More Than We Can Ask or Imagine (or, There Will Be Leftovers)

Preacher: Jennifer Hosler

Scripture Readings: 2 Kings 4:42-44; John 6:1-15; Ephesians 3:14-21

I ate a lot of leftovers this past week, while Nate was away at National Youth Conference. These leftovers were not, however, a sign of desperation or scarcity; they were a sign of abundant love. I had three types of leftovers. The first was a batch of smoked hamburgers that Nate made right before he left—where he showed love by cooking for me as a celebration/date night. The second was a frozen sweet potato and quinoa stew made by my neighbor. She had brought it by for us shortly after we came home from the hospital with Ayuba, just as many of you church folks cooked or provided gift certificates for us to ease our transition into parenthood. We ate a ton and then froze a container, which I utilized this past week. The third batch of leftovers was a gift from Faith K. this week, which she froze from a big pot of stew made for her family. She delivered this to me during my week of single-parenting a newborn. Faith knew that I would need both company (that she and Francis provided) and help feeding myself as I feed my tiny human. A week full of leftovers was a week where I felt held and cared for, even though it was a difficult and exhausting week. These leftovers meant love and community in abundance.

In two scriptures that we read today, leftovers are an act of God. We see people bringing small offerings to a prophet and to Jesus to be used by them. In both circumstances, God takes the small gifts and multiplies them beyond imagination. And there are leftovers.

Our third passage is from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. I think that all three passages can speak to our community’s present state here at Washington City Church of the Brethren. We see that what we offer to God—however small it may be—can be used mightily, illustrating God’s Kingdom of abundance. We see that our offerings, generosity, service, and sacrifice can accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.  

There Will Be Leftovers

Our first passage involves the prophet Elisha. Elisha was the protégé of the prophet Elijah. Yup, their names sound the same in English. Eljiah’s name means “My God is Yahweh” while Elisha’s name translates as “My God is salvation.” In 2 Kings 2, the two prophets are traveling. They both know that Elijah’s time on earth is almost up and that Yahweh will come for Elijah. As such, Elisha will not leave Elijah’s side. Elisha asks for a double-portion of Elijah’s spirit to carry on the prophetic ministry and the elder prophet says, “That’s a hard thing to ask. But if you see me when I’m taken up, then it is granted to you.” A few moments later, chariots and horses of fire whisk Elijah away in a whirlwind, leaving only his cloak behind. Elisha sees all of this, tears his own clothes in mourning, and takes up the cloak (or mantle) of Elijah. (This is where the phrase “take up the mantle,” meaning role or responsibility, comes from).

Fast forward a few chapters and a few miracles later to our passage, when a man brings an offering to Elisha. The man brings “twenty loaves of barley bread baked from the first ripe grain, along with some new heads of grain” (2 Kings 4:42). The Israelites were commanded to give to God from the “first fruits” or first harvest. Tithes and offerings in the Mosaic Law were typically agricultural produce and these often went to sustain the priesthood and prophets. As such, it wasn’t an abnormal thing to bring loaves of bread to a religious worker. Someone brought me bread this week – but it’s just because I have a newborn, not because I’m a pastor and she grew the grain.

Elisha instructs the man, “Give these breads to the people and let them eat.” Elisha’s servant is dumbfounded: “how can 100 people eat from these little breads?” A commentary explains that these are not the beautiful big loaves that we are likely picturing. They are small and flat breads, more like pitas, probably. Twenty pitas are not enough for 100 people. But Elisha ignores this and says, “Give it to the people. They’re going to eat and there will be leftovers.” The bread then gets passed around. The 100-person group eats heartily and, just as the prophet predicted, there are leftovers.

In our gospel passage, we meet Jesus and the disciples in Galilee. Jesus crosses the lake and the crowds follow, since he is healing the sick. Jesus and his disciples head up a mountainside and they sit down. Scores of people are around them, waiting to see Jesus teach and preach and heal. Jesus looks at the crowd and asks Philip, one of his disciples, “Where can we get enough bread to feed these people?” Philip is incredulous – Jesus is the person who has said the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. He doesn’t really go buy groceries, either. They rely on the hospitality of others and have little money… buying bread for thousands of people? Philips replies that the question is unthinkable and says, “Bread for these people would take more than half a year’s wages—200 days’ worth (200 denarii)!” Philip can’t even think about where to get the bread. He’s in sticker shock over how much money it would cost.

Another disciple, named Andrew, comes forward and tries to be as helpful as he can: “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” Jesus responds by saying, “Sit everyone down.” All 5000 men and also likely many women and children. Jesus takes the bread, gives thanks for it, and distributes it to those who are seated, giving them as much as they want. He does the same thing with the fish. When everyone has eaten their fill, Jesus instructs the disciples, “Gather the up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” They do as Jesus asked instructs and they fill up twelve baskets with the leftover barley loaf pieces. In the Kingdom of God, there will be leftovers.

This sign (and many other miracles of Jesus) reference and echo the miracles of the prophets of old, like Elisha, and surpass them. Elisha fed 100, while Jesus feeds thousands. The crowds recognize that God is at work in Jesus, even if they generally miss the point of his messages. V. 15 says that Jesus withdraws, knowing that the crowds would try to make him king by force. This isn’t the type of response that Jesus is looking for.

While these passages speak to both who Elisha and Jesus were, they also provide a message for us. Some pita breads and some fish can go a long way in the Kingdom of God. Sisters and brothers, what we offer to God—however small it may be—can be used mightily, illustrating God’s Kingdom of abundance and wholeness.

More than you can ask or imagine

Our passage in Ephesians is one of superlatives. It’s kind of like Paul is gushing about what God does—not that that is a bad thing. Paul uses one big run-on sentence in the Greek and prays for the early church. He thanks God and prays that they would, out of God’s glorious riches,” be strengthened in their inner beings with Holy Spirit power. Paul prays that they would be strengthened and, concurrently, be rooted and grounded in love. He prays that not only would they be rooted and grounded in love, but also that they would have the power (emphasizing power again) to comprehend, with all the sisters and brothers, the magnitude and pervasiveness of Jesus’ love. The breadth, the length, the height, and the depth—to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. And to be filled with all the fullness of God. As if all that isn’t a beautiful and moving enough prayer, Paul’s benediction closes giving God the glory, “to him who by the power [power again] at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20). This phrasing stands out for me and has for the past few years. The power of God is at work within us and through us and can accomplish more than we could ask or imagine… abundantly far more than we could ask or imagine.

