Foundry UMC

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Faith Trip or Power Trip

July 9th, 2017

A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC July 9, 2017, the fifth Sunday after Pentecost.

Texts:  1 Samuel 16:10-13, Mark 4:26-34

 

There’s a reason a tiny Albanian woman has become a modern icon of what it means to follow Jesus.  This simple, common, unlikely woman, remembered and revered around the world as Saint (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta, once told her superiors, “I have 3 pennies and a dream from God to build an orphanage.”  Her superiors chided her saying, “With 3 pennies you can’t do anything.”  “I know,” she said, smiling, “but with God and 3 pennies I can do anything.”  The Kin-dom of God is like that...it’s like someone actually listening and watching for God’s leading, committing to work for that dream, taking whatever little resource they have, together with all the love they can muster and trusting God to do the rest.  //  Reflecting on the circumstance of this morning (travel woes! Bishop Hoshibata’s flight canceled!) and this middle of summer time when so many people are traveling, it made me think about travel and all the various trips we take.  This morning, I want to talk about two different trips:  the faith trip and the power trip. 

 

We often talk about our lives of faith in terms of a journey.  The Christian journey is all about trying to follow Jesus; and Jesus is all about living and proclaiming the Kin-dom of God.  Unfortunately, many folks have the reaction Mother Teresa’s superiors had at the invitation to get on board the journey of faith and are none too sure about life in the Kin-dom.  It is, after all, a bit of a hard sell when you stop and think about it:  you’re going to have to convince people to offer all they have to the work of God’s love and then put their trust in God instead of their own strength, skill, or wealth; to leave what they think they know for sure; to receive new eyes—a double eye transplant—that will make them see things from a very different perspective than they’re used to; to sacrifice and be inconvenienced for the sake of caring for others; to get on board a kind of metaphorical “bus” with a lot of other people (many of whom they don’t know and some of whom they don’t like); and to submit to a path that will take them on a life-long journey whose destination is known fully only by God.  Woo-hoo!  Who’s ready to take that trip?!

 

If we decide to take the journey of faith however, Jesus is the one to follow—our greatest tour guide for the faith trip.  Like his ancestor David before him, he was the least obvious or likely person to lead us into the Kin-dom.  He was a nobody from a town nobody had heard of unless they’d had some reason to go there—like the Kiefer, Oklahoma of Palestine…and yet this simple, common, unlikely man, went about telling stories and drawing crowds in the thousands.  By modern standards, he certainly could have used a good Press Secretary or marketing strategist.  His message wasn’t always clear.  He spoke of the Kin-dom in terms of what it is “like.”  Frankly, his parables raise more questions than they answer.  It’s as though Jesus wants people to engage the mystery that is life in God’s Kin-dom—and we sophisticated modern folk know that in this world we need to simplify and clarify the message if we want anyone to hear it.  These days, we are bombarded with 6,000 messages a day (according to one scholar). Soundbites are what we want…there’s no time for mystery.  There’s no time for what we don’t understand or can’t know.  We don’t want to know what something is “like” we want to know what it is.  And we certainly don’t want to wait.  We want what we want and we want it…NOW.

 

And yet the Word we are given from—arguably—the best faith trip tour guide we’ll ever get is found in little throwaway passages of an ancient text…The Kin-dom of God is like some old farmer who scatters seed, seed that could be used now to feed his family through grinding and leavening, but instead is sown into fallow fields…trusting that the harvest will come.  The farmer doesn’t know how it happens, but his act of sowing and trusting brings forth the crop that can feed not only his family now, but many families for months and months…  The Kin-dom of God is like that seed…it sprouts and grows…the farmer who plants it doesn’t know how but believes that the harvest will come…and the harvest does come.  The Kin-dom will grow…it is a mystery, but insofar as faithful folks plant seeds of love, mercy, and justice, the harvest will come as sure as the sun rises, as sure as flowers bloom every Spring.

 

Jesus says that the Kin-dom of God is like the small mustard seed that grows into a shrub with large branches that birds can nest in…a small seed that, if not planted dies alone…but when planted invites and sustains a whole ecosystem…and, of course, anyone who knows about the mustard plant knows that, when planted, it just seems to take over where it is not wanted, that it tends to grow out of control, that it tends to attract birds within cultivated areas where they are   not particularly desired.  That’s what the Kin-dom of God is like, like the smallest grain of trust or hope or kindness dropped into the hungry soil of the world, that then brings about growth that cannot be easily managed…growth that attracts life that isn’t welcome in more “cultivated” gardens.  It is a mystery, but it seems that God insists on—depends on—small things, small acts, seemingly insignificant choices to bring growth and life and sustenance into the world.  It seems that the Kin-dom of God requires that there be a willingness (enough faith in God) to let things grow a bit wild and to let that growth disrupt the order we so desperately want to manage and control.  A smile or a helping hand offered to a stranger can ripple through the world beyond your wildest imagination…20 bucks can get someone an ID and that will change their  life…the chaos and confusion of change (in our personal lives or in our church)—can bring about a new vision, a new vitality, a new space to support those whom others might deem “unwelcome” and “unwanted.”

