Author Archives: Rev. Emily Heitzman

About Rev. Emily Heitzman

Follower of Jesus and Pastor with Youth and Families at three congregations in Chicago.

“Who Is My Neighbor?” – Sermon on Luke 10:25-37: The Good Samaritan

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Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” – Luke 10:25-37

The last week of June, 43 children ages 3 through 12 from Ebenezer, Unity, and Immanuel Lutheran Churches – as well as several children from the neighborhood – gathered with many of our youth and adults for Vacation Bible School. The curriculum was developed by ELCA World Hunger, and the theme for the week was: Who is My Neighbor?

Throughout the week, we sang songs in different languages and we prayed together. We learned the parable of the Good Samaritan and we heard a few other parables about how God calls us to care for others. We made crafts and we definitely had a lot of fun getting each other wet with water balloons.

Each day, we heard stories about many of our neighbors here in Chicago and in several countries across the world who are experiencing homelessness or hunger for a variety of reasons. We learned how ELCA World Hunger is currently partnering with some of our global neighbors to work to end hunger, we ate snacks that are often eaten in these countries, and we talked about some ways we can personally share God’s love with our local neighbors.

And then the children put all of this into practice. Three of the four days, they participated in service-learning projects to learn about and offer their love and support to some of our neighbors in need.   And every day, this group of children – who were a wide range of ages, who have different abilities and needs, who attend multiple churches and schools, and whose families come from different countries of origin: welcomed one another, built community together, and offered care for each other.

Who is My Neighbor?

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We hear this question in our Gospel this morning.

Jesus is traveling toward Jerusalem when – on his way – he is approached by a lawyer. This lawyer – who probably did not like all the messages he was hearing from Jesus – tries to test him. “Teacher,” the lawyer says. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Well,” Jesus says, “You’re the lawyer. What is written in the law? “

The lawyer – who knows his stuff – answers from Leviticus and Deuteronomy: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

“You have given the right answer,” Jesus says. “Do this, and you will have life.”

But – wanting to justify himself, the lawyer pushes a little farther: “And who exactly is my neighbor?” he asks.

It’s easy for us to point our fingers at the lawyer and look down on him for being the testy and exclusive character in the story. And yet, if we are honest with ourselves, I think we can often get testy with Jesus, asking him this very same question, as well. Who exactly is my neighbor? Who do I really need to love and care for?

Because behind this question is another stronger question: “Who isn’t my neighbor?” Who are the people I can ignore when I see their suffering? Who are the people I can exclude? Who are the ones who don’t belong in our community, but rather belong behind walls… Who are the ones we can justify deporting, separating from their families, or putting into cages? There certainly has to be some kind of boundary somewhere. So where can we draw the line?”

Jesus – of course – answers the lawyer’s question by telling a story – what we know to be the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Many of us have probably heard this story numerous times. It is one of the most well-known stories of the bible. And for most of us – it can seem like a pretty reasonable story. There is a man who is attacked by robbers while traveling on the road toward Jericho. He is beaten and left on the side of the road half-dead. Two men walk by and ignore him. But the third one stops and helps him. Jesus tells us to be like that third man. End of story. Go and do likewise.

But for Jesus’ audience, this was quite a shocking story – which, of course, was Jesus’ intention. He had a way of shocking folks through his parables that constantly flipped their social order upside down.

You see, it would have been one thing for Jesus to tell a story where the priest, the Levite, or even a devout man of the Jewish faith was the helper and hero. The Jewish faith was full of commands to help the wounded and save those who were dying. Of all people, the religious leaders would have been expected to do something to help a dying man on the side of the road, especially one who is a fellow Jewish man.

So for Jesus’ audience, it would have been a bit unsettling to hear these two just walked on by.

Although, it would have also been understandable.

You see, Jesus’ audience also knew quite well what the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was like. It was an incredibly dangerous road, full of windy turns that made it easy for robbers to hide from a traveler’s view. And it was actually known as the “Way of Blood” because of the amount of blood shed by robbers. It would have been incredibly risky for anyone – Levite, priest, or layperson alike – to stop and help a person on the side of the road. The robbers could be hiding somewhere on the windy path, waiting for another person to attack. And who knows the reasons this person was lying on the side of the road in the first place. This guy could be faking it, and setting someone up for an ambush. Most people would be terrified in this situation. So it could be understandable for anyone to want to immediately run to the other side of the road and move as quickly as they could to get to their final destination.

And in addition to all of this, whoever chose to help this dying man would have to stop whatever they were doing and use their own resources – if they had any – and go out of their way to get this person to a safe place where they could get the care they needed. And this would NOT have been easy. It’s not like they could quickly run down to Clark St. to get to the closest ATM or use their cell phone to call an ambulance or an uber.

So you see, it would have been quite a lot to ask – for a devout man of the faith or even a religious leader to help another Jewish man in this circumstance.

However, at this point in Jesus’ ministry it would not have been too surprising to hear him call on the faithful to take these kinds of risks anyway in order to help out their dying brother in the faith.