This passage in Ephesians is one of my favorite because it reminds me that the Creator of the Universe is at work. The One who raised Jesus from the dead is at work. We can offer what we have, even if it isn’t much, and trust that God can do abundantly more than what we ask or imagine. It reminds me to hope and trust in the One who is bigger than both all my fears and my hopes.

Little Congregation, Big Things

What we offer to God—however small it may be—can be used mightily, illustrating God’s Kingdom of abundance. Our offering, generosity, service, and sacrifice can accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.  As you all know, we’re a small church. Despite our smallness, we were able to run the Brethren Nutrition Program, our soup kitchen lunch ministry. I remember some BNP guests saying with an incredulous, “Some of these big churches don’t do anything but you all are small, and you can put this on!” With BNP, we offered what we had and that offering was joined by volunteer labor, generous helpings of donated vegetables and bread from Eastern Market area vendors, and the gathering up of fragments from restaurants in Northern Virginia (the Oakton Church of the Brethren’s food reclamation efforts). We offered what we had and God provided, blessed, and multiplied what we gave.

We’re still in our post-BNP discernment and we’re examining how we can faithfully and effectively witness to Jesus’ way of reconciliation and love. We’ve been asking, “How can we serve our neighbors? How can we reach out? How do we invite? How do we build upon the gifts and strengths that we have within our church community?” These questions have not yet been answered; they’re an ongoing dialectic and discernment.

The two disciples in our gospel passage illustrate two different ways of responding to Jesus’ call on our lives and our community. Philip couldn’t wrap his head around Jesus’ request to brainstorm food for 5000. Philip shut down that conversation—there’s no way we can pay for that. Andrew, on the other hand, didn’t understand what Jesus was going to do but he still scrounged up the meagre resources he could find.

Are we Philip or are we Andrew? How do we perceive the opportunity to transform our ministry? Do we shut down and end the conversation? Perhaps we think about the ministry of this church and the task of outreach and caring for our community as overwhelming. That’s too big for us. We could never do that. How much money would it cost? How are we going to find the people to run it? We don’t know where to start…

Or, do we see an opportunity to give even what little we can scrounge up and trust that Jesus can use it? Well, I have interest in books. I have love for gardening. You know how to fix bicycles. You play music. Etc. etc. What are our gifts and strengths as a church? What do our individual people bring as assets and potential strengths to our ministries? What are our interests, skills, talents, and resources that we can offer? What are our community’s needs?

We are called to make disciples, to invite people into this Jesus-led journey of radical love, nonviolence, hospitality, mercy, and peace. The Andrew approach would be to look at what we already have to offer to Jesus. What are the resources that you can scrounge up? What talent, gifts, and interests do you already have, resources that we can use to build up this church and its ministry to the world around us? I invite you to commit to regular prayer with me about our ministry, for God to reveal what we have to offer, what we can give for God to bless and multiply—so that there will be leftovers, beyond what we ask or imagine.

What little we offer to God can be used mightily, illustrating God’s Kingdom of abundance. Our offering, generosity, service, and sacrifice can accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.  AMEN

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2018 Annual Conference Delegate Presentation

Delegate: Jerry O’Donnell

Reflection

I was deeply honored when asked if I would consider serving as our church’s delegate at this year’s Annual Conference in Cincinnati. I knew my biggest obstacle would be Congress’ schedule of votes. Once that wasn’t a problem, I requested time off from work, which was granted by my boss. I then informed Ad Council I would graciously accept the invitation.

The excitement of going back to Annual Conference immediately began building within me. I told my family that I was going to be delegate, and they were thrilled for me. My mom instantly said she was going, too! She might have been a little over-excited. After the long time away from home in South Texas this past year, my mom eventually opted to stay home. My dad who had said all along he had hoped to get back to Conference this year, spoke of the possibility of us sharing a room with my uncle, his brother. That would ultimately add to my Conference experience and make it all the more special.

It truly felt like my Brethren life was coming full circle, returning to the site of my second Annual Conference. I don’t remember my first—Norfolk in 1986—nor do I recall Cincinnati in 1987 when I was about to turn 3. Those Conferences set me on course for many to come. This year was my first as a delegate but my tenth overall. Some of my most memorable family trips as a kid were centered around the location of conference. My parents took my sister and me to numerous national parks and other historical sites, including 1991 when Conference was in Portland, Oregon, during which trip we visited the Badlands, Yellowstone, Mount St. Helens, Yosemite, the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest, the Grand Canyon, and Carlsbad Caverns. This and other trips instilled in me a lasting love of travel, geography, history, being outdoors, and being Brethren. Vivid images of long hours in our car/minivan are etched in my mind, and I can still hear many of the Vacation Bible School songs on cassette tape we sang along with to pass the time. That reminds me, I need to jot those down and look up music for Baby/Toddler church!

Since Orlando in 1998, the last Annual Conference I attended in my youth, I haven’t been a stranger to large denominational gatherings by any means. During each year in high school, I attended ERYC (Eastern Regional Youth Conference), which alternated between Elizabethtown College and Juniata College. I went to NYC (National Youth Conference) in 2002 as a youth participant and then again in 2006, volunteering as a youth worker. I attended NYAC (National Young Adult Conference) in 2004 and 2008. Without a doubt, my formative youth and early young adult years were highlighted by some great Church of the Brethren opportunities.

This year lived up to its billing. Even though I was in all of the business sessions each day, attended three insight sessions, covering shifts at New Community Project’s booth, and going to four meal discussions—3 of those in one day—I found ample time to catch up with familiar faces from my childhood, my time living in Elgin during BVS, the summer of 2008 when I co-led the denominational workcamps, the year I worked for the church in the Dominican Republic, and even most recently when speaking to youth at CCS (Christian Citizenship Seminar) here in DC. As most seasoned Conference-goers will attest, the greatest part of Annual Conference is the people.