 

The Kin-dom of God is where the journey of faith wants to take us…it is where following Jesus will lead us.  And to go there does not require or encourage naïve optimism or blind, uncritical thought.  To have faith doesn’t mean you don’t have questions or that you never doubt; rather it’s to simply take a step…to be willing to get on the path, to step onto the “bus”… The faith trip is NOT easy… Any teachers here today?  (Parents?  Others?) Ever had one of those days when you feel like it’s just not working?  Like they’re just not getting it and probably never will and don’t seem to care?  Ever wonder why you bother and knock yourself out?  And yet you continue to plant the seeds, to do the work, to offer your best, trusting that maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow—and maybe not even in this life—but trusting that the harvest WILL come.  No, following Jesus into the Kin-dom of God isn’t easy.  Those who engage the mystery of life in God’s Kin-dom will be working against the odds; they will put their very lives on the line for the sake of love; they will offer their own, seemingly insignificant gifts and small acts to the work of God; they will persevere even when they cannot see the growth or result they desire; they will risk disrupting the status quo; they will not discount or overlook the small things or the “little people”; they will be caught off-guard by the sheer numbers of those who need shelter and sustenance and who therefore flock to their sprawling, unruly branches.  And here’s the other thing:  those who engage the mystery of life in God’s Kin-dom will be tempted to abandon the faith trip in order to board the competition’s very well-funded and slickly advertised tour:  the Power Trip.  That’s the Trip in which you don’t have to trust God—because you are in the driver’s seat; it’s the trip in which you can live in luxury and bring as much baggage as you want; the power trip is one on which you don’t have to care about anyone else, you don’t have to be inconvenienced or bothered, you don’t have to be generous, you don’t have to be patient because you’re promised that you can have whatever you want when you want it…and after all, you’re worth it.

 

But the Kin-dom of God is not found by being on a power trip… The Kin-dom of God  is like a seed carried on the wind of the Spirit and planted in the soil of hope…the journey into the Kin-dom of God is full of twists and turns and questions and struggles…and perhaps one of the greatest mysteries is that through the centuries, folks just like you and me have been willing to get on board…because in our heart of hearts we know that within the confusion and pain and uncertainty of our lives and of the world, hope is found in God’s promised harvest…because in the deepest recesses of our souls, we cling to the words of Jesus that invite us to defy hopelessness and to believe that nothing will serve the interests of those around us, the planet, or our own selves better than to step on board that crowded, unruly bus that takes us only God knows where.

 

 

 

 

 

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Things Happen Around Wells

July 3rd, 2017

“Things Happen Around Wells” (John 4) is a sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Shively Smith at Foundry United Methodist Church on Sunday, July 2, 2017. A PDF version of the manuscript is available on Foundry's website hereThe sermon explores the encounter between the Samaritan Woman and Jesus around the well as a moment that resets social convention and shifts the texture of theological proclamation and transformation

 

  1. Opening Statements:

            First, let me share my thanks with the leaders of this church. To the senior pastor, Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, and executive pastor, Rev. Dawn Hand, I am grateful for their warm invitation and for the hospitality extended. I am always thankful for the fellowship of clergy sisters and brothers as well as lay leaders in the church-at-large and for the collaborations that can emerge. It is a blessing and honor to worship here at Foundry this morning and to kickoff your summer Preacher series—not that there is any pressure with that or anything. I am also thankful for my partner and his presence and support not just this morning but in all my endeavors and work for what is right and just in this world. And to all my sisters and brothers in the church and streaming, I greet you in the love of our Lord Jesus Christ.

            There are many themes in the Gospel of John, Chapter 4, which I could talk about this morning, from the soteriology of living water to the christological significance of the Gift of God. But at this intersection in our nation’s history, as we celebrate Independence Day this week, I simply want to focus our attention this morning on verses 6,7, & 9 when it says:

“Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by that well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink…’ [And] The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’”

My topic today explores the moment of encounter and opportunity between Jesus and the Samaritan woman staged at Jacob’s well and I submit to you from the outset that “Things Happen Around Wells.”

 

Pray with me.

Lord God, shaper of all things, like the woman at the well, we often fail to recognize you. Open our eyes to see you today. Open our ears to hear what you are saying to us that we may draw closer to each other and to you. Lord, as you did with the woman at the well, meet us at the places of the mundane and spend time with us in fellowship until our hearts burn and the walls of separation and fear deteriorate. Speak a divine message through your human vessel today. Amen

 

  1. I Opening Statement: “I Love Wells”

      Things Happen Around Wells! I enjoy learning about Wells. Lately, I have spent more and more time reading and thinking about how Wells functioned in the world.  I find myself pondering the encounters and opportunities that manifested around Wells and I marvel at the external pressures and attacks that Wells had to withstand in order to provide the access and resources local communities needed. Although Wells maybe considered “old school,” unfortunately, the work of Wells—that is, Ida B. Wells—is still relevant and instructive for the challenges facing us in this age. You see, Ida B. Wells, was a former slave turned free person, turned educator, turned journalist, turned entrepreneur who launched an international anti-lynching campaign in the 1890s. She was born in Mississippi in 1862, only a few months before the Emancipation Proclamation (dated January 1, 1863). The significant role Ida B. Wells played in American history as a liberation activist should not be underestimated, especially as we turn our attention and time to the festivities of Independence Day this week (dated July 4, 1776). 

I tell you “Things Happen Around Wells.” Before there were journalists like Gwen Ifill, Charles Blow, and April Ryan; Ida B. Wells had already served as editor, publisher, writer and co-owner of her own newspaper in Memphis called Free Speech and Headlight in 1889.

