Sunday, May 29, 2016

Barbara Moyer Lehman: An Unexpected Faith

Luke 7:1-10

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    When reading any of the gospels, it doesn’t take long before we realize that Jesus hung out with and ministered to all kinds of people. Some might even say he spent time with the ‘wrong kind of people’.  He reached out to people on the margins of society, people who were not welcomed, acknowledged, included.  We  tend to put them in categories or groups, forgetting that each one is unique, loved and created in God’s image.  So we say...the poor, the widows, the demon possessed, the crippled, the lepers, the blind, the broken in body and spirit, and so on.  We see them as needy, marginalized, without power, without a voice.  But Jesus noticed them, did not overlook them. He reached out to them.

    We also notice in the gospels that Jesus sometimes found himself among the powerful of his time, those with some means, influence and a voice.  In either case, whether it be with the marginalized or with those of some influence and status, faith shows up in unexpected ways!  in unexpected places in least likely people!  We are surprised, astounded, caught off guard!

    Luke 7, includes this amazing story of the centurion and the healing of his servant.  In previous chapters, Jesus had preached the Beatitudes in the “Sermon on the Plain”, telling the great crowd what it looks like to be a disciple.  A good summary of that would be “love your friend and love your enemy alike!”
    Now in chapter 7 we find Jesus is back in Capernaum. And the story unfolds.....  A centurion has a valued servant who is dying and wants Jesus to heal him.  The intriguing part of this story is that the request comes from a “centurion”, a Gentile, a commanding officer in the Roman army.  He had 100 foot solders (a “century”) under his command.  The centurions were considered the “backbone” of the army, the career men, responsible for discipline, inspection of the weapons, supervised executions, sometimes recruited for special tasks that  took them away from their troops.  They were the best informed and most experienced in the army.  It was a prestigious position that any ambitious soldier would aspire to.

    So the text says the centurion ‘heard’ of Jesus.  What he heard we don’t know exactly, but he, a Gentile centurion, sent elders of the local Jewish community to ask Jesus to come and heal his servant.  This group becomes a delegation to advocate or plead earnestly with Jesus.  And they do that, quite boldly.  “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.”   These elders must have had knowledge of the centurion and respect for him and were willing to speak to Jesus on behalf of the centurion.  So without question or apparent hesitation, Jesus went with them.

    Before Jesus gets to the house of the centurion, a second delegation approaches Jesus...friends of the centurion, bringing a personal message.  Now the centurion is not wanting Jesus to trouble himself by coming to his house.  He is feeling unworthy to receive Jesus or to go to him personally.  And the message delivered by his friends is pretty simple and to the point. “But say the word, and my servant will be healed.”  The centurion understands authority.  He has it himself over others and he can tell this one, “Go” and he goes, and that one, “Come” and he comes, and to another, “do this” and he does it.

    When Jesus heard this, the text says, “he was amazed at him”, or “astounded” or “taken aback”...depending on your translation.  And turning to the crowd that was following him, Jesus says”I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”  Then the friends that had been sent, returned to the house and found the servant well! End of story!

    Now we could read this and say, “well, nice story..another healing by Jesus.”  And it is...a “nice” story and it is a “healing”, but it has some intriguing components that make it unique.  Here are a few thoughts/observations....
+the centurion “heard” of Jesus.  He had not met him nor seen his work healing, but on “heard” of Jesus, which apparently was enough to make him believe and have faith that Jesus could, indeed, heal his valued servant.
+it is surprising that a commanding officer, a Gentile, with power and authority would have such a positive relationship with the elders of the Jewish community that they were willing to speak to Jesus on his behalf with such passion and forthright manner. (This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue).
+the centurion seems to recognize at some point that he is unworthy to host Jesus and we see elements of deep humility, alongside his awareness that he also carries and understands authority and power.  We don’t always see people in positions of power taking on postures of humility.
+this is a healing story that happens without Jesus touching, taking by the hand or even meeting the person he healed!
+I wonder how the crowd reacted/responded to Jesus when he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”  (Message..”I’ve yet to come across this kind of simple trust anywhere in Israel, the very people who are supposed to know about God and how he works.”)