But this is not how the story goes. We all know that Jesus is too radical for telling a parable that ends this simply.

Now, let’s just pretend that Jesus told a story about a Samaritan man who was beaten up and left on the side of the road, and it was a devout person of the Jewish faith who helped him out… This would have definitely been more surprising because while Samaritans and Jews shared historical roots, they split centuries before over political, religious, and ethnic differences. And this centuries-old hostility toward one another was deeply engrained. They despised each other. They considered each other enemies.

And so it would have been quite a big deal for a devout Jewish man to help his enemy, who was considered ceremonially unclean, religiously heretical, ethnically inferior, and a social outcast!

But it would still not be completely over-the-top. This version of the story would just make the religious leader or the devout person of faith a very compassionate hero. But he would still get to remain the superior one, who only now has just saved someone who is his inferior: the less-human Samaritan. And this hero – and everyone who follows his example and goes and does likewise – can still continue to pat themselves on their backs for their good works and hold onto what is often referred to as savior-complexes.

But Jesus does not even tell this version of the story.

Because Jesus – our only savior – has no room for savior-complexes.

And so instead of making the Levite, or the priest, or another devout person of the faith the hero, Jesus makes the most shocking person of all – the hero: the Samaritan man.

And this Samaritan man does not only stop to help the dying Jewish man on the side of the road. He sees him and all of his humanity. He notices his wounds – which in Greek is the word traumata, or trauma. And so he recognizes that this man not only has physical wounds, but he has also been traumatized.

And in seeing all of this, the Samaritan man has deep compassion for the Jewish man on the side of the road. So he takes a dangerous risk, walks over to this man, and gives him first aid treatment.

 But he does not stop there. He puts the injured man on his animal, and travels however long it takes to get to the closest inn. And then the Samaritan man stays with him at the inn for the entire night so he does not have to be alone after such a traumatic event. And the Samaritan makes sure this man is not only physically ok, but he also makes sure that he is emotionally and psychologically ok. And then the next morning he pays the innkeeper whatever is needed to ensure this man is cared for.

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So who is my neighbor?

Or, as the lawyer in our Gospel this morning was really asking:

Who isn’t my neighbor?

Well, Jesus’ answer is plain and simple. EVERYONE is our neighbor. Even that person we consider to be our enemy. And especially those whom our society deems as less-than.

You see according to Jesus, we can draw no lines. There are no borders in the kingdom of God. The doors to this kingdom are wide open FOR ALL – no matter if one has documentation or not.

In this kingdom, Jesus calls us to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, and tear down all walls that divide.

For, to love God is to love our neighbor, as we love ourselves. And thus, we can no longer justify any actions that are contrary to God’s love.

And by making the Samaritan the hero in his story, Jesus flips the social order upside down.

You see, to call someone our neighbor is to place them on equal footing. To see their full humanity. In Jesus’ perspective: to be neighbors is to look at one another and make the statement that neither of us is better than the other and that we both deserve to be treated as human beings… It is to recognize that each of us is a beloved child of God, created in God’s image, beautifully and wonderfully just the way we are.

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On the last day of Vacation Bible School, I asked a few of the kids to share with their parents and guardians what they learned throughout the week. Some explained that God loves all of us and wants each of us to love and care for our neighbors. Others talked about how God wants us to see how our neighbors are already sharing God’s love with us and with others. One child explained that our neighbors are not just people we know and live next to. Our neighbors are people who even live across the world. Another child explained that our neighbors are people who may speak, look, dress, worship, and act differently than we do, and that is something that makes our neighborhoods and our world beautiful.

One of the things we talked about during the week was that we build up our neighborhood together by loving our neighbors. And throughout the week – in addition to welcoming and loving one another – the kids literally built a neighborhood out of cardboard. On the last day, we brought the final product up to the sanctuary and the children presented it to the adult volunteers and their parents and guardians. And if you looked closely at this large cardboard neighborhood, you could see tall skyscrapers and apartment buildings, the Thorndale redline, a fountain, a haunted house, trees, homes, shelters, animals and people.

But there was one element in the neighborhood that I will never forget that was created by a 6 year old boy. It was a man who is falling off a bridge and another person who is below him ready to help him in his time of need. When asked to explain why he included this, the boy said that he wanted to create a helper, just like the Good Samaritan. Because this is what we are all supposed to do. We are supposed to be the helpers.

Just this morning, when I opened my email, I saw that I had received a message from this boy’s mom. Included in it was a picture of him with a big smile on his face as he held a large sign over his head that read: “Luke 10:25-37: We should be the helpers.” He was holding this sign as he marched downtown with 10,000 other Chicagoans yesterday to call for an end to the criminalization, detention, and deportation of our immigrant neighbors.

“Who is My neighbor?” Maybe the better question to ask is: Who is being my neighbor?

I think the children and youth in our neighborhood have set a good example for us. So may we go, and do likewise.

Bi and Proud! #Stonewall50

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This weekend, as we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots – where the American LGBTQIA+ rights movement was birthed- I was also reminded of where I was one year ago today.