Before we had the sociological work and history writing of Zora Neal Hurston, W. E. B. DuBois, and even the novelistic retellings of Black history by Toni Morrison, Wells had published her sociological and investigative pamphlets on lynching in America called: Southern Horrors: The Lynch Law in All Its Phases in 1892 and a second publication called A Red Record in 1894.

My sisters and brothers, I maintain “Things Happen Around Wells.” Before that faithful Thursday evening on December 1st, 1955 when Rose Parks boarded a city bus of Montgomery and refused to give up her seat for a white man; Ida B. Wells had already refused to give up her seat in 1883 on the Chesapeake, Ohio and Southwestern Railroad while riding in the ladies car on an unsegregated train.

Things happened around Wells because she practiced the kind of prophetic and courageous truth telling that stripped away the lies of a national myth and sensibility that blamed Black Americans for the violence and ruin perpetrated against them by their white American neighbors in the South. Hear the words of Wells when she states in 1892:

“In no other country but the vaunted “land of the free and home of the brave” is a man [person] despised because of his[her] color. As the Irish, Swede, Dutch, Italian and other foreigners find this the “sweet land of liberty,” the Afro-American finds it the land of oppression, outrage and persecution. In the freest and most unprejudiced sections, in every walk of life, no matter how well dressed, courteous or intellectual, [s]he never knows when [s]he may not meet with and be humiliated by this distinctively American prejudice. [S]He is becoming restless and discontented. [S]He wishes to enjoy the full freedom of [woman]/manhood and aspiration. Where shall [s]he go?”[1]

 

III. Well Opportunities in John 4

         This morning, we shall go to the Gospel of John, Chapter 4, to consider yet another moment that tackles issues of society and truth. At the well of John 4, we see the initial hesitancy and subsequent opportunities that emerge when two strangers, from two different “sides of the tracks,” meet in a common area and choose neighborly engagement rather than verbal assaults. Here, we eavesdrop in on the conversation between Jesus and an unnamed Samaritan woman, in which mutual contempt is transformed into mutual exchange.

         The conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman begins in a way that appears ordinary. Jesus, a tired traveler, asks a woman prepared to draw water from a well to, “Give me a drink.” But this is no ordinary request.  The conversation that takes place between the Samaritan woman and Jesus violates no less than 3 norms of cultural etiquette.

 

  1. IV. Cultural Violations in John 4

         (1) Judean versus Samaritan: The first cultural violation is transgressing the boundaries of ethnicity. This is no conventional meeting between two people from the same neighborhood, with the same ideologies. They do not share the same lifestyles and walk of life, nor are their faith beliefs the same. This is a meeting between rivals. As a Judean and Samaritan, we have two contentious ethnic Jewish groups active in this story. Samaritan Jews traced their history back to the Divided Kingdom in which Judea was in the South and Israel in the north. Their ancestors were part of the northern kingdom, which was conquered by Assyria  (721 BCE, 2 Kings 17) and then integrated with the foreigners in marriage and emigration. Samaritans only observed the first 5 books of Torah as their Scripture; and they designated Mount Gerizim as the proper location to worship God. Because of this history of intermarriage, dispersion, and different faith beliefs, Samaritans were considered by their purist Judean sisters and brothers to be impure. In other words, the meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan woman was a meeting between two ethnicities with a long history of mutual disdain and rival traditions.

 

(2) Gendered Social Standing: The second cultural violation that takes place in John 4 is the exchange between male and female. In the patriarchal society of Jesus’ day, the safety and survival of women often depended on their proximity to male fathers, husbands, and sons. What is clear, is that the story of John 4 does not take place in our modern context of women CEO’s, doctors, judges, scientists, attorneys, educators, religious leaders, and politicians. This is a world in which the Suffrage Movement has not yet occurred and The Combahee River Collective Statement not yet made. It is a world in which the Let Girls Learn Campaign has not launched and there is no International Day of Women and Girls in Science (February 11). This woman at the well lives in a world in which females are primarily possessions that are disposable if rendered useless, shameful, and sinful. And yet, Jesus transgresses the boundaries of gender etiquette and power to initiate a conversation that could impugn both of their reputations.

 

(3) Marriage or Sexual Impropriety: The third violation on display in the exchange between Jesus and the Samaritan woman is related to the issue of unprotected womanhood. It is the issue of marital status, especially in the subsequent verses when Jesus says, “Go, call your husband and come back.” As readers, we discover this woman has no current husband, but she has had five husbands in the past and as Jesus puts it, “The man she has now is not her husband.”

         Historically, biblical scholars interpreted these verses as an indication that the Samaritan woman at the well was immoral, living a life of sexual promiscuity and deviance.[2]

         But there is another way to read this moment. Instead of seeing Jesus’ tone as judgment, we can read it as a statement of fact. Rather than catching the woman involved in something improper; Jesus names her predicament. She is the casualty of a system that empowers some while disenfranchising others. As one scholar states, it sounds more like this woman is caught in a situation of levirate marriage (cf., Deuteronomy 25:5-10) in which she was married to a man who died before she was able to have a child and the last male of the family has now refused to marry her and provide the child that would afford her security and standing in the community.[3] 

         In this reading, the Samaritan woman is caught in the systemic webs of a society created to benefit and protect everyone but her. The system protects the property of her deceased husband. The system protects the wants and wishes of her brother-in-laws. The system protects the women in her family fortunate enough not to have yet experienced the loss of the patriarch or the child. This woman is not the perpetrator violating the moral principles of her community, she is the victim who is violated by the so-called “moral conscience” of her neighbors.  