The centurion displays a faith that surprises and astounds Jesus.
1.) Does the story speak to us, as well, in any way?
2.)  Does faith sometimes ‘show up’, become evident in places and in people which we would least expect?  Any story or person come to you mind?
3.)  Do we see the centurion as a representative of the empire that is oppressing the nation, the “enemy”?  Or can we see him as a bridge builder between two worlds, Jew and Gentile, believing in the God who is the God of both and trusting the  word of Jesus had the power to move past any barriers between the two?  “But say the word...”

God will not be restrained by the boundaries we draw around one another.  God will surprise us!

Friday, around noon, I went on an errand across town. As I was waiting at a busy intersection for the light to change (took a long time), a man on a H-D motorcycle came along beside me.  I glanced over at him and made some observations.  Now I don’t like motorcycles and I know there are many fine people who ride them and love them and they are in this congregation, but I still don’t like them and in fact, are rather afraid of them and what they can do.(the motorcycles, that is, not the people) Nevertheless I realized that my thoughts about what I saw weren’t real positive, I confess.  Let me describe.... the man had a black vest on, filled with many emblems and insignias, some noting that he was a vet and possibly POW at one time.  It was over a black tee shirt.  There were several US flags here and there on his vest and flying from the back of his cycle.  He was smoking.  And then as he reved up the engine and drove off, I noticed on the back of his helmet, the words, “Powered by Faith”, and then a cross.  There were some other words in smaller print.  I couldn’t see them as he sped away.  I thought, wait a minute. Are you messing with me, Lord?  Are you trying to surprise me?  To help me re-think and examine stereotypes, attitudes, and maybe confess that I was wrong about this man and the negative thoughts I might have had because of the image?  Could this man indeed be ‘powered by faith’, faith in Jesus?  I have no idea what his story was and where he was headed, but it made me think that just maybe, he was one of God’s surprises.  I think I needed to see this man and have this experience before I could finish this sermon.  I was ashamed of my smugness and piety.

The centurion in today’s gospel story seemed to know that Jesus’ power was different from and unlike any power that Rome or any empire wielded.  He believed that Jesus’ power could heal people, including his valued servant.  Jesus’ power can turn the world upside down and inside out.  It can change our stereotypes, our attitudes, our skewed thinking.  The centurion recognized this power as the very essence of faith; “faith is seeing the world with God’s eyes, to see the possibilities of a world renewed by God’s love and God’s grace.” (Dr. Eric Barreto).

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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Phil Kniss: The rearranged life

Pentecost: The Spirit Transforms
Acts 2:1-21; John 14:12-17

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Full disclosure, before I launch into this Pentecost sermon . . .
    This is not my favorite day in the Christian calendar.

Of all the Christian holy days,
    Pentecost is not one
        I always look forward to with joy and an open heart.

Advent and Christmas? Certainly. Always.
Lent and Easter? By all means.
Even the darker days in the Christian calendar,
    like Ash Wednesday and Good Friday,
    are compelling to me, and have a natural appeal.
    Their goodness is immediately apparent.
    Their themes of forgiveness, reconciliation,
        hope and resurrection in the face of suffering!
    Who doesn’t welcome all that?

Not so, Pentecost.
    Pentecost, I have decided, is not for the faint of heart.
    And sometimes, I admit, I’m a little faint of heart.

Pentecost is not for those who want their Christian faith
    to always be a comfort,
    to always have their way of seeing things be reinforced,
    their way of living supported,
    their priorities underwritten,
    their agenda signed off on.

Pentecost is a day that can only be fully embraced
    by Christians who are ready to have their lives rearranged.

If we are going to take the work of the Holy Spirit seriously
    (and I think we should),
    then hang on for dear life!
    Our lives are about to be rearranged.

