October 1, 2017 ended up being a horrible day. It’s just that most of us didn’t know this until Monday morning because the massacre of 58 people and the injuring of about 500 more occurred after most of us had gone to bed.
Do you remember getting the news? I was up early on Monday because I go to a strength training class at 6am. So, at approximately 5am, I sat down with my coffee to watch the news and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Did any of you have this initial reaction of disbelief?
Megan texted me just before 7am to say that Ethan had gone to Vegas and to the show and that he wasn’t responding to texts. I told her to call his mom. About 10 minutes later she said he was ok…he hadn’t been at the concert when it happened.
Later in the day Matt, texted to say that Andrew, one of “the kids” from our old Simi Valley neighborhood was shot in the back. He survived. A friend’s niece was shot in the arm. Her dad prevented her bleeding to death with a correctly applied tourniquet as she had a severed artery.
This was very close to home for us. So close, that five of people who lost their lives Sunday night were from Ventura County. I don’t know how many from our county were injured. Pastor Bill Hurst at First Lutheran in Torrance wrote of the death of one of their former students. He also stated what has made this so personal, “everyone knows someone who knows someone.”
A theme in our texts for today is the vineyard. It was a metaphor for Israel… for God’s people. But being the fallible human beings they were and we all are, they had great trouble living as God’s chosen people. It is hard to be a people set apart…to be an example for the world… to model justice. They struggled mightily.
Our text from Isaiah tells the story…”My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.” But unfortunately the fruit from this vineyard wasn’t good…so the story describes the destruction of this vineyard…because God “expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!”
These are incredibly painful words for a people in exile. They are incredibly painful words for us today.
The psalm(80:7-15) that we read together is a prayer for restoration of the vineyard… for a restoration of a people. It is a prayer of hope.
Fast forward to Jesus and his disputes with the religious leaders in the temple and we get this parable about the vineyard. And maybe this is a parable for our day because, tragically, it is a story of fruitless violence.
It is a story of tenants having everything they need to prosper, yet not satisfied, and not willing to pay their share of the harvest, or rent. Instead they beat, kill and stone the first bill collectors. A second set of bill collectors received the same treatment as the first. I wonder, if the parable were told today… what weapons would be used?
Now in that culture the landowner would not have sent that second group of bill collectors. He would have sent an army and would have destroyed those tenants. But this landowner does something crazy and he sends more people. They meet the same fate. The he does something even more crazy and he sends his son. This would have been seen as foolish behavior. Sadly, this son is thrown out of the vineyard and killed as well.
What would you do if you were the father?
Today we have lots of fathers and mothers who are heartbroken over the deaths of their children. We have children lost and bewildered over the deaths of their parents. We have sisters and brothers and friends in great anguish this day. What would you do?
Jesus asks those religious leaders what the landowner would do. They respond as we might, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” Violence to repay violence… the human way.
But the father/land owner didn’t do this.
It’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t really respond to their assumption that violence will beget more violence. Instead, he criticizes their inability to recognize they were standing in the presence of, and arguing with God’s son. Contextually this whole encounter began with their wanting to know who gave Jesus authority to say and do the things he said and did.
Jesus then gives an ominous warning that the kingdom will be lost and given to others for one reason. Those in the kingdom were not producing fruit.
I wonder if this causes you as much discomfort as it causes me.
It certainly caused discomfort among the religious leaders. Their discomfort lead to intense anger. These men (it would only have been men in those days) were so angry that they wanted to arrest Jesus. The only reason they waited was their fear of the crowds.
But later, when the crowds had dispersed, they arrested him. And they conspired with the Roman occupiers to kill him. Jesus’ words and actions angered them that much.
But still, Jesus didn’t say what the landowner did after the death of his son. I think that his response came later… when the parable became reality and the son of God was up on a cross dying. And from there he gives his opinion… his verdict… his plea:
“Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
That was Jesus’ response. What about the father? How did he react when his son was murdered outside the walls of the city?