         Here, with the Samaritan woman at the well, we have a self-aware and socially conscious woman confronting the oddity of Jesus’s behavior. It is actually Jesus who seems to be skating the line of decorum, and not the woman. She is a woman from a historically marginal ethnic group that has been labeled inferior. She is a woman betrayed, rather than protected, by the laws of her community. Given this background her shock is appropriate: “Why is Jesus speaking to her in the first place?”

         I tell you why Jesus speaks, Foundry. Jesus speaks because things happen around wells when we choose to transgress the social boundaries preventing us from seeing and affirming the humanity of our sisters and brothers we know, and especially those we do not know.

 

  1. Things Happen Around Wells in the Old Testament

            But, not only should we take seriously the fact that an empathetic conversation takes place between the Samaritan woman and Jesus; as I have said from the beginning of this sermon, we also cannot overlook the significance of its setting. Jacob’s well is the stage upon which the drama of Jesus and the woman unfolds. There is no explicit reference to a well dug by Jacob in the area of Sychar (or Shechem) in the Old Testament, but there are many references about other wells and things happening around them, which the story in John 4 seems to echo. You see, according to the Old Testament, at least 3 things happened around wells:

         (1) Number One, Marriage arrangements could happen around wells and communities united. For instance, in Exodus 2, it is at a well that Moses defends the seven daughters of the Midian priest and he is rewarded sanctuary in Midi from the wrath of Egypt and marries one of those seven daughters he protected at the well.

         (2) The second thing that happened around wells in the Old Testament was contention and competition. Rival ethnic groups attempted to claim ownership and denied others access who needed just a taste for survival’s sake. In Numbers 20, the Edomites refused to allow Moses and the newly liberated Israelites to cross their land and drink water from their wells; and even when the Israelites refused to fight for that right, the Edomites attacked them with armed forces anyway just because the Israelites had the audacity to ask for some neighborly assistance. 

         (3) In addition to marriage proposals and neighborhood conflicts, cooperation is also something that can happen around wells. Sometimes wells were the common space where people from different communities would meet to share resources for the common purpose of preserving the well being of everyone. In Genesis 29, Jacob sees a well where three different flocks of sheep and shepherds were gathered and preparing to water their flocks together. These three flocks represent three different and possibly even competing business interests. Yet, they chose to collaborate and share the resource that could meet the needs of everyone involved without any one community being left behind or left without.

 

  1. Conclusion: Our Well Opportunities

         In the Jesus and Samaritan woman exchange, all three tensions show up and are transformed. Instead of mutual contempt, Jesus and the woman established common ground. Jacob’s well became the stage upon which two of the most unlikely conversation partners found camaraderie—two different ethnicities, two different genders, two different life experiences of the social structures of their day—and they nonetheless persisted in their civil exchange.

         Things happen around wells, when like Jesus we strategically place ourselves in the way of the strangers we do not know personally, despite the pejorative scripts, rumors, and stereotypes we may have been subjected to in our personal families and communities. Imagine the kinds of things that can happen at our wells today if we practiced the kind of courageous and strategic positioning Jesus embodied when he placed himself in the line of fire to have a close encounter with the very people his family labeled, inferior. As Christians, why are we more committed to our comfort than to placing ourselves in close proximity and conversation with the people our society dubs impure when it appropriates labels such as homeless, felon, criminal, immigrant, unhealthy, poor, or even Muslim.

         Imagine the kinds of protest actions on behalf of others we could stage if we did as the Samaritan woman did. Why are we not as brave as the Samaritan woman who leans into her encounter with the Judean stranger, Jesus, to ask a clarifying question, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”” (John 4:9) And why is it that we do no do as she did and listen to the responses that follows?

         According to statistics, the cross-ethnic exchange between Jesus and the Samaritan woman is a moment that happens too infrequently in this country. In 2014, the Public Religion Research Institute reported Black Americans have ten times as many black friends as white friends while white Americans have an astonishing 91 times as many white friends as black friends. What does this tell us? This tells us that we have self-segregated ourselves from each other. Things cannot happen around our wells because we do not create opportunities for common meetings in the first place. When will we meet at the intersectional wells of race, culture, and class and initiate the conversations that listen charitably and affirm mightily the humanity of all?[4]

         When will we meet at the wells of education to collaborate on the persisting achievement gaps between racial ethnic minorities and their white peers? When will we meet at those wells to create systems that are responsive to the needs of vulnerable student populations such as youth in foster care, homeless children, and youth exposed to trauma and violence?

         When will we meet at the wells of employment history in this country? According to the Pew Research Center, the Black American unemployment rate is consistently twice that of whites.

