Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The one table

Psalm 8
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
October 7, 2018 - World Communion Sunday

The Best Supper © Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com
(So please don't copy.  Go buy it like I did.)

(As the video below played, I read Psalm 8 from The Complete Psalms: The Book of Prayer Songs in a New Translation by Pamela Greenberg.  The text is below.  The communion meditation follows the video.)

"God, our Upholder, how vast is your signature
over all the earth.

It reflects your glory in the heavens.

From the mouth of infants and nurslings
you have made a foundation of strength—

To oppose those who oppose you,
to bring the enemy and person of vengeance to a halt.

When I behold your name in the heavens,
the craft of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you fixed immutable,

I think: What is a mortal that you should be mindful of them,
offspring of flesh that you should pay them attention?

Yet you have made us only slightly less than God.
You have encompassed us with glory and splendor.

You allow us dominion over the works of your hands;
you placed everything under our feet,
flocks of sheep and herds of cattle, all of them,
every beast of the field.

The bird of the sky and fish of the ocean,
all that traverses the sea.

God, our Upholder,
how vast is your signature
over all the earth."


 “What is a mortal that you should be mindful of them, offspring of flesh that you should pay them attention? Yet you have made us only slightly less than God; you have encompassed us with glory and splendor.”

How do you know you are mortal? Have you died yet? No? How do you know you are human? Taking a page from performance artist Ze Frank, I’ve written my own quick test to see if we are all indeed human. Raise your hand when a question applies to you. Answer honestly. This is a safe space.

Have you ever cleaned your ears or fingernails and examined the contents, only to look up and see someone staring at you?

Have you ever answered the phone, heard the voice on the other end, and promptly hung up without saying a word?

Have you ever gotten through an awkward moment only to replay it over and over again as you were trying to fall asleep? 

Have you ever broken a piece of bread, dipped it in the cup, only to have it drop on the floor? Have you ever stained your clothing with the juice or the wine? Found crumbs under your shirt or blouse when you got home?

Have you ever sung the wrong verse of a hymn? Forgotten a committee meeting? Signed up to give someone a ride or a meal and then have someone call you to ask when are you coming over?

Have you ever felt powerless to help, been speechless in the face of suffering?

Have you ever said things you wish you could take back, ever sought anyone’s forgiveness?

Have you ever been betrayed by someone who kissed you? Have you ever betrayed someone you kissed? Have you ever been falsely accused? Have you ever falsely accused someone?

Have you ever withheld forgiveness? Have you ever refused to let go of the pain someone caused you?

Have you ever wondered why people turn out the way they do? Have you ever wondered if people ask the same thing about you?

Have you ever looked at the future and felt despair and hopeful, angry and courageous at the same time?

Have you ever witnessed the glory and splendor of another human being? Have you ever considered that you have been glory and splendor for someone else?

Have you ever wondered why you are here and what your purpose is?

Congratulations. You have completed this part of the test. You are all human. You are all welcome at this table, the one table called humanity. Amen.

Benediction - Rev. Anna Blaedel, UMC

Blessed are you who are raging.
Blessed are you who are mourning.
Blessed are you who feel numb.
Blessed are you who feel sick. and tired. and sick and tired.
Blessed are you who refuse to turn away.
Blessed are you who need to turn away.
Blessed are you who keep breathing deep.
Blessed are you who are tending to your own needs.
Blessed are you who are tending to the needs of another.

Blessed are you who know deep in your bones that you are good. and beautiful. and beloved. and sacred. and worthy. and believed. and held. and capable of healing beyond your wildest imagination.

Blessed are you who remind others they are good. and beautiful. and beloved. and sacred. and worthy. and believed. and held. and capable of healing beyond their wildest imagination.

Blessed are we when we dare to dream of a world without sexual violence, without white supremacy, without misogyny, without police brutality, without violence against transgender and queer folk.

Blessed are we when we stay tender.
Blessed are we when we stay fierce.
Blessed are we when we dare to imagine repair, and transformation.
Blessed are we when we labor together to make it so.


Tuesday, October 2, 2018


Mark 7: 24-30
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
September 30, 2018

I need you with me this morning. I’m taking a risk with you today. I’m sharing some thoughts that are still taking shape but I also feel they are true.

