Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Living Jesus Languages - 5/24/2015 sermon for Pentecost.

Before going into the sermon, watch this video called "Pentecost in 2 Minutes" (the link will take you to YouTube, though the video comes from somewhere within the Catholic Church). I played it before preaching, and I make some references to it in the sermon.

“Living Jesus Languages”
Sermon, Year B, Pentecost Sunday, May 24, 2015
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
©2015 Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: Acts 2:1-21

[You may also listen to the sermon]

“Enkindle in us the power of your love.” That's some powerful praying right there. “Fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in us the fire of your love.” [in case you skipped watching the above video, these words are the final words of the video]

If you pray for nothing else, at least pray to be filled with the spirit of love. Because it's all about love. I've said that many times before. That it’s all about love. That to be a follower of Jesus is to live a life of love, and to trust in God’s love for us. I’ve said that many times. But one thing I haven't said enough is to give credit to the Holy Spirit for that. We don't, I don't, talk about the Spirit. That’s more my fault than anyone else’s. But we should, because it is the Spirit, as the video said, that gives us strength. That helps us. The Spirit is part of God’s power born through us. We can rely on the strength of the Spirit. I like the part in this video where it says, “Sometimes it can be really difficult to be a Christian.” That’s so true. We’re called to make sacrifices, to live in a way that is not always easy or natural or expected by the people around us. So it can be difficult. But the Spirit is there to help.

It was the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, that came down on Pentecost with flames like tongues of fire, lighting on peoples’ heads and gave them the power to speak other languages, or to comprehend other languages, so they could understand one another. It brought the people together. It was a communion of all these different people who were there. There were many languages being spoken in Jerusalem during that week, as the Jewish people came to celebrate Pentecost, a holiday which goes back a thousand years or more before Jesus. It was a celebration of the time that God gave Moses the law on the mountaintop. Since then, the Jewish people had moved all over the middle east and the Mediterranean. Of course they then spoke whatever language was common in the countries they were living in. And now they were in Jerusalem to celebrate the Pentecost festival. The day that we now call the birth of the church.

So people of all sorts of different languages are gathered there in Jerusalem. Yes, they are all Jewish, but still their languages and their cultures are different. But with the Spirit coming upon them, they understand one another. The Spirit brings them into a community. As I have been thinking of Pentecost, and this scripture, a moment has stood out for me in this text. it’s the part about them being able to understand each other. Understanding each others’ languages that stuck out for me.

I was thinking about language. How we communicate with one another. And wondering in that, What is the language of the Church? What is the language of Jesus?

I think also of how many languages we have in the world. Thousands of them spoken by people all over the world. Think of how many languages we have lost, that no one speaks any more. Plus the languages that are close to coming extinct. Some languages of Pacific islanders are being lost. We almost lost the Hawaiian language. Many of the Native American languages are dwindling and dying. Some European languages, spoken by previously secluded groups, are being lost as we become more mobile and fewer places are as secluded any more.

I had these thoughts about language as I went to the farmer’s market yesterday. That might sound like a terrible or odd segue, but stay with me. It’ll work out. I had an encounter at the farmers market yesterday. If you haven't had a chance to get down there yet this year, you might not know there's a new baker that comes from Elk Mound [this link goes to their facebook page]. He has incredible breads and cookies. I bought a rye bread a couple weeks ago and it was amazing. Also tried a cookie, an oatmeal caramel raisin or cranberry that was delicious.

So I went back to the guy because I wanted another loaf. I got there about 11 o’clock or so, and he was already almost out of everything. Just a couple loaves left. So I asked him, “Do you have a rye bread left?” And he said yes, handed me the loaf, and said “Have a good day.” That was it. I must have looked puzzled, because he said, “That’s for you. Have a good day.”

Because I'm a Christian, a pastor, a follower of Jesus, I'm interested in acts of generosity. Why is this guy giving me the bread? So I asked him this incredibly coherent and beautiful question about generosity I looked at him and said, “Wha... huh?” He said I follow the loaves and fishes model of Jesus who had the five loaves and two fish and fed thousands of people with them. [I didn't know then, but found out as I searched for the above link, that the name of his bakery is, in fact, "5 Loaves and 2 Fish Bakery" <-- same link to their facebook page as above, for your convenience]

Because of that, he said, “I always give away the last five loaves. So that one is for you.”

Then I told him I am a pastor, and we had a good conversation about faith and life.

“I always give away the last five loaves.”

And I can't remember if he said it was a gift back to God, or his neighbors, or the world. Doesn't really matter. But I was so struck by someone so willing to take their faith outside the walls of the church. To take his faith outside the walls of the church, and especially that he would take his faith with him into his career, into his business. Take his being a follower of Jesus into a lot of his life. THAT is listening to the Holy Spirit and allowing the Spirit to work through you!

As a pastor, that really warms my heart and it excites me whenever I see someone doing things outside these walls, simply because of our faith. “I do this because Jesus asks me to do it” or “because Jesus modeled it for me.” To take the experiences they have at church, and what they have read in scripture, and make that kind of application to their life outside that one hour of worship. That's exciting! That’s what makes pastors smile!

