful conversation and debate ensued. This was October.


Then November happened.
In the days after the election I witnessed Facebook diatribes and trolling. Hurtful words flew between families and friends and strangers alike. And in the midst of this I knew I needed to be around people who were working for a vision of our country that I believed in.

Over the past two months I have felt a deep need to be around those who make us stronger. To gather with, to reflect with, to learn with, and to act with those who are committed to a vision of the world that is aligned with the gospel message of radical love, healing, grace, justice and compassion.

And while there are many who have said ‘wait and see… I can’t help but think that those words primarily come from people who are comfortable. Those of us who are less likely to be victims of policies that limit civil rights and freedom. Those who will be less impacted by losing health insurance, or by women’s health clinics doors being shuttered. For those of us who are seeking to live the gospel message-- we are wrestling.

It is easy to be tempted by the allure of personal comfort and personal power.


Jesus resisted personal comfort and power offered by satan in the wilderness, and then named a new reality. Named a world coming to fruition here and now where the hungry are fed, the poor are rich, the merciful and the peacemakers are blessed.

As soon as Jesus names the new reality being brought forth— what is his first step?

He begins to walk. He walks the shore of the sea of Galilee and begins to gather his people.

Jesus walks the sea of Galilee and his people come; dropping the status quo and picking up a life of working, teaching and living a radical new order of love, grace & hospitality.

And the people who come- his people- aren’t the scholars or religious experts or political power houses— they are fisherman. Unlikely people from unexpected places who are willing to let go of stability and economic security. Willing to step away from families and friends to be a part of a new reality.


As we walk into this new time post election, the future can seem mucky and mysterious. For many- there is deep concern that checks and balances of the power are being broken down- opening the door for a diminishment of democracy and possibility for greater oppression for the vulnerable. While we don’t know what the future holds- we do know we will be tested in new ways. We know that things are about to get real. It is time to gather our people.

Yesterday - many of us here gathered with hundreds of thousands of people in Denver and with millions around the world for the Women’s March. We gathered to stand up and call for a country where all are welcome, where all are given opportunity to thrive.

We started to gather in the morning- and as I drove downtown I passed people walking into coffee shops wearing pink hats, and groups of women piled into cars with signs laughing and signing. We started to gather at First Baptist Church, where more than 200 people were crowded into the basement for a Shabbat service led by Bnai Havurah singing and praying. People started to stream in- smiling and grateful to be together.

When we started walking we weren’t quite sure what to expect. We had heard there many be about 40,000 people- so we knew to expect crowds. But as our group navigated our way down to Civic Center park- walking by people from all walks of life- gathering peacefully and joyfully- we saw that the number gathered was overwhelming and powerful. We stood for hours, navigated our way through crowds- all kind and thoughtful- people of all ages, from multiple backgrounds and life experiences— all gathered to call for a new reality- to bring forth a community and a country where no one is marginalized and all are welcomed and cared for.

Looking around- all I could think was ‘these are my people’. This is where I want to spend my time and energy— building up, empowering, strengthening those who are working for a world that looks like this.


And I remember the words of Rabbi Steve. I want to spend my time building up my people.


Now— I should say— I believe deeply in healing our divides. I believe in listening to those we radically disagree with. I believe in respect for differences and debate and dialogue. Our conversations on ‘Healing our Divides’ will continue— our next dialogue will be Thursday at Denver Seminary. I have developed great respect for the president of Denver Seminary— and I will spend time and energy working to build empathy across difference.


Ultimately- We are called to a way of being that is deeply rooted in ‘our people’ — in the community who is committed to ways of being that support life, healing, feeding and grace for all people in ways big and small. And we are called to be open to listening, learning and loving those who we radically disagree with. This is a tricky place to be- a ‘tragic gap’ as Parker Palmer calls it.

I believe we are in a time when our values will be tested. When our resolve to hold steadfast to the gospel will be pushed. When the temptation to prioritize personal comfort and power over feeding the hungry, practicing mercy and compassion and peacemaking will be strong.

And for that test— we need our people.

We need to build up and be with those who are committed to the world Jesus proclaimed as with us here and now. This looks like a commitment to showing up. To learning. To letting go of the status quo and picking up resilience and persistence and solidarity.
May we have strength and wisdom in these days. May we be peacemakers and be filled with compassion and mercy and justice. May we stand for love and grace.
May it be so.