From Matthew’s gospel.
Darkness came over the whole land for the last 3 hours of Jesus life. Three hours in which he suffered on the cross. Can you imagine that darkness? I think many can today.
When Jesus died the “curtain in the temple tore in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.” Can you imagine the intense feeling that would literally shake the earth? Maybe some can today.
But the father did not do what was expected. Nobody was killed in retaliation. Violence did not beget violence.
Instead, those who did not flee in fear cared for Jesus. They took his body off the cross and as best they could prepared it for a proper burial. They weren’t concerned for themselves but for what was right. Some of them, the women, were blessed to be the first witnesses of Jesus resurrection.
This care is the father’s response to horrendous violence.
We saw it this week when people ignored their own safety as they tried to help others. We saw it this week when strangers used their own vehicles (or borrowed what they could) to take the injured to the hospital. We saw it this week when so many people tried to donate blood the collection centers were overwhelmed. We saw it this week when people brought food to the hospital for waiting family members and to those who were waiting to give blood. We saw it this week when people donated funds to ease the financial burdens that accompany senseless violence. We saw all this in the past week, just as we always see people pull together in the midst of tragedy.
This is the response of the father…not vengeance but loving care among family, among friends, and among strangers. May this empower us to make needed change.
As I walked through Costco today I could sense a change in the people. It seems as if we were all a bit subdued, quiet, going about our business by rote. Of course I’m the first to admit that this could also be just me projecting my feelings onto the world around me. Is it? Are you too feeling it?
It seems as if we are on tragedy overload. We’ve dealt with natural disasters, but I don’t remember them coming one after another with such rapid succession.
Now we have human made disaster and with it, a sense of powerlessness. We want to do something. This was immediately seen in the rush to donate blood and even food for those waiting. These are wonderful things to do and if I were in Las Vegas I would do them too. Some of us have donated money to the victims. That is good too.
But in finding other things to do, we seem to be a bit lost. I feel lost in this. I don’t want to turn on the news one day in the future to news of another such attack. Pessimistically (or realistically) I know that we will experience more attacks like this. Its as if we resigned ourselves to such a future. I hope and pray that I am wrong.
Meanwhile Facebook is as (I guess) its always been: a mix of pet photos, chain prayers, recipes, inspirational stories, and downright mean memes. You know what I’m talking about because you see them too. The inspirational stories and the pets are so helpful. But they sometimes are overshadowed with the attacks from both the right and the left. Attacks that have important issues at their root, but because they are attacks, will never result in needed dialogue.
Today I think I’ve reached my saturation point with the meanness. As I scroll by I’m tempted to comment, “just stop!”
I also wonder about these posts because I’m not sure the target. These questions run through my mind:
- Is the poster trying to change the mind of someone?
- Is the poster throwing “red meat” out to like minded friends?
- Or, is the poster just sharing something that he/she thought was funny?
As I contemplated this I remembered coming across a different set of questions. I think they originally came from our Quaker friends, but I could be wrong. Regardless, I will make sure that I use these as a filter and I’m hoping that you would choose to join me. These questions use the acronym THINK.
Before you speak – & post or share anything on Facebook or Twitter – THINK
Is it True?
Is it Helpful?
Is it Inspiring?
Is it Necessary?
Is it Kind?
Let me know what you think.
Like most Americans I woke this morning to the horrible news of the massacre in Las Vegas. More death at the hands of a man with a gun. The news was so shocking that I had trouble believing it. Maybe you felt that also.
A few minutes later I was surprised at my shock. Why be shocked when these violent events happen with regularity? A pastor friend posted this comment,
I want someone to explain why the right to bear arms is more important than the right to not be shot dead.
I would also love to have an answer to that question. As I contemplate this latest shooting I hear in my mind the prophet’s call, “How long?” How long will such violence terrorize and destroy? When will we as a people choose to lay down our arms? When will peace prevail? Will it ever in our lifetimes?