When I reflect on this year’s Conference in Cincinnati, will I remember every item of business the Delegate Body passed? Well, maybe. I have pretty solid memory, but more than likely, no. I can tell you I will remember the people at my delegate table, the congregations where they worship, and a few things about them and their families. I will remember joining Tori, Nate, and others standing outside the Convention Center at a candlelight vigil in solidarity with immigrant children and families impacted by the policy of family separation. I’ll remember dropping by the On Earth Peace booth to join Emmett and Jacob for a few minutes on the Dunker Punks Podcast. I’ll undoubtedly remember attending every worship service with my dad and uncle, singing along to the wonderful music performed by Jacob and others. I’ll remember reminiscing with pastors from my youth who helped me with my walk with Jesus, catching up with Brethren friends from college, BVS, and beyond, and cultivating new relationships, growing my Brethren circle. I think this closeness as a community is what creates lasting bonds despite disagreements. It allows us to see past our differences, to understand who we truly are and that we are all children of God.

I look forward to future Annual Conferences, and I thank you for placing your trust in me to serve as delegate this year.

MAJOR ITEMS OF BUSINESS

Compelling Vision

Last year’s Annual Conference began the process of framing a “compelling vision” for how our denomination will continue the work of Jesus together. The visioning process started at this year’s Annual Conference, involving both the delegates and the non-delegates who were present during two sections of the business sessions. The process allows for every congregation to participate. Those opportunities will be shared with all of you when known. Lord-willing, the process will continue at next year’s Annual Conference in Greensboro.

Vison of Ecumenism for the 21stCenturycoauthored by our very own Jenn!

The 2018 Conference approved “Vision of Ecumenism for the 21st Century,” which reaffirmed the historical identity of the Church of the Brethren as a denomination active in ecumenical work and in relationship with other Christian bodies. The paper also calls the church to build and nurture positive interfaith relationships.

Creation Care: Faith into Action

In 2016, a Creation Care study committee was authorized in response to a query on continuing the study of our Christian responsibility to care for God’s creation. Their report, titled “Creation Care: Faith into Action,” includes a list of recommendations that have been adopted by the 2018 Annual Conference. Committee chair Sharon Yohn of Stone Church of the Brethren—Chloe’s home congregation and my former church when I attended Juniata College—shared the process the committee used and the rationale for the recommendations, stating that care for our brothers and sisters is part of our calling in Christ.

Vision for a Global Church of the Brethren

The Annual Conference body of delegates also adopted the paper, “Vision for a Global Church of the Brethren.” This was brought by the Mission and Ministry Board, formerly called the General Board, at the initiative of staff of Global Mission and Service, formerly called Global Mission Partnerships, and has been in process for some time. The new vision is for a global Church of the Brethren that brings together these denominations “as a union of autonomous bodies, a spiritual community bound together by a common passion to be followers of Christ, a common New Testament theology of peace and service, and a common commitment to be in relationship with one another.”

Vitality and Viability

The report titled “Vitality and Viability” and its recommendations were adopted. The study committee that brought this report was formed to address concerns raised at the 2015 Annual Conference, which returned a query about district structure but assigned to this committee the broader topic of viability within congregations, districts, and the denomination. I know this is widely viewed as shirking its responsibility, or as we might say in the political world, kicking the can down the road or staffing it out. The fact is district structure is a pressing issue facing the CoB. It must be dealt with in a prayerful, deliberate manner.

Living Parables

Preacher: Jennifer Hosler

Scripture Reading: Matthews 9:35-38

You may find it funny that the title of my meditation is “Living Parables,” but that the scripture we read does not, in fact, include a parable. I thought it was a bit strange, but that’s because, at first, I didn’t get the right sense of the Annual Conference theme. Brother Samuel Sarpiya was the Annual Conference moderator and he chose this year’s theme, Living Parables, and selected this Scripture for his opening night sermon.

This year, my Annual Conference was different – joined as I was by a tiny 5-week old baby (as far as we knew, the youngest conference attendee there). My mind during worship was not always focused… occasionally hogged by feeding a baby, comforting a baby, or just generally snuggling a cute baby. So, I re-listened to Brother Samuel’s sermon and I understand more about the conference theme. His point was not that the parables are living (though they are, as the Living Word of God). Rather, it is that we – you and I, children of God – are living parables. We are living parables. Brother Samuel had us repeat after him, “I am a parable.” Say it with me, “I am a parable.” I am a parable.

Jesus used parables to teach his disciples. Brother Samuel defined these as “heavenly stories with earthly meaning” to illustrate how God was acting in the world. In Matthew 9:35-38, we see Jesus going through all the towns and villages, teaching, proclaiming the good news, and healing people. Jesus showed compassion to those around him. To his disciples specifically, Jesus said that the harvest was plentiful, but the workers were few, and to ask “the Lord of the harvest” to send out workers into the fields. Brother Samuel’s message is that we—you and I, sisters and brothers, our lives—are the stories meant to illustrate how God is acting in this world. We are the stories. We demonstrate the Living Word of God through our lives.

This happens as individuals, as a community, and as a denomination. One of the highlights of Annual Conference was the Church of the Brethren video report. There is always a written report, but the video reports of the past few years have illustrated the work of the church in beautiful, hope-filled ways (shout out to Wendy McFadden for her inspired creativity as producer).

This year’s video can be found on our church’s facebook page and it highlights the COB as the “not-so-big church” – a church that is small but has big ideas. Big ideas of peacebuilding in Nigeria, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, of disaster relief and solidarity with sisters and brothers in Puerto Rico, of caring for children during disasters through Children’s Disaster Ministries, of commitments to service, and more. This not-so-big church denomination works around the world and points to something much bigger than itself—the way of Jesus.

This also happens at the congregational level. Brother Samuel shared about the congregation that he pastors, Rockford (IL) Community Church of the Brethren. The church plant sought to build off its strengths and resources to minister to the community. They run a mobile technology and arts lab, while also teaching kids conflict resolution skills and building bridges between the community and police. Not everyone can or should have a mobile technology lab, but every church should be engaging its community. Brother Samuel said that at times, he sees churches not doing anything outside of their buildings, that the churches are just waiting or hoping for people to come in.