         When will we meet at the wells of economic inequality? According to one statistic the top “20% of US households own more than 84% of the wealth, and the bottom 40% combine for a meager 0.3% of wealth.[5]

         As we approach the 4th of July, we must remember That Things Can Happen Around Wells. We can follow the example of John 4 and like Christ, cultivate authentic spaces for healing and dialogue that disrupt forces keeping the children of God divided from each other and fighting among ourselves. Many things happened around Ida B. Wells and despite this she said:  “…leadership is true or false in proportion as it has been true to God, humanity, and self.”[6]

         Around our wells, we too can meet Christ and be true to God, humanity, and self when communities that were once separate and unaccountable to each other unite and form a new kinship and obligation to the preservation of everyone.

         Around wells, we too can meet Christ and be true to God, humanity and self when those with power, resources, position, and talents choose to protect the dignity, life, and care of the most vulnerable among us.

         Around wells, we can meet Christ, the Giver of Life, and be true to God, humanity, and self when we cooperate and collaborate to ensure that all God’s children can flourish.

         Around the wells we encounter this 4th of July—be they firework shows, parades, barbecue, bonfires, and unimagined adventures—let us be mindful that we can be true to God, humanity, and self only to the extent that we embody with absolute conviction and the full resources of our faith “The Pledge of Allegiance to Each Other” as posted by The People’s Supper. In closing, hear these words:

 

We the people are committed to our neighbors next door and miles away. We pledge to one another to live into a visionary American story of unity in diversity, and hope over fear.

To myself:

I pledge to love myself so that I might better love my neighbor.

To my neighbors:

I pledge to meet you at the table of community in which we can all thrive.

To those around the table:

I pledge to listen deeply to understand where your story intersects with and diverges from mine.

To each other:

We commit the time and energy needed to create a greater future. I will walk beside you, knowing that we may not get there quickly but we will get there together.

(WRITTEN BY MICKY SCOTTBEY JONES) [7]

 

Hear the Good News of Jesus Christ and the Samaritan Woman in John 4, Foundry! Things Can Happen Around Our Wells when we initiate conversations, listen charitably, and protect fiercely the most ignored and exposed populations among us!

Things Can Happen Around Our Wells!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

DeSilver, David. “Black Unemployment Rate is Consistently Twice that of Whites.” The Pew

Research Center. Accessed August 21, 2013. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/08/21/through-good-times-and-bad-black-unemployment-is-consistently-double-that-of-whites/

 

Fitz, Nicholas. “Economic Inequality: It’s Far Worse Than You Think.” Scientific American.

March 31, 2015. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/economic-inequality-it-s-far-worse-than-you-think/

 

Ingraham, Christopher. "Three Quarters of Whites Don’t Have any Non-White Friends." The

Washington Post. August 25, 2014. Accessed July 03, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/08/25/three-quarters-of-whites-dont-have-any-non-white-friends/?utm_term=.28da1f2d478d.

 

Jones, Robert P. "Self-Segregation: Why It's So Hard for Whites to Understand Ferguson." The

Atlantic. August 21, 2014. Accessed July 03, 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/08/self-segregation-why-its-hard-for-whites-to-understand-ferguson/378928/.

 

National Center for Education Statistics, “Achievement Gaps.” Accessed 22 September  22,

  1. https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/studies/gaps/

 

National Education Association, “Understanding the Gaps: Who are we Leaving Behind—and

How Far?” Backgrounder Newsletter. Accessed June 15, 2017.  https://www.nea.org/assets/docs/18021-Closing_Achve_Gap_backgrndr_7-FINAL.pdf

 

O’Day, Gail and Susan Hylen, John. Westminster Bible Companion. Louisville: Westminster

         John Knox, 2006.

 

Sims, Angela D. Ethical Complications of Lynching: Ida B. Wells’s Interrogation of American

Terror. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

 

Sims, Angela D. Lynched: The Power of Memory in a Culture of Terror. Waco: Baylor

University Press, 2017.

 

Wells, Ida B. The Light of Truth: Writings of an Anti-Lynching Crusader. New York: Penguins

         Books, 20014.

 

Wells, Ida B., and Alfreda M. Duster. Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells.

Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1992.

 

 

[1] Wells, Ida B. The Light of Truth: Writings of an Anti-Lynching Crusader (New York: Penguins Books,

            20014), 46.

[2] Joel C. Elowsky; Thomas C. Oden (2014-03-19). John 1-10: 4a (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture) (Kindle Locations 7127-7128). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.; cf. Augustine’s Tractates on the Gospel of John 15.20).

 

[3] Gail O’Day and Susan Hylen, John. Westminster Bible Companion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, XX), 53.

 

[4] Ingraham, Christopher. "Three quarters of whites don’t have any non-white friends." The Washington Post. August 25, 2014. Accessed July 03, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/08/25/three-quarters-of-whites-dont-have-any-non-white-friends/?utm_term=.28da1f2d478d.

 

[5] Fitz, Nicholas. “Economic Inequality: It’s Far Worse Than You Think.” Scientific American.

March 31, 2015. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/economic-inequality-it-s-far-worse-than-you-think/

 

[6]  Wells, Ida B. The Light of Truth: Writings of an Anti-Lynching Crusader (New York: Penguins Books,

            20014), 36.

 

[7] See The People’s Supper website at: https://thepeoplessupper.org/pledge.

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Compare and Contrast

June 25th, 2017

A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC June 25th, the third Sunday after Pentecost.

Luke 18:9-14

 

One day a man walked into the pastor’s study and said that he felt compelled to confess a sin that was newly weighing on his heart.  He told the pastor, “Every week when I come into church, I find myself looking around at the other men in the congregation and recognizing that I am the best looking guy here.  No other man comes close to my strong physique and handsome features.  Pastor, what do I do about this sin?”  The pastor replied, “John, that’s not a sin, that’s just untrue.”

