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Two music pieces are included in this recording: “Sonatine: Mouvement de Menuet” by Maurice Ravel on the piano and “Our God Is a Rock” by Katherine K. Davis.
The scripture reading for Sunday, October 29, was Matthew 22:34-46.
Rev. Laura Mayo gave the proclamation.
May these words of my mouth,
and this meditation of my heart,
be pleasing in your sight LORD.
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are on a camping trip. In the middle of the night Holmes wakes up and gives Dr. Watson a nudge. “Watson, he says, “look up in the sky and tell me what you see.”
“I see millions of stars, Holmes,” says Watson.
“And what do you conclude from that, Watson?”
Watson thinks for a moment, “Well,” he says, “Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. Theologically, I see that God is all-powerful, and we are small and insignificant. Uh, what does it tell you, Holmes?”
“Watson, you idiot! Someone has stolen our tent!”
I confess today that it feels like someone has also stolen my tent, a tent that provided shelter, and safe haven. I feel like we are living in unusually fearful times and I am out in the elements. I wonder if this is an appropriate response. I’d like to explore today if these are perilous times, and if so what a faith response might look like.
I grew up in Dallas during the 1950s. We think of the 1950s fondly, rewinding “American Graffiti” and “Happy Days” in our minds. But for me it was also a time of weekly air raid sirens, back yard bomb shelter displays in front of Cobb’s Drug Store, and unspoken fears from protective adults. I can remember being at my elementary school and hearing the police whistle over the PA system. It made my stomach drop with dread - every week. Was this our usual duck and cover air raid drill, or was this the time that Russia had really decided to really drop an atomic bomb on North Dallas. We would silently file out of our schoolrooms and into the hall, crouching down with one arm under our eyes, the other covering our neck. These two small children’s arms were supposed to protect us from nuclear radiation and building timbers raining down upon us. And in one form or another, I think I have lived in some kind of nagging fear or worry my whole life. As the philosopher Roseanne Roseannadanna said, “It’s always something.”
When I was young I feared losing my remaining parent to cancer of course, but when I became aware of the larger world around me there were also fears of not only nuclear war, but also the domino theory, the silent spring, the countdown clock, over population, and more recently climate change, colony collapse, antibiotic resistant bacteria, nuclear weapons again, over population again, and now great fears for the direction of our country.
In 1930 poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay observed during an illness, “life isn’t one damn thing after another, it’s the same damn thing over and over.”
So for perspective, are our times unique?
If we were living in the time of Jesus we would be talking about high taxes and the need for relief. We would wistfully imagine a bipartisan working relationship between red state Zealots, Blue state Nazarenes, and Purple state Essenes and Pharisees. We would, to foreshadow Ronald Reagan, joke that the last thing we would want to hear is “We’re the Romans and we’re here to help.” Remember the troubling verse in Deuteronomy where God tells his people to utterly destroy the Canaanites, leaving nothing that breathes? It seems we have always had trash talk from the top, because the Canaanites are with us today according to recent genome research. We call them Lebanese. And then as now, we would be concerned about existential threats, threats to our lives, to our culture, to our country’s very existence. It seems we have always had Barbarians, be they Emperors, Goths and Visigoths, or Kim Jong-un. Harry Truman said “there is nothing new in the world, except the history you do not know.”
If our times aren’t unique, is the severity of the issues that we face worse?
Are we the most divided we have ever been as a country? No, that would be the civil war.
Are we closer to war because of Kim Jong-un’s missiles? No, that would be the Cuban missile crisis.
Do we have greater disparity in wealth today? No, that would be the gilded age.
Do we have the most corrupt government because of Citizens United and big money influence? No. That would be the gilded age again, where President Rutherford B Hayes wryly said that we had a government “of the corporation, by the corporation and for the corporation”.
Is basic civility worse in Congress? No. Preston Brooks almost killed Charles Sumner with a long vicious cane beating on the senate floor in 1856 for Sumner’s anti-slavery speech. Brooks struck Sumner so many times that his cane broke and splintered, and he kept on striking. Southern lawmakers wore rings of the cane pieces around their neck chains in solidarity with the attack.