So there is a language there. This is the link in that terrible segue. The link between Spirit and language. The Holy Spirit here has empowered this man to be willing to give away some of what he has made because he knows life is more than just profit. It is sharing and generosity.

What it said to me about language came to me after he’d done this. That is that there is a shared language to humanity. We have our spoken ones, French and German and English and etc., but we have a shared language as well that is not words, but action. The language of kindness, the language of generosity. the language of compassion. These are the only languages that everyone in the world can understand.

I thought of how much of Jesus's ministry was done through that language. He spoke Aramaic more than likely, maybe he knew Greek, maybe not. He definitely used words to teach. But most of his ministry was done through the language of compassion, and caring, and listening to people. Kindness.  I think one could imagine Jesus’ ministry, his three years or so of ministry, being done in silence. Because it was so action-based. Not just dumping words on people to tell who they should be or what they should, but listening to them say who they are, and offering them acts of generosity and kindness. All without needing recourse to words.

On Pentecost they all understood each other. No matter where they came from, they all understood each other.

And there's no reason that couldn’t happen again. Because we humans have this common language that we understand that is not of words, but that is the language of sharing. The language of being in relationship with one another.

When I was in Japan a couple years ago in Matsuyama. It was a very hot and humid day. Yuki had gone to work, and I went out in the afternoon to walk around. I was taking a little break on a bench [this bench, in front of a music store; google street view is amazing], probably reading a book. As I sat, an older Japanese woman walked by me. She looked at me, and we made eye contact, smiled. There’s a shared language! A smile and eye contact. To recognize each other. Then she went on, and I went back to reading. A couple minutes later, she came back with a kind of popsicle with her. A refreshing, frozen, cold popsicle. I don’t speak Japanese other than to say “Thank you” and be somewhat gracious. There was no way I could have asked her why she did this or what it was for. But I could tell in her actions, and in her face, she gave this to me because she saw me and thought, “Wow, he looks hot.” Not beautiful hot, but temperature hot. And she probably thought, “This guy could use this icy little treat.” So she gave it to me. A shared language of sharing. We had no words we could say to each other except thank you. But we connected. There was a human connection there.

I think of that baker yesterday who could have told me about Jesus until he was blue in the face. Using his words to talk about Jesus for hours and he never would have said as much about who Jesus is, or what this man’s faith means to him, as he did when he handed me the loaf of bread.

Don’t tell me about Jesus, be Jesus. Be Jesus for me. Be Jesus for others.

The baker I encountered could have told me about Jesus six ways to Sunday, till the cows came home, till he was blue in the face, choose whatever homespun   colloquialism you like, and he you never would have said as much about Jesus, or cited as well, as he did when he handed me a loaf of bread. Don't tell me about Jesus, be Jesus for me.

In our street ministry, we don't go down there to tell people about Jesus. They don’t need to hear from us about Jesus. That’s not helpful to them. It’s even obnoxious. So we don’t go there to tell them about Jesus, we go there to be Jesus for them. And to allow them to be Jesus for us. That’s important, that power equality, that we are Jesus for each other. They don’t need to listen to us, we need to listen to them. Their spirituality is already way up. We have much to learn from them.

Which means not going there with an agenda to fix them, or pile our baggage on them, but to allow the Holy Spirit to move between us. And as it moves between us, in the human language, the godly language, of compassion, of listening to one another, of sharing with one another, we make room for that holy moment when the Spirit comes and we understand each other and become one. Powerful moments, when we get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit build community.

I was down outside Sojourners Friday night with some others working the street ministry. A woman had come early on and mentioned that she wanted a cigarette, and was hoping some others would come soon so she could get one. Then she left, and later on when a larger group was there she came back. She walked up to a woman, probably had bought a cigarette from her before, and asked if she could buy a cigarette off her. The other woman didn't have any. She did have some tobacco for handrolling, though she had no papers. Another woman heard and said, “I have some rolling papers, but no tobacco” The first woman says, “I don't know how to roll a cigarette.” The other two said, “We'll show you.” So they sat down on the pavement on the parking lot there, these three women. They formed a circle, an intimate circle, a trinity of women, as opened the pouch of tobacco, the other opened up the rolling papers, and as they taught the first woman how to roll a cigarette. Then they sat there, in communion with one another, for a few minutes sharing of one another and sharing a moment. Don’t need bread and wine for communion, just kindness and love toward one another.

They formed this beautiful little community, right there, in a parking lot outside a homeless shelter sharing a time to smoke. It just doesn't get any more Pentecostal than that. That’s the moment. They all understood each others’ language because they were speaking the language of grace. The language of kindness. The language of generosity. The language of love.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

That We May All Be One, Differently - A Kenotic Ecclesiology for the 21st century

In Jesus' final prayer at the Last Supper with his disciples, as recorded in John's Gospel, he offers the prayer "That they may all be one", which is the motto of the United Church of Christ.

What does this prayer for unity mean to you?

As Yoda might say, "To this sermon you may also listen"

“That We May All Be One, Differently”
Sermon for May 17, 2015
© 2015 Rev. David J. Huber
Easter 7 Year B, Scripture: John 17:6-19 and Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

So Jesus prays. He’s had this long after- or during-dinner discourse, speaking for pages and pages to his disciples. Finally, he’s done. He has been giving his disciples their final directions. It’s their last night together. He’ll be crucified the next day, so he gives his final instructions about what they are to do as disciples. Though he talks for a long time, everything keeps coming down to the command to love one another and to love neighbor. It’s all about love.