For 37 years, our congregation labored and ministered through the Brethren Nutrition Program, a soup kitchen ministry for people in need. We laid it down last year, realizing that the community’s needs have changed. We also had very few people from our congregation who could be involved in the daily work of that ministry—which took place during the lunch hour. We began a discernment process to think about our gifts and strengths and what God might be calling us to next. That conversation is not over.

Brother Samuel’s call for us to be Living Parables reminds me to pick up the questions: What are our gifts and strengths as a church? What do our individual people bring as assets and potential strengths to our ministries? What are our interests, skills, talents, and resources that we can offer? What are our community’s needs? I recognize that “community” in our city and broader metro area can be a vague thing. It could be neighborhood-specific or generally applied to several million people in the “DMV.” So perhaps the best starting point is to think about our strengths and to reflect on Jesus’ word in Matthew 9. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the One in charge of the harvest to send laborers into the harvest and to reveal where the harvest is and what the crop looks like.

The “not-so-big church” lives out its calling of Continuing the work of Jesus. Peacefully. Simply. Together. My prayer is that we have a holy imagination to live out our calling as Washington City Church of the Brethren. We want to be a church “seeking justice, wholeness, and community through the gospel of Jesus.” Let us go and find our gifts and strengths and holy opportunities to live out this call. AMEN.

In this Age of Darkness, We Need the Prophets

Preacher: Micah Bales

Scripture Readings: Psalm 24, Ephesians 1:3-14, Mark 6:14-29

Who are the prophets? The prophets are those on whom God has sent his Holy Spirit.

This is the same Spirit that hovered over creation. The Spirit that breathed life into the first man and woman, creating us in the image of God. This is the Spirit that came upon Moses, giving him power to speak the word of the Lord to Pharaoh and to guide the people of Israel out of bondage in Egypt. The Holy Spirit fell on the seventy elders, whom God appointed to assist Moses, and they prophesied.

They prophesied. What does it mean to prophesy? Prophecy means speaking the words of God, just like Moses did. It means revealing that which is hidden, pointing people to the truth that the brokenness of this world has hidden from us. The truth that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jesus is a God of love and a God of justice. And that neither his love nor his justice will sleep forever.

Wherever the Holy Spirit moves, there is prophecy. This is the characteristic mark of the Spirit’s presence in the world: When we experience the presence of God in our heart, minds, and spirits.

When the Spirit shows up, we feel the love that God has for each of us, and the anger that God has at those things which hurt and destroy his beloved children. The Spirit comes to teach us who God is, and to inspire us to speak the message and demonstrate the character of our loving, righteous God.

This is Holy Ghost experience has always been the formative experience of the prophets. From Moses and his seventy elders, to Elijah and Elisha. From John the Baptist to Jesus. From George Fox and Alexander Mack to Martin Luther King, Jr and William Barber II. The Holy Spirit raises up men and women to speak the words our world needs to hear. Words that speak the very will of God. Whether or not the world is ready to listen.

As we see in our gospel reading for today, the world often isn’t willing to hear. It’s not an accident that John the Baptist ends up dead – beheaded by Herod at the request of his wife and daughter. It’s not an accident when terrible things happen those who speak the words of God, because fallen humanity is always killing the prophets.

Why would anyone want to be a prophet? Most of the prophets don’t. We see throughout the pages of the Bible, and throughout the history of the church, that prophets usually question their calling. Because being a prophet is often a death sentence. Friendship with God means enmity with the world. Speaking the truth means exposing the comfortable lies that this world cloaks itself in. Declaring God’s love for the needy, the outsider, the foreigner, the poor, means bumping up against the interests of the powerful insiders who are well-positioned to use violence to maintain the status quo.

In our gospel reading this morning, the story of Herod and John the Baptist is a quintessential telling of the relationship between God’s prophets and the powerful people who would prefer not to have the system disrupted by prophetic speech and action.

John the Baptist was acknowledged by everyone as a prophet. Even Herod knew that John was a “righteous and holy man.” So, despite all the reasons that he might want to permanently silence John by killing him, Herod held off. He locked John away in prison, but he hesitated to raise his hand against God’s prophet.

Herod’s hesitation might have been the result of simple political calculation – after all, John was a very popular man, and killing him might be more trouble than it was worth. Who wants to create a martyr? But the Mark gives us reasons to believe that Herod’s hesitation to murder John went deeper than mere political expediency.

The truth is powerful. It has an effect, even over those who are very wicked like Herod was. And John was a holy man, a prophet of God – clothed in righteousness and speaking the truth with the easy sincerity and fearlessness of a God-surrendered man. John was probably the only person that Herod encountered on a regular basis who wasn’t afraid.

Herod had the power of life and death over his subjects, and so most people were scurrying around, trying to please Herod. John wasn’t impressed. John lived in the life and power of the Spirit of God. He knew the truth, and the truth had set him free. John wasn’t afraid of Herod, because he had a life in God that transcended the threat of death that Herod could hold over him.

John and Herod had this really weird relationship. Herod had John locked up in prison. And you’d think that Herod would simply want John to disappear. To stop saying disruptive things about the immoral way that Herod was conducting himself. Yet Herod couldn’t get enough of John. He kept telling the jailers to bring John up out of the prison. Herod met with John regularly. Mark says, “he liked to listen to him,” even though when John spoke, Herod “was greatly perplexed.”

Herod could hear the truth in the words of the prophet. He could sense the presence of the Spirit in John’s life. Part of him wanted to silence this prophetic voice forever, but another part couldn’t quite bring himself to do it. He knew the truth when he heard it, even if he didn’t have the moral courage to surrender himself to the love and justice of God.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, Herod was a weak man, and a foolish man. He couldn’t quite bring himself to kill John, despite the fact that his wife Herodias was demanding that he put John to death. But in our reading this morning, he’s thoughtless enough to make an oath, in front of many guests, that he will give his daughter anything she asks for.

