September 18th, 2016
A sermon preached by
Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry United Methodist Church, September 18,
Palestinian-American Poet Naomi
Shihab Nye tells this story of an encounter with a Middle Eastern mother and
child: “The little girl at the airport
gate in Cincinnati had a tuft of vivid pink ponytail sticking straight up out
of her brown-haired head. I wondered how
hard she had to beg to get her mother to do that. She was about five, wearing a lacy white
party dress. When we boarded the plane
she turned up sitting right in front of me.
She poked her cute little face through the crack between the seats. ‘Do you
have a table that comes out of your arm?’…When the flight attendant gave
safety instructions over the loudspeaker, the girl chimed out loud
responses. ‘You’re welcome!’ to ‘Thanks
for flying with us.’ ‘Hope you have a nice flight too!’ Her mother tried to
shush her. ‘But you told me to answer
people,’ the girl protested. The mama
said, ‘That lady’s talking to everyone.
She’s not just talking to you.’ The plane took off toward San Francisco
and the little girl looked down on Cincinnati.
‘Oh Mama!’ she cried. ‘We forget we live in a zigzag world. Look how it’s shining!’”[i]
“We forget we live in a zigzag
world,” a shining world… This little
Arab child had the eyes to see the beauty of the world, the light in the world,
she saw everyone as a friend. Sometimes
we forget. Sometimes we don’t see.
Many months ago now, in a sermon, I
lifted up the opening prayer from our United Methodist Order for Morning Praise
and Prayer that begins, “New every morning is your love, great
God of light, and all day long you are working for good in the world.” I
regularly post the prayer on FaceBook and many of you have commented about how
helpful it is. But something else I’ve
heard in response to the words of this prayer is: “I have a hard time seeing God working for
good in the world.” // So many people
struggle just to get by; the specter of violence haunts our streets, our homes,
even our computers; the earth is wrecked to line the pockets of the already
wealthy; bigotry, cruelty and injustice not only land upon human bodies with
humiliating, deadly force, but also become rallying cries to mobilize the very
worst of human nature. And it feels
tiresome to have to keep acknowledging the vitriol and division and
polarization that seems so overwhelming in these days. But this is the soup in which we are
swimming. We can’t escape it. I’ve been hearing how difficult it is for
those of you who are directly involved in the political fray in any way to keep
a sense of balance, kindness, and faith.
I have been hearing painful stories about hateful, dismissive, words and
actions from family members and friends.
When our own loved ones begin to treat us like an enemy we know that the
infection of this particular dis-ease has become pervasive indeed. We may wince
to think of the ways that we ourselves have contributed to the ugliness that is
determined to get its hooks in all of us.
In the midst of all of this, our vision can get clouded by
defensiveness, hurt, self-righteousness, regret, fear, sadness, and more. How
can we see the shining, zigzag world, how can we see others as friends, how can
we see God in these conditions?
Jean Vanier is a Catholic philosopher and the founder of L’Arche, an
international organization that creates communities where people with
intellectual disabilities and those who assist them share life together. Vanier
himself has lived in this intentional community for more than 50 years. He talks
about seeing God through “signs” explaining that, “A sign means ‘a great
event that is visible and reveals a presence of God.’”[ii] Vanier isn’t just talking about things we
might associate as “miracles”—like walking on water or immediate healing. Instead he mentions things like the 2010 film
Of Gods and Men, a movie that retold
the tragic fate of nine Trappist monks in Algeria. The monks lived in deep
harmony with their Muslim neighbors until 1996, when Islamic fundamentalist
forces ordered them to leave. The monks refused to leave the people with whom
they had formed such close bonds and paid dearly for their solidarity. Vanier
says that the film reveals God’s presence and, therefore, is a “sign.” He also mentions things that certain people
do—acts of courage, of love, of humility, of service—and says that these are
“signs”—great events that are visible and that reveal God’s presence. I imagine that many of us can get on board
with this understanding as an abstract concept.
