We Have A Dream

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Pentecost – We Have A Dream

June 4, 2017

“I have a dream…”

These words of Martin Luther King spoken not far from here

still resonate over 50 years later.

 

“I have a dream I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.”

 

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

 

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

 

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

 

I have a dream today,”

Martin Luther King Jr said.

 

King had a dream – Pentecost is about such dreams.

Our reading from the book of Acts says

that when the Holy Spirit is upon us,

we will dream – all of us will dream.

Sons and daughters,

Slaves and free,

Young men will see visions;

Old men will dream dreams.

 

King had a dream…a Holy Spirit dream to be sure!

So why is it that 53 years later,

On a weekend in May,

In Del Ray – a neighborhood of Alexandria –

Our neighborhood —

A series of racist flyers were posted on light poles and under windshields

on Commonwealth Avenue?

 

King had a dream…a Holy Spirit dream!

So why is it that cities and towns are just beginning to come to the grips with the fact that

our statues and streets named for Confederate leaders are harmful

and rewrite history to make it seem that these leaders were somehow on the right side?

 

King had a dream…a Holy Spirit dream…

So where is the oasis of freedom and justice?

Why are children still judged by the color of their skin?

 

Perhaps it’s because when King was dreaming,

many of the rest of us were still in deep sleep.

 

King was dreaming.

But the dream was  his dream…his and that of a relative few.

It was his dream – and not yet our dream as Americans.

 

Even now, King would not be able to stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial,

and say, “We have a dream.”

The Holy Spirit is not yet done with his dream.

 

Pentecost is about the Holy Spirit breathing into us dreams and visions,

and one of the dreams our congregation has

is to help make King’s dream our dream.

 

We have a dream for racial justice.

And so our anti-racism team is educating ourselves…

We’re reading books by persons of color;

We’re visiting places like the Alexandria black history museum

And the Frederick Douglass house;

We’re learning about issues in our community which primarily affect persons of color here –

Things like affordable housing and public schools.

We want to be awakened to the Spirit’s dreaming.

 

We have other Holy Spirit dreams.

Continue reading

Where is Jesus?

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Ascension Day

Acts 1:1-11

May 28, 2017

 

The original Star Wars movie is 40 years old this week.

 

I was in junior high when it first came out.

Everyone was talking about it

and so even though I didn’t see it that first opening,

it wasn’t long before I knew all about Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker,

and R2D2 and C3PO.

 

Humanity has always been fascinated by the stars…

By ‘what’s out there,’ beyond the naked eye…

By outer space.

 

George Lucas’ special effects captured our imaginations,

and John Williams’ score captured our emotions,

as together we were taken to a galaxy far far away.

 

For those of us who have seen Star Wars and its prequels and sequels,

it seems a bit odd to hear how Luke tells the story of the Ascension –

of Jesus taken up into the clouds, taken beyond the stars.

 

For those of us who have flown up and over the clouds;

For those of us who have seen images of the planet earth from space;

For those of us who have watched space shuttles launch,

and followed the work at the international space station,

and imagined ourselves taking a tourist trip into space someday…

the story of the Ascension seems odd.

Where did he go?

 

At the time of Luke, the universe was thought to have 3 tiers:

There was the earth, the sea, and the heavens.

 

The earth was thought to be a disc,

held up on pillars and surrounded by the sea.

 

Beyond this were the lower heavens

which held the sun and stars and planets.

 

And then there were the upper heavens – “highest heavens”

which was the dwelling place of God – (or the gods).

“Glory to God in the highest heaven.”

 

Over the centuries,

the church hasn’t always been on board to accept new astronomical discoveries

which challenged this arrangement.

 

Galileo was condemned as a heretic,

for suggesting the earth revolved around the sun.

 

Martin Luther, not typically a biblical literalist,

calls Copernicus a fool based on a passage from the book of Joshua.

 

In one of his Table Talk conversations  –

conversations held around the dinner meal and recorded by his students –

Luther says,

 

“There is talk of a new astrologer who wants to prove that the earth moves and goes around instead of the sky, the sun, the moon, …But that is how things are nowadays: when a man wishes to be clever he must needs invent something special, ..! The fool wants to turn the whole art of astronomy upside-down. However, as Holy Scripture tells us, … Joshua bid the sun to stand still and not the earth.”[i]

 

A challenge on Ascension Day in a post Stars Wars world,

Is what to make of this story –

what to celebrate on this festival –

if we don’t take it literally.

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End Of The Orphan Train

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Easter 6A – End of the Orphan Train

John 14:15-21

May 21, 2017

 

In the mid-1800’s there were an estimated

30,000 homeless, orphaned, and abandoned children in New York City.

