Posts Tagged ‘School Shootings’

Maybe the Church is Dead

May 20, 2018

Today is the Sunday in the Liturgical Season of the church when we celebrate Pentecost. Some say this is the Birthday of the Church. Some of us recall the story from the book of Acts about the Disciples gathered in a room and there is a sound like a rushing wind. And the Spirit like tongues of fire appear and rest on the heads of those gathered and they begin to speak in various languages. When the people outside hear all the commotion and speaking they are in wonder of what is going on and some of the crowd accuse the Disciples of being drunk. And Peter stands up and proclaims they are indeed not drunk but inspired by the Spirit to remind the people God is still at work, young and old, male and female, will prophesy and bring the good news of God’s love and justice to the world through this event.  It is a Birthday Party! The church is being born! Break out the balloons, the wine, the party hats, the cake! Let’s have a party! A 2000-year-old birthday party.

But, then I wonder…as I look across the expanse of the Church and its presence and image in the world….

Is the church too tired? Is the church too worn out? Has the church finally become irrelevant, out of touch, stuck in its stale and ineffectual dogmas and doctrines, stuck on life support and no one has the ability, courage, or compassion to pull the plug? I hear the voices of some colleagues and others who say what the church needs is an old-fashioned revival… we need to get back to the way things used to be, back when the church was new and fresh and just getting started when preachers and lay folks were on fire with the spirit like that first Pentecost and the sounds of rushing winds and the vision of flames and the sound of diverse languages were the norm… we need a dose of the old-time religion. The problem with that is those who often long for, yearn for, the way things used to be… the ones who long for a revival of the church and a fresh outpouring of the Spirit will often tell you exactly what that Spirit will look like and exactly where it will take us, which, is not necessarily something new…

But rather perhaps it just keeps the church on life support longer as we tell it what it should say and do and be. The church longs for the way things were, in the heyday, in the grand old days, in the good old days, when we knew exactly what we believed, how we were to behave, what we were to do… life and faith were simplistic… days when the cliché of “The Bible Says It, I Believe It, That Settles It,” was the mantra…back when we knew what to expect and didn’t have to think and feel so much…. Maybe that’s what we need to do, just we sit by the bedside of the church, listening to the hum of the systems, and wait for a miracle revival to bring it all back. But nothing seems to be happening and sometimes, sometimes, it even seems to be getting worse, more disconnected, unresponsive, more distant.

As I was pondering the church in this light it made me think of the movie some years ago… “The Sixth Sense” the story of a successful psychiatrist who is trying to help a young boy who sees ghosts, but the psychiatrist’s life seems disconnected, his family distant and unresponsive, there is just something not right, it feels like he is just going through the motions with not much success at anything, until the end, when he discovers… he is dead, he just didn’t know it.

And I wondered, maybe for all intents and purposes, the church is dead, it just doesn’t know it yet. Today we celebrate the birthday of the church, but I wonder, maybe it is too late?

You have probably noticed by now, I did not use the passage from Acts and the traditional reading for Pentecost Sunday today. I used the Hebrew Scripture reading for this Sunday, the reading from Ezekiel and the valley of the dry bones. I used it because of the stark image of death, pondering perhaps, is this where the church is today? Dead, Dry, Piled Up, Deserted, Unknowingly Gone, Irrelevant?  I used this reading because it is a national story, it is a national prophecy. It is the story of not individual faith, but of a people, and as I ponder the image of the dry bones of the people of Israel for Ezekiel I have to ask myself, is the church dead and it just doesn’t know it yet.

The Church is certainly tired. The Church is certainly Tattered. And as I look out across the landscape of the church in our nation I have to consider the church is dead.

The Church is dead when it participates/remains silent in the demonization of the poor and the programs of social uplift helping feed and clothe God’s children.

The Church is dead when it participates/remains silent in the dehumanizing of immigrants and the separating of mothers and fathers from children through deportation and punishes children whose parents chose to escape torturous conditions.

The Church is dead when it claims it loves all and includes all and continues to deny LGBTQ persons full access in its life.

The Church is dead when it ignores the cries of those incarcerated unjustly and without recourse.

The church is dead when it refuses to stand for the full equality of women both within its institutions and in society.

The Church is dead when it categorically proclaims those who disagree with its doctrines and dogmas are destined for a hell of God’s choosing.

The Church is dead when it turns a blind eye/remains silent to the sins of its nation and leaders and buys into partisan politics.

The Church is dead when it does not speak up in defense of our school children because of its love of guns.

The Church is dead when it participates/remains silent, consciously and unconsciously in the evil of racism.

The Church is dead when it says everyone should only speak English when Pentecost is testimony against such things!

The Church is dead when it would rather split over who it can keep out rather than finding a place for everyone.