But is this the lens through which we actually look upon the world? Are we actively looking for “signs” and, if
so, do we have the eyes to see them?
As Naomi Shihab Nye’s story reminds
us, children tend to see signs with great clarity. I am reminded of the moment here at Foundry
back in July when this truth was on brilliant display. On July 17th, author Diana Butler
Bass joined us for worship with her family. She wrote about what happened on
her FaceBook page: “The pastor (Pastor Dawn) called the little ones forward for
the children’s sermon, about a dozen preschoolers gathered on the chancel
steps. The pastor asked, ‘Where is the candle? Do you see the candle?’ The
children looked around. One sharp-eyed boy said, ‘There it is.’ And the pastor
replied, ‘Would you get it?’ The boy retrieved the candle and handed it to her.
‘Where is the white bowl?’ she then asked. And the same happened. ‘Where are
the silver and gold beads?’ Repeat. ‘Where is something that reminds you of
Christmas?’ Again. Finally she asked, ‘Where
is God?’ The children looked about. Up, down, all around. A few bewildered stares, some shrugged
shoulders. Then, a small blonde boy in a plaid shirt, about three years old,
said, ‘I know!’ The pastor said, ‘You do?’ The little boy looked excited
insisting, ‘Yes, yes!’ Then the pastor said, ‘Where?’ And the little boy
replied, ‘I’ll go get God!’ He jumped up
from the chancel stairs and ran down the center aisle. His father, obviously a
bit worried about the open doors at the back of the sanctuary, leaped out of
his pew to fetch his son. Before he got
very far, however, the little boy had returned. He was holding the hand of a
kind-looking woman in her seventies, literally pulling her down the aisle. ‘Here!’
he cried, ‘Here’s God! She’s here!’ The pastor looked puzzled: ‘Miss Jean?’ And
the boy pointed, ‘There she is! God! God!’”[iii]
I received an email from Diana later
that day saying that her FaceBook stats revealed that her post of the story had
reached more than 100 thousand people.
She said “I've never seen people respond so beautifully to something
I've put up on social media…People are hungering for goodness.”
The signs are all around us. But, as Vanier writes, “to see signs, we have
to be alive to reality, to what is actually happening.” Perhaps that tempts us to circle back around
to all the nastiness and struggle that pervades the world at present. That, some
would say, is what is actually happening.
True enough. But it is not the
only thing happening. “New
every morning is your love, great God of light, and all day long you are
working for good in the world.” Are we
looking upon our lives and the world with the expectation that all day long God
is working for good? Do we have the eyes
“Witness” is our guiding theme for
this next year and one aspect of that is seeing.
What do we witness? What do we see? I’m glad we have the year to explore these
questions because there is so much to think about. But as a beginning—and way of framing this
piece of our reflection on the topic—I was drawn to Psalm 27. It came to mind initially because verse four
of the Psalm is part of the daily office I pray from the Celtic Daily Prayer book:
One thing I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
to dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
and to seek God in God's temple.
Having prayed this verse every
morning for over two years, I have come to understand “the house of the Lord”
not as a building—or a physical sanctuary—but instead as an enfolding in God’s
presence. Where does God dwell, where is
God present? I believe God’s “household”
is the created world. Even so, I can
have the experience—does this happen to you?—where I become so caught up in my
own agenda and so familiar with my surroundings that I forget where I am and
can only see as far as the end of my nose.
Therefore, an awareness of where I am—God’s household!—opens my eyes to
beauty and reminds me to look for God everywhere. My experience is that, without the daily
reminder of how to fix my gaze—the reminder of what to seek, what to look for—my
vision shrinks and becomes distorted and fixed upon distractions, divisions,
When I went back to read the whole
Psalm, I was reminded that in this prayer we don’t find anything that could be
interpreted as a denial of the painful realities of the world. This Psalm doesn’t suggest that if you just go
to church regularly all the bad things will go away and your life will get easy
and you’ll never get hurt or feel sad or angry. Instead, we hear of flesh being devoured (v.