When she comes back and asks for John the Baptist’s head on a platter, Herod is shocked. He didn’t even consider that the girl might consult with her mother and come back with such a request. But because he’s so afraid to lose face in front of his guests, he agrees. Herod dispatches guards to the prison, and they slaughter John, this holy man of God. They butcher the presence of the Holy Spirit in Israel. They desecrate the sanctuary of God to satisfy the whims of an insecure dictator and his family. Herod knows what’s happening. He knows who John is. But he goes ahead anyway. He fears men more than God.

The way of the prophets often leads to death. Jesus himself stood squarely in the prophetic tradition. He identified himself with the mantle of Elijah and Elisha. He stood in that Holy Ghost tradition. The Spirit of the Lord was upon him, anointing him to proclaim good news to the poor. The Spirit sent Jesus to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Jesus stood in the tradition of the prophets. And like the prophets of old, like his cousin John the Baptist, he faced terrible repression and violence. Like John, he ultimately surrendered his life speaking truth to power, pouring out his life as an offering to God in love.

We live in a time of great darkness. It occurred to me as I was preparing this sermon that Herod doesn’t seem so unusual anymore. I used to consider Herod to be particularly monstrous, a truly evil character. And he was. He was an evil man. Yet today in our own national politics and throughout the world, we see men and women who are selling their souls for power built on falsehood, hatred, violence, and oppression. Today we witness evil that makes Herod look almost sympathetic. After all, Herod felt bad when he slaughtered John the Baptist. He regretted it.

But the Herod I know isn’t the one who cringed over his own murder of John. The Herod I’m more familiar with is Herod the Great – the father of the king Herod we read about in today’s scripture. King Herod the Great is the one who slaughtered the boy children in the vicinity of Nazareth. That’s the Herod I know, the one I’m seeing coming to power in the world today. He’s the one who doesn’t hesitate to destroy families for political gain. The one who forces the family of Jesus to flee and become refugees in a foreign land. The one who is praised by the religious authorities for rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem, even as he assaults the very word of God in the streets of Bethlehem.

This is the world of Jesus and John. A world where prophets are nailed to the cross and beheaded. A world where children are stolen from their parents and locked in prisons. A world where those in power prefer lies to any truth that threatens their dominance and control.

We live in a time of darkness, domination, and violence. Just like John and Jesus under Herod and Pilate. Just like Moses under Pharaoh. Just like the early church, whom God blessed and covered with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Living in our own time of darkness, we’ve been visited by this same Spirit.

As Paul says in our reading from Ephesians this morning, we have been marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit. We are called to be God’s prophets in this time and place. In this present darkness that can feel as palpable as a clinging fog. God has marked and sealed us with the Holy Spirit so that we can speak the dangerous truth of God’s love and justice. The truth that the creator of this world stands with the immigrant, the poor, the marginalized.

Today is the eighth Sunday after Pentecost, and so maybe we need reminding. At Pentecost, God sent the Holy Spirit to each and every one of us who has decided to follow Jesus. Along with Jesus, we have been called and anointed to be prophets of the living God, the creator of the cosmos. We have been filled by the Holy Spirit, to speak the very words of God into a world that is so hungry for the truth and love that only God can provide.

We live in a time of darkness. And in times like these we are often tempted to despair. Yet it is in times such as these that the witness of the prophets is most needed. This is our time. This is our season. This is the moment that God calls us into active service, to speak his word of truth and love. To the powerful, as a rebuke and a challenge. To the powerless as a message of comfort and through tangible acts of solidarity. God has called us to be as prophets, even if we have to walk the path of suffering, just as John and Jesus did. This is what is means to be friends of Jesus. We walk in his footsteps, and accept his mission of love, justice, and reconciliation.

I would like to invite us to enter into a time of open worship, in which we can invite the Holy Spirit to be especially present with us. Spirit of God, we need your guidance. We are blind and lost without you. We need your love. We need your truth. And most of all, Lord, we need you to show us how to be faithful servants in sharing this love and truth with the world around us.

We live in dark times. But Jesus Christ has given us the light. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. We are the light of the world. Holy Spirit, come and show us how to shine, and how much we must endure for the precious name of Jesus.

Triage

Preacher: Jeff Davidson

Scripture Reading: Mark 5:21-34

How many of you have gone to the emergency room of a hospital for treatment on your own, not taken by an ambulance? How many of you got in for treatment right away as opposed to waiting a while? I’ve had both over the years. When I was a pastor in Dayton I wasn’t feeling well and was having some chest pains, so Julia drove me to the ER. When I told them I was having chest pains, they waved me straight in. No waiting.

The last time I went to the ER I was having a lot of pain from a kidney stone. I’d gone to my primary care physician, doubled over in pain. She gave me a shot for the pain and sent me on to the ER. Once I got there I told them what was going on and then we waited. And waited. And waited. I wasn’t doubled over any more – the shot had kicked in – but it still hurt. Since it was only a kidney stone, though, I had to wait around 45 minutes or so until I could get in.

That’s called triage – sorting out the different people waiting in order to figure out which problem is the most severe and which patient should be seen first. If any of you watched MASH on television, you’ll remember that there was an added step to the triage process. Not only was the triage doctor supposed to figure out who among the wounded soldiers was most seriously injured and therefore who should go on in for surgery first, the triage doctor was also supposed to figure out who was so badly injured that surgery would be a waste of time and resources. If the effort and skill and materials spent on one wounded soldier who would almost certainly die anyway could be better spent saving two or three other lives, the triage doctor was supposed to make that decision and see that the other soldiers, although perhaps less seriously wounded, got in for surgery first.

Peter Woods used the image of triage to write a blog post about this morning’s gospel reading a few years ago. I hadn’t really thought about it this way before. You’ve got two women. One of them, Jairus’ daughter, has a lot going for her. She’s 12 years old, which in our day means she’s still a little girl but in Jesus’ day meant that she was coming up on child-bearing age. She’s part of a powerful family. She’s got her whole life, her whole future, ahead of her. She has the potential to have a lot of influence, in one way or another, over events in the future. She has the potential to bear children, to create life, to nurture little kids and teach them about the rabbi who saved her life and bring them into right relationship with Jesus Christ.