One year ago today, I was in Houston with several incredible Edgewater Congregations Together youth, 2 young adults, and one of my fantastic colleagues for the ELCA Youth Gathering and Multicultural Youth Leadership Event. And I was discerning whether or not I would come out publicly about my bisexuality.

Throughout the week, these youth and young adults created safe spaces for one another to share their struggles, fears, and joys, and they embraced and celebrated each other’s differences.

On the second to last day of our trip (which was the last full day of the Youth Gathering), our youth visited a booth hosted by the ELCA Reconciling Works.

One of these young adults asked my colleague to explain to him what all the LGBTQIA+ flags stood for. After my colleague started explaining, this young adult said: “Wait! All our youth need to hear this!” So he gathered the youth and my colleague began again. The youth were attentive and interested. They asked great questions and shared some stories about how they wanted to better understand and support their friends who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Then they grabbed rainbow tattoos and put them on their arms and took pictures. And that night they gave a standing ovation to the bisexual woman and the 11 year old trans youth who spoke on stage at the main gathering.

This weekend, I celebrated #Pride for the first time since coming out publicly about my bisexuality. And on Saturday I ran the Proud to Run Rainbow Half Marathon as a way to celebrate how God created me just the way I am.

Yesterday after church, several of my youth and young adults – including one youth who was at the Youth Gathering in Houston last summer – joined me in continuing our worship by praying with our feet and proclaiming the good news of God’s love for ALL as we marched in the Pride Parade! It was so incredibly special to march alongside them on this important Pride weekend.

And I have these youth and young adults (as well as those who led the Stonewall riots and all others who have gone before us to work for LGBTQIA+ rights and inclusion) to thank for all of this!

For it was through the loving and fully welcoming space that my youth and young adults created that day and week at the Youth Gathering that led me to come out to them about my bisexuality on our last night together in Houston and to eventually come out publicly last fall. And it was the continuous support I’ve received from them and from my other youth and young adults since coming out publicly that has led me to feel proud of who I am.

We have come a long way in the last 50 years since Stonewall, and yet we still have a long way to go.

So may we choose to follow the lead of these young people and all those who have gone before us to stand up and fight for equality for ALL!

For God is love! Love is love! We are all created by God with love, and we are all loved by God!

💗💜💙

❤️🧡💛💚💙💜💗🖤

#Stonewall50 #Pride

Choose Love! #Pride

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On Wednesday night, one of my youth presented me with this collage. (I share this with her permission.) She made this collage for a project she did in her “race and sexuality” session in her high school history class. (Thank you, Senn High School!)

This is really special to me for so many reasons. Earlier this spring this youth asked if she could interview me for this project. She genuinely wanted to learn more about my story and my experiences coming out about my bisexuality. She wanted to know what it is like to be bisexual, how it is important to me and my identity, how my bisexuality enables me to see and experience the world in new (and non-binary) ways, and what my fears, struggles, and joys have been of coming out as bisexual in this society today. She wanted to show me her support.

This was beautiful and incredibly powerful: not only because she genuinely wanted to better understand who I am and learn my story… but also because she (along with several of my high school youth and a few young adults) was one of the first people I came out to (besides my husband and a few family members and friends). I came out to these youth and young adults while spending a week with them at the ELCA Multicultural Youth Leadership Event and Youth Gathering in Houston last summer – only after they created such a safe space throughout the week for all of the youth (and adults) to be themselves. Throughout the week, they supported one another in their struggles, and not only accepted one another’s differences, but they celebrated them.

I am so blessed that these young people allow me to be in their lives and choose to be a part of mine. And I am incredibly proud of who they are!

This world is better because of them.

May we choose to follow their lead! May we choose love!

And to my LGBTQIA+ siblings who are not out for whatever reason: just know that you are wonderful. You are loved and beloved. You are valid. You are not alone. And there are people out there making this a safer place for us all. ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜💕🖤

#proudpastor #pride #chooselove

Guest Post at RevGalBlogPals: “The Pastoral Is Political: Free Pastor Betty Rendón!”

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Today I am writing over at RevGalBlogPals:

“I was filled with anger and was absolutely horrified to hear about the abusive treatment that Pastor Betty and her family received when ICE arrested and detained them! I cannot even comprehend the amount of trauma this has and is causing the family, including Pastor Betty’s 5 year-old granddaughter. She needs her grandparents. Her mother needs her parents. Pastor Betty and Carlos need their daughter and grandchild.

Families belong together.

Just because something is our “law” does not make it right and just. Just because something is enforced by our legal system does not mean it should be. (All we need to do is look at our country’s history of enforcing laws that implemented genocide, slavery, segregation, and unequal treatment of women and minorities to remember this clear fact.)

And as Christians, when we see laws that oppress and marginalize others, we must call them out and work to dismantle and reform them.”

You can read the rest of the article here to learn more about what happened and how you can support Pastor Betty and her family.