I saw a headline from someone’s opinion piece on today’s events. His opinion is that massacres such as this are “our price for freedom.” Really? Is this freedom? Or is it idolatry?
Idolatry may be thought of making a nice golden statue and worshiping such thing. We can believe that idolatry is an old concept from an old time. But I fear that far too many worship guns rather than God. While I don’t believe this applies to all gun owners, I’m frustrated that we hear very little from responsible gun owners. Instead we continue down the blood soaked road to better and more lethal weapons in the hands of murderers. It’s as if guns are valued more than life. That is idolatry. Will we ever repent?
Part of my sermon yesterday was about changed hearts. After every massacre I wonder, will this violence cause changed hearts? Will we now, finally, at least have a national discussion and research and change so that we can reduce the carnage?
At mid-morning, I saw the headline that the stock prices for gun manufacturers had increased 5% on the news of the massacre. Increased! Increased because in our national sickness we go out and buy more guns after such event. Lord have mercy. Will we ever change?
Many of the thoughts running through my head are angry thoughts. Frustrated thoughts. Intersperced are feelings of great sadness. Tears. For those who lost loved ones. For those who were injured. For those who were terrified as they ran for their lives. I wish I could be there for them. Hugging and holding hands. Listening to their stories, their grief, their pain. Comforting. Being present.
I’m not there. So I pray. I invite others to join me in prayer. I remember the promise of God’s love and God’s presence. I know that those who suffer don’t suffer alone.
This morning I went to my regular 6am exercise class. It was hard because I was weary. Then I went on my regular post-class run. It was hard because I was weary. I only went 3 miles. But as I returned to my car I saw the most amazingly beautiful early morning sun interacting with the clouds (I have no photo because I didn’t take my phone).
The clouds were blocking the sun. But its light was much more powerful. Glowing along the clouds edges, casting beams of radiant light to the ground. I was thankful for this reminder that the darkness of this world cannot overpower the light.
Then, when I arrived home I saw the long lines of those donating blood…an 8 hour wait they said. This too is light overpowering the darkness. This is hopeful. This is a reminder of the goodness in people. It is a reminder of our connectedness. It is a sign of hope.
So today we mourn. And I hope that tomorrow we, as a nation, choose to do something different.
Meanwhile we can take solace in the words that Jesus uttered from the cross as he was dying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
Thankfully that forgiveness is for you and for me. May it empower us to change.
I confess that I’m a fan of Game of Thrones. I started watching the series when it was in season 3, which was nice because I was able to catch up to all the back episodes. Once caught up I read all the books.
The show is engaging enough that I’m always surprised when the credits appear on the screen. It’s as if a few minutes have passed and the show is over. But that’s not what surprised me in the last two episodes. My reaction, even physically, is what surprised me.
So…the show is violent. Most of the characters are complex. Sometimes story lines go off on to seemingly weird tangents. Sometimes little inconsistencies strain credulity. But I like watching it. It’s fiction and in my mind fiction has permission to strain credulity. It is also fantasy…with dragons, weird diseases, and strange abilities all alongside human beings who are often very human in their flawed decisions.
Then there are the white walkers and the army of the dead. They’ve been encountered before this season. The entire story is leading to a grand battle between the flesh and blood humans and the white walkers with their army of the dead.
Last week there was a big battle. A small group of humans was vastly outnumbered band were rescued by a queen and her dragons. The dragon fire can kill these walking dead creatures. But one of her dragons died in a battle…and is now one of the “flying” dead. This battle physically and emotionally disturbed me. I later described the episode as “intense.”
Then last night, the season finale set the story for next season’s grand battle between the living and the dead. The dead seem to outnumber the living (of course their numbers increase whenever anyone dies). So last night, the flying dead dragon destroyed the centuries old wall that separated these creatures from the rest of humanity. There used to be real, living people north of the wall but they now make up the army of the dead. Anyway, the prospect of this battle once again disturbed me.