 

We spend a lot of time, consciously or unconsciously, looking around at other people and comparing ourselves to them.  Inevitably, we end up on a particular rung of our self-created ladder of human value somewhere between those whom we resent or admire because we perceive them as smarter, better looking, wealthier, than us and those whom we ridicule or pity because we perceive them as less attractive, less clever, and less advantaged than us.  For some of us, the comparisons may happen more about things like how organized someone is, or stylish, or sophisticated, or seemingly “together.” “Not me!!” you may be thinking.  Well, maybe not, but I tend to believe that to compare and contrast, to grapple with this ambiguous mixture of resentment and admiration, ridicule and pity, is part of most human experience.  As we seek to make sense of our own existence as human beings, as we strive to find our way, to feel OK about our lives, we learn to look at other people and see how we size up.  How am I doing at this thing called being human?

 

Part of the result of this is that we spend an awful lot of energy trying to prove ourselves, trying to figure out what to do in order to measure up.   Some of us may be conscious of trying to be as good as our colleagues or our friends; some will know good and well how hard you are trying to prove yourself to your parents—on all sorts of levels.  Maybe some of us are consciously or unconsciously trying to prove ourselves to God:  If I can just figure out the right thing to do, then God will love me, then I will be acceptable, then I’ll be able to trust I’m good enough.  I think I spent a good deal of my younger life on that loop. //

 

Today Jesus tells a story, a parable.  It involves two folks who go into the temple to pray.  The Pharisee has done all the right things.  He looks around at the community in which he lives and gives thanks that he is able to serve and to give and to study and to practice the spiritual disciplines.  As he compares himself to others, he knows that he has done what he ought to do;   he’s gone above and beyond the letter of God’s law—for example, fasting twice a week was an observance practiced by some Pharisees in private in addition to the public days of fasting required in the law of Moses.  This practice was considered to have extra merit because it was voluntary.[i] The Pharisee in this story has followed all the official and even unwritten church rules!  The other person has betrayed his country by collecting taxes for the enemy and is presumably a corrupt individual, gaining wealth at the expense of any ethical righteousness; he stands far off from the center of religious life, uttering only some simple, uneloquent words.

 

To be justified is to be in right relationship with God.  And the Pharisee walks away from the temple believing that he has accomplished this, that he has been justified.  But he walks away empty.  The tax collector is the one who leaves in right relationship with God.  That’s what the Gospel says.  // Parables can be of two types.  Some are clearly example stories—they explain something that we are to imitate. (Example:  the persistent widow—BE persistent!)  Other parables are not urging us to do anything.  Instead, they are kind of like pictures, images of God.  These kinds of parables are not examples of a way for us to behave; they are depictions of the way God behaves.  In the parable we hear today, God justifies the “bad guy” and sends the “good guy” away empty.  This tells us something about the way God behaves.

 

It is hard for us to accept this story as it is—because it doesn’t really seem fair.  It’s hard to accept this story as it is because we tend to want to hoard and control God’s behavior, God’s forgiveness and God’s justification.  Who here hasn’t struggled with this question:  Does the person who ignores God and lives her whole life in selfish, destructive ways and then asks God to forgive her right before she dies receive God’s forgiveness?  Why should she be forgiven when I have tried all my life to follow God’s way and to walk in love and faith?  Or, perhaps an even more pointed and striking question:  Will God forgive the person who harmed me?  Will God forgive those who enslave and torture people?  (or the classic):  Will God forgive Hitler? 

 

We recoil at such questions, but they bring the point into searing clarity.  We don’t know what God will do.  As much as we want to decide who is deserving of God’s justification, we aren’t in control of such things.  And perhaps that is part of what we need to hear.  The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector can easily be tidied-up using our human scales and comparison charts.  As we read it today, we can compare and contrast saying, “Oh, the Pharisee is really the bad guy, boastful and judgmental, and the tax collector is really the good guy, the hero, acknowledging his sin in righteous humility.”  To read the story that way allows us to say to ourselves, “God, I thank you that I am not like the Pharisee in the story.”  It also allows us to organize God’s mercy and justification based on merit.  That is, the Pharisee and the tax collector each got what they deserved, what they’d earned.  As much as we’d like it, that’s not what’s going on in this story.

 

“The message can’t be—‘all right people, get out there and be humble.’  That would be the conventional story we already know, the story about getting our lives all cleaned up on our own,”[ii] striving to prove ourselves to God, trying to earn our own justification.  The story is about humility, a word that is related to our word humus—earth, earthy.  To be humble is to know who we are and who we are not.  To be humble is to be close to the ground, near the bottom.  And there are times when we are there.  At the bottom.  Brought low and recognizing that we don’t know what to do, we don’t know how to be, we can’t fix what we want to fix, not even ourselves.  At those points we realize, in a very hard-earth, concrete way, our limits as human beings.  We are humbled.  Those moments teach us (if we let them) that we are always limited, finite, made of earth…

 

And the good news is, God meets us at our limit.  What we learn about God today in this parable is that when we hit rock-bottom, when we are humbled, God draws near.  We learn that nothing, not even all our good works and acts of kindness, can earn God’s grace.  One of the things that is so appealing and at the same time so appalling to us is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for the humble.  It is appalling because that means that God draws near to those whom we might be apt to judge as lazy or distasteful or reprobate.  It is appalling because that means we aren’t in control.  It is appealing because it also means that God draws near to us when we ourselves are down and out, when we are empty handed, unsteady, unsure, helpless.  It is appealing because God’s grace is free.