Now, if you resist this idea, I don’t blame you.
    As I said, that’s my posture, 99% of the time.
    I confess, when it comes to the Spirit,
        much of the time I’m in the resistance mode.
    No, I don’t deliberately say to the Spirit, “Get lost”
        I don’t consciously choose to say “no.”
        It’s just that I spend a good deal of energy and time
            arranging my life.
        Why would I want someone outside of my control
            to re-arrange my life, according to their liking?

Well, I’m about to help us explore that together,
    to help convince you, and convince me, for that matter,
    that we ought to submit our lives for rearranging.
    To do that, we need to examine what the Holy Spirit’s job is,
        the job given to the Spirit by the Triune God.

But before I do that,
    let me give you something to do.
    Listen to the Spirit, as you are listening to me.
    Ponder this question,
        as your mind moves back and forth
        between my words and your thoughts.
    Ask yourself if there has been a time
        when your life was rearranged,
            transformed by the Holy Spirit.

Maybe you didn’t know it at the time,
    but looking back, you can see the Spirit of God,
        the breath of God,
    breathing into you new life, transformed life, rearranged life.

A few of you will have a chance to share that experience with us.
    Because I’m going to invite you to do so,
        at the end of my sermon, as the Spirit leads.
    I’ll invite you to give brief testimony,
        about how the Spirit rearranged
        your thinking, your commitments, your relationships, your life.

So what does transformation by the Holy Spirit look like?
    How can you tell it’s the Spirit?
    Obviously, each story will be different.
    The Holy Spirit’s work is, by necessity,
        shaped by the context, culture, occasion, and person.

    Clearly, the events in Acts 2 are particular
        to what needed to happen in that context,
        as thousands of Jews gathered from around the world
            for a religious festival,
            right after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
        The Spirit enabled Peter’s sermon
            about the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection,
            to be heard in everyone’s native language.
        And the Spirit gave them all a convincing experience,
            of seeing flames and hearing wind.

        Throughout the book of Acts,
            there were many different manifestations of the Spirit,
            each one suited to the context and people.

    Today, the Spirit is still at work.
    But we know a movement of the Spirit in an East African village,
        looks different than it does in an Amish community,
            or on the streets of Chicago,
            or in the halls of Congress.
        If the Spirit is the continuing presence of God among us,
            then God is in all of those places, and more.
            But the manifestations will be different.

    But I wonder, is there still a defining characteristic . . .
        a common thread that runs through
            everything the Spirit does,
            everywhere the Spirit shows up?
        Is there an identifying mark that will help us attribute
            some activity to the Holy Spirit,
            or are we completely on our own to decide?
        If it feels like the Spirit, do we just call it the Spirit,
            and leave it at that?

    Well, let me assert, there is an identifying mark.
        We aren’t left entirely on our own to decide,
            or to make it up as we go along.
        We are given a framework.
    Yes, it still requires a lot of discernment,
        and we won’t always agree
            whether a new revelation was the work of the Holy Spirit,
            or something we ate.

    But Jesus himself gives us some important insight
        when it comes to properly discerning the Spirit.
    And it comes from a text that we often misread, from John 14,
        where Jesus promises to send the Spirit, as an Advocate.
        We mistakenly read that to mean
            the Spirit is coming to Advocate on our behalf,
            to be on our side, our loyal sidekick.

        No, Jesus says to his disciples—
            these persons he’s been walking with daily,
            training for life in the Kingdom,
            he says to them,
                don’t worry about my absence,
                don’t be afraid you’re going to forget what I taught you.
            I will send one who will be my Advocate,
                who will represent the Kingdom and its values.

        The word Advocate here, is the same word as “lawyer.”
        The Spirit is standing in for Jesus.
            That is the Spirit’s one, and only, mission.
            The Spirit is an attorney, so to speak.
                And the client is God.
            The Spirit will always speak up for, and represent,
                the purposes of God as lived and taught by Jesus.

        Somewhere we got the notion that the Spirit
            is always on our side,
            to give us power to do what we wanted to do already.
        No, the Spirit is not our private spiritual battery pack.
            The Spirit is not our unconditional cheerleader.
        As often as the Spirit might comfort us,
            just as often, and more, the Spirit is apt to confront us.