This past summer at Fa Lane’s ordination, the moderator of the Chesapeake Association, Dorothy King, named some of the qualities that Fa would bring to her ministry. One of them is creativity. But from where I was sitting, and listening to the pitch and cadence of Dorothy’s voice, I heard “queertivity”. My mind and heart leapt with delight.

At once I remembered a quote, an idea attributed to Albert Einstein: “No problem can be solved by the same consciousness that created it.” Queertivity. It will be the queer minds, the marginalized minds, the neurodivergent minds, all those who’ve been underrepresented, kept and pushed away from the table, their voices silenced, their identity debased, ignored or erased—these are the ones who possess the consciousness to solve humanity’s problems.

In what looks like, sounds like this different consciousness, some folks have been declaring, “The future is female”. But still others say this doesn’t go far enough. The future is not female, they say; the future is intersectional. Kimberlé Crenshaw, a contemporary black feminist, coined the term “intersectionality”. We have not just one identity but co-existing identities. We are not solely our gender but also our race, economic status, ethnicity, culture, language, ability, nationality, education, religion, sexuality, age. All of these shape our experience, our thinking, our consciousness, how we see and engage the world, how the world views us and behaves toward us. They’re also used to create overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination. On the flip side, it’s also what we mean in the United Church of Christ when we say we are Open and Affirming: we are open to all our identities and we affirm and lift up the whole person.

These identities interact and interconnect at a level so profound that we can’t say the future we fight for is equality for only one identity. We can’t assume that if we lift up women, liberation, justice and equity will come for everyone who is disenfranchised. The future is all genders and it is black and brown and queer and trans and differently abled and neurodivergent and the least of these.

The future is intersectional because the old rules of patriarchy, abuse and safeguarding of power, elevating some at the expense and destruction of everyone else are how we got here. It’s going to take a different consciousness, it’s going to take queertivity to solve the problems created by patriarchy, abusive power, and exclusivity. Queertivity, the creativity of that different consciousness, comes as a result of embracing intersectionality.

The unnamed Syro-Phoenician woman, mother to a daughter with a demon, possessed queertivity. Alone, gentile and female, she approached a Jewish rabbi. Jesus may have had no place to put his head but compared to her, he was privileged and protected and had power she did not. However many times we’ve read this story, did we ever consider the courage, tenacity and vulnerability it took for this woman to bow down at his feet and beg Jesus to heal her daughter?

Then in one of the most un-Jesus moments in the gospels, Jesus responds to her in a way that can only be described as partisan and demeaning. He says to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” The children he refers to are the children of Israel, and then Jesus goes so far as to say that healing this foreigner’s daughter would be unfair and then he calls them dogs.

Let’s stop there for a moment. I for one am heartened to have this account of Jesus behaving like a privileged male of the patriarchy, about ready to withhold his power from someone who desperately needs it, precisely because the story does not end there. The incarnation is not about humanity becoming perfect but about the divine entering into a fragile humanity in need of healing. And healing can be as uncomplicated, impactful and powerful as changing one’s mind, one’s consciousness, in the presence of community we cannot escape even when we want to.

Jesus changes course.
The woman embraces her intersectionality, her many-faceted identity, everything that makes the world devalue her, and gives Jesus a piece of her mind, her queertivity. “But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’” And with that, Jesus changes his mind, his consciousness, alters his course, and expands his purpose. “Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.”

This nation is demon-possessed by capitalism and greed, patriarchy and white supremacy, nationalism and partisanship, violence and abuse of power, and it seems as though there are enough of us who have Finally. Had. Enough. But not before everyone who has power attempts every opportunity to control and hold onto whatever power they can; not before toxic masculinity can throw a tantrum, deflect and obfuscate in a high stakes, public job interview; not before they finish stripping away all of the hard-won freedoms and protections of the past 50 years.