All of that doesn’t even consider the kind of influence Jairus has. I know Jesus told him not to say anything, and I’m sure that Jairus will do his best to obey, but he’ll know. And sooner or later he’ll tell somebody and that person will tell somebody else and word will get around and it will create a lot of good feeling for Jesus.

On the other end of the spectrum we have the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. She’d been having this problem for as long as Jairus’ daughter was alive. We don’t know her name. We don’t know her family’s name. We don’t know if she had any family besides herself. She may have had money at one time, but she doesn’t any more. She has limited resources, limited power, and as far as we can tell not much of a future.

If we were going to do triage on these two people based on what the Bible says, who would we tell Jesus to heal first? I don’t think it’s a very close call. I think most of us would tell Jesus to spend his time and his power and his resources on the little girl. If he had time and if he felt like it then Jesus could come back and heal the older woman later, but if we’re being practical then the little girl with her life before her, the daughter of an influential man, should come first.

The older woman may have been afraid of a result like that, because she did not approach Jesus and ask for healing. Instead she said to herself, “Jesus doesn’t even have to know I’m here. I don’t want him to say no, so I’ll just sneak up on him and touch his cloak and I’ll be healed.” And that’s what she did, and that’s what happened.

Of course Jesus knew that someone had touched him. Jesus being God and therefore being omnipotent and all you can’t really sneak up on Jesus. So Jesus said, “Who touched me?” Again, Jesus probably knew who touched him. My parents used to ask “Who broke this lamp?” or “Who ate these cookies?” when they knew perfectly well it was me, no matter how much I tried to blame my sister. It’s probably the same thing here. And the woman fesses up, and Jesus commends her faith and sends her on her way.

In the meantime, people come to tell Jesus and Jairus that it’s too late. Jairus’ daughter has died. The time that Jesus spent with this woman, asking who had touched him when he probably knew perfectly well who had touched him and then listening to her little story and telling her it was all okay and she should be proud of her faith and all of that, the time that Jesus spent talking to this woman with no money and no future may very well be what cost the little girl her life.
Of course, we know that’s not how the story goes. Jesus goes on to the house, takes Jairus and his wife in to see the dead girl, tells the dead girl to get up, and she gets up. It’s a happy ending for everyone.

There are a lot of morals to this story. Every life is precious. Jesus is no respecter of the social status of persons. Faith makes a difference. The poor are as worthy as the rich, those with little future are as important as those with a long life ahead of them, folks without power or influence matter just as much as folks with power and influence. I could go on – there are easily a dozen different morals here just at first glance.

Here’s one. What looks like the most important thing may be important, but it may not be more important than lots of other things. Does that make sense?

I read Micah’s sermon last week, “God Will Judge Those Who Put Children in Cages,” and I loved it. I thought it was an excellent sermon. If I could have gotten by with it, I might have just preached it again this week. I liked it so much I had Bob leave the title on the sign out front this week.

I also loved the rallies yesterday both here in DC and around the nation. The theme was “Families Belong Together” and there were over 700 rallies scheduled all over the country. Were any of you in the local rally here in DC? I know I had some friends who came to DC for the rally and others who participated in other cities.

As much as I am in sympathy with those rallies and as much as I think that the zero-tolerance policies at the border are both morally wrong and practically ineffective, I don’t want to let that issue blind me to other issues that may not get as much media play, that may not stoke the same kind of outrage across the nation. I don’t want to let the unique circumstances that Pres. Trump’s actions have created make me believe that there aren’t other issues and other causes and other people just as worthy of my time.

There are something around 11,000 people without permanent shelter in DC, and on any given night over 1,000 sleeping on the streets. Some of us here know some of those people through our work with the Brethren Nutrition Program, but for others of us those 1,000 people on the streets are no different than the woman who touched Jesus’s garment. We don’t know who they are, where they are, what their issues are, or how to help them. No one is marching for them. I don’t know how long it’s been since any of them were on the front page of the Post.

There’s been a lot of outrage on social media about a woman who said on Fox News that a lot of her African-American friends had told her that the conditions that some of those immigrant families are being held in looked better than the projects that her friend had grown up in. I don’t know if anyone actually told her that or not, but it wouldn’t surprise me if someone did and if it was true. Some of those projects were and are horrible. Back in 1981 Jane Byrne, Chicago’s mayor, moved into the Cabrini-Green projects in Chicago to draw attention to how bad it was there. Things got better, at least at that particular project, and at least while Mayor Byrne lived there, but there were plenty of other projects in Chicago and elsewhere that no mayors moved into and where no one paid attention and where nothing got any better.

The lesson of that Fox person’s anecdote, by the way, isn’t what some people think it is. Whether she meant it this way or not, the lesson isn’t that immigrant families in custody have it too easy. It’s that housing projects in the United States need to be vastly improved and not made worse as Secretary Carson has suggested.

We in the Church of the Brethren, in this congregation especially, know that the spotlight moves from issue to issue far too quickly, and that in our 24 hour news cycle yesterday’s outrage is today’s footnote and tomorrow’s memory. On April 15, 2014 the Boko Haram group of Muslim extremists kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from Chibok. Huge headlines. Demonstrations, marches, rallies, some led by Nate and the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. At my last check after escapes, releases, and reported deaths there are still 112 of those girls in custody. 112 still held prisoner over four years later. When’s the last time you saw something in the Post about that?

None of this, of course, even begins to touch on people and situations that would never make the newspapers anyway. None of this deals with families that we know through school or work. None of this deals with people we live next door to. None of this deals with our own lives or our own households. There are issues like these all over our lives, some catastrophic and some matters of quiet desperation.

I’m not suggesting that the folks who marched have misplaced priorities or shouldn’t have been marching. They should have and I am glad they did and I am proud that I know some of them. I’m not suggesting that there shouldn’t be outrage about the zero-tolerance policy on many levels. I’m not suggesting that God will not judge those who put children in cages. God will judge those people, and I hope that they repent of their evil.