Raising Tabitha: an Easter Story of Grief, Moving Forward, and Breathing Life into Death – Sermon on Acts 9:36-43

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“Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.” – Acts 9:36-43

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This past week, my facebook, instagram, and twitter feeds have been filled with posts and articles lamenting the sudden death of Rachel Held Evans, a progressive 37 year old Christian author and blogger. And it’s no wonder: Rachel has made an incredible impact on millions of people, particularly many who are vulnerable and who have been disheartened, hurt, or rejected by the church.

As two other Christian authors and speakers – Sarah Bessey and Jeff Chu – wrote in the Washington Post: “Rachel was ‘for’ an all-embracing vision of Christ’s church and the relentless inclusion of refugees and those suffering poverty, of LGBTQ people, of women and especially women of color, of the unseen and unheard and swept aside… She used her writing to build the bridges so many of us needed to get back to God’s love, to one another, and to the church.”

As I was watching this large community grieve on social media this past week, I was reminded of Tabitha in this morning’s passage in Acts and how she – too – must have made such an impact on her community.

You see, Tabitha had a special ministry for a group of widows, who were in dire need of a provider, a place to belong, and somewhere to have a voice. Because a woman at this time had no inheritance rights and was defined by the social status of first her father, and then her husband, when she lost her husband or her connection with her father or brothers, she also lost her identity, her possessions, her property, and her place of belonging. Widows were considered outcasts in society and were often taken advantage of and were exposed to abuse and oppression.

Because of this, widows usually had to rely on public charity to provide for them in order to survive. And, yet, they did not always find such a provider of charity in the early church. Just a few chapters before our passage for today in Acts we see that the Greek-speaking widows were being neglected of the daily distribution of food. This was such an issue in the early church that it led to the twelve apostles appointing a committee to make sure all the widows were cared for.

In our text for today, we see that Tabitha – the only woman in the entire Bible who was called a disciple – was a sort of provider for her community of widows. We don’t know where she got the financial means to support them. We just know that somehow she acquired some wealth. And she used it – along with her artistic and creative abilities – to help those who were in need the most.

Acts tells us that she was devoted to good works and charity, and she made tunics and other articles of clothing by hand and had given them to the widows. These articles of clothing would have been very valuable in the first century, and it would have taken an incredible amount of time for Tabitha to make each item. And yet, she sacrificed her time and money to make these pieces of clothing. She saw the needs of these widows. And – like Rachel Held Evans – out of love and compassion, Tabitha used her privilege and her gifts to help those who were most vulnerable.

Tabitha was loved and cherished by her community of widows. So it is no wonder that they mourned so much when she died. It is no wonder that they called out of desperation for Peter when they heard he was near Joppa.  For he was the one – who by the power of the Holy Spirit – had been performing great miracles in the name of Jesus.

It is no wonder that when he arrived, they wept and passed around their tunics and articles of clothing that were made by Tabitha, reminding themselves and one another of the memories they shared with her and of the many pieces of clothing she had woven out of love and compassion for them. These women had lost their dear friend and the one who had clothed them with the love of Jesus, invested in them, empowered them to speak their voice, and find belonging where they had not found it elsewhere.

“There is a sacredness in tears,” an author once wrote. “They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”

And so when Peter enters this upper room and sees the amount of tears these widows were shedding and the loss they were experiencing, he falls to his knees.

This reminds me of a scene in the movie Life Itself. Rodrigo, a college student who is studying in New York, goes home to Spain during a college break. While he is in Spain, his mother finds out she is terminally ill, and so Rodrigo tells his mother he wants to stay home with her. But as he stands next to her bedside, she convinces him to go back to school and to continue to live his life. “Life brings you to your knees,” she tells him in her final goodbye to him. “It brings you lower than you think you can go. But if you stand back up and move forward, if you go just a little further, you will always find love.”

Sometimes life brings us to our knees. And when it does, we might just need to kneel in that place of grief and hold it for a while.

But eventually – when we are ready – we will need to stand back up and move forward.

Now, moving forward should not be confused with moving on. Nora McInerny explains this in her Ted Talk about grief.

As she discusses how she has remarried since losing her husband Aaron to cancer, she says: “By any measure, life is really good. But I have not moved on. I hate that phrase so much… because what it says is that Aaron’s life and death and love are just moments that I can leave behind me – and that I probably should. When I talk about Aaron, I slip so easily into the present tense, and I’ve noticed that everybody [who has lost a loved one] does it.

And it’s not because we are in denial or because we’re forgetful,” she continues. “It’s because the people we love, who we’ve lost, are still so present for us. So when I say: oh, Aaron is… it’s because Aaron still is. He is present for me in the work that I do, in the child that we had together, in these three other children I’m raising who never met him, who share none of his DNA, but who are only in my life because I had Aaron, and because I lost Aaron. He’s present in my marriage to Matthew because Aaron’s life and love and death made me the person that Matthew wanted to marry. So I’ve not moved on from Aaron. I’ve moved forward with him.”