How to act, how to be, how to live in the world, and to do so through love. He’s not telling them theological truths, or scriptural truths, or things to believe. He’s showing them, and telling them, to remember “My ministry is about doing, especially doing in service to others.”

So he said all of those words and he’s done. But before he finishes, he offers a prayer. Before leaving that upper room together and fulfilling what needs to be done. It’s time for Jesus to leave and do his thing. It’s time to leave and go let Judas do his thing. This is an important night. A lot of things that have to get done on this evening. This is a fulcrum point. The cosmos hangs in the balance. Balancing on the question, “Is Jesus going to do what he is supposed to do? Will Judas do what he is supposed to do? Will the Romans? Will the Chief Priests? Will the mob of people? So that God can fulfil the divine plan.

All these important things about to happen. Things that need to happen. Everything has been set in motion. Dinner is done. Jesus is ready to go. But first, Jesus takes time to pray. Tonight is so important, time is so urgent, that we must stop, first, and spend time in prayer.

Martin Luther, the reformer of the 1500s, once said that the busier his day, the more stuff on his calendar, the more time he must take to spend in prayer.

Sounds paradoxical, but that’s what he said.

That’s a message I know I need to hear. So I’m preaching to me. Though I imagine all of us fall into this, not spending enough time in prayer. The busier the day, the more time ought to be spent in prayer. But I find, at least in my own life, that on a busy day it is the prayer time to get written off the schedule to free up time for something else. I’m terrible at it. I work on it, but wow. It can be so hard to carve out that time when it seems there are all these other things that have to be done.

But what I have found, on those occasional days that I make it work (and one would think that I would have learned this by now, but every time I do it, it feels like a brand new learning), I find that Luther was right. The busier the day, the more time needed to spend in prayer. Spending that extra time in prayer makes me more focused, more efficient, and as one might expect, I feel more connected to God.

A connection that reminds me that God has my back. Not just as a pastor, but as a person. It reminds me that God is with me in this journey. A connection makes me more aware that God is with me, and that what I am doing is not just about me and it’s not all up to me. We are doing God’s work. And God works through me better when I spend that time in prayer. It’s a self-emptying, to spend that time in prayer. To make room for God by letting go of my own will and letting God’s will be in control. Not because I get better so much, or work better or harder, but because I’m more willing to open a space in my head and heart that our divine creator needs to work through me, through all of us. It frees up that space in heads and hearts so that Allah, God, Yahweh, the Great Shalom, the Great Spirit, the Great Architect, whatever name we use to name or suggest the divine, can do the work. It’s not about me, or up to me and my own power, it’s about God.

So on this most important of nights, when Jesus has something very important to accomplish, something that has to be done, before he heads out to do what must be done, Jesus stops to pray. He does so in the room here where they have eaten, and he will also stop to pray in the garden. He prays for his disciples, he entrusts them to God’s care, and he prays that line that I mentioned earlier, “That they may all be one.” Our translation doesn’t use the word “all”, but that’s the phrase the way I know it. “That they may all be one.”   

In a strange way, that prayer was answered that night: Judas did what he was supposed to do. The Romans did. The Chief Priests did. The mob, the disciples, all following this plan. Everyone did what they were supposed to do that night, working together to fulfil the plan.

Now, that might be me taking a bit of a stretch, but there is something there of working together. And there is the truth that this all had to happen, because there is no resurrection without crucifixion, no Easter withtou Good Friday. There is no crucifixion, no Good Friday, without betrayal and trial and the will of the people.

“That they may all be one,” he prays.

If that phrase sounds familiar to you, good! It means you’ve paid attention in the past when scripture has been read, or that those who have had experience in the United Church of Christ might have recognized it. Because it is the motto of the UCC! Or even if you just read your bulletin cover this morning, which has the logo of the United Church of Christ, with the words “That they may all be one.” It is a wonderful phrase, a wonderful vision. It is the motto not just of us, but of many of the churches/denominations/unions that call themselves “United and Uniting Churches”. Which is not a denomination, but a thing to call a number of churches around the world that strive toward unity and union, that are willing to work ecumenically, all on behalf of following God’s vision.

If you want to do more, you can do a google search on “United and Uniting Churches” for more information. The World Council of Churches’ webpage is great, and the wikipedia entry is okay, though short.

From the World Council of Churches’ page (and this is more lecture than sermonic, but bear with me, please, because it is interesting to see how this vision “That they may all be one” has been lived out by the church. This started in the early 1800s in the United States and in Europe). From the WCC page:

United churches have taken Christ's prayer that Christians may be one (John 17:21) as an imperative for concrete action towards unity*. They have adopted a “kenotic ecclesiology”** whereby divided churches from different confessions are prepared to “die” to their former identities in order to "rise" together into a new, united church.