2), of war (v. 3), of parents’ abandonment (v. 10), of slander and violence (v.
12). In the midst of all these
realities, the Psalmist seeks the God who is known as a light and guide for the
path, a teacher, a source of protection and help. And finally, the Psalmist’s testimony is: “I
believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”
(v. 13) If the Psalmist is correct, seeing
God in the midst of pain and struggle gives us the courage to stand strong, to
resist the forces all around us that would devour us given the chance. Seeing God even in the presence of injustice
and attack also allows us to recognize beauty in the world when it seems there
is no beauty to be found. That is, an
awareness of God’s presence gives us the eyes to see the acts of kindness,
generosity, tenderness, courage, self-sacrifice, patience, creativity and the
like that happen right in the middle of tragedy and struggle. Seeing God helps us see what God sees…because
if we are seeing God’s presence and activity, then we become aware of the
people God sees, the ways God is at work.
And if we are seeing that, we will know where we can participate in what
God is doing in the world.
There is a lot to unpack about the
process and practice and benefits of seeing God—and we’ll have opportunities to
do that in the months ahead. But for
today, the invitation is to recognize how important it is to know what you are
looking for. The Psalmist says, “One
thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after”: to dwell in God’s household every single day
and to behold—to see—the beauty of the Lord.
What do you seek? What do you
look for? Friends, today you are invited
to go and SEE God.
“We forget we live in a zigzag
world. Look how it’s shining!” Look! “Here’s
God! She’s here!”
[i] Naomi Shihab Nye, “My
Perfect Stranger,” You & Yours, Rochester,
NY: Boa Editions, Ltd., 2005, p. 78.
[ii] Jean Vanier, Signs: Seven Words of Hope, New York:
Paulist Press, 2013, p. 45.
[iii] Diana Butler Bass,
FaceBook post, July 17, 2016.
September 11th, 2016
A sermon preached by
Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry United Methodist Church, September 11,
Texts: Matthew 10:40-42
Today we kick off a new focus that
will guide our reflections for worship, study, and service over the course of
the next twelve months. The title is
“Next: Witness.” There is a lot of
baggage that the word “witness” lugs around these days. But it’s too central to the practice of
Christian faith for us not to try to unpack it and discover what it means—and
doesn’t mean—to be a witness for Christ.
In these days when hate and fear try to claim the name “Christian” it is
important for us to be clear about what a faithful Christian witness really is.
There’s no way to do that in a handful of minutes on one Sunday. So we’re going
to spend the next year really trying to go deeper to discover how we can try to
live as witnesses without sacrificing our intellect or our integrity. Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a high
level look at three aspects witnessing:
being, seeing, and sharing. And
over the coming months, we’ll get into these things on a more micro level. I
hope you will come along for this journey.
+ + +
In the name of the Father, and of
the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen. We say it at Baptism. Some say it before and after prayer. What does it mean? What does it mean when Jesus speaks of
welcoming someone “in the name of a prophet” or “in the name of a righteous
person?” There are two primary
responses. First, to say or do something
in the name of someone is to act on behalf of that person or by the authority
of that person. This is like being an
ambassador, a representative of another. In ancient cultures, the link between the
representative and the one represented was very close and very strong. In other words, you were to receive the
ambassador of a King just as you would receive the King himself. The second meaning of speaking or acting “in
the name” of another is to act in a way that embodies the character or nature
of the person or group represented. For
example, if you speak in the name of the company for which you work, you, in
that moment, ARE the company. You are
the mouthpiece for the whole organization.