Sometimes life brings us to our knees. But if we stand back up and move forward, if we go just a little further, we will find love.

Peter sure does in our passage in Acts.

Seeing how the livelihoods of this community of widows were completely dependent upon Tabatha’s care, Peter makes sure that her spirit and ministry live on. And so – there in that upper room – Peter breaths new life into death. He stands up, moves forward, and does not only find love, but he passes it on.

There is so much death in our world around us. Illness. Shootings. The deadly affects of climate change. Poverty, racism, all kinds of hate.

There is so much death, that we are often brought to our knees.

But when we are, we can find hope as we remember, Tabitha, who breathed new life into the death rooms of her community of widows. And who’s love will carry on because Peter breathed new life into her death room.

We can find inspiration as we remember Rachel Held Evans, who breathed new life into the death rooms of millions of disheartened and hurting Christians. And who’s love will carry on as the people she has impacted will continue to breath new life into the places of death around them.

We can find healing as we remember our own loved ones, who breathed new life into our lives when we felt dead. And who’s love will continue to live on in and through us.

So, let us choose to stand up, move forward, and join those who have gone before us in breathing new life into the places of death around us.

This is what it means to for us to live as resurrection people. This is how we proclaim that Christ is risen, indeed.

Easter reveals to us that death is not the end of the story. Death does not have the final say. In his resurrection, Jesus has conquered death and breaths forth new life.

So may we rise up and join him in this life-giving work.

Amen.

Creation Care

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God created the entire earth and all the vegetation, living things and creatures that inhabit it. And God said that it was good. God created humankind in God’s image. And God said that it was good. Then God gave humankind the crucial responsibility of taking care of all of God’s creation.

Unfortunately, humanity has failed in this area and continues to harm the earth.

Climate change is real, it is destroying God’s beloved creation, and people and animals are suffering because of it. The younger generations that we are passing this earth onto will be greatly impacted by the lifestyle decisions we make today. The way things are going: these younger generations will suffer greatly.

God has given us a great responsibility… so let us get to work.

#CreationCare #EarthDay

Good Friday: A Journey Toward the Cross

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Today is Good Friday.  And while it might be tempting to avoid this day and go directly to Easter, I believe if we do, we will miss out on the radical and compassionate Jesus we are called to follow.

For, it is the cross that reminds us that Jesus – the one who is called King of Kings and Lord of Lords – is not the kind of ruler our world expects, celebrates, or uplifts. Rather, when we look to the cross, we see a different kind of king in which we are to follow.

We see a king who is wearing a crown of thorns rather than a crown of jewels and gold. We see a king who is stripped down to his skin, bullied and spit upon, beaten and mocked for proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is not just for those on top, but rather is a Kingdom for all.

We see a king who shows up in the midst of great suffering and fear. Who hangs on a cross between two criminals on death row – offering forgiveness and compassion to those who are most vulnerable.

We see a king who chooses to save the entire world.

With his arms outstretched, we hear him crying out to us: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me…Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

And in his final breaths, we hear him reminding us: “Who is the greatest of all? Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

You see, for Jesus, the way to greatness is not to be first, but rather it is to put others first. To put the well-being and basic needs of those who are vulnerable in front of our own wants, our sense of security, our concerns of offending others or being rejected, and our temptation to want to get ahead.

Our King’s path is not about climbing the social latter and befriending and caring for only those who have something to offer us. Rather, Jesus’ path to greatness is tearing down all walls that divide and welcoming and walking alongside those who suffer, including and especially those the world deems as the last and the least.

When we follow Jesus toward the cross, we see our loving God – who is with us in the flesh – perform a radical act of love that trumps hate.

But, our journey following Jesus does not end here. While we know the tragedy that takes place on the cross, we can have hope. For Jesus’ death is not the end of the story. And we will soon find ourselves at the empty tomb.

 

Maundy Thursday and The Three Days

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We are finally coming to the end of our Lenten journey in the wilderness. And I don’t know about you, but this wilderness journey has been long, cold, and gloomy and I am ready for it to be all over.  I am ready for Easter: for some new life to be brought forth!

But before we jump too quickly to Easter, we must travel through the next three days. Because it is in these holy days that we are reminded of what it actually means to be resurrection people.

You see, it is during Jesus’ last supper with his disciples in the Gospel of John when we hear an important commandment, which is why today – the first of the Three Days – is called Maundy Thursday – or “Commandment Thursday.”

During this meal, Jesus gets down on his knees and begins to wash the disciples’ feet – an act that only a servant would do for a houseguest. And as he does this he says to them, “You call me Teacher and Lord. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

Later, he goes on to say: “I am with you only a little longer… [So] I give you a new commandment, just as I have loved you, so too, should you love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Here, as Jesus is preparing his disciples during their last meal together for his impending death on the cross, he commands them to follow him. To follow his way of life that is full of compassion, service, and love for others. To continue Jesus’ ministry by being His hands and feet to the world after Jesus’ death. This is how people will come to know God’s Kingdom is near and how they will experience the love of God.