 

Some of these children were orphaned when their parents died

from typhoid, yellow fever or the flu.[2]

Others were abandoned due to poverty or addiction.[2]

 

Many children sold matches, rags, or newspapers to survive.[3]

For protection against street violence, they got together and formed gangs.[3

They lived on the streets

without much hope of a better life.

 

In a kind of early foster care program –

with both the blessings and abuses of modern day foster care –

the Children’s Aid Society sent some of these children

by train to live and work on farms out west.

 

The orphan train movement lasted from 1853 through the early 1900’s.

 

The movement began with the heartfelt belief

In a handful of community leaders that no child should be left alone…

That children should feel safe.

That they should be loved and cared for.

 

Today’s gospel reminds us that regardless how old we are;

Whether we have living parents or not;

It is human to want to feel safe.

It is human to want to be loved and cared for.

It is human to be afraid of being left alone.

 

Jesus tells his disciples…and each of us today…

You are not alone.

You are never alone.

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The Voice

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Easter 4A – The Voice

John 10:1-10

May 7, 2017

 

I’ve never had a good sense of direction.

Never.

So when I started Kindergarten long ago,

I was worried – I wasn’t sure how I was going to get home.

 

I didn’t have to walk home;

And I didn’t have to find the right bus home;

The only thing I had to do was leave the school on the correct side of the building –

the Livingston Avenue side…

and that would be where my mother would be parked to drive me home.

 

I remember getting anxious pretty much every day though,

that I would miss the cue –

that someday the older student who was the line leader would forget to come to my room,

or the teacher would forget to call out Livingston Avenue –

and I’d be completely lost –

I’d never find my way to my mother’s car and then home.

 

Each day there was the same routine.

One of the older kids would come to our classroom door,

And the teacher would call out:

“Bus students line up” – and then out the door they’d walk.

“Stratford Avenue line up” – and out the door they’d walk.

 

I was on pins and needles by this time!

But finally, the voice, “Livingston Avenue line up” came.

And every time – every time – I would breathe a sigh of relief…

That’s me!

I will get home one more day!

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The Kitchen Maid

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Easter 3A

Luke 24:13-49

April 30, 2017

 

The 17th century artist Diego Velazquez

painted a picture of today’s gospel reading.

His painting is on display at the National Gallery of Art of Ireland in Dublin

and is called The Kitchen Maid….

 

Feel free to look through the reading again…

Kitchen maid?

Where’s the kitchen maid?

 

Luke doesn’t include the kitchen maid…

But of course there was one.

If there was a meal served in Emmaus,

there was a woman behind the scenes preparing it.

She is simply unnamed and unnoticed.

 

Velazquez notices her though.

She is the focal point of the painting.

 

In fact for years, before the painting was restored,

the figures of Jesus and his two companions were completely missing from the painting.

Only after the restoration did they appear in the upper left corner. Continue reading

Seven Last Words of Christ

 

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The First Word

Reading: Luke 23:32-34

Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him (Jesus). When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’

Shared by Bill Susling.

“Father, Forgive Them”

The crucifixion had begun.  The soldiers were driving nails through his hands and feet, fixing him to the cross.

Just the physical pain was horrendous.  Jesus turns to prayer.  I might have prayed for myself.  But Jesus didn’t pray for himself.  He prayed for others.  “Father, forgive them.”

But who is “them”?  Are they the soldiers who were hammering the nails?  Yes, surely—“Father, forgive them.”

The soldiers had officers making sure the crucifixions were carried out smoothly.  “Father, forgive them.”

Does this include the high priests and the elders?  They wanted to be rid of this troublemaker.  They brought Jesus to Pilate, the governor.  Then they went among the crowd urging everyone to shout that Jesus should be crucified.  “Father, forgive them.”

And the crowd—they did exactly what they were urged to do.  They yelled, “Crucify him!  Crucify him!”  “Father, forgive them.”

What about Pilate, and as we learn from Luke, Herod the tetrarch?  Either of these men could have stopped the crucifixion.  They didn’t.  “Father, forgive them.”

Yet Jesus suffered more than mere physical pain.  He was bearing the sins of the world when he uttered this prayer.  Bore the sins of the world is an easy thing to say.  But bearing the world’s spiritual evil must be something that is incomprehensible to us.

Yes, Jesus bore your sins and mine.  We are “them”.  “Father, forgive them.”  Father, forgive us.  Amen.

 

 

The Second Word

Reading: Luke 23:39-43

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’

 

Shared by James Zellhart

 

In His dying moments, Jesus was offering comfort to a His neighbor, a stranger, a criminal.

‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’

Continue reading

The Room Where It Happened

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April 13, 2017

John 13:1-17; 31b-35

 

The most popular Broadway show of late is a musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton –

Yes, the guy on the 10 dollar bill.

I haven’t seen the show, but I’ve heard the music.

Maybe it’s so popular because many of the songs

are relevant to today.

 

One song I’m thinking about on this Maundy Thursday

is, “The Room Where It Happens.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda said it’s one of the two best songs he’s ever written…

(I could be wrong…but I think it’s probably more because of the banjo

than because of its relationship to Maundy Thursday).

 

The song is from the second act.

Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison,

(an immigrant and two Virginians) meet over dinner.

 

Hamilton has been at odds with the other two leaders.

As Secretary of the Treasury he has come up with a financial plan

that they’ve been opposed to.

So there’s some wheeling and dealing;

some quid pro quo behind closed doors.

And then they’re done.

 

By the end of the meal,

the three leaders have made an unprecedented decision.

It’s called the Compromise of 1790:

 

The capital of the United States will be moved to the District of Columbia,

and Alexander Hamilton’s financial plan is approved.

The deal is hashed out over good food and drink,

privately among leaders –  in the “room where it happened.”

 

The way this deal is made isn’t all that surprising.

We’re used to these kinds of things happening among those in leadership

In board rooms or conference rooms.

The power players get together,

A vision is set;

Plans are made;

They make sure everyone is on the same page –

(privately in that room where it happens) –

And then together they announce the plan to the world.

 

Jesus arrives in Jerusalem for the festival of Passover.

As the gospel of John tells the story,

after he raises Lazarus from the dead,

Jesus has gained a large following – there is a crowd following him now.

 

This is no longer a small cult;

It’s no longer just a handful of people following a carpenter from Galilee.

This is now a movement.

 

They could have ignored a small group of rebels.

They can’t ignore Jesus.

He now leads a movement which needs to be stopped,

and they plot against him.

 

In the midst of all this, the disciples and Jesus meet for a meal

in an upper room.

 

As the disciples see it, perhaps it’s a strategy session –

not unlike the one with Hamilton, Jefferson and Madison.

 

It begins as expected,

Food is served; wine is poured.

 

They look at Jesus to begin the conversation

about how they’re going to rise up against the opposition.

How Jesus plans to show the Roman and religious leaders that he is the messiah!

How he plans to defeat the powers that be which are against him.

 

Eventually, during supper, Jesus rises from the table.

“This is it,” the others think.

“This is where we get the inspirational speech.

This is what we’re here for.”

And they’re right…but it happens all wrong.

 

Jesus takes off his outer robe,

and ties a towel (not a sword) around his waist.

 

He pours water into a basin,

and begins to wash the disciples’ feet.

 

One by one he washes the feet of all of them.

Some are embarrassed for him…

getting on the floor for God’s sake!

Some are disappointed by him…

what kind of plan for defeating the enemy is this?

All are confused by him…

 

Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment.

That you love one another.

Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

 

Of course this commandment is not really new…

It is in the Torah – in the book of Leviticus.

But in that upper room, with the leaders of this revolutionary movement,

Jesus sets a radical vision.

 

He says, this is what my followers will be known for…

This is what the mark of one of my disciples will be…

 

You will be known not for how you defeated an enemy…

But for how you caree for one another.

 

And that’s when they realize that this board meeting

is not what they thought it would be.

 

In his historical novel, Ah But Your Land Is Beautiful,

Alan Paton tells the true story of a white South African judge named Jan Christiaan Oliver.

(story re-told by Paul Duke in Interpretation[i])

 

A black pastor invited him to attend his church on Maundy Thursday.

In the days of apartheid, the judge knew the risk of accepting such an invitation

but he accepted anyway.

 

He discovered it was a service of footwashing,

and was urged to participate.

 

He was called forward to wash the feet of a woman named Martha Fortuin,

who as it happens, had been a servant in his own house for thirty years.

 

Kneeling at her feet, he was struck by

how weary they looked from so many years of serving him.

Greatly moved, he held her feet with gentle hands and kissed them.

 

Martha fell to weeping, as did many others in the room.

The newspapers got word of it, and Oliver lost his political career.”

 

Jesus says this is what my followers will be known for.

This is what the mark of one of my disciples will be.

 

And ever after they told the story about the room where it happened.

The room where it happened.

[i] http://web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=fdb5ef97-e1c8-4dbb-9f32-9ec06902c330%40sessionmgr104&vid=1&hid=107