In the verses from Matthew, Jesus
is summing up his commission to the 12 disciples. Jesus has given them authority to do the work
that he himself does—authority to proclaim the good news of God’s reign, to
heal, liberate, and usher in new life (Mt 10:7-8). Jesus has given them their
marching orders; Jesus has spoken of the significant challenges they will face
as they serve “in his name”—not small challenges either—things like rejection,
persecution, arrest, and flogging! And
then he makes quite explicit the fact that the disciples are not only carrying
a message from Jesus or about Jesus to those they encounter, they are embodying
Jesus himself. “Whoever welcomes you
welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” In other words, the disciples are to live in
the world AS Jesus—for as they speak and live in Jesus’ name, others will
identify them with Jesus. The disciples
carry within them not just a word or an example or a set of teachings, but a
PERSON—and those they meet will welcome or reject not just an idea, but that
person—namely, Jesus, the Christ of God.
What difference does any of this
make to you and me? It doesn’t have to
make any difference at all, of course.
There are people who claim the name of God or “Christian” without any
intention of even trying to discern who God is…without any intention of
actually, you know, being Christian;
that is, there are plenty of people who take God’s name in vain! But if your desire is to align yourself with
the person of Christ, if you’re baptized in the name of the Three-in-One God
and want to take that seriously, then these lines of scripture give us some
guidance. In short, like the first disciples, we represent not only a set of
teachings or an example of a way to live, but the person of Jesus Christ. Our
lives, our choices, our actions will tell others something about God, about
Jesus. This may seem the most basic of
Christian teachings, but I wonder whether we sometimes forget. We ARE witnesses
for Jesus—for better or for worse. You
will have heard the saying that “your life is the only Gospel some will ever
read.” I’d add that “you are the only
Christ that some people will ever meet.”
If this seems overwhelming or
off-putting, I suggest two things that may help: first, to be Christ in the
world doesn’t mean that you’re supposed to try to be someone you’re not, but
rather, perhaps, it means you allow who you are—in all your particularity—to be
shaped, led, guided, stretched by the witness of Jesus who was fueled by
nothing other than love of God and love of neighbor; and secondly, we are only
able to be Christ in the world in community with others. It is only by all our
various gifts coming together that we are able to accomplish the work that
Jesus authorizes: to proclaim the good news of God’s reign, to heal, liberate,
and usher in new life. A life shaped by the love, mercy, justice, and hope
embodied by Jesus and shared in community with others is what we are
responsible for embodying in the world. What that means and how to allow our lives to be shaped by
the life of Christ will be taken up in sermons and studies throughout the next
year. But for today, it is enough to
simply be reminded that, as you go to work or school or engage with friends and
family, in your priorities for how you spend your time and money, in your
reactions to what is going on in the world and in your commitments about what
to do, insofar as you claim the name of Christ, you represent Jesus Christ.
But, Lord knows, to say we are
speaking or acting “in the name of Jesus” is tricky at best—we all know about
those who say they are doing things because God told them to… I grew up in
Oklahoma in the shadow of Oral Roberts University in the 70’s and 80’s and from
a very young age had this vague curiosity and discomfort with Roberts’ claims
about what God told him to do. And so
often what people do in the name of God is not only economically or spiritually
suspect, but also just weird or downright destructive. “In the name of God” human beings are
attacked, excluded, ostracized, and killed. From kamikaze planes to
assassinations at Planned Parenthood, we are painfully aware of the horrors
done in the name of God; we have quite rightly grown suspicious of anyone who
claims to be “doing what God told them to do.”
It makes sense to be cautious and
discerning and to critique and concretely challenge any philosophy or policy or
theology or spirituality that does harm to others—even if it gets us into
trouble. After all, we represent a person who did that! But we are challenged not only to critique
others, but to try to discern what God would have us do. And it’s never been an
easy task to discern and truly live in the name of God. We read the stories of the patriarchs and
matriarchs, the prophets and disciples through the ages and see just how
difficult it can be. From Abraham almost
killing his son to Solomon building an empire on the backs of slaves to the
first disciples’ recurring impulse toward power grabs and violence, we see that
even folks who are truly trying to get it right falter and fail. It is rather comforting to know we aren’t the
only ones. But that doesn’t mean we have an excuse to abandon our responsibility
to try to live and love “in the name of God.”
It just means we know it isn’t easy.