Church unions often make an important theological and social witness. For example, the unions in the southern hemisphere [where so many churches were begun by missionaries from America, Canada, and Europe] have been an important vehicle for the indigenization of the church as several mission-founded churches, funded largely from abroad, have yielded to a single, autonomous locally led and funded church. A different witness was made by the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa (1999) as it brought together a predominantly white church and a black church in the context of immediate post-apartheid South Africa.

* Not necessarily structural unity, but unity in mission.

** We love to use strange words in the church, and then wonder why no one understands us. “Kenotic ecclesiology”, it rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it? Use that some time this week. When you’re standing in line at the grocery store, ask the person next to you, “How’s your church about kenotic ecclesiology?” What it means is self-emptying. Kenotic comes from kenosis, which is a Greek word meaning self-emptying. What I was talking about when I was talking about prayer earlier. Emptying one’s own will to make room for God’s will. It is a word we apply to Jesus when he is in the garden and asks God to “take this cup away from me”, ending with the words, “But, not my will, but your will be done.” The incarnation itself is also a form of kenosis. God self-emptied in order to become a human, and be one of us in the person of Jesus. Ecclesiology is just a word meaning “the way a church is structured”, so a kenotic ecclesiology is a church structure that is built on self-emptying, a structure with a built-in humility. The humbleness of knowing that we don’t have all the truth, and cannot have all the truth.

“That they may all be one.”

There are about 50 of us around the world, including the United Church of Christ (ours), plus the United Church of Canada, the United Church of Christ of Japan, the United Church of Christ of the Philippines, Uniting Church in Australia, Church of North India, Church of South India, the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, and the Evangelical Church in Germany. Interesting fact, a number of German immigrants to the U.S. were part of the Evangelical Church in Germany, and created churches here - especially in the midwest - which then merged with the German Reformed Church here in 1947, and then they came together with the Congregational Christian Church (itself a merger) to form the United Church of Christ in 1957. So we are a merger of mergers of mergers.

Anyway, that’s maybe more lectury than you expected today, but it does show that we, along with many others, are very serious about what Jesus prayed here: That they may all be one. But in a way that respects our differences. Jesus did not pray for us all to be homogenous, or to be conformists, that we may all become exactly alike. He knew the disciples had different gifts, skills, personalities, hopes, dreams. So he wasn’t praying that they would become an indistinguishable mass but that they would work together. That they’d be able to self-empty enough to work for the vision of the realm of God. Not to be exactly alike in how they do it, but to be of one mind and spirit to the goal.

And so these united and uniting churches tend to be localized, within a single country or a region. The intent is not to form a worldwide denomination, but to be an affiliation of local church groups, or churches covenanted together to work toward this vision. Even though we worship in different ways, use different languages, are structured in different ways, and have varying ideas about what it means to be a minister or a lay person. Different ideas about HOW to do things, but united in the idea that Jesus wants us to love the world, to love all people, and that we are working toward the realm of God following Jesus’ command to love one another, feed the hungry, take care of the poor, shelter the homeless, to lift up those on the bottom, bring in those who are on the outside, and so on.

It is a sign that whatever our differences, we share the same Spirit of God. Whether we recognize that or not… well, that’s a different story. And there are plenty of churches that have no interest in being united or uniting, or of us “being one”, unless the rest conform to them. Unfortunate and sad, in my opinion. Does a disservice to the church, and a huge disservice to Jesus’ message of reconciliation, love, unity as a people…

There is a self-emptying to admit to not having all the truth. However we have organized ourselves, we know that we cannot contain all of God’s truth, so let us work together. Let us be unified in our mission and respect one another while we do it. That is not to say that we are the only ones who do this, or have this generosity of spirit, or are better than the churches that don’t do it. We have our failures as well and our blind spots. But this prayer, this vision, that they may all be one is in our bones. It is in our DNA as a church. The willingness and hope that we may all be one. That is a vision that would affect the entire world. Not to be unified under one denomination, or even one government, but to realize that we are all one people. We are all God’s people. It is a prayer that we may be united and bound to one another as Jesus’ church. As this congregation of Plymouth, and as the worldwide Church. To be bound to our neighbors, wherever the live, whoever they are, whatever their faith or lack of faith, whatever their position or station in life, that they may all be one.

So let us as a church and as individuals in our daily lives keep that prayer in front of us. Keep that prayer in front of us as we strive to do God’s will. And the busier we are, or the more anxious the day, let us pray it all the more. Be more ready to offer that prayer, to be in prayer. The more we can pray it, then the world become a more loving world because of it.

May it be so. May it be so.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Honor Mothers by Honoring Their Children and All Life - sermon for May 10, 2015

From some more about why I don't like to celebrate Mother's Day in church/worship, please see this blog post.

“Love One Another. Honor Mothers By Honoring Their Children and All Life.”
Sermon for May 10, 2015
© 2015 Rev. David J. Huber
Mother’s Day/Festival of the Christian Home, Easter 6 Year B
Scripture: John 15:9-17

Jesus says, “This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” That’s a little passive-aggressive but we’ll let that slide, because he goes on to say “I do not call you servants any longer, but friends.” I now call you friends! Notice that? “You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”

To go out and bear the fruit that is born of love. That’s the fruit that we are to bear. Fruit that grows because of love.

This is part of what Jesus is saying to the disciples at the last supper. In the other three Gospels, Jesus says very little at the last supper. But in John’s Gospel, he goes on for 5 chapters.