        Every time we start distorting Jesus’ message
            and slap a Christian label on it,
            the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ attorney, will stand up in court,
                and say, “Objection!”

So that’s one identifying mark of the Spirit.
    What the Spirit does, will look like what Jesus did.
    What the Spirit says, will sound like what Jesus said.
    The Spirit’s work will be in perfect alignment
        with the priorities of God
        revealed in the life and teachings of Jesus.
    If some movement or person departs from the way of Jesus,
        and claims the backing of the Holy Spirit,
        we have good reason to doubt them.

The other point I’d like to lift up here
    is about transformation itself.
    It’s not superficial.
    Transformation doesn’t just mean we become better people—
        a little nicer, kinder, more spiritually aware.
    Transformation means our lives get rearranged.

One of the enduring metaphors of Pentecost and the Holy Spirit
    is the flame.
    It’s what the disciples and the crowds observed in Acts 2.
    Flames appeared to dance on their heads.

Fire rearranges things.
    Fire doesn’t really destroy physical matter.
        It transforms it.
        It rearranges it.
        It forces a radical chemical change.
    The heat of fire changes the molecular structure
        of whatever is burning.
    Molecules are set free of old bonds, and make new bonds.
    Molecules making up the wood or fiber or what have you,
        are transformed into molecules of
            carbon, water, oxygen, hydrogen,
            and other stuff I never learned about in chemistry.

That’s what Holy Spirit transformation does to our lives.
    The Spirit won’t destroy our lives.
    But the Spirit will rearrange us.
        Perhaps radically, entirely, rearrange us.

Spirit transformation is not to be taken lightly.
    It can have all sorts of unintended side effects.
    It can undo what we formerly thought to be true
        about ourselves, about God, about the world.
    It can result in a heightened state of chaos and confusion,
        as those things we used to cling to,
        start crumbling around us.
    It can result in significant loss—
        loss of job security, loss of some relationships,
        loss of identity, loss of order, loss of income.
    For our Anabaptist ancestors,
        and many other Christians throughout history,
        and even today,
        it can result in loss of life.

This is why I approach Pentecost with as much fear and trepidation,
    as I do joyful anticipation.
    It’s a real challenge for me to have an entirely open heart,
        when thinking about what it might mean,
        to submit my life to the Spirit for transformation.

And I imagine that’s true for most of us.
    We all have our own transformation stories,
        our stories of a time when our lives were rearranged.
    And when we were in the middle of it all, it was pretty unsettling.
        Maybe our way of thinking was rearranged.
        Maybe our beliefs and convictions were rearranged.
        Maybe our lifestyle and behaviors were rearranged.
        Maybe our community was rearranged,
            our whole network of relationships transformed.

Looking back on my life, there were a couple times
    when the future I thought I could see got rearranged.

    When we were a family of three,
        new parents in our 20s, and a babe in arms,
        we moved to Gainesville, Florida as church planters,
            without a paying job in hand.
        That was not the plan we mapped out.
        It required immense risk-taking,
            and often-repeated efforts to submit our future to God.
        But looking back, Irene and I both see the Spirit at work
            transforming us,
            turning our chaos and uncertainty and loss,
                into a richer form of life.

    I also think about my decision
        to start Doctor of Ministry studies 12 years ago,
        when all three of our children were in college the same year.
        It was a costly decision in many ways.
            And there were times I wondered if the Spirit was in it.
            But it transformed the way
                I thought about my calling as a pastor,
                and thought about the church and the world.
            My life and ministry were rearranged.
            Had the Spirit not transformed me through that,
                I doubt I would still be your pastor today.

Now, as I hinted at earlier,
    I’m going to go against my nature,
    which is to carefully arrange just about everything,
    and I’m going to pick up this microphone,
        and walk around the sanctuary.

You just heard me give two stories,
    about two sentences each,
        where I can now see, looking back,
        that the Holy Spirit rearranged my life,
            transformed my way of thinking,
                my way of being.