As I have thought about this idea
of living “in the name of God,” two stadium-rock bands have been howling in my
head. U2’s “Pride (In the name of
love)”—a song that alludes to Jesus, to Martin Luther King, Jr., and to more
non-specific martyrs who gave their lives in the name of love—and who did so
with dignity, purpose, and intention.
This song celebrates faithful human witness to God and God’s love. The
other song on repeat in my mind? From
none other than Bon Jovi: “Shot through
the heart and you’re to blame…You give love a bad name…An angel’s smile is what
you sell, you promise me heaven then put me through hell…” The Church, those of us called “Christian,”
have on occasion been rightly accused of giving love a bad name, promising
heaven, but putting people through hell, of saying one thing, but doing
another. Throughout the teachings of
Jesus in Matthew, we are warned against hypocrisy. And we know well enough that hypocrisy turns
people away from God and from the Church.
Hypocrisy in politics, in our workplaces, in any area of life engenders
disappointment, distrust, and disgust.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just focus on the hypocrisy of
others? // One reason I don’t have the Christian fish on
my car is that my road rage would reveal my hypocrisy on a regular basis! In response to the person who said that he
didn’t go to church anymore because “they’re just a bunch of hypocrites”
William Sloane Coffin replied, “You bet we are! And there’s always room for one
more.” The truth is we’re all
hypocrites; we don’t get it right all the time; we miss the point over and
again; we don’t speak up or take a stand in all the ways and places we are
needed; we don’t know how to discern God’s will; we do harm, do things that
give our God a bad name.
The good news is that the name we
bear is the name of Jesus, the name of the One who loves us beyond measure,
whose goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our lives! We are forgiven for our failures and given
chance after chance because of Christ’s love.
We know we won’t represent Christ perfectly. But the invitation—and our responsibility!—is
to trust God’s love enough to risk getting it wrong. If we don’t at least try to be Christ, to
show Christ in the world, who will? The
steadfast love of God liberates us to try
to embody the kind of love revealed by Jesus.
That may take some dramatic, public
form. But, Jesus teaches, even our small
attempts can make all the difference. A kind word, an act of patience and
compassion, standing up for someone, holding your tongue when gossip would be fun,
sacrificing a more prestigious job for the sake of your family, putting your
money where your mouth is, practicing humility when it would be easy to throw
your weight around, following a seemingly crazy divine calling, responding—or
not!—to a difficult FaceBook post, sacrificing yourself or your comfort or your
time for the sake of another, offering even a cup of cold water to a thirsty
person. In these and so many other ways,
we can go and BE Christ in the world.
And, oh my, doesn’t the world need
more Christ? In a world so quick to
allow fear to lead to violence and to connect God’s will with that fear and
violence, our living in the name of Christ, the very face of love, is not only
a nice idea, it is our solemn responsibility.
The Christ who dwells in us is our hope and we who dwell in Christ are
hope for the world. Go and BE Christ…in
the name of love… Amen.
September 4th, 2016
sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC, September 4,
2016, the sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost.
