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As chaplain, I often share with our school the news of the passing of any current or former member of our community.
Today, I also share with you the news of the passing of Clayton "Aaron" Wheeler and Kathleen Grady, our neighbors in Greenfield.

Aaron and Kathleen did not have a home, and they died during the very cold weather we all experienced several days ago.
They were ordinary people like each one of us, with moments of joy and pain in their lives, like each one of us. And they lived not very far from us, just 15 minutes from our home on this hill.

'What can we do?', you might be asking.
you can allow yourself to feel uncomfortable; that is your compassion crying out for the loss of human life that is just as valuable as your own.
You can learn more (  and ),
you can allow yourself to be changed, in some, important way. It is up to you to figure out what and when that change will be -- maybe now, maybe in ten years.
But don't allow yourself to ignore the lives of Aaron and Kathleen.

Every life
deserves to be remembered.
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Isaiah 43:19
“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

What is the point of a religious or spiritual life in the 21st century?
After all, science has taken us to the moon and we have seen the surface of the stars;
the mystery religion wants to hold no longer seems seductive.
After all, people still say ugly things to each other and abuse each other’s dignity;
the goodness religion is supposed to give no longer seems persuasive.
After all, we haven’t been able to build the utopia religion has promised us;
the dream of religion no longer seems imminent.
After all, what’s the point?
Where’s the value of religion or spirituality for my educated and enlightened self?

Yet, many days, I yearn for something new
because there’s too much same old same old.
Many days, I sigh
because the cycle of dishonesty and corruption seems
I’m dizzy from walking in circles.

Yet, if I can grab the wall and stand still for a moment,
if I will wait silently,
can I perceive it?
It is quieter than this morning’s snowfall,
but as sure as
the ground it lands on.

Oh yes...
It’s calling me

to inhabit these words
from Isaiah
to be
[the] new thing;
… [that] springs forth!
to be the one Bible that people might actually read;
to dare to love the unlovable,
to have courage to believe the unprovable
to have eyes to see the invisible.

Ah --

It’s calling me.
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May I offer something to you today?
How about 10 minutes to sit in silence to reflect on what you are doing here and why you are working so hard?
Maybe you can reflect on 10 things you are grateful for or,
10 people that inspire you to persevere and to be kind and caring today.
Is that 10 minutes too long of a time? Then, maybe 7 minutes you can spare
in between brunch and your homework for A block tomorrow. I bet you can smile at 7
because it is the lucky number that reminds you of your good fortune to wake up today,
to see snow covered hills, and to enjoy the sweetness of real maple syrup.
If 7 minutes seems daunting yet, then try for 5. What a gift to have 5 minutes in your day uninterrupted by digital dings or annoying things. You owe it to yourself to take that break;
you really deserve it.
But, yes, I know, even 5 minutes is a lot for your busy schedule. After all you have academic assignments and workjob and sports, or dance, or music or art, or let’s be real,
just hanging out with friends.
If 5 is too much, then shoot for 3. 3 minutes of quiet, alone time can recharge your soul if you will breathe and watch how your energy centers around the movement of in, then out,
in, then out.
Yet, 3 minutes without distraction has been hard for me, a novice to such mindfulness, I will confess. Maybe you can relate.

But a moment we can do.
A moment to know that we are valued beings,
that we will make a difference to others,
and that every day, together, 
small bit by small bit, we are making a better world.

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While Epiphany, the day when the wise kings from the east visited the baby Jesus, is already a few weeks ago now, in the church calendar we are still in the season of Epiphany. We are in a time when the identity of Jesus is revealed to us and this revelation transforms us, just as seeing the infant Jesus and knowing his identity transformed the wise kings. We are in Epiphany tide when we seek to know more about who Jesus is with the desire that what is revealed to us will change us. Is this not what it means to be faithful; to seek to know God more and to want to live life in a new and transformed way with the people around us? Is this not why you and I are here this morning, because at some level we have come with the hope that today we will know Jesus and God in such a way that will change our lives and our communities forevermore?

And today we do learn more about who Jesus is as we ponder the story of Jesus in the synagogue in Capernaum. When we look at the Gospel of Mark, we see that Mark does not give a lot of preamble or explanation to set the stage for Jesus’ life. For that we can go to Matthew or Luke. No, right in the very first chapter of Mark, we encounter John the Baptist, then we hear of Jesus being tested by Satan in the desert, and then we see Jesus calls disciples to work with him as he embarks on his public ministry. With these disciples, the first place Jesus goes is Capernaum. That is where our reading began this morning. So, in the narrative that Mark presents, not much yet has been revealed about Jesus’ identity, his power and his effect on people.