And so today, we are being called to follow Jesus on his journey, as well.

But our call to follow him does not end after we gather with one another around the Table. When we are called to follow Jesus, we don’t get to just pick and choose the fun and easy parts of his journey and then skip the difficult ones that we don’t want to face. No, when we choose to follow Jesus, we must follow him on his entire journey – painful, scary, and all.

When we go to bed tonight, the three days will have only just begun. And it is in the painful event that comes next when we will begin to better understand who this Jesus is that we are called to follow.

Because, when we look to the cross, we see a king who chooses to save the entire world rather than to save himself.

You see, for Jesus, the path to greatness is not to be first, but rather it is to put others first. It is to tear down all walls that divide and to walk alongside those who suffer, including and especially those the world deems as the last and the least.

As we look to the cross, we are reminded that Jesus’ path can be quite difficult and painful at times.

And yet, while we know the tragedy that comes after Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, we can also hold onto hope. Because our journey following Jesus does not end there. Jesus’ death is not the end of the story. We will soon come to the empty tomb.

So as we enter the three holy days today, let us answer “yes” to Jesus’ invitation to live as resurrection people. Let us choose to follow him on his entire journey – which begins with a great commandment and then continues on toward and beyond the cross.

“White Supremacy, Systemic Racism, and Where We Fit within these Systems: It’s Confession Time” – Sermon on Luke 13:31-35

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“At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’” – Luke 13:31-35

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” we hear Jesus crying out this morning. “How often have I desired to gather your children – all your children – together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings. But you were not willing!”

You see, as a mother hen longs to gather together all her chicks so that they are equally taken care of, Jesus longs to gather all of God’s children so that we are equally taken care of, as well.

And yet, just as Jesus lived in a world full of inequalities, oppression, and persecution, here we are, in a world where 49 of God’s beloved children are murdered in their place of worship by an anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant white nationalist. And here we are, in a country that was built upon genocide and slavery due to white supremacy and where systemic racism continues to bleed throughout our society.

As I hear Jesus crying out in our Gospel this morning, I can’t help but wonder which cities and countries he is lamenting over today.

So let us join him in a time of lament as we take a moment of silence to lift up our Muslim siblings around the world as well as all our siblings who suffer at the hands of white supremacy.

*****

Many of you may be aware that during Lent, we – as a congregation – are taking this time to learn more about systemic racism that continues to prevail throughout our country and our world – and particularly to examine our own place and roles in these racist systems in order for us to work toward dismantling them. During this season of the church calendar, we are reading and discussing the book: “Waking Up White: Finding Myself in the Story of Race.”

Now, this past Thursday morning at our very first book discussion, our Vicar, Noah, had us reread the Invitation To Lent, which is read every year as we enter the season of Lent during our Ash Wednesday service. And this was a perfect reading to begin our Lenten journey of exploring the sin of systemic racism and how and where we fit into these racialized systems.

You see, the Invitation to Lent reminds us that since our “sinful rebellion separates us from God, our neighbors, and creation,” we must “acknowledge our need for repentance and for God’s mercy.” The invitation calls us: “as disciples of Jesus… to a discipline that contends against evil and resists whatever leads us away from love of God and neighbor.” And it invites us “therefore, to the discipline of Lent – self examination and repentance, prayer and fasting, sacrificial giving and works of love” as we “continue our journey through these forty days toward the great Three Days of Jesus’ death and resurrection.”

When we read this invitation during our Thursday morning book discussion, someone pointed out how scary and difficult this all sounds.

And he is not wrong. None of this is easy!

To name and call out systems of injustice that oppress some in order to uplift others is difficult. Because those who stand at the front of the line in these systems rarely like to give up their position in the line and the power that comes with it, even if it means allowing those who have been at the back of the line to move forward. And the same goes for those who stand in the middle of the line, as well.

You see, it is not easy to let go of our positions of power, our comfort, and our sense of safety and security, even if it means that others are being marginalized and harmed because of it. In fact, most of us do not even realize where we stand in the line, how we even got to that place, or how people who stand behind us are suffering because we stand in front of them. Because when you stand in a line, all you have to do is look forward. And the closer you are to the front of the line, the fewer the people you actually see.

And when we do eventually start to look backwards, it is not always easy to acknowledge what we do see when we are closer to the front of the line. It is not easy to come to terms with where we stand, how we benefit from being in that placement, or how that placement perpetuates harm, such as systemic racism and all the inequalities that come with it. And it is not easy to realize how holding onto our position in the line keeps those behind us in their place.

Acknowledging and challenging systemic racism and injustice is far from easy.

And we see this in our Gospel text this morning.

You see, throughout his ministry, Jesus has been proclaiming a Kingdom of God that is quite contrary to the exclusive Roman Empire of his day. This Kingdom of God includes not just those who hold power in society, but it also includes those who lack it the most.

And right before our passage, Jesus says that in this Kingdom of God, people will come from north and south, east and west and will all eat together at the very same table. And he even goes as far as saying that in this kingdom, those who have been last will be first and that those who have been first will be last.