Luke 14:1, 7-14
gospel story teaches us something both about being a guest and about being a
host. As a guest, Jesus tells us not to
hog the best seat in the house. As a
host, we’re taught not to only invite guests who can repay us, but instead to
make a point to invite those who can’t. Both of the teachings could be
interpreted as little nuggets of worldly wisdom, designed to get you a
reward—in the first case, potential public recognition and promotion and in the
second, some mystery prize behind resurrection door number one. This interpretation meshes with the worldly
economy we all know so well. You know
what I mean: quid pro quo, everything
has a price, “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” The worldly economy functions according to
merit or popularity or material wealth or having insider knowledge or the
wielding of brute strength or simply being born into a certain class, race, or
caste. It is big on pecking order,
seating charts, and keeping score. The
questions in this economy are things like:
“What do I have to do to get what I want?” “How much will this
cost?” “What are the rules?” “Do I have what it takes?” “What have you done for me lately?” “When am
I going to get what’s coming to me?” We
see echoes of this in conversations about immigrants or the poor—about who pays
taxes and who has done what they were supposed to do and who deserves support. We see the worldly economy in this recent business
with 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand for the national
anthem in protest of police brutality and racism—when folks say things like,
“he owes this country more respect.” And
we can find the deposit of the worldly economy in our own lives when we find
ourselves thinking that people owe us—that is, “After all I’ve done… my boss, my
spouse, my friend, my child, God owes me…”
learn the ways of the worldly economy early on and see them playing out on
school playgrounds and lunchrooms and in the halls; and we see this worldly
economy at work as adults—on the playground of the social scene, inter-office
dynamics and in the halls of power. We
joust and jockey and dance around these things, trying to figure out how to
succeed. We size one another up and measure
ourselves against others and weigh our options and our actions and our choices
in what can feel like Game of Thrones—you
win or you die. As we look around there
are all the “stock characters”—the bullies and negotiators, over-achievers and
slackers, the shy and the outgoing, the risk-takers and risk-averse, the
socially awkward and the poised charmers.
But in the end everyone is simply trying to find their way, to sort out
how to survive, to live, to connect, be seen to have needs met, to be loved in
the messy economy of the world.
there are several levels to Jesus’ teaching in today’s Gospel. Perhaps there are some little worldly wisdom nuggets
there—about the ways that good manners at a social engagement will end up
serving you well, about curbing our entitlement tendencies, about being
generous. But it seems there might be something deeper going on here. For me, the place that kept nudging me is the
moment when Jesus turns to the host of the dinner party and says “do not invite
your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they
may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.” Jesus says to invite those
who cannot repay you.
to expect repayment from people runs counter to pretty much everything in the
worldly economy. Jesus is advocating a
completely different kind of economy, one that draws us into the realm of God’s
Kin-dom. What Jesus suggests is that the
Kin-dom of God employs an economy of grace.
That is, all is a gift—not a right, not earned, not a hard, cold fact of
material being. Everything is a gift
from God. You are a child of God; you don’t
have to negotiate that, it’s a free gift.
You are loved by God; you don’t have to win that prize through skill or
wise choice, God’s love is FREE. God’s
interest in us is unearned (and whoever heard of unearned interest!?), but no
less valuable and powerful. When we open
our hearts to receive the gift of God’s love, then we are able to employ the
economy of grace, to relate to people and to our lives differently. When we are willing to live as citizens of
the Kin-dom, we are freed from the jockeying and the jousting for
position. As those who know ourselves
already to be loved, we no longer have to live by the rules we learned on the
playground. We are freed to simply be
ourselves, to respond to an invitation without an expectation that we will be
(or should be) the guest of honor or without trying to present ourselves as
overly important—but simply to arrive and to share in the gift of the
moment. Of course, the world will
continue to tug and pull at you, pushing your buttons of self-importance or
insecurity (both of which, by the way, tend to make us try to get or keep the
best seat in the house); but as you become more aware of and strengthened by
God’s love for you, you gain freedom to be and to share yourself and to enjoy others,
regardless of where you are on the seating chart. And—I must add—you also gain a sense of your
own dignity and self-worth and so are able to recognize when someone is taking
advantage or harming you and, therefore, can make a decision to resist.
we take up residence in the Kin-dom of God and begin to be guided by the
economy of grace, we are freed to be generous, we seek to love as God loves and
to give as God gives. That means
recognizing that the bounty of the feast is not reserved for those who already
have enough, those who can sponsor a whole table. Instead, guided by God’s economy of grace, we
see that the feast is prepared for all people and there is always enough if we
make room for others and share. To love
as God loves and to give as God gives means we let go of our tendencies to
judge who deserves this and who deserves that.