I just know that in my own life it is easy to be distracted by the big story, the major outrage, the tragedy of the day. And if that’s a challenge for me, it’s probably a challenge for other people too and so it’s something that others might keep in mind just like I do. What I am thankful for is that this isn’t a challenge for Jesus. Jesus doesn’t do triage. Jesus deals with the needs that are there as he finds them, large and small. People who are young and old, people who are rich and poor, troubles that as the world views them are important and trivial. Jesus deals with them all. I hope that with God’s guidance and power we can do our best to do the same. Amen.

God Will Judge Those Who Put Children in Cages

Preacher: Micah Bales

Scripture Readings: Psalm 9:9-20, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Mark 4:35-41

“The Lord will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in time of trouble. Those who know your name will put their trust in you, for you never forsake those who seek you, O Lord.”

We give thanks this morning, that we worship a God who cares for his children. A God who stands up for the weak, the poor, the oppressed.

We give thanks, because we need this liberating God of the oppressed. We know that we live in a country that is full of oppression. We can no longer close our eyes to the violence being done to black and brown lives every day in our streets. Nor can we ignore the outrageous violence, torture, and cruelty being done to our brothers and sisters at the border. Men, women, and children locked in cages. Parents shackled to walls. Children stolen from their parents in the middle of the night as a form of punishment. Punishment for seeking asylum. Punishment for fleeing poverty and violence in their native lands.

We give thanks this morning to the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who knows what it is to suffer. Who knows what it means to lose a child. Our God is no stranger to violence, torture, and state-sanctioned oppression.

So we give God praise this morning, for the way he cares for us. He loves those whom the world hates. And he sees what is being done to his children.

We are thankful this morning, because we know that the God we worship is not a weakling. Our God is not a God of sentimentality. He is a God of action. His love is powerful, able to change time and circumstances. He proclaims release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. He liberates the oppressed. He is able to do these things, because he created us and called us “good”, and he is determined that the world will be made good once again. Through his love and power, God has promised to bind up our wounds and heal this broken earth.

“The Lord is known by his acts of justice.” That’s who God is. It is true to say “God is love.” It is equally true to say, “God is justice.” It is in this knowledge that the psalmist cries out, “Rise up, O Lord, let not the ungodly have the upper hand; let them be judged before you. Put fear upon them, O Lord; let the ungodly know they are but mortal.”

Let not the ungodly have the upper hand, O Lord. Let them be judged before you. Let them know they are but mortal.

The kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power. Our God does not stand idly by while cruelty and sadism reign. God judges the wicked. The avenger of blood will remember the children locked in cages. He will remember the infants ripped from their mothers’ breasts. God will remember the government officials who implement obscene border policies and then lie to the world about why these injustices are happening. God will not forget those who grow rich off the prison industrial complex that has spread like a cancer across this land – even to the border.

“The wicked shall be given over to the grave, and also all the peoples that forget God. For the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish for ever.”

What does it mean for us to be the people of God in the midst of this wicked and violent generation? For those of us with the privilege of citizenship, what does it mean to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are oppressed for their lack of legal status? For those of us who are white, how does God call us to submit ourselves to our black and brown sisters and brothers in Christ who are bearing the weight of entrenched racism and state violence? What does it mean for us to be made in the image of the God who stands with the outsider, the foreigner, the poor?

Our God is not a weakling. He hears the cry of the oppressed. He calls us into action, to participate in the ministry of reconciliation, healing, and justice. God’s love changes things – it comforts the afflicted, and afflicts the comfortable. The light of Christ is a balm to those who are suffering for righteousness, but it is a burning flame to those who hate God and neighbor.

Our scripture readings this morning encourage us to hear and act on God’s call to justice and reconciliation. They remind us that we aren’t in this struggle alone. God’s love is powerful, and we are called to become agents and ambassadors of this love in the world.

This means we don’t have to be afraid. As hard as it may be to believe, despite all the horror that we see around us, God is ultimately in control of this world he created. And his justice will not sleep forever.

This is something that Jesus’ disciples learned during a nighttime voyage across the sea of Galilee.

Jesus and a little fleet of fishing boats were moving across the water, when a huge windstorm came out of nowhere and the disciples’ sailboat was being swamped. It looked like the ship might go down.

Meanwhile, Jesus was in the back of the boat, asleep on a cushion. So here are the disciples, running around and struggling to keep the boat above the waves, and Jesus is somehow sleeping through the whole thing! Finally, the disciples wake him up. I imagine them shouting over this freight train of a storm, “Wake up, Jesus! How can you sleep through this chaos? We’re all gonna drown and you’re taking a nap!?”

And it says that Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind. “Peace! Be still!” The storm stopped immediately, and there was dead calm. After the noise and tumult of the storm, the silence must have been deafening – and probably a little creepy. It says that the disciples were filled with “great awe” and said to one another, “Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

In times of darkness and fear, we’re all like the disciples. We cry out to God for help. We’re upset, because God seems to be asleep in the back of the boat while all hell is breaking loose. We need help, and we need it now. Families are being ripped apart. People are dying. Where are you, God?

I don’t know what the disciples thought Jesus was going to do when he woke up. Maybe they thought he would lend a hand in bailing out water from the boat. They surely didn’t expect that he could speak a word and silence the storm. The disciples were frustrated that Jesus was sleeping through the storm, but they couldn’t foresee what Jesus would do to deliver them.

Like most of us, the disciples didn’t really believe in miracles. They had seen Jesus heal people and change lives in unexpected ways, but still they couldn’t wrap their heads around a God who intervenes in history, making the impossible possible. Despite everything Jesus had shown them, they weren’t expecting a miracle. They were relying on their own strength to ride out the storm and keep their little sailboat afloat. And the ship was going down.

Until it wasn’t. Jesus woke up. He rebuked the wind, and the storm stopped immediately.

Whoa.

In some ways, Jesus’ act of deliverance must have been even more terrifying than the storm he delivered them from. The disciples all thought they wanted to see Jesus display his power. They wanted to see their big, bad messiah in action. Preferably in battle. But when Jesus actually does perform a miracle, the disciples are often confused or even terrified.