This upside down Kingdom of God is radically different from the way the systems of Jesus’ day worked. And it threatens those who are in power, particularly King Herod. And so at that very hour, some Pharisees come to Jesus and warn him to leave, “for Herod wants to kill you,” they say to him.

No, this holy kingdom work is not easy.

But no matter how dangerous the situation is for him, Jesus is not going to stop proclaiming this Kingdom of God that flips the systems of injustice upside down and that calls those in power to move to the back of the line so that those in the back can move to the front and be fully included.

“Go,” Jesus says to the Pharisees, “And tell that fox, King Herod, that I have some holy kingdom work to do, and I will finish my work on the third day: on God’s time.”

And you see, the hardest thing about this is: we are commanded to follow Jesus in this holy work of dismantling systemic racism, no matter how dangerous or difficult it might be. Because systemic racism is a sin and it is evil. And it holds us back from loving God and loving others.

And as the Invitation to Lent reminds us: “as disciples of Jesus, (we are called) to a discipline that contends against evil and resists whatever leads us away from love of God and neighbor.”

Now how we go about doing this antiracism work is going to depend on where we stand in line.

And while there are systems that keep me from being in the very front of the line – such as my gender, my sexual orientation as someone who is bisexual, my economic class (since I don’t fit into the very top in this country), or anything else that may have held me back: as a person who is white, the color of my skin (as well as other privileges I have), still place me somewhere toward the front of the line.

*****

A few years ago, when I was in the midst of beginning this life-long journey of becoming anti-racist, I read a blog post by the Rev. Denise Anderson, a black pastor in the Presbyterian-USA denomination, who – at the time – was one of the co-moderators of the denomination. This post challenged and encouraged me to take a big difficult step in this antiracism work. Rev. Anderson wrote: “For those of you who ask ‘how many times [police shootings of unarmed black and brown individuals] must happen? I’ll tell you precisely when it will stop.

It will stop when people en masse are aware of the ways in which whiteness and white supremacy have shaped the way people of color are viewed, engaged, and treated in this world (even by other people of color).” To come to this realization, however, white people will then have to be self-aware and convicted of the ways in which they have benefitted from and promulgated the lie of whiteness…” She goes on: “White people, you have heard it said that you must talk to other white people about racism, and you must. But don’t talk to them about their racism. Talk to them about YOUR racism.

Talk to them about how you were socialized to view, talk to, and engage with people of color. Talk to them about the ways you’ve acted on that socialization. Talk to them about the lies you bought into. Talk about the struggles you continue to have in shedding the scales from your eyes. Don’t make it “their” problem. Understand it as your own problem, because it is… It’s confession time.”

After reading this, I sat down and made a very difficult and yet really important confession that I posted on Revgalblogpals, a blog I sometimes write for. And since antiracism work is a life-long journey, where I need to continuously confess and repent, I am making this difficult confession to you today:

I am racist.

I wish so much that I wasn’t. I try so hard not to be. But I am.

I think this is such a difficult confession to make because we often think people who are racist are “bad” and are intentionally hateful. Yes, there are many people who say and do overtly racist and hateful things. But the truth is, most people who are racist are good and well-meaning people, who don’t want to be racist, try their hardest not to be, and don’t even realize they are.

You see, I don’t belong to extremist groups like the KKK, call people racist names, or say things that are overtly racist. I even shut down jokes and call out comments that I recognize are racist. And yet, I am still racist.

I grew up in a diverse town and went to diverse schools. I currently live and work in Edgewater, which is an incredibly diverse community, and I have friends, neighbors, mentors and even a family member who are persons of color. And yet, I am still racist.

I follow people of color on facebook and twitter, read books and articles about racism and white privilege, attend anti-racism workshops, and participate in marches and rallies that address systemic racism.

But despite all of this: I am still racist.

Why?

Because my entire life I have been socialized to be. I have been conditioned to see the world through my eyes (the eyes that belong to a white body, which is the kind of body our society has supported, deemed the “norm,” and uplifted as superior for over 400 years.)

My school textbooks have been written from a white perspective. My television shows, movies, and books have been dominated by characters who look like me. The media I follow often perpetuates harmful racialized stereotypes and biases – no matter how progressive it might be.

Despite that my family taught me that all people were created in God’s image and deserve to be treated equally, I am still racist.  When I first see a person of color, I still sometimes fail to see her as an individual and instead see her as a stereotype. When I hear people of color share their stories of being racially profiled or denied upward mobility in their workplaces, I still sometimes question if their experiences are valid.

There are still times I say, think, or do things that I don’t even realize are racist and that perpetuate systemic racism. There are still times when I worry too much about ticking off my white friends or accidentally saying something that is offensive to my friends of color that I don’t speak up when I should. There are still times when I am in the virtual or physical spaces of my siblings of color and I end up wanting to center myself. And when people call me out on any of this, there are still times I feel defensive and focus more on my own discomfort than on the fact that black and brown lives matter more than my feelings.