Dorothy Day said, “The Gospel takes away our right forever, to
discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor.” God doesn’t say to you, “I might give you my
love, I might invite you to my banquet table… But…what have you done for me lately?” God invites you and me to this banquet today,
just as we are and not because we have done anything to deserve it. God invites those who are trampled and hurt
by the worldly economy. God invites
those who, in trying to find their way, have gotten lost and fallen into
darkness. God invites all those—all of
us—to the banquet, to the feast of freely given love, no scorecards kept.
mistake the ways of God’s Kin-dom when we make it about rules and about keeping
score and about earned interest and love averages. Part of the mystery in all this is that,
having been saved from these fearful, selfish, life-shrinking, enslaving ways
of the worldly economy, the economy of grace brings rewards not only into our
lives, but also into the lives of those around us. One of my favorite writers, 14th
century Sufi mystic and poet, Hafiz, puts it this way:
sun never says to the earth,
a love like that,
residents with Jesus in the Kin-dom, freely
love and give and serve. As residents with Jesus in the Kin-dom, consider
the implications of God’s economy of grace on the ways you think about
immigration, poverty, taxes, the minimum wage.
Do something for someone “just because.” Include the one others leave
out. Remember that you are a beloved
child of God and therefore free to be yourself without games or apology. Remember that everyone else is a beloved
child of God, too. Enter into this great
mystery and receive the reward, the joy, of living –really living—in God’s
as we are invited to the banquet of love, compassion, and mercy, we’re reminded
that even after all this time Jesus doesn’t say to us, “You owe me.” Just imagine what happens with a love like
Hafiz, “The Sun Never Says,” The Gift:
Poems by Hafiz the Great Sufi Master, trans., Daniel Ladinsky, Penguin
Compass, 1999, p. 34.
August 28th, 2016
A sermon preached by Rev.
Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC August 28, 2016, the fifteenth Sunday
Text: Luke 13:10-17
Now Rabbi Jesus was teaching
in the synagogue on the Sabbath.
And just then there appeared
a woman with a spirit that made her doubt whether she was welcome since she had
doubts and questions about some tenets of the faith. She was hunched over, unable
to see (without craning her neck) how important she was in that place.
And just then there appeared
a man with a spirit that made him cynical about everything, including himself.
He struggled to trust, to hope, to believe that things might ever be better. He
was hunched over, unable to see the beauty and positive changes happening in
spite of constant struggle.
And just then there appeared
a woman with a spirit that made it difficult to manage the anger she felt at
the reality of suffering and injustice. She was hunched over, unable to see
that she didn’t have to manage her anger alone, that there was a whole
community with whom she could lament, rage, and engage in acts of solidarity
And just then there appeared
a genderqueer person with a spirit that told them that they were crazy and
broken. They were hunched over, unable to see that the mystery and beauty of
humanity includes a variety of God-given, created natures.
And just then there appeared
a man with a spirit that told him that he was a disappointment, that he was not
a man, that he couldn’t be a faithful disciple, because he was gay. He was bent
over, unable to see the strength and gifts and vision that he could uniquely
offer because of his orientation, not
in spite of it.
And just then there appeared
people with spirits of grief, guilt, fear, despair, loneliness,
self-righteousness, numbness, mental illness, addiction, exhaustion…
Now Rabbi Jesus was teaching
in the synagogue on the Sabbath.
And just then there appeared a woman
with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and
was quite unable to stand up straight. And
Jesus saw her and called her and set her free from what, in the original Greek,
is described as a spirit that causes weakness.
And the woman praised God at this unsolicited grace! But the leader of the synagogue was not
having any of it—this is the sabbath after all.
He directs his words to the crowd, but is really preaching to Jesus who
has just made the mistake of healing on the wrong day.
In the two versions of the
Ten Commandments found in the Bible (Ex 20:1-17 and Deut 5:6-21), the only
commandment with a significant variation is the fourth one—regarding the sabbath. In Exodus, the sabbath commandment is
grounded in creation, recalling God’s own creative activity and subsequent rest. In Deuteronomy, sabbath is connected to
liberation, with the reminder that God led the people out of slavery in
Egypt. Taken together, we learn that
Sabbath keeping has to do with both creation and redemption: delighting in the creation such that we are
ourselves re-created and remembering with joy that God frees us from all that
is enslaving and harmful to our life.