The Church is dead when it would rather cater to its membership than serve its community.

The Church is dead when it is more worried about how things have always been done rather than dreaming about how to embrace new ideas.

The Church is dead when it gives up on being the prophetic voice of change. The Church is dead when it would rather look back on the old dry bones of past ideas, past days, past preachers, past teachers, past unrealized dreams.

The Church is dead when it refuses to listen to new leadership, new innovations, new ways… the Church is dead when it is more focused on surviving than it is on thriving.

Maybe… the Church is Dead.

And then, sometimes things need to die before resurrection can happen…

And you know what? Says God to Ezekiel. God is in…The Church of Jesus is in…

The Prophecy Business…The Love Business…Is in the Resurrection Business!

Because … Love, True Love… Never Dies!

The Church is in the Resurrection business because that is what we do!

You can’t kill a church grounded in…

Steeped in… Saturated in… Immersed in… Dripping with… Oozing with… Wrapped up in… Inundated with… Besieged with…

LOVE… Pentecost is about the love of God for ALL persons! Pentecost is about bringing new life and insight to the world…

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it Lifts the poor and supports programs of social uplift…

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it stands with immigrants and their families…

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it speaks up in support of LGBTQ persons in the full life of the church and community.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it disdains the unjust incarceration practices of its nation.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it votes to support the FULL equality of women in the church and society.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it Uses its prophetic voice to say love conquers any kind of hell that others may proclaim.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it points out the sins and injustices of its nation and leaders.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it puts the lives of our children before the agenda of violence!

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it condemns racism in ALL its forms!

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it opens its doors to ALL persons!

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it serves its neighborhoods and community.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it embraces new understandings and ideas.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it learns from its past but doesn’t live there.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it finds its prophetic voice of Justice, Compassion, Welcome, Life, and Love!

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it is inspired by the Spirit to remind the people God is still at work and Love is the Way!

The Church or portions of it as we have known it…

The Church or portions of it as we know it…

May be in its last throes of death… or worse…

But, we are an Ezekiel Church!

Prophecy to these old dry Bones… says God.

Live… LiveLOVE

For it is the power of love that will renew and resurrect the best of what is to come…

This is So. This IS So!  Amen!

 

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Carry On Young Prophets!

March 25, 2018

I stood in a sea of students, teachers, allies, parents, aunts, uncles, grandmas, and grandpas on a chilly morning outside an elementary school and read signs and listened to calm and thoughtful instructions preceding our march. We marched from the school to the steps of the courthouse here in Wichita, a short walk, but an important one.

I stood and listened to the students speak, the chants ringing out, “Not One More!” “Vote them Out!” The impassioned speeches of the students, governmental representatives, and teachers were articulate, committed, determined, and moving…I was moved to tears more than once as their words echoed off the surrounding buildings. “We should not live in fear in our schools.” “Something needs to be done, continuing to throw up our hands and say nothing can be done is no longer acceptable.”

A clarion call from these young voices for common sense gun reform, better background checks, the restricting or banning of military style weapons with large capacity magazines, better schools, better student to teacher ratios, more resources for quality educational relationships, and better healthcare, just to name a few. They were not unreasonable pie in the sky ideas, but solid and practical ideas to change their world, to make a difference.

These students are not the leaders of the future, they are the leaders of today because our current leaders seem unable, or worse, unwilling to attempt any change for fear of losing financial support and reelection. A leader in our government should make policy not because it will garner financial support. A leader in our government should not make policy because it will get them reelected. A leader in our government should make policy because it makes our country safer, more compassionate, and create a just and equitable society for the common good of all persons.

The students I witnessed today are done with partisan politics where lobbyists line the pockets of politicians to advance an agenda contrary to the common good of all. I hear and see in these young people today the words of the prophet Micah of what God requires of all of us, “To make justice happen. To love as God loves. To be the very reflection of God in the world.” Perhaps these youth, these rising young persons are the tangible, active, impassioned answer to all of those “Thoughts and Prayers” that get thrown around and said after every school shooting and tragedy.

As I stood on the courthouse lawn, with tears in my eyes, the words from the Prophet Jeremiah came to mind concerning his call. “Then I said, “Ah, God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But I heard God say to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.”

The ancient prophets approached and stood toe to toe with the leaders of the empire and the religious leaders of their time and said, again and again, “Enough is Enough!” They were dismissed, told they were too young, too crazy, too out of touch. They were exiled, others tried to silence them, deflect from their message, and they were ignored. And yet, so many times, connected to God and the people, they changed the world around them.

I stood on the courthouse lawn and was inspired and moved by these modern-day prophets. Speaking truth to power, undaunted and fearless. For me, and my generation, my place is to stand with them, support them, do everything I can to strengthen their voice and resolve. If I am unable or unwilling to do that, I need to get the hell out of the way. For what I witnessed today was the power and resolve of community, of relationship, of truth.