And I could describe worse times in American history - for health care, for our social safety net, police abuse, white supremacists, and on and on.
So while we can take some comfort in the perspective that these are not the worst times, or even unusual times, each day has enough trouble of its own. We still have huge challenges. So how should people of faith respond?
I have 4 suggestions, more for me, than for you.
Number One: Don’t Worry.
Our scripture today tells us we should not worry because God will feed and cloth us if we just seek the kingdom of God, and righteousness. As proof of this Jesus has us look at the birds of the air and lilies of the field who, while lesser than we humans, are fed and clothed by God. When I was younger I thought this was a troubling verse because in a world with huge disparities of wealth there exist the faithful who also suffer from great deprivation. Where was God’s guiding hand? But I have rethought these verses and hopefully now I am not confusing the poetry with the point. Its not that we don’t have to worry because God will take care of us so much as we shouldn’t worry because worrying doesn’t work. We can prepare for tomorrow, we can imagine different tomorrows, we can, most importantly, work for the tomorrow we want to see (which is seeking righteousness), - but worrying adds nothing. Worrying is the mental squirrel cage where we imagine worst outcomes, over, and over, and over again. It buys us nothing - and depletes us. If worry is about imagining worst outcomes, hope is the antidote. Hope is the vision of God’s possibilities. We create hope with the discipline of gratitude, knowing –and feeling – that we are not alone, and working towards our dreams.
Hope leads us to. . .
Number Two: Live in Balance.
We live in a 24-hour news cycle. It’s the digital equivalent of a newsboy yelling “EXTRA EXTRA READ ALL ABOUT IT!” right in your ear, all day long. Years ago when I worked for KTVT television in the Dallas Fort Worth market, the news department used to say, “if it bleeds it leads,” and they were for-real ambulance chasers. The lead story was the news that was the most compelling, the most liable to make you tune in and stay with the channel, not necessarily the story that would make you smarter, or a better-informed voter, or uplifted. Stories that made you angry or fearful, or voyeuristic of tragedy topped the list. We love our hurricane coverage, be it meteorological, political or interpersonal. And haven’t we had a lot of hurricanes lately?
It’s amazing to me to read the Economist magazine and see all the parts of the world that no one else covers. Fake news is a problem to be sure, but partial news makes us loose balance and perspective. The bad and sensational crowd out everything else. My wife’s cousin wakes to an hour of prayer and reading the Psalms to frame his day. I typically wake up and spend my hour with The Washington Post, Talking Points Memo, Axios, Politico, 538 and the Huffington Post. You can see the problem. Imagine being in a 24-hour spiritual cycle. How strange it sounds, and how transformative it would be.
Number three: Explore outside your bubble, talk to someone you don’t agree with and find common ground.
I heard the past president of Oklahoma University speak a few years ago. David Boren had formally been an Oklahoma senator and chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee. He said that congress really started to get dysfunctional and hyper partisan when congress started to go home on weekends instead of staying in Washington. In the past, congressmen and senators had grown to know each other outside of work. Their spouses had become friends; their children had played together. And while they could disagree on an issue, they knew that by in large, members of the other party were good people who just had different opinions and constituencies. They were not the enemy. Regrettably, now they don’t know each other.
For the most part I live in a bubble of people like me, and you might too. I value the few friends I have who view politics and religion differently and yes, we sometimes step carefully. When I say to the TV, “how could you possibly believe that!” this is usually my bubble talking, and that could mean I’m not listening. Texas columnist Mollie Ivans said she took Rush Limbaugh seriously because he was the only one talking to the disaffected. Are we listening to the disaffected? It might be good for them to know you. You can disagree on anything, but if you can’t at least understand another’s heart it’s a slippery slope from just disagreement to having an opponent, from an opponent to an enemy.
And how do any of us feel surrounded by enemies?
Number 4: Keep your sense of humor.
Then they reminded Jesus that adultery was punishable by stoning under Mosaic law and challenged him to judge the woman so that they might then accuse him of disobeying the law. Jesus thought for a moment and then replied, “He that is without sin among you, let them cast the first stone at her.”
Just then, a stone flew by Jesus’s head.
Surprised, he turned and said, Mom?