You see, I am a white person who was raised in a country that was founded on white supremacy (the belief that white people are inherently superior to people who are not) and that throughout its history has continued to reinforce this white supremacy through social and political forces (the mass genocide of indigenous people living on this land, slavery, the Indian Removal Act, Jim Crow, redlining and blockbusting, the Urban Renewal Program, mass incarceration, school-to-prison pipeline, racial profiling, racialized policing – to name just a few)… As white person who has inherited all of this history and thus has been immersed in the culture that comes with it, it is extremely difficult to shed myself fully from my own racist views, biases, thoughts, and ways I believe the world should function… No matter how hard I try.

I am stuck in this 400 year old deeply engrained racialized system that not even the activists of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s could completely free us from.

And I benefit from this system. My whiteness is a privilege in it.

For example, as a white person, people look at me as an individual, not a stereotype. I will never be denied a loan, housing, or job interview because of my skin color. A store clerk will never follow me closely to ensure I don’t steal anything, and I will never be taken advantage of by a car salesperson because of my whiteness.

I have always had access to quality education and upward mobility. My white body is not seen as a threat. People will never look at me and think I could be a terrorist because of the color of my skin. People will not call the cops if they see me taking a walk in their neighborhood past sundown or quickly move to the other side of the road when they see me walking on the sidewalk where they are walking. I will not be pulled over in my car for no reason or on my bike because I look “suspicious.”

And if I do get pulled over, I will never have to worry that if I reach for my ID in my pocket, make a quick move, or even mouth back, I could get shot.

Among many things, racism denies the humanity in God’s beloved children and fails to see that God created all God’s children good, in God’s image, and beautifully and wonderfully just the way they are.

Racism is a painful and deadly sin.

And I am racist.

I live in a racialized society dominated by racist systems that were founded by white supremacy. And I benefit from and contribute to these systems.

*****

Now, this may sound incredibly hopeless. But it is not.

Because as Christians, we believe that when Jesus Christ died on the cross, he freed the world from its bondage to sin. Does this mean we are no longer sinners? Of course not. Because we are human.

But this does mean that we no longer have to be bound to sin. When we confess our sins in the presence of God and one another, our sin loses its power over us. Confession leads us toward repentance, where – by the grace of God – our hearts, minds, and thoughts begin to be transformed and we start to turn away from our sins.

 And whenever we turn away from something, we also turn toward something in the opposite direction. In this case, for those of us who are white: when we turn away from our sins of racism and white privilege, we turn toward a life of being anti-racists. But we cannot just turn away from our sin, turn toward a new way of life, and then pat ourselves on the back and go on our merry way. We must continuously and actively move toward this new way of life.

Since the sins of racism and white privilege are so deeply engrained in us and in the racialized systems we participate in and are conditioned by, we must actively check our privilege and racism, confess it, repent of it, and be moved to take action. We must do this over and over and over again.

While I am still racist, I choose to not let racism and white privilege dominate who I am.

 I choose to be actively anti-racist. I choose to learn about and become more aware of my white privilege and how I can work to dismantle it and the harmful racialized systems of which I am a part. I choose to listen to and learn from the voices and the cries of my siblings of color, to show up, and to grieve and stand with them in their pain and anger. I choose to speak with my white siblings about white privilege and interpersonal and systemic racism. I choose not to allow my discomfort, embarrassment, guilt, defensiveness, or the mistakes I have made (and will make) to take over me and hold me back from doing this important work.

While this new way of life is really difficult, in the Christian tradition, we believe that we do not pursue this way of life alone. We do this with the help of God and with one another.

 So, will you join me in this holy anti-racism work?

I need you. We all need each other. So let us do this holy work together.

And as we begin this journey of Lent and this holy work through confession, repentance, and action, let us hold onto the beautiful gift we have: that God, who is rich in mercy, loves us even when we were dead in sin, and made us alive together with Christ.

In Jesus Christ we are indeed forgiven! So now together let us act!

Amen.

Ash Wednesday: Let Us Return To God – Guest Post at Conversations on the Fringe

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“It is Ash Wednesday: the day we are called to be reminded of our mortality by receiving ashes – the symbol of mourning and repentance – in the sign of the cross on our foreheads…

From dust we came and to dust we shall return…

And it is on this day that we begin our Lenten path: our journey through the wilderness and toward the cross… Our time to retreat from the busyness of life, to reflect on what it means to be human and children of God, and to open our ears to hear and our eyes to see the ways in which God is present in our lives and around us.

It is our time to recognize that life is short, and therefore to reevaluate how our own lives have and can have meaning in this world…

Let us be intentional this Lent. Let us return again and again and again to our God with all our hearts. And as we do so, let us equip our youth to do the same and walk alongside them in this journey.

1. How do you feel called to return to God with all your heart during this season of Lent?

2. What are some of the things you are giving up and/or taking on this Lent?

3. How are you equipping your youth to make extra space during this season of Lent to return to God and walking alongside them in this journey?”

Read full article here.