 

We who strive to do the right things, to be faithful, to have it all together may want to know “What can we do?  What is our task?”  Well, we can put our self-righteous judgment in check, for one.  But the question of the day isn’t really about what we are to do.  It is, instead, whether we can come to terms with what we can’t do.  We can’t save ourselves.  We can’t justify ourselves.  That seems to be where our Pharisee in today’s Gospel really missed the boat.  We can’t control God’s grace and mercy.  We don’t get to decide who is loved and forgiven by God or who is “in” or “out” with God.  We can’t be God.  The glory is God’s, whether we like it or not.  Today all we have is this promise:  God’s interest in you is unearned.  When you are brought low, when you hit rock-bottom, when you come face to face with the limits of being a human being, when you feel most alone and wounded, when you haven’t got the first clue about what to do or how to act, God will be there.  It’s called grace.  Unmerited, free grace.  And when you are humbled—and if you aren’t today, at some point in your life you will be—let your prayer emerge, not about what you have done (so as to try to prove yourself) or what you want God to do (so as to try to control the situation).  Instead, let your prayer pour forth speech reflecting the nature of the One you experience:  “God, be God.  God, be merciful.”  And from that place of humility, open your hands and your heart and allow God to love you in spite of everything.

You might just find that love releases you from the need to compare and contrast…

 

 

[i] http://biblehub.com/commentaries/luke/18-12.htm

[ii] William H. Willimon, from a sermon on this text found in Pulpit Resource, Vol. 29, No. 4, Year C & A, October-December 2001, p. 16.)

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Dancing Before the Lord

June 18th, 2017

A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC June 18, 2017, the fourth Sunday after Pentecost.

Text:  2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19

 

Last weekend, many of us participated in a parade or two.  The annual Pride procession through our neighborhood was full of pageantry, dancing, and joy.  But as Dr. Phil Wogaman reminded us last week in his sermon, the freedom and joy of the Pride movement was borne out of deep tragedy, the tragedy of centuries of exclusion, oppression, and violence against God’s LGBTQ children.  Pride is a profound form of sacred resistance, to celebrate the gift of our God-given, created nature rather than appropriate the projected labels of others.  It is a great gift to claim the freedom to be who you are without apology. 

 

Today in our scripture from 2 Samuel, we encounter another great procession, full of pageantry, dancing, and joy. The backstory of this parade has its share of tragedies as well. King Saul and David’s beloved Jonathan have been killed; there is confusion and division in the new monarchy of Israel, and the ark of the covenant had been captured by the Philistines—which, at that time, was tantamount to the abduction of God.  It was a tumultuous time in the history of Israel.  But in the moment captured in the lines we heard this morning, David, the new king, is moving the recovered ark to his new capital and, thereby, placing God back at the center of communal life.  He is also making a shrewd political move; Jerusalem was neutral territory, not part of any of the twelve tribal lands—an important detail for a king who sought to unite the tribes of Israel.  The procession we read about today is the public celebration and culmination of all of this and is a moment of extraordinary joy and historical significance. 

 

In this moment, David is free and fierce and proud!  He dances with all his might!  But there is at least one person who can’t deal with David’s display of liberation and joy.  In the verses that follow our text for today it reads, “David returned to bless his household. But Michal [David’s wife] the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, ‘How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ maids, as any vulgar fellow might shamelessly uncover himself!’ David said to Michal, ‘It was before the Lord, who chose me in place of your father and all his household, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord, that I have danced before the Lord…’” (2 Sam. 6:20-21)    In that moment, in the face of disapproval and discomfort with his display, David claims his identity, his call, and his freedom to dance “before the Lord.”  God is his witness—that is the gaze that matters most.  //

 

How do we bring ourselves before the Lord?  One of the things I hear with some regularity after worship are things are things like, “That anthem made me want to dance,” and “There were times during the sermon when I wanted to say ‘Amen!’—but I didn’t.”  I have heard that some folks struggle (for a variety of reasons) to rise for all the hymns, responses, or for the Gospel but that they feel they have to do so since that is the invitation.  I’ve heard that people enjoy kneeling at the prayer rail, but sometimes worry that if they come forward, others will look askance at them.  I hear about what “works” for folks and what doesn’t.  All this has led me to reflect on how we come before God in worship and how or whether we allow ourselves to participate.

 

I’ve had the privilege of participating in worship across a wide variety of cultures.  From a capella chanting to praise music with a full band, from silent prayer to the lively and loud Korean Tong Sung Kido, from sitting still to dancing in procession, from “smells and bells” to no candles or images at all...  The rich variety of spiritual expression is really quite beautiful.  It speaks to the diversities of culture, value, temperament, and aesthetic preference within the human family.  In all of these ways of worshipping, there can be extraordinary energy and beauty and a profound opening to the presence and power of God.  Some forms of worship will resonate with you, and others not so much.  That’s OK.  Just remember that what doesn’t work for you may be the way others encounter God most powerfully.