Doesn’t that feel good to laugh? Life is wonderful, and scary, and absurd all at the same time. Gene Roddenberry, screenwriter and creator of Star Trek, said, “We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing, all-powerful God who creates faulty humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes.” What I question is Roddenberry’s theology. God, as Jesuit Father Greg Boyle says, “just wants to love us.” And I think if we live in that space of grace rather than the manufactured reality we are presented with, we can live in balance, live in hope rather than worry, be a light unto others, and fully become the children of God.
A proclamation from Rev. Laura Mayo. Our scripture reading was Matthew 14:13-21. "Eternal Grace" by Lloyd Pfautsch was sung by David Lee and Shannon Stewart.
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God’s World (Matthew 28:1-10)
Rev. Laura Mayo Covenant Church
When Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned “Christmas Bells,” the poem that became the carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” in 1863, he was having a week not dissimilar to this one. The Civil War was raging and his son, despite Longfellow’s protests and pleading, had joined fight. The celebratory bells seemed discordant with the canon fire:
Then from each [hollow], accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to all!
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to all!
The cannon thundered . . . The carols drowned Of peace on earth . . .
We know this - the silencing of peace on earth with bomb blasts.
We know this - perhaps especially this week - this holy week, we know the silencing of good will to all . . .
We are not strangers to defeat, bloodshed, death, chaos, destruction. Innocent citizens of Syria murdered by their government--as they have been for years now. Gathering clouds over the Korean peninsula. The mother of all bombs. As if there could be anything maternal about a bomb. Meanwhile, attempt after attempt to limit access to healthcare for women and less wealthy people for the purpose of enriching a few. Xenophobic rants about walls and bans. Senseless abandonment of regulations meant to prevent further devastation to our Earth.
They knew this that first holy week, too. The death of Jesus appeared to be the death of the campaign for the kingdom of God: the hoped for realm of peace and justice. A people's movement slaughtered with its leader. The votes were cast and it was Barabbas by a landslide - so many shouts of “Give us Barabbas” that they didn't even need to count the ballots. The occupying powers killed Jesus on a Roman cross. The empire won.
Barabbas, a known criminal, a violent man--he won, he beat the smiling man, mostly gentle, welcoming outcasts, challenging authorities, telling story after story of extravagant love: of a lost sheep worth the search, of a pearl with the greatest cost, of a measure of flour expanded into more than enough dough, of a small seed growing into a large tree, of a son welcomed home by a loving father . . . The stories are silenced. Pilate won. Herod won. Herod, that killer of the innocent. Rachel weeping in Ramah refusing to be comforted - Rachel is weeping again. She wept for her people taken captive/exiled, she wept when Jesus was a baby and all those baby boys were slaughtered, and now she weeps again: refusing comfort when all seems lost. Mary’s tears mingle with hers. Mary’s song of justice, sung when she learned of her pregnancy, turns to wails of anguished grief.
And so we go with the women to the tomb.
We go diminished, less than we were.
We go, the silence of death ringing in our ears.
We go expecting to find yet more death.
But as we get closer to the tomb, inching ever nearer to the decay we expect to find, worrying about how to roll away the stone, as we creep closer, closer, we see . . . what is that? We run now, fast, faster, at last here is the tomb and the stone is already gone.
And there! Sitting on the stone - the stone rolled away, the barrier removed, sitting there is an angel whose appearance is like lightning. The soldiers who were posted to stand guard are shaking and falling over like dead men. The angel shouts above the noise of the shaking earth, our shouts of shock and question: “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised . . . 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.” This is my message for you.”
“He is not here.” “He has been raised.” “He is going ahead of you and you will see him.” “This is my message.”
This is the message. The bells signal a message, a message of life. A message of yes. Easter is God’s yes to Jesus’ passion - passion for a realm of welcome, of justice, of peace.
Roger Cowan wrote:
And so we come on our donkeys,
Some from Detroit and some from Tokyo
and even a few from Seoul.
With horns blaring and brakes screeching,
We enter the city, the holy of holies.
We know what Caesar wants:
Testing ranges and new arenas
while the homeless haunt church basements
and the poor shuffle in the streets.