Sabbath understood in this
way makes Jesus’ encounter with the bent-over woman perfectly appropriate. So why does the leader of the synagogue get
so bent out of shape? Well, evidently,
over the years, the one clear prohibition in the fourth commandment—no
work—required some further definition; a policy if you will. In time, according to one commentator, 613
additional rules and regulations were attached to that simple admonition. The result is that a commandment originally
meant to provide a day of enjoyment and renewal became a fearful thing—leading
folks to worry all day long that they might mess up and actually do something
that could be construed as work.
I confess that I feel for the
leader of the synagogue. Like him, I
want to get it right and to follow God’s teaching. I am a huge fan of following the
rules—jaywalking makes me nervous as does walking into a place when the sign
says “closed” or not using the blinker when changing lanes. I am a team player—and, having played sports
for years, I know that when people don’t know or follow the rules of the game, the
whole thing falls apart. I know through
experience that without shared commitments to agreed-upon norms, community breaks
down. I feel for the synagogue leader
and can feel the sting when Jesus speaks the word, “hypocrite,” that most
painful of words when directed at those of us who are trying to be faithful, to
get it right.
But part of being faithful is
a willingness to receive correction, an openness to learn that we might be
getting it wrong. Jesus points out that,
according to the current state of things, an ox has a better chance of being
treated well than does a human being; this, due to a provision written into the
Sabbath policy that allows for livestock to be given water on the seventh day.
Perhaps another amendment is called for.[i] After all, if an animal can be untethered in
order to be cared for on the sabbath, cannot a beloved daughter be set free as
In this story, we see Jesus
breaking some of the finer points of the synagogue’s Book of Discipline for the sake of a woman with a spirit that had
crippled her life for eighteen years (what if she is only 18 years old?). In this case at least, it appears that what
is called “nonconformity” by the religious institution is actually much more
conformed to the heart and intention of God’s Law. Jesus’ acts of “nonconformity”—in addition to
showing love and mercy—were meant to liberate the faith community from
hypocrisy and from a harmful application of God’s law. Jesus wasn’t trying to destroy his Jewish
faith tradition or to cause schism. // “Nonconformity”
has been a word flying around a lot in our United Methodist denomination over
the past months particularly with regard to those of us who stand and act in
defiance of the discriminatory language and rules against LGBTQ people. My participation in acts of so-called nonconformity
finds inspiration and justification in the story we have heard today and others
like it. That is, I believe I am
following Jesus. But, if I am taking
this passage of scripture seriously, I must remain aware that I stumble into
the sanctuary each and every week with some spirit or another from which I need
to be liberated. I need the healing touch of Christ. And I also need to come open to a word of
challenge, of correction, of conviction.
I need to be open to Jesus who can see me and what in me needs to be…fixed
We all come to this place in all
sorts of shape, some of us feeling strong and some of us feeling weak and some
of us uncertain and some of us more certain than we, perhaps, ought to be. We are here to worship or to find a place to belong
or to hear a word of hope or challenge or to confess or to be healed or without
really knowing why we have come. But you
are here. Now. And, thank God, Jesus will not conform to even
well-meaning human rules that would keep him from seeing you and extending
whatever you need to live more fully and to see more clearly. It may sting, but even that is for the
greater purpose of love and liberation.
Now Rabbi Jesus is teaching
on this Sabbath and says, “You are set free.”
Praise be to God!
I am indebted to the work of Scott Hoezee, Biblical commentator for the Center
for Excellence in Preaching, for the information on Sabbath referred to in the
sermon. Center for Biblical Preaching at
Luther Seminary, ©Luther
Seminary. The information was confirmed
by my colleague, Rabbi Steve Weisman of Temple Solel in Bowie, MD.
August 21st, 2016
A sermon preached by Rev. Will Ed Green, Director of Connecting Ministries at Foundry UMC, on
August 21, 2016, the fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost.