Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Comma Between the Dust

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 6th Chapter
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

WHAT... are you doing for Lent?  That’s the question we hear for Ash Wednesday, isn’t it?  WHAT are you doing for Lent?  The answer often includes something like…  “giving something up”… maybe ice cream or swearing or beer.  Others might answer the WHAT question by saying “prayer”… an additional devotional or worship time maybe.  They might even answer the WHAT question with a plan to give to a charity, either with their time or their money or maybe even both.  
All of those are good answers to the WHAT question… Not a definitive list, by any means, but a good place to start… after all, giving alms, prayer and fasting are all the themes Jesus talked about in the Gospel text for today, but there’s a deeper question that lives next to the WHAT question.  It's the HOW question.  HOW will you give alms?  HOW will you pray?  HOW will you fast?
Jesus was all over the HOW question.  If you give alms, do it quietly… privately… so it’s between you and God, not between you and everyone else.  If you pray, don’t pray on the street corner, or shout it out in church… pray in private… so it’s between you and God.  The same for fasting.  The HOW of fasting is that it should not be done so the people around you notice and feel sorry for you, but fasting should be done so it’s between you and God.  
The WHAT question is where most folks stop.  It’s not bad to stop there, but there is more.  Deeper than WHAT, is that HOW question but there’s more… still deeper… the place that Lent is really meant to begin, even if it’s the place we almost always get to last… if we get there at all.  That deeper place… the place where LENT is meant to begin… is with WHY.  If someone asked you WHY LENT or WHY Church or even WHY faith… do you know how you’d answer?  
It’s hard.  It’s hard because in most of our lives we start with WHAT, we might go deeper into HOW and then maybe… but really not all that often… go from there on deeper into WHY.  The season of LENT… but Ash Wednesday in particular, is meant to JAR us out of the usual and turn that WHAT, then HOW, then WHY series of questions inside out.  LENT is meant to be a time where we START… WITH WHY.  WHY is often avoided because its so much harder, in part because it isn’t so much spoken as it is experienced.  The fullness of WHY is really beyond our ability to fully describe with words.  
The answer to the WHY of Ash Wednesday is there, in between the ashes and the words which are proclaimed as you receive them, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  The WHY of Ash Wednesday is right there in the space between “You are dust” on one side, and “To dust you shall return” on the other.  In between those two… in the place held by a simple comma, is each of our entire lives.  On one side of that comma we were dust.  On the other side of that comma we will be dust again.  
The WHY of Lent is there in the seemingly insignificant space of that comma… a space that actually contains the entirety of God’s amazing, grace filled, love fueled, miraculous, wonder-packed creative work that is YOU.  YOU and all that you have been and all that you will ever be, is there in the space of that comma, between “You are dust” on one side, and “To dust you shall return” on the other.  
The answer to WHY lies there between the dust.  It is the answer, not only to the WHY of Lent but to everything else as well.  WHY Lent? WHY Church? WHY Faith?... Because... between the dust on one side and dust on the other, the awesome, amazing POWER of God’s creating love, INSISTED… INSISTED… that the ENTIRETY OF ALL OF CREATION would not be complete, without your life perfectly, beautifully, fabulously filling the space between “You are dust” on the one side and “To dust you shall return” on the other.  
In our busy, frantic, fear filled lives we forget that.  Our forgetful world trains us to start with WHAT.  Sometimes we move to HOW but we often forget to even wonder about the WHY.  On Ash Wednesday we begin a season where that is turned INSIDE OUT and we BEGIN with WHY.  The WHY is simply because God, with an entire universe to be concerned with, has chosen in love to carve YOU out of dust, because God is convinced that Creation... the ENTIRE Universe, would simply NOT be complete without you.  The WHY is LIFE!  You have been given LIFE between the dust!  THAT'S the WHY!  Given as an extravagant gift... to YOU... with unmeasurable love from God.  
Embracing and living into that WHY... NOW you can move to HOW.  HOW will you connect more deeply with the One who loves you… YOU… with an infinite amount of creative and redeeming power?  Humility, passion, intimacy and dedication are some good answers to HOW.  Now, WHAT are some ways you might act on that connection?  Prayer, fasting and giving alms are a few ways, but by no means an exhaustive list.  
WHAT are you doing for Lent turns out to be the least important question.  WHAT you do for Lent or for any other day of the year for that matter...  will become clear if you let the WHATs and the HOWs start from and flow out of the WHY.  May you approach each of the forty days of Lent beginning each and every morning, marveling that God has loved into being your LIFE which lives now in the space between "you are dust" and "to dust you shall return."  May you experience the season of Lent embraced in and living out of that wondrous WHY.  Amen.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Invite it on the Bus!

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 17th Chapter

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 

While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Six days later, my wife took with her, our dog and me and led us to our long kitchen table.  I knew this was bad.  The dog didn’t care.  There, she became super serious looking so before she said anything I said, “Hey, it’s good you brought us here to the kitchen table, because with all this snow coming we’re going to need to just stay right here, hunker down and not go anywhere and I think chili would be good for dinner.”  And while I was still yammering, a voice from heaven said, “Erik, this is your beloved, she is really QUITE a bit smarter than you.  Shut up and listen to her.”  When I heard this I was overcome with fear.  The dog still didn’t care.  He’s sort of a jerk that way.  But then my wife touched me and said, “Get up.  Don’t be afraid.  Go and get new tires… TODAY.”  

Six days-ish before that I had come to Augusta for Everyday Basics and when I left to come home, I started down the big hill on Winthrop Street toward the river.  The road was covered in that thick, not quite slush but not quite snow, sort of snotty, winter mess and as I applied the brakes, my tires slipped and the anti-lock brakes, anti-locked, and still I slid almost all the way down the hill.  The good news was I stopped before I slid into River Street or the river.  The bad news was that I needed new tires and the thought of new tires gave me great fear.  

Now, I don’t have some bizarre new-tire phobia.  What I fear is spending money… almost always, but particularly with two kids in college.  I wanted to take a couple of months to squirrel the money away and pay with cash.  But then the pre-blizzard came, which was to be followed by the REAL blizzard  which was going to be followed by the post-blizzard, and Kelly said, “I know you fear putting tires on the credit card.  I know spending $500 on tires will feel like death to you and I know your fear won’t magically go away if I tell you not to fear.  So invite your fear to come with you to the tire place and the two of you get new tires on your car TODAY... because new tires mean life.”  So, my fear and I got into my car and we went and got new tires, because God's right… she's QUITE a bit smarter than I am.  

The thing that happened six days before today’s Gospel lesson is that Jesus told the disciples he needed to go to Jerusalem, where he would suffer and die and be raised from the dead which is ALMOST as bad as me having to get new tires.  The disciples were well aquatinted with the suffering and death part… THAT was a part of everyone’s regular world, but the being raised from the dead part seemed pretty far fetched, so they, very understandably, had a real fear of going to Jerusalem.  But in the middle of the disciple’s yammering, God spoke and said, “Disciples listen, this is Jesus, my beloved, he is QUITE a bit smarter than you, shut up and listen to him” and then, Jesus touched them, they got up, loaded their fear on the bus and went down the mountain and on to Jerusalem anyway.  Because even though the disciples couldn’t wrap their minds around it, and even though they were still scared by it, somehow the death and resurrection that would happen in Jerusalem, they believed, was the path to abundant life.  

Here’s the thing about these stories that’s really important… Kelly telling me not to be afraid didn’t magically take away my fear.  Jesus telling the disciples not to be afraid didn’t magically take away their fear either, but faithfulness is not fearlessness.  Faithfulness is seeing your fear and maybe even grousing, complaining and fidgeting about it but eventually... even if it’s begrudgingly... accepting it and inviting your fear onto the bus with you and driving on down the mountain toward the promise of new life even with that fear in tow anyway.  

As humans, those yucky, sticky, feelings like fear and anxiety and exhaustion and worry and indifference and all the rest, don’t ever magically get zapped away.  So if we wait to be fearless BEFORE we make a step toward the things and people whom God has placed in our lives to help us experience the Abundant Life God created us to live, we'll never even take the first step toward living in God's gift of abundant life.  

The answer, Jesus showed the disciples, is NOT to wait for the day you become fearless.  The answer is to acknowledge the yucky, sticky spots of fear... stand up and invite those sticky, yucky fears to come along with you and Jesus as you take a step toward LIFE.  The answer is not to wait for fearlessness but to take a step in faithfulness... even just one tiny step, then another and another and another… on down the mountain and out into the world, one tiny, even seemingly insignificant little step toward loving God and loving neighbor... one step after another, toward LIFE.

It's a good answer, but easy to forget.  There is a handy way to remember it, though.  Because, you see, we LIVE OUT this lesson every single Sunday.  Every Sunday we start like the disciples, confessing our fears, confessing that we would rather build a booth, dig in where we are, not change, not go down the mountain or go out into the world where life is even scarier, stickier and yuckier.  And every week God tells us, “Yeah, I know. I love you anyway.”  

Then God says, “NOW listen to Jesus, he’s quite a bit smarter than you” and we listen to stories about Jesus being quite a bit smarter than we are.  We then come to Jesus's Table and Jesus touches us… literally touches us… as the host is placed in our hand, Jesus touches us and tells us to stand up... He tells us that, “The Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthens you and keeps you always in his grace” and then together, you and me, along with Jesus... we take all of our fears, anxieties, worries and all the rest of life’s sticky, yucky stuff and with Jesus, we load it all on the bus and head down the mountain, moving as best we can toward ABUNDANT LIFE.  One tiny step after another.  First out that door (and then we get a snack) and then out the other door into the parking lot and then out into the world… not fearlessly, but faithfully, always doing our best to move toward LIFE.  

Jesus said, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly."  That's why we're here, week after week... to receive abundant life again... to live this story again... to be touched by Jesus again... to have Jesus stand us up again... to be strengthened again... to invite all that we fear to join us on the bus again... to love God and neighbor again... to drive down the mountain on the Way again... even through death again... but always toward LIFE again.  Let us all step toward LIFE again.  Amen. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Autopilot Off!

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 5th Chapter

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

I believe that God created you and me not only to RECEIVE life as a gift from God, but also to BRING that life into the world… and that’s not just a “sorta-gettin’-by” kind of life, either!  But an ABUNDANT life!  We are called to be God's ABUNDANT LIFE BRINGERS!  I also believe that sometimes… often for long stretches of time… the choices that move us toward life are clear and consistent, so bringing that life... moving toward, and choosing that life can become automatic, which isn’t a bad thing... as long as the world doesn't dramatically change.  

But life changes, doesn’t it?  And life doesn’t stop to ask whether we think that’s a good idea or not.  So when life DOES change, the former, clear, consistent and automatic moves and choices that led to life before, might not move us toward life anymore.  In those times, we need to take our lives off automatic pilot, sit down, open our eyes and make new, thought out, conscious decisions about what we need to do NOW to choose life, in that NEW place and in that NEW time. 

Moses lived in one of those times.  The people of Israel had been making choices about how to move toward life out in the wilderness for a really long time.  The choices for life they made on the road, out in the wilderness had become second nature… automatic.  But now, the people of Israel had come to the end of the wilderness.  Instead of plowing on into the Promised Land, like nothing would be different, Moses sat the people down and told them, “Over there, life WILL BE DIFFERENT from how it’s been over here.  The choices that will lead to life over there WILL BE DIFFERENT than the choices that led to life in the wilderness.  Take your life OFF automatic pilot.  Open up your eyes!  Remember your CORE… loving God, walking in God’s ways and following God’s rules… now, THINK about what that CORE looks like, and THINK about what it will look like NOW to CHOOSE LIFE… to step toward life in this NEW time and this NEW place.  

Jesus lived in one of those times too.  Loving God and loving neighbor were at the core of the Law, but the focus had drifted from the practice of loving God and neighbor, and folks had become focused on the laws ABOUT loving God and neighbor.  Jesus knew it was time to sit the people down and tell them, “Take your life OFF automatic pilot.  Open up your eyes!  Remember your core… loving God, walking in God’s ways and following God’s rules… now, think about what that CORE looks like in this NEW place and in this NEW time and choose again to take a step in that direction… to choose life!”

We’re living in one of those times too.  The world and the church that lies behind us, is not the same as the world and the church that lies ahead, so here’s a story to help us take our lives off automatic pilot and open our eyes…  I don’t know if you’ve ever ridden the subway in New York, but there’s an automatic pilot way that New Yorkers ride the subway.  Blank stare, ear buds in, don’t look around, don’t make eye contact, no matter what is going on around you, pretend it isn’t really there and don’t get involved.  

That’s the automatic pilot way New Yorkers ride the subway that has led to life for them FOREVER.  But last week something happened, and the people in one New York Subway car were challenged to take their lives off automatic pilot, open their eyes, remember what they valued at their core and make a NEW and different step in that direction.  They were challenged in that moment last week to make a NEW choice for life in a new time.  

This group of New Yorkers piled onto a subway car late in the evening.  As they settled into their seats, they all began to realize that every window, all the glass covering every advertisement, had been marked with swastikas and hateful, anti-semitic messages in black Sharpie.  The train was silent.  Everyone looked around at each other, uncomfortable but unsure what to do.  Living on automatic pilot, riding the subway the usual way… the way they had ALWAYS ridden the subway… the thing to do would be to stare straight ahead and not get involved.  That’s the way they had ALWAYS ridden the subway.  

But then, into the silence… into the way things had always been done… someone said, “Hand sanitizer gets rid of Sharpie.”  Suddenly, in a flurry of activity, everyone on the train was reaching into pockets, purses and bags to find hand sanitizer and tissues.  In less than two minutes all the hateful graffiti was gone.

In that one moment, that person who said, “Hand sanitizer gets rid of Sharpie” did EXACTLY what Moses had done on the edge of the Promised Land… EXACTLY what Jesus had done on the mountain.  He challenged the people around him on that train, to take their lives OFF automatic pilot, open their eyes and REALLY SEE that what was happening around them NOW was NOT the same as it had always been.  He challenged them to remember what they valued… what they REALLY valued at their core, and then offered them a way to purposefully, physically, intentionally, consciously move toward what they valued… He offered them the opportunity to choose life!  

The automatic pilot which has helped us faithfully choose life for our whole lives will no longer fly us effortlessly toward life in this new world in which we live.  We are being called, like the people Moses and Jesus addressed, to STOP and open our eyes!  To remember our CORE, and take a NEW step TOWARD that TIMELESS CORE of loving God and walking in God’s ways… but a NEW step, a DIFFERENT step… a step for this NEW age… a NEW choice again for life!  

The people who reached in their bags for tissues and sanitizer made an amazing step toward life that evening.  But I believe THIS church is called to MORE than simply being like the people who reached in their pockets, purses and bags to find hand sanitizer on that train.  I believe THIS church is called to be the voice in our community that speaks into the changing world around us… that LEADS the way and is the one who speaks into the silence like the one who said, “Hand Sanitizer gets rid of Sharpie” did.  I believe this church will not only choose life, but that together, YOU are the leaders of our community who are not only taking those first, courageous NEW steps toward life, but will continue leading our neighbors as we all take NEW steps toward life.  Amen. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

Away with the Bushel!

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 5th Chapter

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

The image this week was a gift from Rev. Brett Ballenger, with thanks as well to Leslie and Liz for your contributions as well!  

Pastor Martin Niemöller was a Lutheran pastor in Germany.  He was a U-boat captain in the First World War and then went to seminary and became a pastor.  He was not perfect.  He was often slow to catch on and he often learned to do the right thing, only after doing the wrong thing first.  I can relate.  But he was never shy to confess his wrongs and vigorously work for what was right.  He is probably best remembered for something that illustrates that perfectly.  He said with perfect hindsight, “First they came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.  Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.  Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.  Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.  Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up."  

You’ve probably heard that, but you might not have known that today’s Gospel text was the text he had for what would be his last sermon before being arrested and sent, first to prison and then to a concentration camp for the remainder of the war.  In the first part of his sermon on this text he talked about the need for the church to remain salty.  

The problem he was facing was that the rising Nazi government was looking for all of the churches to come together and fall in line with them, forming one Reich’s Church.  Niemöller said the Church was in danger of “being thrown into the same pot as the world.”  But for Niemöller, he understood that the Church needed to remain distinct from the world with it’s unique “saltiness.”  The government would say to him, “When you start to suit your message to the world around you, then you will again be influential and powerful.”  But Niemöller didn’t think that was the Church’s calling.  He thought the church was called to be salty.  He didn’t think losing it’s saltiness was faithful.  “But,” he said, “if the salt remains salt, we may trust God with it and God will use it in such a way that it becomes a blessing.”

We in the Church have a distinct and counter cultural message… a distinct “saltiness”… a certain flavor which is often different from the flavors of the world.  Our saltiness says that the poor and the meek and the reviled have God’s blessing, as Jesus told us last week.  That’s often not a popular in our world, where wealth and power and success are more fashionable flavors.  Our saltiness says every human being has worth and dignity.  Our saltiness, Isaiah reminds us this week, is to loose the bonds of injustice and bring the homeless poor into our homes.  And if all of that makes us nervous, our saltiness also reminds us that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  We don't have any reason to fear because NOTHING can separate us from God’s love.  So even as some of this generation’s most skilled merchants of fear, cook up conspiracies and brew lies and the world around us simmers and boils in a perpetual stew of fear, we in the Church are called to something of a distinctly different, more salty flavor.