You know, we all want to see a miracle. But we want a certain kind of miracle. We want miracles that we can contain and control, miracles that we can understand on our own terms. We want miracles that make things go our way, that fulfill our wishes for how the world ought to be.

Real miracles aren’t like that. True miracles challenge what we know about the world, ourselves, and God. When God’s power and deliverance shows up, it breaks down our whole sense of order and control. The presence of God humbles us, because it’s not something we ever could have anticipated.

So, when we cry out for justice, we have to ask ourselves: Are we truly ready for God to act? Are we prepared for something totally unexpected? Do we really believe that God can rebuke the wind and silence the storm? Do we have faith that, despite all appearances, there is a life and power at work behind the scenes – a boundless love that can deliver us from evil and transform our society?

Do we believe that God will judge the world? All the things being done in darkness will be brought to light. Everything done in secret will be revealed. God will judge the wicked and lift up the oppressed. Are we ready for the power of God to break us down so that we can be remade in Christ’s image?

Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation! This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it! God is not asleep as some suppose. He is here to judge the world – to bind up the wounds of the broken and stay the hand of tyrants. As the apostle John writes, The son of God appeared to destroy the works of the devil. We share in this ministry with him.

Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation. God will judge those who put children in cages. God will destroy the works of the devil. The spirit of Jesus will restore our world. He will reunite families, heal the sick, and abolish borders. The Holy Spirit is alive and moving in this place. The light of Jesus shines to convict us of our sin – all the ways we have turned away from God – and gives us power to turn our lives back towards God.

Will we accept this invitation? Will we become followers of Jesus in both word and deed? Will we embrace the miracle that disrupts our lives, allowing the love and justice of God to take full control?

I would like to invite you to join me in a time of open worship. Come, Holy Spirit. Come, Father God. Come, living Jesus. Move in our midst. Work on our hearts. Show us how to be your children, living in your truth, mercy, and righteousness.

Finding My “Sense of Place”

Preacher: Chloe Soliday

Scripture Reading: Psalm 104

The story of how I ended up at Creation Justice Ministries here in Washington, DC and what has happened since is truly a special one. Let’s go back in time to my Brethren Volunteer Service orientation at Camp Pine Lake in Eldora, IA. This is where my journey began.

I went into BVS last September not really sure about what project I should take on. I had a few favorites, but there was no guarantee I would be placed at one of those locations. At orientation, each volunteer spends a significant amount of their time exploring all of the different project options available to them. There are several large boxes full of files on each of the potential projects, which certainly felt overwhelming. It didn’t take long before I started to feel frustrated- none of the projects I really liked were working out, and I couldn’t seem to find one that was calling me. Days passed, and as others gradually came to find the right place for them, I was still struggling. Then, at lunch, one day, Dan McFadden, the director of BVS, presented us with two new files. One of them was for Creation Justice Ministries. I immediately snatched up the file and began reading as I ate my lunch. I was very excited because earlier that year, I had met the director of Creation Justice Ministries, Shantha Ready Alonso, at a presentation in DC as a part of the 2017 Christian Citizenship Seminar. I was inspired by the work that CJM was doing, and I wanted to get in on the action.

A few days later, I had an interview over the phone with Shantha. She let me know that my fate at CJM was resting on a grant proposal coming through and, in addition, her board approving taking on a second BVS member. This was not just any grant- it was an Appalachian regional organizing grant. Being from central Pennsylvania, I had a personal connection to Appalachian issues and was enthusiastic about advocating for a region that I knew and loved.   At this point, people were starting to be officially accepted by their top choice. Meanwhile, I was anxiously awaiting my own confirmation. Days passed, and still, I had not heard back. There were ten people in my orientation group, and it came down to myself and one other person who didn’t know where they would be serving. Finally, when our group was out for dinner in Des Moines, I found out that I was going to DC. I was relieved and overjoyed to be heading to work at CJM.

Fast forward to today- I have spent months learning about the mission of Creation Justice Ministries and the justice issues that we take on daily. On the CJM website, our mission statement is as follows: “Creation Justice Ministries educates, equips and mobilizes Christian communions or denominations, congregations, and individuals to protect, restore, and rightly share God’s Creation.  Based on the priorities of its members, with a particular concern for the vulnerable and marginalized, Creation Justice Ministries provides collaborative opportunities to build ecumenical community, guides people of faith and faith communities towards eco-justice transformations, and raises a collective witness in the public arena echoing Christ’s call for just relationships among all of Creation.”

As per my opportunity to work at CJM coming from an Appalachian grant, I have dedicated most of my time here to Appalachian-related work. I helped organize the second State of Appalachia Conference, a regional gathering of faith leaders passionate about bringing justice to Appalachia. I drafted opinion pieces on the RECLAIM Act, a piece of federal, bipartisan legislation that aims to clean up abandoned mines and create new economic opportunities for coal communities across the country. One article even caught the attention of its target, Mitch McConnell- I must say, I’m pretty proud of that. I had the opportunity to travel to Charleston, WV to testify in front of the EPA in support of the Clean Power Plan. These are all amazing things I never imagined I would be doing in my time in BVS, and maybe not after that either. I’m not sure what I expected to come out of all of this, but I was surprised to find that I had created a renewed connection with my home in Appalachia and strengthened my own sense of place. Before coming to CJM, Appalachian issues were something that was part of my normal surroundings. Now, I had the chance to help change things for people from my own community. It has been a powerful and humbling experience, to say the least.

I am truly grateful for this challenging journey of discovery and growth that I embarked on through Brethren Volunteer Service. I feel like I’ve been able to share God’s love through acts of service- advocating justice, working for peace, serving human need, and caring for creation along the way. I can say with absolute confidence that I believe every day should be earth day, and that creation care is so important to life. That includes caring for our neighbors, especially those who are vulnerable and marginalized like Jesus did. This experience has certainly tested me and hasn’t always been easy, but I am glad that I chose Brethren Volunteer Service at this time in my life, and more specifically, Creation Justice Ministries. They have helped me to travel a little farther down the winding road to discerning my calling. And, most importantly, brought me closer to God.