As I’ve thought about it today, I remembered that as a child I didn’t mind fantasy. But, I never liked supernaturally scary movies. I guess I haven’t changed much.
I think my visceral reaction is because the walking dead represent pure evil. These bodies are walking fighting machines but they are vacant. They do not contain life. They do not contain the promise of life. They have no spirit. These are scary because there is no reasoning, no bargaining, no way to come to a truce. In a sense they remind us that there is not negotiating with evil. Rather one must fight or become one of the walking dead. It seems like being swallowed into the darkness.
Thankfully this is fiction… we are walking, talking, spiritual beings. We have challenges but we don’t face an army of the walking dead. I love the story in Genesis of God breathing life into the first human…breath is life and breath is spirit. I think of Ezekiel 37 and the promise of restoration for the valley of bones. This scripture describes the opposite of walking dead, but rather the breath of the spirit, bringing life. It describes the coming together of dry bones (the rebuilding of the body), not as monsters but as new life. I find comfort in this imagery because it is a reminder that new life is possible…for each of us every day.
Meanwhile we are in a fight for the soul of our country. As we engage in that battle, we remember that humans… flesh and blood, spiritual beings… are engaged in both sides of this struggle. There is evil present, or the potential for evil, but we mustn’t de-humanize those with whom we disagree.
Jesus called us to love God and to love one another (including our neighbors). If we can do that we don’t need to know anything else. This call to love seems to be a hard call lately. We get confused into thinking that love is submission to the loudest voice. This is not true, but rather love is in seeking the good for our neighbor, and I believe this sometimes means standing in opposition to those who would exclude, oppress, or demean others. Its not easy to love in this way, but it is not an impossible. It is also necessary for our own humanity. The more I think about it, the more it seems as if hate is the feeling that can swallow us into the darkness. Lets not let that happen.
White power. I hate those two words together. They represent racism at its most vile. These words evoke images of violence, intimidation, and hate. I would love to reject these words when used together.
Unfortunately I can’t for the stark reality that I, throughout my life have benefited from “white power.” We don’t like to think that. And those of us who do, have substituted a less offensive sounding term, “privilege.” Or, “white privilege.” Many don’t like this expression either, because we don’t really want to face up to the idea that we have benefited from a “privileged” place in society.
Some of us might even vociferously reject this idea. I once rejected this idea. I once thought that my struggles growing up (and I had a few) negated any idea that I was privileged. I’ve since learned differently. But how I got to this place – whether I was privileged or not – is not really important for today.
What is critically important for today is the recognition that I do indeed have privilege today. As a white, middle class woman I am privileged… I have power. The most obvious illustration of that today is that I could choose to ignore the plight of our country today and I’d be largely unaffected. That is power. Many of my fellow Americans do not have that power. Many of my fellow Americans (black, brown, LGBTQ, Jewish, Muslim, and other religions) are being threatened today, not because they’ve done anything wrong, but because they are not white “Christian.”
This is abhorrent to me both as a person of faith and as an American. I wept as I read statements of despair (and genuine fear) from people affected by the president’s saying “many sides” contributed to the violence in Charlottesville and his doubling down by saying that some “very fine people” were marching with the Nazis and other white supremacists.
I would love to be able to ignore this. To say to myself, “this doesn’t affect me.” But I can’t do that. So what do I do?
- Continue to love my neighbor, realizing that this may mean speaking against my neighbor.
- Continue to use my voice (and my power) to oppose those who espouse white supremacy.
- Continue to pray… for strength… and for fellow Christians that we have the strength to follow the teachings of Jesus throughout the gospels and especially in Matthew 25:
…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me…
I (we) must be ready to physically come to the defense of our sisters and brothers should the time arise. The other day a person who’s commentary I follow posted a lament. She is a Jew and is alarmed at the attack on Jews. She notes that her people have had to be ready for these attacks for thousands of years. She notes that the desire to attack Jews never seems to go away. I wished I could have responded by telling her she was wrong, but I couldn’t. Instead, I wrote, “I am so sorry and I vow that I will never turn my back.”