Which means we have to use our queertivity, embrace our intersectionality, and invest our privilege, our power, our money in those who have had to beg just for the right to exist safely in public space, to have what they need to live. Wherever, whenever we resist, protest, speak truth to BS, we have to bring Jesus in the room, into the conversation. Which means we bring our black and brown neighbors, our trans and queer neighbors, our immigrant and refugee neighbors, our Muslim and Jewish and Hindu and Buddhist and atheist and Baha’i and Sikh neighbors, our differently abled neighbors, neighbors whose first language isn’t English, our neurodivergent neighbors, our unemployed and underemployed neighbors, our street neighbors, our neighbors on Medicare and Medicaid, our marginalized and criminalized neighbors.

The time is now here when the first shall indeed be last, and the last shall finally be first. And we have to get out of the way. The future is intersectional. “No problem can be solved by the same consciousness that created it.” Queertivity is the new consciousness. Thanks be to that Power that is making all things new.


We are diverse. That is something to celebrate, not hide or stifle or deny. Or fix.

We are wonderfully and fearfully made in God’s image, each and every one of us, and none of us are broken or unworthy yet we all need healing and safe space, equality and justice.

We are agents of change, whether we need to get out of its way or we are the change we have been waiting for.

And so may the Holy One, source of queertivity, bless you and keep you; the Holy One make their face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Holy One lift their countenance upon you and give you peace.  Amen.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

How are the children?

Mark 9: 30-37
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
September 23, 2018

On August 29, Rev. Traci Blackmon, our Executive Minister for Justice and Local Church Ministries, was one of the leaders of a protest at the southern border near Tucson, Arizona. She asked the question, “How are the children?” It’s a greeting used by the Maasai in Africa. If the children are well, then all is well. But we know the answer to that question is “The children are not well at all.”

Our children are not just vulnerable, they are at risk. 20% of children in this nation under the age of 18 live under the poverty level. They are at risk at school: the quality of their education, whether or not they have enough food, whether or not they have family support, whether or not they can use the bathroom they feel comfortable using, whether or not someone will show up with a gun.

They are at risk for being bullied, for not being accepted and loved as they are. They are at risk for being thrown out of their homes, for being homeless, vulnerable to human trafficking. They are at risk for physical, psychological, and sexual abuse and assault, for not being believed or taken seriously decades after the fact. They are at risk for anxiety and depression. They are at risk of incarceration. They are at risk because of bigoted immigration policies. They are at risk because of capitalism, greed, street violence, drugs, climate change, hunger, war. Traci said, “Our children are not well, and until the children are well, the whole world is sick.”

Most, if not all, salvation stories have children as agents of change, redemption and peace. “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11: 6)
And yet we say children are the future or what I consider worse, our future. Remember that we were once the future for those before us, that expectation heaped upon our shoulders. Our generations were judged and derided as much as we were hailed and looked to with hope. Ironically if we looked at children not as the future or our future but as their right now, our right now in God’s presence, God in this minute, can’t wait any longer, the future just might take care of itself. Children have the power to save us each day of our lives. They can save us from being self-absorbed, greedy, depressed, angry, lonely, just by being themselves. Children remind us that we are all worthy of love, simply because we draw breath.

Today I wish to place a particular child in your midst. Her name is Pollyanna. Over the years I believe Pollyanna has gotten a bad rap. Her attitude of gladness is dismissed as naïveté, saccharin-sweetened optimism or just plain delusional. If you really want to know who Pollyanna is, forget Disney and Hayley Mills—read the book by Eleanor Porter.

The character Pollyanna was the child of a missionary minister who raised her by himself after his wife, her mother died. The two were dependent upon the mercy of God in the form of the Ladies’ Aid Society and their donations sent in barrels. Anything and everything could come to Pollyanna and her father in these barrels. It was like a grab bag from Goodwill or a church rummage sale. Sometimes there were useful yet damaged things, like a worn carpet or framed pictures with no glass. But what Pollyanna longed for was a doll to play with and love. So Pollyanna’s father wrote to those who supported his ministry with the request for a doll.

No dolls had been donated. What came instead was a pair of crutches. It was then that Pollyanna’s father taught her about the game—the Glad Game. The game is to find something about everything to be glad about. At first Pollyanna could not figure out how to be glad about a pair of crutches when what she really wanted was a doll. So her father gave her the first one of many ways Pollyanna could be glad: “Goosey! Why, just be glad because you don’t—need—‘em!”