Stand Strong Young Prophets!
Speak Loud Young Prophets!
March on Young Prophets!
Change the World Young Prophets!
I, and many are With You!
Carry On my Friends. Carry On.

Peace and Light for Our Journey Together,
Pastor Kent

Losing Your Head.

February 18, 2018

It is difficult to know exactly what to say this morning. When I began putting this sermon series together months ago the notion of the connection between starting the Season of Lent on Ash Wednesday with Valentine’s Day and celebrating Resurrection Day on Easter morning with April Fool’s Day seemed an opportunity for theological challenge and homiletical creativity. My intent in the series was/is to hold in tension that notion of love from Valentine’s Day/Ash Wednesday, an image of love that is not the sentimental all’s well image, but rather the difficult, vulnerable, even dangerous image of love. An image of love where we lay our lives down for our friends. An image of love that is costly, prophetic, life and world changing, and transformative.

And with all of this pondering and thought for the series, I confess I was not prepared to begin the journey of Lent with such a heart wrenching, real, and horrific image of vulnerability and danger as this last Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day. I did not expect to be rendered speechless last Wednesday by the senseless violence of yet another mass shooting in one of our nation’s schools and the loss of seventeen lives. And still today, five days later, I struggle to find the words. And not just words, but to speak for the church, to have the audacity to try and discern, ponder, pray, consider, and find some way to utter what I, what we might hear from God on such a day as this, in such days as these.

It is difficult to know what to say, in some sense, what to say that we haven’t already said. I have preached on, written about, conversed with those on all sides of the issue of gun violence in our nation. What more do we say? What can we say and do to make a difference? How do we express the kind of love in the world, in our lives, with our families and friends that makes a difference? How do we share the kind of vulnerability that transforms the world around us into that beloved community where violence against one another, against our children is a distant memory rather than a horrific reality?

What should be our voice as the church sound like? What is our task? Is there any way to stop this tragic increasing trend in our country? What is our calling as the church, as followers of the Way of Jesus, the Way of Christ? Because, it is certainly not the notion of offering thoughts and prayers and then sitting back and hoping for the best. Prayer is participatory, reciprocal, and active. If our thoughts and prayers are not followed by action in bringing comfort for the hurting, conviction for the complacent, truth to the complicit, and justice for the vulnerable and innocent, it is not prayer at all, such prayers are an empty void of faithless self-righteousness.

We live in a dangerous time. We live in a day when we long for a safe place. We ache to know we can or we can watch our children walk away from us as they go to go to school, to a movie, a concert, to work, and not have to worry it will be the last time we see them. How do we exist in such an anxiety laden and fear driven society and culture? I am drawn to the words of theologian and author Walter Brueggemann in considering the task and role of the church, those of us who follow the Way. I believe his words begin to help us bring focus to what we might be about and how we might rise up and carry on.

Brueggemann says, “The prophetic tasks of the church are to tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion, grieve in a society that practices denial, and express hope in a society that lives in despair.”

“To tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion.” It is an illusion to believe we live in the greatest nation in the world when we are and continue to be a nation fueled by fear and violence. It is an illusion to believe we live in the greatest nation in the world when 56,755 of our citizens were killed by guns from 2014 to 2017, both intentional and accidental deaths, the number is even larger if we include suicide. In 2017 alone, 15,590 Americans died. It is an illusion to believe we live in the greatest country in the world when in that same 3-year span 2,710 children under the age of 12 died as the result of guns. Difficult truths to hear, but unless we shake off the illusion we live under and hear these numbers we will never overcome our addiction. We have a gun fetish in our country, an addiction to firearms and violence. After every mass shooting, classified as 4 or more deaths, gun sales and stocks spike! Guns have been discharged on school grounds so far 2018 somewhere around 18 times. I have read counter opinion articles to that number. I it is important to know that that around 18 is not shootings as in with the intent to harm. Some were accidental discharges, a student pulled the trigger of an officer’s gun in the holster, some were after hours, and other accidental discharges of a fire arm, suicide, etc… Yet still, think about it, firearms discharged on school property. The fact that that they were discharged at all on school property, regardless of the reason, should be alarming!

And it is not just the guns, it is our whole culture, we have immersed ourselves in a culture of violence, individualism, and isolationism. What is good for me trumps what is good for the community. And the church is not innocent either. Every time the church turns inward and isolates itself from the culture around it,  every time the church says we need to get back to the bible and get out of the social justice business, every time the church refuses to speak out against this violent culture we have created, where we allow games that glorify rape, gun violence, war, street fights, and other forms of violence, every time the church covers up sexual abuse, the diminishing and discrimination of a group of people, the objectification and dismissing of women, the allowing of bullying, we contribute to the violent culture we say we abhor.