We’re about halfway through Jesus’ dinner speech at the last Supper here. So far, the disciples and Jesus have gathered for the Passover meal. Jesus washed their feet. As he washed their feet, he tells them that this is what they are to do for one another. This is what servanthood looks like, what following me looks like. He told them one of them would betray him, and told Peter that Peter would deny him, and that they would all run away. He told them about the heavenly mansion with many rooms. He’s given the talk about “Don’t be afraid, do not fear, I am going to go away but I am preparing a place for you and I will not leave you alone to be orphaned.” He’s talked about being the True Vine and the disciples are his branches. In all of this he keeps telling them to love one another. He keeps talking about the importance of love.

It all comes down to love. That’s what Jesus showed in his life. As he is at this last meal with his friends, he is getting ready to be crucified, he spends his last night with his disciples reminding them of what he had taught them about how to live. Taught them by showing them, which is that we are to live a life of love. And that a life of love is what God wants from us most. Not just sacrifices or our words of praise, but to live a life of love.

“Love one another as I have loved you.” It’s the only command that Jesus gives: love one another.

That is a good segue into mentioning that today is Mother’s Day, according to the secular calendar. It is, however, a day I don’t like to celebrate in church. I am cautious to celebrate it in church because for one, it’s not a Christian holy day. There is also a part of that resents Hallmark telling me, telling the Church, what is supposed to happen during worship on this day. But I also don’t like celebrating Mother’s Day in church (private life is great; I had a wonderful mother who was worth celebrating, and many aunts and other women in my life worth celebrating), but not in the church because leaves out a lot of women. Women who by choice or biology or circumstance are not mothers. It leaves out all those who are not mothers. It leaves out those who desperately wish to be a mother but cannot. It leaves out those who choose not to be mothers. For some women, it is a point of pain to keep hearing, being reminded, that it is Mother’s Day. THey hear a message, especially if it’s in the church, that if you are a woman you’re supposed to be a mother; that you are worthy of honor only if you are a mother. But all women are worthy of honor, especially in the Church. We honor all people.

There is also the truth that not all mothers are good mothers. Not all are worthy of honoring the way they mother. Plus not all women who are mothers find in motherhood anything to celebrate. Women who didn’t want to be a mother, who resent their motherhood, but who did it because of circumstances or whatever their reason was.

That’s why I don’t like to celebrate Mother’s Day in the church. At least not in the way that Hallmark and the restaurant and gift industry want us to celebrate it. That’s why here we celebrate family of whatever configuration it is, and why we celebrate all women here at Plymouth. Because all women are worth celebrating. Not because of something you have done, but because you are made in God’s image. Because also within in the space of the church, we’re all mothers and fathers to one another in some way, even if not biological. We teach each other, nourish one another. We are all sons and daughters of one another, aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers, and friends here.

On the UCC facebook page an article was posted a couple days ago about the dangers of celebrating Mother’s Day, in the way it is usually done, to celebrate only women who have given birth and to celebrate in a way that says all mothers are equally worthy of high acclaim. In the comments, I was not surprised to see a lot of agreement. But what DID surprise me were the number of people, mostly women but some men, who posted in the comments that they agreed with the article and then added “and that’s why I don’t go to church on Mother’s Day.” People who intentionally avoid going to church on Mother’s Day because their church does the unhelpful celebrating of motherhood without mentioning the other ways of being. That really surprised me. They don’t go because it is too painful. Because they feel dishonored because they have no child, chose not to have a child, or cannot have a child; or to be put in a position of pain (and this is where the men usually were) by being told that one must honor a mother who was abusive, distant, absent, or otherwise not a healthy or helpful memory of mother. I was really surprised to see that many people who choose not to go to church on Mother’s Day. We need to do better as a Church.

But there is something worth mentioning about this day, and it involves the history of how it came about, and it does have a link to this command from Jesus to love one another.

The first Mothers’ Days were in the mid-1800s, organized as a rally for mothers to cry out for better sanitation because kids (and adults) were dying simply because of bad sanitation. It was a rallying cry to mothers to help with sanitation. Then there was the Franco-Prussian war, then the U.S. went through the Civil War. Mothers’ sons sent off to die and to kill. After the Civil War, Julia Ward Howe, famous abolitionist and writer of “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, helped to start the idea of Mothers’ Day. She and other women looked back at the carnage of the war. They were aghast at the casual way that governments destroy the lives of their young men and boys. It was a peace movement. A a celebration of mothers to say that mothers should not have to see their sons be killed, or be sent off to be turned into killers. It was a rallying call to mothers to stand up and work for peace so that their children would not have to go to war to kill or to be killed.

It began as a day to celebrate life. To stand in solidarity for the love of life.

It was not called Mother’s Day, it was called Mother’s Peace Day, dedicated to the eradication of war.

“This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you.”

Does not get much plainer than that.

Then, by the time Woodrow Wilson made it a national holiday in 1914, it’s purpose had become to be a “public expression of our love and reverence for all mothers.” All the peace stuff was taken out. All gone.