Yes, a pretty ableist story but this was 1913, well before the polio vaccine. Pollyanna thought it was a lovely game, and the harder it was to play, the more fun it was to think of reasons to be glad. But there were also times it was not fun, when it was too hard, like when a father dies and goes to heaven and there isn’t anyone but a Ladies’ Aid Society. Pollyanna discovered, though, that when you’re hunting for the glad things, you sort of forget the other kind.

Her father’s invention of this game began not with Pollyanna but with himself. Pollyanna asked her father once if he was glad he was a minister. He replied that he most always was, but he wouldn’t stay a minister a minute if it wasn’t for the rejoicing texts. These are the scriptures in the Bible that begin with “Be glad in the Lord” or “Rejoice greatly” or “Shout for joy”. Pollyanna’s father counted these texts and there were eight hundred of them. Her father then said to Pollyanna, “So if God took the trouble to tell us eight hundred times to be glad and rejoice, God must want us to do it—some.” Those texts then became a comfort to her father whenever things went wrong or not the way he wished they were or ought to be.

I wondered about that figure: eight hundred texts. So I went to my online bible browser, complete with concordance. Using the King James Version (remember it was published in 1913) I typed in the word ‘glad’: 180. ‘Happy’: 34. ‘Delight’: 94. ‘Joy’: 256. ‘Rejoice’: 275. All this adds up to 839 texts that tell us to be glad, happy, joyful, and to rejoice and experience delight. But I was still curious, so I searched some more. ‘Blessed’: 350. ‘Mercy’: 356. ‘Love’: 645.

As we care for children and young people, as we fight for their rights, their safety, their needs, their acceptance as persons in their own right, it’s important for us to remember what makes our hearts glad, and to do those things, experience those things, and not take them for granted. How is the child within each of us? When I asked folks on Facebook, what makes you glad, I received over 80 responses. Things like: “Quiet moments with my family.” “A day with nothing to do.” “Knowing I put a day to good use.” “When I remember to do something important.” “Carpooling to work with my husband.” “When I have enough money to pay for rent and groceries.” “An act of kindness.” “Having another day to try to get it right.”

Many folks commented about seeing or helping other people smile, especially family, friends, and children. Others talked about giving back in some way, being in nature, simple pleasures like holding hands, a good night’s sleep, a sunny day, music, and good health. One person said this: “I am facing the very serious illness of my partner. Things she used to do that would drive me crazy now make me glad because she is still here. Funny how it is all about your perspective.”

“Our children are not well, and until the children are well, the whole world is sick.” Our children are not well because we are not well, because in ways that deeply matter, we have forgotten what it means to be glad, what it means to experience delight, what it means to welcome God’s presence, to be in God’s presence, like basking in the sun; what it means to be a child, to be a child of God, and that every child is a child of God.

So play Pollyanna’s Glad Game every day. Ask the child within you what would make them glad. Ask a child or young person what makes them glad and then help them do that. Sponsor or mentor a child if you can. Spend more time in the company of children, especially the active, inquisitive, talkative, boisterous ones and the quiet, shy, removed ones. Do the Jesus thing and ask questions, ask what their pronouns are, and then listen, really listen. Because not only their lives but ours too actually depend on it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Who are you?

Mark 8: 27-38
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
September 16, 2018

Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”

I wouldn’t think of Jesus as someone who needs the approval of others or who needs to know what other people are saying about him.

Come to find out, no one thinks he is who he says he is but rather one of the heroes of the faith, back from the dead. Somehow this is easier to believe.

Then Jesus brings it home: “Who do you say that I am?”

Jesus asks this question on the road, as he and his disciples are heading out of Galilee, out of their comfort zone, to the margins of Jewish society, into villages and towns built by the Roman Empire. Not exactly a safe place to tell the truth about Jesus and his purpose or why the disciples are with him, but the crossroads of the marginalized and the powerful is usually where the truth needs to be told the most.

“Who do you say that I am?”

Jesus never proclaimed himself in the gospel of Mark but the coming kingdom of God, which had to do more with healing, teaching, lifting up and feeding people.

“Who do you say that I am?”

It’s not a question we think about very often but one we should, as individuals and as a church. Who are you, Jesus?

Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man. In the inclusive language version of the gospels, Jesus is the Human One. And not just any human but the least of humanity. Jesus carried not just any cross but the cross of the marginalized and criminalized, the shamed and rejected and despised, because he lived with those on the margins, he was shamed and rejected and despised, and convicted as a criminal.

“Who do you say that I am?”

To say who Jesus is requires us to answer with who we are.

It is easier to say that Jesus was kind and good, and hope that we are also kind and good.

It is easier to say that Jesus was a teacher and healer, and hope that we are also teachers and healers.

It is easier to say that Jesus was a savior, and hope that we too might help save a life.

It is even easier to say that Jesus was the son of God, for then it is easier for us to deny that we could ever have anything to do with him or be anything like him.

But it is much harder to say that Jesus was marginalized and criminalized, because if that is not who we are, then that is a cross for us to take up for those who are.

It is much harder to say that Jesus was shamed and rejected and despised, because if that is not who we are, then that is a cross for us to take up for those who are.

To say who Jesus is requires us to answer with who we are.

It is much harder to say that Jesus was a refugee, poor, homeless, his people treated like immigrants in their own country, a radical within his own faith tradition.

To say who Jesus is requires us to answer with who we are.

It is much harder to say that Jesus was in a prison cell or in his Section 8 housing or his trailer when the hurricane hit.

It is much harder to say that Jesus is still locked up in detention camp with thousands like him because his parents had to run for their lives.

To say who Jesus is requires us to answer with who we are.

It is much harder to say that Jesus is jeered and derided and called racial slurs because he kneels for the anthem of an empire that murders his kin.

It is much harder to say that Jesus was shot and killed in his own home by one sworn to protect him and his character assaulted and smeared after the fact.

To say who Jesus is requires us to answer with who we are.

It is much harder to say that Jesus cannot use the bathroom that he is most comfortable using because who he really is, is a child of God.

It is much harder to say that the Christ, the Anointed One, goes beyond gender; that each and every body—messy, beautiful, fragile flesh and blood—shows us what it means to be the Body of Christ; because there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male nor female, for all are one in them; all are one in Christ.

To say who Jesus is requires us to answer with who we are.

It is much harder to say I love you without condition, without limit, without deserving it, so Jesus taught us that we can’t even hate within the confines of our own hearts.

It is much harder to forgive and so Jesus taught us to forgive seven times seventy.

It is much harder to love one’s enemies and pray for them, so Jesus said from that cross, “Forgive them, because they don’t know what they’re doing.”

To say who Jesus is requires us to answer with who we are.

“You are the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One.”

Anointed to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to those who cannot see, freedom to those who are oppressed.

Though they barely understood, the disciples followed.

Is this who we are?

Is this who we want to become?

With the cross, there is no other answer than the one that is the hardest to give.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Labor of love

James 1: 17-27
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
Sept. 2, 2018 


Earlier this week, as part of my sermon preparation, I posed a question on my Facebook page: “Do you love whatever it is that you do? If not, why do you do it?” And I asked about whatever you do because what you do could be a volunteer position or you’re a stay-home parent or really anything; because we all labor in different ways; because I didn’t want to limit the responses I got.

Some who responded said that no, they don’t exactly love what they do, but what they do allows them to do other things that they are passionate about, enables them to do the things that feed the soul, or it provides for the people they love, or they don’t love what they do but they love why they do it, even if “it” is doing the right thing. One person responded in all caps, “IT AIN’T ABOUT ME!”, that the ego can be a trap, that all labor done faithfully is a holy thing. Some responded that yes, they do love what they do but not all the time. One person said, like marriage, our work is about making a life. Another pointed out that this is a question for the middle and upper class, while someone else responded that for the working and middle classes, the answer is rent or mortgage and health insurance.

I have to say that this is one of my favorite ways to begin thinking about what the message will be because of how people respond and engage, how we all want our lives to matter in some way; that who we are is important somehow to someone else. We all know the world is not only unfair but unjust, not only when it comes to our work but especially how we care for those whose work is taken for granted or painfully necessary or tedious and unsafe and those who are unable to work. Our love, who we are, who we love, is in our work, in our livelihood whether we love what we do or not. 