Our task is to tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion.

Our text today refers to the violent death of John the Baptist. Just when Jesus ministry is beginning to get some traction and reputation is spreading. A reputation of a healing, community building, compassionate, truth speaking ministry, one that will in the end cost him his own life, here in the text we read remember John’s death. While I have not necessarily always appreciated the image I invoke of John’s style of preaching, it is just that kind of prophetic preaching John found out can cost you your head, your life, telling the truth in a society that lives in illusion is dangerous business.  John has told the religious leaders they are snakes of deceit and greed. John has told the ruling powers that be they are living sinful lives and they will reap what they sow, and it cost him his life.

Telling the truth to a culture and society a church that lives in illusion can cost one everything. The truth is, we have a society and culture that is willing to overlook the sins of violence against women, violence against children, violence against health care, violence against those with disabilities, violence against the most vulnerable in our midst because it serves the culture’s consumeristic individualism. Our culture lives the illusion that it doesn’t have to care for the whole as long as it gets what it wants. Brueggemann writes, “Our society is dominated by the self-serving who proceed by ways of calculation and cunning and manipulation and deceit. But such a society – with its violence, its consumerism, its militarism, its alienation – is no way to live.”

Telling the truth is dangerous business and forces us to take stock in what is important in our lives, in our churches, in our families, in our communities, in our country and world. Taking stock of our priorities, counting the cost, also involves grief. What has been lost? What continues to be lost? What could be lost? It is about vulnerability.

“The prophetic tasks of the church are to tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion, and grieve in a society that practices denial” We live in a culture and society in denial. We are in denial that we are reaping what we have sown. No, it Is not just about the guns, though guns are a huge part, it is about access to proper health care, it is about a culture saturated in violence, it is about individualism and isolation, it is about ease of access to firearms, it is about the types of guns, especially military style guns that increase mass deaths, it is about an unwillingness to relinquish some of our privilege for the common good of all. We need to grieve. We need to repent, lament our apathy, our individualism, our greed, our silence, our complacency, our complicities, and our denial.

We need to grieve that our children no longer have a safe place to simply be children, our youth have to look over the shoulder constantly, we need to grieve that a hoodie and the color of one’s skin can determine whether or not they should fear for their lives. We need to grieve that individuals would rather stockpile guns and ammunition than get to know their neighbor. We need to wake up from the darkness of denial and take care of each other.

We need to grieve because these are not political issues, or rights issues, or even constitutional issues. For the prophetic church these are moral issues, issues of righteousness, and justice, and compassion! We need to grieve the church’s silence and the country’s denial that we have created this beast of violence and isolationism.

And…

We need to “express hope in a society that lives in despair.” The prophetic task of the church needs to speak to the hope that we are not alone, that we do not have to live in a world of individualism and isolation! We are a COMMUNITY of Faith, and we do need to be in prayer! A quote I saw yesterday reads, “Yes, it is usually better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, but sometimes you need to remind the darkness just how loud you can be.” Speak the truth… even if your voice shakes.

The church, our church, needs to express hope in a society in despair. The despair can be overwhelming and exhausting, I know, but if we are to participate in the kindom of which God is calling us to be, if we are to embrace the work, life, and ministry of Christ, if we are to follow the vulnerability of what it means to be the prophetic church, we must rise up once again and again,  we must be present in the culture around us, and be the hope it so desperately needs. Brueggemann writes, “To ponder an alternative, (–to a society with its violence, its consumerism, its militarism, its alienation), to ponder the alternative, from greed to generosity, from self -serving to gratitude, is transformative. Such a way of life contradicts the way of the world.” We need to be “counter culture” Reject the wretched fear of violence and weaponry! Be the hope in our corner of the world that shines a light and brings people together! Begin the conversations that heal rather than wound.

The answers, whatever they are, will not be easy. What to do in response to such violence, tragedy, and fear is often so very uncertain. I do not have the answers. But we need to talk and have these difficult conversations. And, at a minimum, do not be silent, be the prophetic voice of truth, grief, and hope.

By all means, PRAY! AND THEN do something! Work for common sense gun laws, not a free for all. Work for policy change to make our country safer. Work for the change of hearts of those who are fearful of change. Work for better access to healthcare. Work for more compassionate governance.

Be aware of your surroundings. Get to know your neighbors better. Notice the loner, the isolated, the excluded and get to know them. Be builders of community. Don’t let the fear mongers beat you down. Be the Prophetic CHURCH I know you are. Be the Hope we need in the world.

You are NOT alone. You are NOT alone. This IS So. Thanks be to God! Amen.