So, we ask, what is revealed about Jesus here? We read that on the sabbath Jesus went to the synagogue and there he taught, and he taught with authority! This is important information Mark wants us to know; Jesus has an authority which was recognized right from the start of his ministry as astounding! Even more, he commands the unclean spirits who obey him. This Jesus is not any ordinary teacher or healer; there is an amazing authority that lives within him. What is this authority? As we read the Gospel of Mark, we are given this epiphany about Jesus as one who possesses an authority that seems unmatched, and we want to know more. This passage is like a movie trailer to the story of Jesus life; we are introduced to this phenomenal person and we get hooked, and we can’t wait to watch the whole movie! Part of our epiphany, then, is an awakening of our own yearning to know more in hopes that this will change us as it did those who were gathered at the synagogue in Capernaum.

Let’s move now to 1 Corinthians which was written by the Apostle Paul. Paul also had an epiphany of Jesus and this did change his life. Paul, a devout person in his own understanding of religious living, had an encounter with Jesus on his journey to Damascus. In a vision of blinding light, Paul heard Jesus asking him why he is persecuting those people who love Jesus, and Paul realized in that moment that God had also been revealed to those who think differently from him through the person of Jesus. This humbles Paul to the point of transformation and desire to proclaim his new understanding of God through Jesus Christ to people far and wide. Paul’s epiphany empowered him to be Jesus’ very first missionary, and he traveled to many places including Philippi, Thessaloniki, Ephesus, and Corinth where there were early Christian communities. Paul supports these communities even after he departs from them through his letters. 1 Corinthians, from which our scripture passage this morning comes, is one of these letters.

When we read 1 Corinthians, unfortunately we see that the church at Corinth was really quite messed up. The Corinthian church was plagued with lots of problems such as factionalizing behind rival leaders, incest, prostitution, celibacy within marriage, questions about Christians married to one another or Christians married to pagans asking about divorce, and questions about remarriage. The Corinthians were also talking about lawsuits and idolatry, and there was concern about women praying and prophesying in what was seen, at the time, as immodest ways. There was chaos in worship and inequality in the communal meal, and even the denial of the bodily resurrection of Jesus and of Christians.

At the beginning of chapter 8 in 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses the community’s concerns about whether to eat the food that had been sacrificed to idols. We can imagine a self-righteous group looking down on another group within the Corinthian church saying, ‘ha, idols are nothing real anyway. We are so smart since we know this! There’s no problem in eating that food!’ But Paul responds that not everyone knows this about idols, and if the behavior of eating idols’ food upsets others and cause them to be weakened in their conscience then, it is not worth it! Paul is saying, ‘ what good is your knowledge if it is not used in a loving way that builds up the community, but instead breaks it down? Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up,” Paul asserts. And in the famous love chapter, chapter 13, Paul enumerates all the ways this love is expressed. “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. [Love] does not rejoice in wrong-doing. It rejoices in the truth”, and so this famous passage goes. Paul urges the Corinthians to examine if they are acting in this Christ-like loving way or if they are just squabbling over points of ritual ultimately for self-serving purposes. Christ’s love is the authority that can straighten out even this troubled Corinthian church.

Yet, how can we adequately describe in words the power and authority of love? Is this not an experience or a revelation given to us even more so than a piece of knowledge we achieve? As we think about why the people in the synagogue were astounded by Jesus’ authority, might it have been that they had an epiphany of the love of Jesus behind the words he spoke to them? When we think of why Jesus was able to command the unclean spirits, was it not his love, compassion and mercy for the suffering individual that gave him the power to do this? Is this not the authority of Jesus that the Gospel of Mark is revealing right from the start of the story of Jesus’ life? Certainly, it was this authority that Paul wanted the Corinthians to know for their church, torn apart as it was by arrogance, pride, and disrespect.

Like the Corinthians, we also live in an arrogant, prideful world, where people are disrespectful of others and say ugly things and act in ugly ways toward one another often simply because of skin color, or gender or age or ability or religious and cultural differences. We, too, live in a messed up world, the consequences of which are too often serious life and death matters. So, how are we, as people of faith supposed to act?

The juxtaposition of the Mark passage and the Corinthians passage seems to be saying that if we will also act with the authority of Jesus, who saw broken human reality and responded with compassionate restorative love, then what we do may be just as astounding! To see, to love, and to act boldly -- this is divine, this is authoritative.