I know there are countless stories like that,
    represented in this sanctuary full of people.

Passing around the mike
    is more risk than I’m used to taking in a sermon.
    Maybe no one will say anything. Awkward!
    Maybe someone will want to say too much.
        But I trust you can monitor yourselves,
            and keep your stories brief and to the point,
            so more people can make a contribution.

I am inviting you, in the space of a few short sentences,
    to give testimony to a time when your life was rearranged—
        when your thinking was transformed,
            your commitments
            your lifestyle
            your actions were transformed,
        and you can now attribute that to the Holy Spirit.

It might have been triggered by a momentous earthshaking event,
    or by one brief conversation.
    But whatever started it,
        the Holy Spirit made it into something more.

What are your testimonies?
So I don’t have to run back and forth,
    I’m going to start here on the west side,
        and gradually move across.

Now many of you had stories you didn’t tell.
    Some of you have stories you are in the middle of.
    We now give you opportunity to share those without words.
        Come and light a candle at one of these four stations,
            and return to your seat.
    By that simple act of bringing flame to candle,
        in itself a physical transformation of the wax,
        you are symbolically bringing your transformation story
            into this space,
            before God, and before this community,
            and inviting the Holy Spirit to do its work.
    Come, now, as John provides some music for contemplation.

—Phil Kniss, May 15, 2016

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Sunday, May 8, 2016

Phil Kniss: From God's hands to ours

Easter 7: God who invites all to life
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

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Perhaps the best news
    the book of Revelation has to offer us Jesus-followers
    is that life is ultimately in the hands of God.

Remember this book is being written to persecuted Christians.
    Horribly, brutally persecuted Christians.
        Not talking your garden-variety 21st-century America
            so-called persecution of Christians,
                like banning prayer in public school,
                or other laws some Christians resent.
        No, we’re talking about genuine persecution,
            where Christians were thrown to lions in a public arena,
            or burned at the stake,
            or drowned.
    It’s that Christian community Revelation was first written for.
        This book of heavenly visions was meant to help them
            get a clear picture of God,
            and a more hopeful picture of the future.

Maybe the vision that encouraged them most,
    was this picture of God holding life itself in his hands.
    The epitome of this is the image of the Tree of Life
        thriving on the banks of the River of Life,
        that flows from the throne of God.

    The message here in Revelation 22
        is that God holds the one and only claim on their lives.
    God alone gets to define what a life is worth.
    Their enemies may decide to kill them.
        But only God gets to decide the significance of their lives,
            and the ultimate meaning of their suffering and death.

Then, and now, imposters try to stake a claim on life.
    Would-be gods, false gods try to assert the right
        to define life on their terms.
    But, as the book of Revelation assures us,
        since God has the last word on life,
        these usurpers of God always come up short.
    They wind up on the losing side.

Today, there are people who set themselves up as demi-gods.
    Powerful individuals
        who are never content with the power they already have,
        and keep angling for more.
    From Asian dictators, to African warlords, to American politicians,
        there is a persistent narrative of human beings attempting
            to seize control,
            to advance personal agenda,
            and to twist the definition
                of what a flourishing life looks like.

And not only individuals, there are powerful systems and forces at work.
    Economic and social and spiritual forces of all kinds
        act out of their own vested interests
        to distract us from God’s claim on our lives.

    They all stand to benefit if they succeed.

    Systems feeding off greed and materialism
        stand to benefit if they convince us that
        we are what we drive, or eat, or wear, or live in,
        or that we are what we own.

    Systems feeding off militarism
        stand to benefit if they can convince us that
        our lives have greater value than the lives of our enemies.

    Systems feeding off political power
        stand to benefit if they can convince us that
        they are the only ones on our side,
        the only ones who will defend our rights,
        and that everyone else—everyone who is other—
            another party, another country, another religion—
            is a mortal threat to us and our American way of life.

    Systems feeding off self-gratification and indulgence
        stand to benefit if they can get us to buy into the myth
        that pleasure is a right to pursue at any cost.