Howe wanted the love and reverence to be shown to mothers not by flowers or phone calls or taking them out to eat, but by ending war so mothers no longer outlive their children. Ending war so that mothers no longer have to suffer from having their sons killed, or from knowing that their sons have been turned into killers and put into danger. Not just American mothers, either, but all mothers. Worldwide.

So I’m not going to complain if you DO celebrate your mom with flowers or a meal together, or however you might do it. Many of us have or had mothers who were worthy of such celebration.

But like so many good ideas, and even Holy Days of religious life, get commandeered by Empire, no matter what government it is, Empire always twists things to its own advantage and rewrites history.

But the Church is charged with proclaiming the Gospel. The Gospel of love. The Good News of God’s love. It is also charged with being honest and staying true to our mission even when it is difficult, uncomfortable, or otherwise upsets us from our places of comfortable pretend. So it is good to remember that this ought to be a day to talk about peace and love for all people.

“This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you.” That includes our enemies. Jesus said to love your enemies.

I can imagine Jesus saying to us, if we really feel the need to have a special day to celebrate a particular demographic of people, he would say, “Great! Have a day to celebrate and honor your enemies.”

“This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you.”

Even the enemies. That’s a Gospel way of thinking.

So here is the original proclamation from Howe in 1970:

Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of tears! Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.

"Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, “Disarm, disarm! The sword is not the balance of justice.” Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession.

As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each learning after his own time, the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.”

The whole human family, she says. The best way to honor mothers is in a way that honors all of human life, and all life on earth. End war. End hunger. End homelessness. End apathy to the poor, the widowed, the orphaned. End racism. End sexism. End empire. End greed. End stinginess. End fear. End anything and everything that devalues or trivializes life. That’s how to honor mothers, and fathers, and even those of us who don’t have children but are part of the community of serving to grow children as teachers, pastors, neighbors, police, firefighters, doctors, politicians, volunteers, friends, camp counselors, school counselors, aunts and uncles, and so on.

It all comes down to Jesus’ words, “This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you.” It is another way of saying that the best way you can honor God is by your actions, by honoring that which God has made.

Jesus says repeatedly “Do not be afraid” and “Peace be with you.” Do not be afraid. Peace be with you. Then he left us with this final, and his only commandment, to love one another as I have loved you.

Howe’s proclamation ends with these words:

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.”

“To promote the alliance of the different nationalities.” Notice that?

This command I leave you, that you love one another as I have loved you.


Friday, May 8, 2015

Why I Don't Celebrate Mother's Day in Worship

To those for whom I know it is appropriate, I will happily offer a happy Mother's Day. Only those that I know, though. Too dangerous to say it to someone I don't know, or to imply that everyone must find the day a happy one.

For you who have wonderful moms or who are wonderful moms and who love being a mom, this post isn't for you. I hope you will read it anyway, though, to come to a greater understanding (if you don't have it already) of the risks of celebrating motherhood as a normalized wonderful thing and mothers as a normalized wonderful thing.

This post is for those who hear "Happy Mother's Day" and cringe, tear-up, feel lonely, become anxious, or otherwise have an experience that belies the fiction that motherhood is *in all cases* something wonderful, and that mothers *in all cases* are worthy of honor, or that women *in all cases* ought to be mothers before they are worthy of celebration as a woman.

Because it isn't, they aren't, and they oughtn't.

For those of you who grew up with mothers (or step-mothers, or grandmothers, or aunts...) who were abusive, cruel, cold, absent, disengaged, apathetic, uncaring, or fill in your own less then celebration-worthy experience, and for whom "happy mother's day" is just a cruel barb in your heart dredging up bad memories, or making you feel like a horrible person for not wanting to honor a woman who was little more than the person who gave birth to you, this is for you.

For those of you who grew up with no mother at all, and did not find a surrogate mother but who pined for one, for whom "happy mother's day" only reminds you of the emptiness, this is for you.

For those of you who grew up and made a conscious decision not to be a mother, or who desperately want to be one but cannot for reasons of biology (infertile, transgender, health issues, etc.) or other circumstances (lack of money or a partner, etc.), who hear "happy Mother's Day" as an implication that you aren't a real woman, or not fulfilling your cultural duty (or worse, not fulfilling your GODLY duty) or are otherwise a lesser person because you haven't given birth, this is for you.

For those of you who are mothers and who resent it, find no joy in it, wish you had made a different decision, or find it a burden, and for whom Mother's Day is not happy, this is for you.

I was lucky that I had a pretty good mom, and she was worth celebrating. And I think she enjoyed being a mom, at least most of the time. Like all children, I'm sure my sister and I made her repeatedly question her decision to be a mother; but overall, I'm sure she would have said it was worth it. I hope so. I am, though, very aware that not all moms like being moms, and not all mothers are worth celebrating.

Many women cry and pray to God for a child, or did at some time, but are, for any of a wide variety of reasons, unable to have children and feel an emptiness that never goes away.

Some women choose not to have children, and that choice is just as worthy of honor as the choice to have a child.

Some women are single moms who hear "Happy Mothers Day!" one day of the year, and the other days of the year are bombarded from politicians and conservative Christian TV preachers and elsewhere (the same people who so vociferously proclaim the Godliness of motherhood and the holy vocation of being a mom) that they are deficient mothers for being single, that they are hurting their children, that they are not worthy of public aid if they need it, that they ought not come to a church, or that they are failures who are either whores (if they've never been married) or did not treat their men properly (if they are divorced).