During this month of January, I think particularly of Martin Luther King, Jr. who exercised his love in the effort to build a beloved community of dignity and equality in the middle of our very problematic world. I think of Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker, who lived in voluntary poverty with love for her companions who were suffering under a capitalist economy. I think of Bishop Romero and Desmund Tutu who spoke up against social and political injustices out of their love for their suffering neighbors. I think of you in this church who work tirelessly to find ways to feed the hungry and to console the lonely. These are authoritative acts of love, and we know they are needed! 

Just as Paul was called to be a follower of Christ to exercise a leadership of love that builds up community rather than breaking it down, so are we called to boldly exercise our leadership of love, knowing that the expression of this love is not always easy nor appreciated. But we are encouraged by the verses at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, where we read “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” God’s authority of love is with us in this work always! May our epiphany this morning be that our Christian lives should be authoritative, authoritative with love! So, let us not be timid about our faith; this is not the time nor the place for that! In our troubled world, torn apart as it is by puffed up arrogance, pride and disrespect, our leadership of discerning and courageous love is sorely needed. As people of faith willing to see humanity’s brokenness, we have been commanded to, and can do astounding things. Amen.
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“The Gift of Diversity and the Sin of Injustice: What is our calling?”

(Scripture passages of Matthew 2:1-12, Luke 4:18-19, and 1 Samuel 3:1-10 are below)

Today our service has two themes. One is the theme of human diversity, and the other is the theme of justice and injustice. We celebrate diversity, but we mourn the fact that, with differences, injustices are often inflicted upon some groups of people by other groups of people.

The first reading from Matthew is about the wise kings, or the Magi who went to see baby Jesus. These magi were not from the same culture as Jesus’ parents, Mary and Joseph. We do not know the ethnic identity of the Magi, and we also do not know their religious affiliation. They came to see Jesus from a far distance, so we can assume that in lifestyle and worldview they were different from Jesus, Mary and Joseph. To present the life of Jesus in the Bible by starting with the visit of these people who were different from Jesus, underscores, right from the start, that Jesus is for everyone, not just for those who resemble me or behave in a certain way, or hold a particular belief, or possess certain talents or skills. No, Jesus is for those in one’s own culture and for those from other cultures. This is the underlying message of the story of the Magi.  And it is a powerful reminder that in God’s world diversity is valued. God is the creator of everyone; people who look, act and think like me, and people who don’t look, act, or think like me. If God loves all people, then there is no reason why I should not.

We don’t know a lot of details about Jesus’ life between his birth and when he started his ministry. But one we do know is that Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt soon after Jesus was born in order to escape King Herod’s order that all Jewish baby boys under the age of two should be killed. So, another detail that is given in the life of Jesus is one that highlights an injustice and an abuse of power. Herod was using his position of power to protect himself against what he thought was a threat; that a Jewish baby would be king and usurp his position. Again, it is striking that the story of Jesus that is told in the Bible for all to read begins with a recognition of diversity and a concrete instance of injustice created by people in our world. Clearly the diversity is valued and the injustice is mourned.

This passage in Luke is one of the first words that Jesus speaks publicly after starting his work as an adult. After Jesus was tempted in the desert for 40 days by Satan, he started teaching and preaching in the towns. When he got to Nazareth which was where his father, Joseph, had been living, he stood up in the synagogue and read this passage from the book of Isaiah about bringing good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed. Again, it is significant that one of the very first things Jesus says in his ministry addresses the unjust situations people live in. Jesus is saying, ‘these injustices will be no more!’

And when you continue reading through the Gospel stories, you see that all of Jesus’ career was about bringing healing and justice to people and restoring their dignity as human beings regardless of their gender, wealth, social status, abilities, and even faith perspectives. One of the longest dialogues that Jesus has with any individual in the Bible is with a Samaritan woman, and Samaritans were known to worship differently than the Jews.

Throughout history there have been many faithful people who have tried to imitate the life that Jesus led on earth by bringing good news to the poor, release to the captives, healing the sick and working for freedom for the oppressed. There have been many people that have recognized that certain groups in our societies suffer great injustices because others don’t appreciate, or are threatened by human diversity. This week at NMH we celebrate the life of one such person, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. MLK was a person of faith who felt a calling to work for justice. We are grateful for such individuals for two reasons; one, their lives have made the world a better place and more in line with God’s hope for humanity, but two, their lives inspire us to realize there is much more work to be done and that God also calls us to respond from our own positions in life in ways that are available to us.  

The story of Samuel reminds us of this. Samuel was a young boy who had an experience that anyone can have at any time in life, regardless of age. Samuel gets this sense that he is being called to do something but he is confused because he can’t figure out where the voice is coming from! We can have this experience, and we might today, or in this coming week, as we are inspired by MLK’s life and legacy, and feel that we, too, are called to do something, but we may not know where the voice is coming from. Samuel didn’t ignore the voice, but tried to understand what it was about and he was persistent with asking for help from Eli, his priest and teacher.  We can be persistent, too, in trying our best to understand and respond to the calling we might be hearing.

That is what it means to be faithful; it is to be persistent with the questions that we are called to wrestle with, and to be willing to follow through with our eyes on the prize, which is God’s justice and peace for all people, those who look, think and act like me, and those who do not look, think and act like me.

(Scripture Passages taken from the New Revised Standard Version)
Matthew 2:1-12
2In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” 7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Luke 4:18-19
18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

1 Samuel 3:1-10
3Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. 2At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3the lamb of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 5and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. 6The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 9Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
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January 7, 2018

Yesterday was Epiphany and today is Epiphany Sunday; the magi are on my mind.

I have been reading Walter Brueggemann’s Gift and Task: A Year of Daily Readings and Reflections. He comments that the account of the magi’s visit to pay homage to the infant Jesus right at the start of the gospel narrative (Matthew) underscores the inclusive nature of God’s message. I appreciate this insight and reminder that God’s love is for all people, not just for a select group, whether that be an ethnic or racial group or even a particular religious one. We don’t know the religious affiliation of the magi. We only know that they followed a star in their hopes of finding the promised one. We know, too, that when they entered the house where the baby lay, they were able to recognize a helpless baby as the one they had traveled a great distance to see. Would I have been able to do that...

I like to think about what the authors of the Gospels are telling me, and I refer to the authors of Matthew and Luke since it is only these two of the four Gospels that recount Jesus’ birth. I recall that first it was the humble shepherds from Luke’s account who greeted Jesus. Then, it was the magi, the gentiles and foreigners, from Matthew’s version that sought out the baby Jesus. In neither Matthew nor Luke, does the birth of the Messiah attract the attention of the supposedly righteous and upstanding, learned people of his community. The story of Jesus’ life begins with outsiders, the shepherds and gentiles; they embraced something that others did not.

If I am to imitate the life of Christ, then I need to pay close attention to this not inconsequential detail. The authors of Matthew and Luke, who wanted the readers for centuries to come to know Jesus and the love of God, allow unexpected people to be pivotal characters in Jesus’ narrative. They allow the epiphanies of these peripheral people to inspire me to seek Jesus in unexpected places, and to examine why I have had certain expectations of where God would dwell. The epiphanies of the shepherds and the magi are both my confession and revelation.
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The poet Kahlil Gibran writes of beauty that it is a ‘heart inflamed and a soul enchanted.’ Today we have been invited, through music and poetry, to a beauty that inflames our hearts and enchants our souls to the purpose of this season; a season of light, promise, and peace.

No matter our traditions, no matter our languages, we will recognize the presence of light in our midst. If we are a spiritual people, who proclaims there is more to our reality than what is merely seen and touched, we will hold out our hope in the power of light to overcome and comfort us against the pervasive forces of destruction in our world. We will be drawn to a light that unites us despite all that stubbornly threatens to divide us. We will be enchanted by the possibility of light to endure in our lives, and enflamed by the task we are given to live this light in acts of kindness, mercy and justice in the streets of our communities where human greed and selfishness darken the way.

That it is possible for us to be light for each other as we declare liberty to the captive and bring this good news to the oppressed, that this is possible is the promise we are given this season and conveyed to us in many ways. Advent prepares us for the promise born in human form bearing the name of Emmanuel, God with us. Hanukkah reminds us that our dedication and commitment reaches God to bring forth the miracle of light, even when our own resources are meek. Kwanzaa inspires us to know the promise of light embodied in the strength and wisdom of our traditions and culture. This is a season of promised visions and unexplainable courage; an angel before us, a miracle amidst us, and a wisdom to shape us. We resolve to witness to these mysteries through our boldness to live a radical servant life in a world that values prestige and privilege. Through our commitment to the light, we level the uneven grounds and make straight a pathway for our God and for our neighbor.

This season is a light that our eyes might see, a promise that our hearts shall trust, and a peace that will open us to each other. The combined light of this season’s festival candles illumines this peace that happens because of our shared humanity. In this togetherness, we learn a power stronger than any other and sustainable beyond rational understanding. It is a power expressed in a humility bending low in reverence to the mysteries and extending upward in praise for our common calling to live light for one another, for the assurance that this is possible, and for the all-surpassing peace that envelops us as we try.

Tonight is the night, now is the time for our hearts to be inflamed and our souls to be enchanted to the purpose of this season; a season of light, promise, and peace.