    But God remains unmoved by these systems
        who would like to usurp the throne of God.
     The Creator of all things living
        watches over us all,
        and maintains the right to set the parameters on life.

That’s the picture Revelation gives us.
    This is the divine work of art being unveiled today.

    Life comes from God, only.
    Life belongs still to God, and to no other.
    All the criteria that define what a flourishing life looks like
        are purposefully laid out by God alone.

Then, as we read this text more carefully,
    and look closer at this picture being unveiled,
    we see God doing an astonishing thing.
    God takes this life that is entirely in God’s hands—
        this life defined, owned, and initiated by God alone—
        and hands it over to us as a gift.

    A gift that we have the power to appropriate as we choose.
        With freedom.
        And . . . with consequences.

    This is a re-gifting of life.

In a way, this text from the last chapter in the Bible,
    it’s an undoing, a reversal,
    of what we read about in the first chapters of the Bible.

Remember, if you will,
    the scene when God banishes Adam and Eve from the Garden.
    After their disobedience,
        in which they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,
        they paid the price in several ways.
    The worst of which,
        is they were sent far away, out East of Eden,
        far away from that lush and comforting garden,
            and most especially, far away from the Tree of Life.

    In order to ensure they not get access to the Tree of Life,
        God puts guards at the gate,
            angels wielding flaming swords,
            which, according to Genesis 3:24,
            they “flash back and forth
                to guard the way to the tree of life.”
    The picture in Genesis 3 is clear.
        God has total control of the Tree of Life,
            and human beings aren’t getting near it.

Now, in Revelation 22, we read these astonishing words:
    “Blessed are those who wash their robes,
        so that they will have the right to the tree of life
        and may enter the city by the gates.”
    John is saying here, the curse is being reversed.
        You will have the right to the Tree of Life.
        And you will have the right to walk through the open gates.
    God is saying, essentially,
        life—both present and eternal—belongs to me,
            and I invite you into it,
            I share it with you.

    Some of us could read Revelation 22 a dozen times,
        and not catch this remarkable allusion to Genesis 3.
    I imagine John’s audience, early Jewish Christians,
        got it immediately,
        and experienced the full shock value of the picture.
        They were intimately familiar with the Torah.
            Probably knew the lines from Genesis 3 by heart.

    And what they saw here in John’s vision gave them great joy,
        as Christians who had oppressors breathing down their necks,
            telling them their lives had no meaning,
            threatening to take their lives from them.
    The Gospel word to them, from God, is,
        “Life has always been mine, but I’m sharing.”

    Furthermore, I’m not limiting my gift.
        “Let everyone who is thirsty come.
          Let anyone who wishes . . . take the water of life as a gift.”

This is also a Gospel word we need to hear today,
    and the whole world needs to hear.

We humans, and our power structures,
    are so quick to seize God’s responsibility—
    to assign value and meaning to the lives of others,
    and to assume it’s on our shoulders
        to give our own lives meaning and value.

But God has done that already.
    And we are so quick to forget.

This dynamic shows up constantly,
    in the many forms of brokenness in our world.
    Individuals and systems
        continually attempt to diminish the value and meaning
            of the lives of those who get in their way.

There are glaring examples everywhere today.
    We need only scratch the surface.
        We’d run out of time trying to list them.
    Not to mention, if we looked back on how often this has happened
        in the darker pages of human history.

So, we are in the middle of a presidential campaign cycle.
    In normal years, presidential candidates often
        try to diminish the worth of others, to win votes.
    But that practice reached new lows this year.
        Not commenting on any actual policy matters at stake.
        Just saying that candidates, as persons,
            have regularly insulted the personhood of their opponents.
        And that is shameful.
        And for candidates claiming to be Christian,
            it’s especially shameful, and clearly un-Christian behavior.
        Yes, Trump gets the most press, and is the most quoted,
            and without a doubt, he’s been the most egregious,
            at calling names,
            and insulting the human dignity of his opponents,
                and of whole classes of people who aren’t like him.
        He may be the worst, but he’s not alone.
        His opponents have often responded in kind.
        Our politicians have set the tone
            for what’s permitted in public discourse.
            And it’s ugly.
        Someone needs to push the reset button.