Image by Kurt Walker
Nobel laureate and economist James Buchanan would’ve said that sounds like a naïve pipedream. Like Ayn Rand but even worse, Buchanan believed no one is altruistic, that everyone—politicians and government workers but also teachers, doctors, and civil rights activists—are all out for themselves, that all of us only want to control others and their resources to ensure our own survival. In his 1975 book, The Limits of Liberty, he wrote, “Each person seeks mastery over a world of slaves.”

Black children and teen workers, glass factory, 1914. Photo by Lewis Hine.

Buchanan’s ideas sound scary and familiar enough but even more so when he caught the attention of Charles Koch and the power of all that money. In Buchanan, Koch found someone who could help him save capitalists like himself from the democracy we cherish, and slowly, quietly corrupt it into an oligarchy. And we’ve seen the signs of this oncoming collapse in the Citizens United decision, in the privatization of schools, prisons, health care—every policy that favors the preservation of wealth and limits the agency of the poor, the marginalized, and those teetering on the edge of losing what they have.

Breaker boys in the coal mines of Pennsylvania, 1922.  Photo by Lewis Hine.

So the real question before us is, do we love not only being and doing but becoming what it means to be a Christian? Do we love becoming a disciple, a follower of Jesus, a church person, a minister like it says in the bulletin? Because I believe in that so-called naïve pipedream. I believe that it is this kind of love, a deeper love—a love that is patient and kind, a love that is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude, a love that does not insist on its own way, a love that seeks the truth and never gives up, a love that compels us to love both our enemies and our neighbor, a love that we don’t always feel but without it, as Eugene Peterson puts it, we are bankrupt—it is this kind of love with which we labor and fight, resist and persist, and eventually, evolve. It is this kind of love with which we resist evil, make justice and establish peace.

South Carolina cotton mill.  Photo by Lewis Hine.

This is the word, the word that “became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1: 14, The Message), that word we come to know in Jesus, whose word is love--I think this is what the author of James means when he makes the distinction between hearers of the word and doers of the word. Is that word implanted in us? Has that love become visible in our flesh and blood? That kind of love sounds like music to our ears but are we willing to actually love that way, to love the world that way, even when we aren’t feeling it?

5 year old field hand picking cotton.  Photo by Lewis Hine.

For it is here at this Table that we remember that God so loved the world that God gave us Jesus, that whoever believes in him, that is, allows their lives to be changed by that love, they shall not perish but have eternal life—they shall come alive with love.

Fair Labor Standards Act passed in 1938, effectively creating what we take for granted as childhood.Photo by Lewis Hine.

Samuel Gompers, an American labor leader and the first president of the American Federation of Labor, said in 1893 that “what does labor want [but what we all want]? We want more schoolhouses and less jails; more books and less arsenals; more learning and less vice; more leisure and less greed; more justice and less revenge; in fact, more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures.”

Sounds like eternal life to me, like a labor of love.


Tuesday, August 28, 2018


Ephesians 6: 10-20
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
August 26, 2018 

from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Clairborne

How many of us have done battle in our heads? Prepared what you would say, during the awkward silence between what they said, what you said? Or utter in your mind all the awful things that you know would not only wound someone but you’d deeply regret later? Or after the skirmish is over, think of all the things you wished you’d said? Or depending on the person, do you just come loaded for bear?

It’s no wonder when we’ve weaponized fear. It’s no wonder that not only we struggle but even more so those who are criminalized and marginalized every day struggle with the question, how do we know we can talk to someone, trust someone with who we are? It’s no wonder that we seek out like-minded people, allies, safe havens, and bunkers. It’s no wonder why some folks who’ve suffered trauma are triggered because we have leaders who behave and sound like an abuser. We say we want to live in peace but we’re ready for war because some of us fight a daily battle.

I chose this passage from amongst the other lectionary readings because I know people who have to put on armor of their own making before they go out into the world: this mostly white, heteronormative, cisgender, neurotypical, ableist, English-speaking, privileged world. And I wonder what it must be like to wake up in a world that is still set up, for the most part, to keep you out.