Some women tried to have children, and had only stillbirths or children who died soon after their birth, and who, though they gestated a baby, never got to be a mother to those babies.

This is why I do not preach Mother's Days sermons, at least not to celebrate motherhood as though it is the pinnacle of womanhood. This is why at my church we do not hand out gifts that go only to women who are mothers. Because to celebrate motherhood as though it is the sole and most holy role for a female is to bring pain and suffering on women who do not fit that mold. The church should not be in the business of making anyone feel shame, less valued, or otherwise make them feel bad. Those who love being mothers, who are good mothers, and those who have/had good mothers, don't need a special day to celebrate motherhood; leastways, not in the church. They should be doing that every day. The church is the place for the people on the outside to find healing, safety, and a chance to tell their story.

I will acknowledge Mother's Day in my prayers of the people, as I do every year, but will spend more prayer energy praying for those for whom Mother's Day is a painful day. As Jesus was for the least of these, so also must be the church.

The church ought to give up letting Hallmark set its liturgical calendar, and do what the Church does when its acting its best: be honest. Be honest that mothers - because they are human beings - fall into all the messy places that all human beings do. The title "Mother" does not insulate any woman from that, nor does the absence of the title. Celebrating motherhood in a liturgical context is a dishonest exercise.

The United Church of Christ's facebook page posted an article about the dangers of celebrating Mother's Day. Of course, I agreed with the article, but I found that the least interesting part of their post.

What was interesting to me was to see the voluminous responses from women (and some men) who wrote that they intentionally avoid going to church on Mother's Day because the churches they are at (or were at) celebrated Mother's Day in a way that is too painful for them even to be in worship. They were reminded of their own infertility, or their miscarriages, or their terrible mother, or made to feel an outside simply because they choose not to have children. That was an eye opener to me. Some of our churches are intentionally keeping people out of the sanctuary by making them feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, and/or insufficient.

This Mother's Day, as on all Mother's Days, I celebrate with those who enjoy it. But mostly, I remember and pray for those who find the day painful. I firmly trust that God holds you and loves you just as dearly as anyone else. Your value does not depend on whether you live up to any kind of "gender ideal" (and the church should stop teaching such things), nor does your value depend on how functional your family is, or how your relationship with your parents is/was. I hope you know that, and trust it, too. You matter and are valued because you are God's, and God loves all of us without question or condition.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

We Are Made to Be Connected - Sermon for Easter 5, May 3, 2015

Sunday's sermon was a sort of summary of the earlier four weeks, but with much emphasis on our connection to one another through God's love, shown to us in Jesus who is the Good Shepherd.

“We Are Made to Be Connected”
Sermon, Year B, Easter 5, May 3, 2015
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber

Since Easter Sunday, through April, we had a sermon series on the roadblocks of life. The things that get in our way of living resurrection lives. Of living as fully as God intends for us to live. Those things that keep us from not being as full people as we might like to be. On Easter Sunday, we talked about the roadblock of forgetting that Jesus is with us, that he knows us, loves us, and knows and calls us by name. We talked the next Sunday about self-doubt: the way that we sabotage ourselves, whether thinking we are not worthy, or not good enough, or not sure if we have the skills we need. Then we talked about the temptation we face in times of difficulty to run away, to pretend the difficulty is not there, or just ignore it.

Last week we talked about Jesus as the Good Shepherd as the culmination of that series, to talk about Jesus as the Good Shepherd. To remember that we are part of Jesus’ flock. Especially to remember that as part of Jesus’ flock, we have other people around us who are part of that flock. And how even knowing that we are part of a flock, there is the temptation to want to go it alone. To not want to ask for help. Or some of the social and cultural baggage that says that if we ask for help, we are weak. Or that asking for help is shameful or ought to embarrassing. Even though, and I think if a uniquely midwestern thing, we are generally so ready and happy to help people, we are a very helpful and generous people always ready to respond whenever someone asks for help, but we hate to ask for help. Even though we know that everyone around is as eager to help as we are, and with love would happily give us a hand. Trust your neighbors that way! We talked also of the fiction of the self-made person.

Each week, you had a task, and last week I gave you what I thought was a very fun task, which was to remind yourself that you are part of a flock by connecting with someone in your flock. Connect with a friend you haven’t seen in a while, or a family member, or whoever it might be. I challenge you all again to do this.

I ended up doing it with two friends this week. Reconnecting with them was wonderful. We often get so busy that we forget we have friends and family in our lives. So I gathered with a couple friends this week. Actually, three friends, but with one of them we had made plans months ago, and that was with my friend Roger in Madison. I would be going to Madison Friday and Saturday, and knowing he had to work Saturday morning, I thought I would see if could get together with some of my other Madison friends for lunch before I drove home. I connected with a friend I hadn’t seen in two years. In the time we were apart she had set up a couple medical clinics in Africa and got married, so it was good to catch up! To hear her stories and strengthen our connection. Especially to remind me that I am part of a flock. Not just one that is here in town, but friends all over the place. The flock that God has called together. A flock of mutual support and love. A flock that is bound together by the strings of love.