And the same dynamic is happening on a worldwide scale,
    and in far more devastating and violent ways.
    This thing of diminishing the human dignity of an opponent,
        of undermining the humanity and value of others,
        is the stock-in-trade
            of nations at war,
            of violent religious extremists,
            of tyrants and dictators,
                and it’s been happening since time immemorial.

It’s what allows one group of human beings
    to kidnap, torture, and/or kill other human beings
        who offend them or threaten them.
    ISIS, the Taliban, Boko Haram, you name the group.
        They convince themselves,
            and they convince their vulnerable recruits,
            that the lives of a whole ethnic or religious class of people—
                have less value, less meaning, less worth,
                than their own.
        So they feel justified in determining the end of those lives.

And it’s what allows racism and sexism to thrive close to home,
    in an otherwise civilized society.
    It’s what encourages things like police brutality,
        mistreatment of prisoners,
        anti-immigrant rhetoric,
        bullying of sexual minorities,
        and all kinds of other social ills.

But all those things I named are easy targets
    for us comfortable, compassionate, enlightened Christians.
    It’s easy to get righteously angry
        at highly visible politicians and dictators and movements
            that are so clearly offensive and wrong,
            and so unlike us.

But if I reflect, even a little,
    on the way I look at myself,
    and look at others I encounter,
        I have to admit the temptation is real for me, too.
    I also sometimes stoop to this tactic.
    I also diminish the value of the life of the other,
        in order to inflate the value of my own, in comparison.

How often? I shudder to think.
    I do it whenever I approach someone on the sidewalk downtown,
        who appears homeless, or intoxicated, or poverty-stricken,
            or otherwise difficult to encounter,
        and I pass by while purposely not making eye contact.
    Sure, my sin is less visible, and certainly less impactful,
        than the sins that offend me so greatly
            in Donald Trump and his ilk.
        But it’s on the same spectrum of sins.

    Making eye contact, and offering a smile and a nod,
        is the most simple and immediate way to say to someone,
            “I see the human in you. And I share it.”
    And to purposely avoid eye contact,
        with someone I clearly see in my field of vision,
            and who may well be looking at me as I walk by,
        is the most simple and immediate way to say the opposite:
            “I am ignoring you, because I can,
                because you are not worth the effort
                of a human encounter.”
    In doing so, haven’t I committed the very offense
        of those I so loudly condemn?

And if this happens often on the street, and it does,
    think how often it happens online.
    Think how many times, online,
        you’ve seen someone’s human worth cheapened,
            through insults or shaming or character attacks,
        whose humanity has been diminished
            because it’s so easy to do,
            because others cheer when you do,
            and it makes you feel validated . . . for a moment.
    And many of us here,
        even if we would never directly engage in this kind of
            humanity-diminishing discourse,
            at some level approve and participate.

This scripture from Revelation is for us.
    There is good news, encouraging news!
    God retains the right to value a life, any life,
        however diminished it may be in our eyes.

    That includes our own lives.
        Many of us live with a diminished view
            of the worth of our own lives.
        God confronts that with one word—“Come.”

    God’s word to us, to our neighbor, to those we fear,
        and to those who offend us,
            is, “Come.”
        “Let everyone—everyone—who is thirsty, come.
          Let anyone—anyone—who wishes,
            take the water of life as a gift.”

    Today God says to us,
        “Life in its fullness, at its most flourishing, belongs to me.
            And I’m sharing it with you. For free.
                No matter what others say.
                No matter what you say.
            You have worth. You are loved.”
    Can you hear the voice of Jesus inviting us
        to a fuller, more flourishing life?

I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Behold, I freely give
    the living water; thirsty one, stoop down, and drink, and live.”
    I came to Jesus, and I drank of that life giving stream;
    My thirst was quenched, my soul revived, and now I live in Him.

Turn in HWB to #493.

—Phil Kniss, May 8, 2016

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