I chose this passage because I know there are other folks who read this passage quite literally and consider themselves spiritual warriors, who feel themselves threatened by the very existence of those who are completely unlike them. And I wonder what it must be like to put oneself on the outside on purpose, to make oneself an adversary.

I chose this passage because there are people who do battle daily with their inner demons, whether to take that drink, take the pills, shoot into a vein, gamble some money, cut their skin, who’ve been brainwashed that they can pray the gay away. And I wonder what it must be like to feel cut off from everyone else. 

I chose this passage because we are living through days in which it feels very much like everything is on the line. Climate change isn’t going anywhere. Environmental protections are being stripped away. Immigrant children are still locked up and taken to jail when they turn 18. Gun violence still happens every day whether we hear about it or not. The chasm between the 1% and the 99% continues to widen and deepen. The familiar binaries and categories of previous generations are giving way to a more expansive view of what it means to be human; while some mourn these changes and some celebrate them, others are trying with all their might to maintain the status quo and keep the battle lines drawn. And I wonder how we will live through this time, and if we will remember that it is the armor of kindness and compassion, the armor of justice and peace and forgiveness and truth that makes us the best of what it means to be human.

In the letter to the Ephesians, the author, maybe Paul, maybe someone writing in his name, communicates a similar sense of urgency and apparent inevitability. The letter was written not long before Nero began his persecution of Christians, only a few years before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. He uses themes and language that seem outrageous to us: the wiles of the devil, cosmic forces, spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places, all wrapped in the militaristic language of armor and battle. And yet we know there is evil in this world; though we may not deal with it as closely as many do, we cannot think ourselves so removed from evil that we do not have to fight it. Though we may scoff at the notion of the devil, temptation has many forms and more of them are deviously familiar and comfortable and personal than overtly offensive.

As for putting on armor, it is nothing less than putting on, clothing ourselves in Christ, in the new life we receive from him. It is an armor not of empire but of the Beloved Community; an armor that inevitably leads to peace. I love that it is what is on our feet that makes us ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. When my brother was in his 20’s, his employer could tell what mood my brother was in based on his footwear. If he was wearing his soft-toed Army hiking boots, Rick was in good mood. If he was wearing his steel-toed combat boots, well, be warned. If anyone is ready to proclaim the gospel of peace in this congregation, it’s Storm in his muddy, bare feet at a folk music festival.

Rather than weaponizing the word of God or hate or fear as some would do, it is the disarming power of love, righteousness, compassion, truth, and faith that gives us the strength to stand firm, to be strong. And when I say "stand firm", I mean to stand firm here (holds fist in front of abdomen).  But we cannot nor are we being instructed to do this alone. Every verb and use of the word “you” in this passage is plural. It is only in community, in covenant with one another that we are able give and receive strength, to confront hard truths and speak truth to power, to learn and relearn what Jesus meant when he said to forgive seven times seventy, to love our enemies and pray for them, to love our neighbor as ourselves.

In his memoir Senator John McCain wrote, “Glory belongs to the act of being constant to something greater than yourself, to a cause, to your principles, to the people on whom you rely and who rely on you.” At McCain’s passing, President Barack Obama offered this tribute: “John McCain and I were members of different generations, came from completely different backgrounds, and competed at the highest level of politics. But we shared, for all our differences, a fidelity to something higher – the ideals for which generations of Americans and immigrants alike have fought, marched, and sacrificed. We saw our political battles, even, as a privilege, something noble, an opportunity to serve as stewards of those high ideals at home, and to advance them around the world. We saw this country as a place where anything is possible – and citizenship as our patriotic obligation to ensure it forever remains that way.

“Few of us have been tested the way John once was, or required to show the kind of courage that he did. But all of us can aspire to the courage to put the greater good above our own. At John’s best, he showed us what that means. And for that, we are all in his debt.”

Whatever battles we are called to fight, whatever struggles we wrestle with, especially in solidarity with those who have no retreat, let us remember that peace begins in the mind and in the heart, both within us and in our life together as church. If our prayers are for anything, they are the seeds of a peaceful heart, a peaceful mind. And it is in that peace, the peace that Jesus gives, that we are able to stand firm together, to be strong in the face of evil. Amen.