 

Christian philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s describes worship using the image of the theater.  Kierkegaard says that often folks assume that, in worship, the actors are the clergy, musicians, and worship leaders, the director is the Holy Spirit, and the audience is the gathered congregation.  In this scenario, worship leaders perform for the audience, the congregation.  Kierkegaard challenges this by suggesting that the actors are the congregation—you!—the directors are the clergy and musicians, and the audience is God.  God is our witness.  The stage is set and each of us has a role to play as we offer ourselves to the God whom we worship.  In this metaphor, the One whose gaze matters most is God’s.  Whatever we are doing in worship, what we are thinking, how we are responding, all of it—is our offering to God, is done before God and for the glory of God.  David claims this in his response to Michal: “I danced before the Lord.”

 

There are at least two things for us to ponder here.  First, how worried are we about what other people think and how does that help or hinder our own presence and response to God in worship?  Are you more worried about what other people see or think than you are about what the Holy Spirit may be inviting you to do?  If David had worried about what Michal thought—catching a glimpse of her disapproving look from that window—he might have held in his exuberant dance before the Lord.  And that dance was what the Spirit—and the occasion—prompted.  Perhaps there were other times when David’s exuberance was expressed in a different way—in a different time, place, or circumstance in his life.  My point is that when we come into worship, we can come just as we are—and we are invited to respond to God with authenticity and freedom.  There is not just one right way and you may feel very differently from week to week or in different settings.  Some weeks you may feel like dancing and others (perhaps most of the time) I imagine that for many of us it’s like one of my favorite scenes from the movie The Birdcage, in which Armand, the character played by Robin Williams gives direction to a rather ambivalent actor who says, “Am I just supposed to stand here like an object?”  In response, Armand says, “No! You do an eclectic celebration of the dance! You do Fosse, Fosse, Fosse! You do Martha Graham, Martha Graham, Martha Graham! Or Twyla, Twyla, Twyla! Or Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd! Or Madonna, Madonna, Madonna!... but you keep it all inside.”  And here’s the thing:  that is OK as long as keeping it all inside is done from a place of freely offered worship to God and not out of fear of others’ judgment.

 

I don’t know about you, but there are times when I need and want to just “be” in the midst of the congregation—not speaking or singing or moving very much.  There are other times when I feel moved to respond, to participate in everything that is happening with full voice and body.  There are times when I want to fall on my knees before God at the prayer rail or to raise my hands in praise or surrender.  There are times when I feel drawn into conversation with a preacher and want to respond with my “Yes!” or “Amen.”  Other times, the Word spoken quiets and settles me into a resonant silence.  There are times when I find myself in tears rising up from deep within. 

If you ever have these kinds of spiritual impulses or responses, my hope is that you allow yourself to respond and to be moved without worrying whether someone will think you’re being inappropriate—even if your response is different from what is invited or from how others are responding.

 

This leads to our second part to ponder:  Are we judgmental or unkind when others worship differently than we do?  As I thought about these issues and questions, I was aware that the point here is NOT that we don’t have any order or expectation in worship.  In fact, one reason to offer a variety of services is in order to create space for different expressions of praise and prayer.  Here at Foundry we are planning to eventually offer a weekly contemplative service (like our Lent compline) and alternative worship through the coffeehouse ministry.  But even with the two unique worship experiences we currently offer, my hope is that we give permission to do or to be in worship as the Spirit nudges…without judgment or fear.  In order for that to happen, we need to be very thoughtful and careful about how we respond to others.  Sometimes, after a deeply moving anthem, you may want to just hold the energy of the piece in silence—but someone else may need to jump to their feet in applause.  It is true the applause will keep you from having your worship moment, but the person responding exuberantly, may know no other way of expressing how moved he feels and may desperately need that moment of joy.  If someone comes forward to pray at the altar and you find yourself noticing, lift a prayer for that person, entrusting them to God and giving thanks that God is present and active their life.  This, INSTEAD of thinking something like “I wonder what’s wrong with them?”  or “She must really want attention to go up in front of everyone like that.”  Whether someone chooses to clap or not to clap or to sing during the hymns—we can choose to trust that folks are doing and being right where they need to be that day.  Sit, stand, sing, move, be still, laugh, cry…be and do what you need to do.  AND be mindful and thoughtful about creating space for others to be and do what they need to do.  

 

Part of what prompted the Methodist movement was John Wesley’s observation that Anglican worship felt spiritually dead—like folks were just going through the motions and were not connecting with the living and loving God who had the power to transform their lives.  He set out to help folks reclaim their relationship with God—and to show up in worship expecting God to be there and for something to happen.  Spiritual power and resonance and “aliveness” comes in so many forms—in a quiet that is so still and deep that you can feel the energy snapping all around AND in an exuberant, rhythmic outpouring of speech and dance that wrings you out and fills you at the same time.  Regardless of where your spirit lives most of the time, I hope that we will learn to honor and respect the beautiful diversities of worship and prayer and praise.  And I really hope that if John Wesley joined us for worship on any given Sunday he would be proud of the ways that Spirit is living and moving and transforming lives in the people called Foundry United Methodist Church.

 

 

 

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God’s Language

June 4th, 2017

A Meditation preached by Pastor Ben Roberts at Foundry UMC on Sunday, June 4, 2017.

Text: Acts 2:1-11 

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