WE are called to stay salty, even while high profile TV preachers hurl themselves into the same stew that feeds fears, excludes, demonizes and persecutes, WE are called to stay out of that stew and stay salty.  But that’s not to just stay salty for salt’s sake.  We’re called to stay out of that stew of fear and hatred so that when we DO see someone preparing a dish in our neighborhood that DOES lift the lowly, welcomes the stranger or gives bread to the hungry, we can throw in our saltiness there and enhance that dish.  That’s what salt does, it enhances flavors and you and I are called to be salt.  We’re called to lift up, bring out and enhance the bits of the world that bring life out of death.
In another part of Niemöllers’ sermon he said,  “You are the light of the world.”  We hear those words and we immediately start worrying about our light going out.  What are we worrying about?  We look around and see the winds and the storm that is blowing through the world right now and we think it’s all so enormous that it’s bound to blow out the Gospel candle.  So we think we must protect it!  Take the Gospel message out of the storm and put it safely in a little nook.  

Niemöller goes on to say, It is only in these days that I have realized… that I have understood what the Lord Jesus Christ means when he says, “Do not take up the bushel!  I have not lit the candle for you to put it under the bushel in order to protect it from the wind.  Away with the bushel!  The light should be placed on a candlestick!  It is not your business to worry about whether the light is extinguished or not by the wind!  That is God’s concern!  We are only to see that the light is not hidden away… not even hidden away with the nobel purpose of protecting it so we can bring it out again in calmer times.  No!  Let your light shine!"  

Away with the bushel!  That needs to be a t-shirt!  AND a bumper sticker!  Away with the bushel!  THAT is EXACTLY the message we need for today!  That was Isaiah’s message to the people of Israel.  That was Jesus’ message to the people gathered for the Sermon on the Mount.  That was Pastor Niemöller’s message to the people of Germany.  And that is the same message you and I and the people of our country need to hear once again.  Away with the bushel!  

Because what is the bushel?  THE BUSHEL IS FEAR.  It’s fear that temps us to cover the light which God has given us to shine into the world.  It’s fear that causes us to horde what we have and not share with our neighbor.  It’s fear that causes us to lash out at people who are different in even the most illogical ways.  It’s fear of losing the light that God has given us in Baptism, that causes us to hide that light from the world.  It’s that irrational fear, that sharing your light will dim it, even though every Christmas we see that the flame of one candle can be shared with everyone and the light only grows when it's shared... It never dims.

Many of the people around us have thrown themselves into this cultural stew of fear and as a nation we’ve taken our light and hid it away… it’s as if, as a nation, we’ve taken the torch of the Statue of Liberty and covered it with a bushel basket.  For what?  For fear… an irrational, destructive, fear which leads only to death...not life.  No-one has been killed by a refugee in this country.  No-one.  Not last year, not for more than forty years.*  More people die of lightning or falling out of bed or lawnmowers.  How have we become so filled with fear?

The world around us is brewing this horrible stew of cowardice and hate, exclusion and scarcity that has no touchpoint in reality.  They want us in the Church to throw our saltiness into their stew, where our saltiness will get stirred in and lost in demonizing the other, turning our backs on the stranger and dismissing the cries of those in desperate need.  But like Isaiah, Jesus and Pastor Niemöller told the people of God in the past, I’m going to tell you now... WE MUST REMAIN SALTY!  We must stay out of this simmering and boiling stew of fear that is cooking around us, but also ALWAYS be ready to add our salt to the places we find that are doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly... to the people who promote the dignity of all people and bring life into the world.  You are salt!  You have the light!  It was given to you in the waters of Baptism.  It is the light that shines in the darkness!  It is the light no darkness can overcome!  So, away with the bushel!  Let your light shine!  Amen.  

* You may wonder about this statistic, particularly in light of events such as the Boston Marathon Bombing, San Bernardino and the Pulse Night Club.  It is true that since 9/11, 123 people have been killed in the United States by people who claim to have been acting out of their Muslim faith (every one of my Muslim friends would say their action was a betrayal of the authentic faith). However, none of these people came through the rigorous vetting process as a refugee.  You may say that is a technicality and 123 deaths are tragic and both would be absolutely correct. But it is an important technicality because it is important in creating public policy to address the actual, statistical issue rather than creating policy on statistically unfounded feelings.  None of the new policies put in place would have stopped any of those 123 deaths, but those new policies have already led to additional deaths.