Before I went to Madison, I thought I would make my friend Roger some bread. I’ve been in a big bread baking frenzy since the thrift/bake sale. I was going to make him two loaves, and since it is just as easy to make four loaves as to make two since my oven holds four bread pans, I decided to make four and have two extra. I had an idea while making the bread, and posted it on Facebook as the bread was kneading. I posted that I am making bread, and included a link to last Sunday’s sermon. In the post I said that I had preached about reconnecting with friends, reconnecting with the people in our flock to remind us that we are not alone but part of a community. So I made an offer that I will give a loaf to whoever responds first but with the stipulation that you have to come to my place to pick it up and while you are here we will sit down and have tea or coffee, whatever you like, and a conversation. We will sit and catch up with one another. My friend Ann Marie took the bait. I hadn’t seen her in a number of months, and I had never spent time with her alone. We’d only been together in meetings or group events. We sat and talked for forty-five minutes or so and had some tea and a conversation that included us learning about each other. We didn’t eat any of the bread, but we still had communion. A communion holy moment of reconnecting. It was the same with my friend in Madison I had lunch with. We sat for an hour and a half or more, reconnecting, talking, remembering that we are bound to one another. Because it is so easy to forget that we are in a community of love.

Certainly here in the Church, we are a community of love. Or should be. Ours at Plymouth is. Also the community of our friends, our family, even in our schools and workplaces. I think that workplaces are one place that often we don’t think of as a community. We seem to think of workplace where we show up, do our job, then go home. Maybe we share some stories and get to know some of the people we work closely with, but we don’t think necessarily of workplace as a community even though we spend a lot of our life there.

When I look back on some of the jobs I had in my life, the ones that I most enjoyed and felt fulfilled at didn’t have so much to do with the work that we were doing (though that’s important), but with the community. The grocery store I worked at, there was a sense that we ought to know each others’ names. So even though I was a checker and worked the front of the store, I knew the people in the meat department, I knew the butchers, the ones in the produce department, the warehouse people, and so on. We knew each others’ names. When I worked at the consulting firm in New York, I knew the guys in the mailroom, the people in accounting, the secretaries, the supply room workers, the IT people. The company was intentional in making sure that the support staff knew each other. They threw us four big parties each year to spend time with each other: a river cruise, a baseball game, a night at a comedy club, and so on. We had monthly Friday happy hours in the cafeteria. They wanted us to know each other, and it made the workplace that much more enjoyable and that much more fulfilling.

We are made to be connected. 

We are not meant to be alone, or to think that we have to be alone. I think that’s Jesus’ over-riding message. He is always bringing people together. Bringing people to him. Bringing people into community. Going to those who have been pushed out community to bring them back in. He restored women into community, lepers, outcasts. Brought them all back into community. We are to love our neighbor, which is to be connected to our neighbors because we are all God’s people. We are all connected. Connected in the vine of God’s love. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches and we bear fruit by showing love, by being love toward other people.

It is this focus on love that led me to include the reading from First John today. I don’t often include the lessons that are from the letters, because often the Gospels are more interesting and more fun to preach on what Jesus had to say. But I wanted to read that epistle lesson today because it talks so much about love. It is so rich in showing what the life of a follower of Jesus ought to look like. The writer says, “Beloved let us love one another because love is from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. We love because God first loved us.” We love as a response to God’s love. We are able to love because God’s love comes through us.

There is a line in the epistle that seems to be an answer to the question, “Where is God?” The writer says, “No one has ever seen God.” It can often feel like God is not around because we don’t see God physically, and we may ask that question, Where is God? BUt the writer here says, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perpetuated in us.”

So where is God? Wherever love is being shown. Wherever love is happening. That is where God is. God is in our flock. God is in our people who love us. So let them love you. And show love to them in return.

We may ask, Where is God in Nepal? God is in all the people who are spending days digging, trying to pull people out of the rubble. That’s where God is.

I mentioned earlier the young woman who has been missing, Abbey Russell. Where is God in that? God is in the people who are giving up their time and resources to search for her, to get the word out that she is missing. God is in the people who are praying for her, getting the word out.

Where is God in Baltimore? God is in the people who are crying out for justice. God is in the people who are trying to end the violence. I even see God at work in the gangs that got together who went out to try to stop people from burning cars, breaking into stores, and doing other damage. They were doing their own version of trying to end violence. God is there.

Where is God here? God is here in this church in our care for the sick, and care for one another. In our coming together for a meal, that we will do after worship for the picnic. God is in our coming together at the thrift/bake sale we did last week. God is also here and present on this Communion Sunday in the bread and cup of this table that Jesus has set for us. This table that Jesus has set to invite us in to connect with us again. To bring his flock around him, to share at the table, to connect with us over bread and over the cup.

Wherever love is, God is there. That’s where God is.

That’s the Good News! That God is wherever love is. Wherever love is, there is God.*

That’s news that we can have faith in, and that we can have hope in.

Amen, and thanks be to God!

* I can't hear a phrase similar to "Wherever love is, God is there" without thinking of my friend Bryan Sirchio's song "Wherever Love Is, God is There, Too"