But we march to a different drummer.
Not many rich, not many mighty.
A vagabond crew in a strange land,
Whose ways are not our ways
Nor thoughts our thoughts.
But let us be of good cheer.
Let the word go out.
The donkey is mightier than the missile.
And flowers have been known to split a rock. . .
It is Caesar’s week.
But it is God’s world.
And so we take heart and rejoice.
Caesar, and his Judean governor Pilate, ruled by fear, grasped at power, they put Jesus to death because he was too big a threat, too unsettling a messenger, too disruptive to the empire. His welcome was too large, his embrace too wide. We left Friday in mourning - the culmination of Caesar’s week. We gather today - amid shouts of Hallelujah knowing it is God’s world.
“We know what Caesar wants/Testing ranges and new arenas while the homeless haunt church basements and the poor shuffle in the streets.” Caesar - corrupt power, systemic racism, oppression, the impulse toward violence, toward the narrowing of borders, the pushing out and making “other.” It has been Caesar’s week. It is always, in some form or another, Caesar’s week.
And that’s not the end of the story. Thank God, that’s not the end of the story. Yes, hate is strong but listen . . . listen to the bells: God is not dead nor doth God sleep. Easter shouts what no bomb blast can silence: This is God’s world.
Easter shows us that passion is not bound by death – passion to set the oppressed free, to feed the hungry and clothe the poor – passion for a realm of justice and peace does not end with death. Perhaps it is snuffed for a moment: defeated by a vote, a bomb, a bill . . . but it will rise! Passion can be renewed in the morning. The pain of defeat cannot drown out love. War cannot stifle peace.
“He is not here.”
“He has been raised.”
“He is going ahead of you and you will see him.”
“This is my message.”
This is the message, a new message, a message of life. A message of vindication. Easter is God’s yes to Jesus’ passion just as surely as it is God’s no to the oppressive powers of domination systems. Easter is God’s yes to Jesus’ passion - passion for a realm of welcome, of justice, of peace. . it may be Caesar’s week. It is God’s world.
“He is going ahead of you and you will see him.”
“I will be with you.” Jesus tells his followers as he commissions them to “go into all the world”:
“And lo, I am with you always, even to the close of the age.”
Right there with us when Caesar wins, with us when our efforts for justice and peace seem for naught - Jesus is right there with us, waving a palm branch as we carry our signs, turning over tables as we stand up for justice - and Jesus is with us when oppression and violence win the day. With us with the promise of resurrection.
Easter tells us, shows us, sings to us, flowers within us . . . that Jesus is with us in our passion for peace, in our hope for change, in our work to love each other. We need Easter. We need it to know as Cornel West writes “the something that sustains us [that] no empire can give and no empire can take away.”
Easter is God’s vindication of Jesus. It is the triumphant declaration that Jesus is Lord. This is a statement not only of faith but of politics. It has never meant more to me than it does now. Jesus is Lord, not Caesar. . . Jesus’s realm, his kingdom of equals, that’s where my loyalty lies. The rulers of this world cannot keep me from living, loving, and working in the realm of God where I look to Jesus as my guide.
Jesus is Lord, guide, leader, companion in the creation of the realm of God’s love. Jesus is with us. Look into each face and see the Christ beside you - urging you to take on passion for a world of justice - calling you with story after story of love abundant.
In so many churches Jesus hangs, literally or figuratively, silently on a cross. His voice silenced - crucified again and again such that he can never get a word out of his mouth. Jesus’ passion for the kingdom is silenced in the church’s obsession with his passionate suffering.
This is not what Easter demands of us.
We must let him off the cross! Caesar had his week.
We must let Jesus’ passion continue to inspire us, his vision of a kingdom on earth: the prophets dreamed of such a realm - a world of distributive justice, of sharing, of freedom, a world of peace.
Easter affirms Jesus is Lord - the powers of this world are not. We are the living body of Christ. The task is ours now - the task of peace on earth good will to all.
Death is not the end. Death cannot destroy the passion for the realm of God if we are willing to live it. Ring the bells! God is not dead nor doth God sleep. Ring the bells for peace on earth. Ring the bells for a realm of justice and welcome.
Ring the bells!
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