May all decent people who have the power vow to do the same.
As I prepare to preach on the painful topic of racism I re-read a sermon from 3 years ago. The events of yesterday are proof that we (white people) must get out of our comfort zones and confront this evil in all its manifestations.
I wrote my sermon last Wednesday… at least I thought I had. When I think back to last Wednesday I was pretty angry… or maybe I could say righteous indignation. But then unless you’re Jesus cleaning out the temple righteous indignation looks a lot like self-righteousness and that never looks good.
But thankfully I still listen to those nudges from the Holy Spirit and thought, I need to send this to Brian Eklund for his opinion. So I did and then set out to translate this sermon into Spanish in time for my lesson at 2pm. After the class I went for a much needed run… and while I was doing a cool down walk I heard from Brian. He was very nice in saying that this was not a good sermon and it would not be effective.
As I think about it, that sermon was more like the letter that you write in anger and then through away. Thank you Pastor Brian! Unfortunately, in this Facebook and instant email world, the angry letters sometimes get out! Anyway, I’m less angry now, but still concerned.
Maybe you too have been feeling it, because except for Thanksgiving, last week was not a good one. I was brokenhearted over the shooting death of a 12 year old boy who was playing with a toy gun in a park. And then, we had the events in Ferguson. The subsequent dialog on Facebook and Twitter wasn’t easy to watch or to participate in. In retrospect though, by Friday, I had actually read some very helpful comments and shared stories. They are not always easy, but then neither is life.
I think that we can also look at the chaos of the last week (heck the last year worldwide) and then read today’s gospel and say to ourselves, “it sure looks like all the signs are there for Jesus’ return.” But then the gospel reading also says that we won’t know… that the day of Jesus’ return will be a surprise. We aren’t to figure out when we will see Jesus return… instead we are to be alert to the signs of his coming.
In his commentary on this passage David Garland describes a cartoon by Jules Feiffer. It shows a man,
“looking up in the sky when another asks him what he is doing. He responds, “I am waiting for him to come back, that’s what I’m doing.” The other responds, “But that’s silly he won’t come back from up there.” “You can find him in ordinary life – in loving your neighbor, doing good to those who hate you, in suffering for the truth.” The man replies, “Did you say suffering for the truth?” The last panel shows them both looking up into the sky, and the first man says, “I find this position more comfortable.”
I tried to find this cartoon but was unsuccessful. I like the “you can find him in ordinary life – in loving your neighbor, doing good to those who hate you, in suffering for the truth.”
The good news is that as this cartoon so aptly illustrates, being alert to Jesus’ coming is not to sit and stare at the sky… but to rather go out into the world… in all its messiness… in all its ugliness… and to live the truth.
What is that truth? Well, we could debate it and come to all sorts of conclusions, but the un-debatable truth is that Jesus’ coming the first time was because of the great love that God has for each of us… that’s the truth. And this is the truth:
- God loves Michael Brown… he is now in God’s care
- God loves little 12 year old Tamir Rice… he too is now resting in God’s care.
- God loves Darren Wilson… and whatever I and others may think I doubt it if he woke up the morning of August 9th knowing how that day would transpire.
- God loves all the protestors… even those whose rage results in riots.
- God loves us… black, white, and every color in between. Even… or rather especially when we have trouble loving one another.
This is truth. Sometimes suffering for this truth is experience in having to recognize the vastness of God’s love. I’m mindful of a verse from our Isaiah reading this week. It says (64:8), “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (It so happens that this verse is the basis for the most popular song that we are singing in our Wednesday children’s program, JOLT. )
Pottery is a wonderful metaphor. Pottery is a work of art… useful… varied… comes in many different shapes, sizes, and colors. Pottery is durable, so that clay pots can be found that are centuries old. At the same time, pottery is fragile… drop it or throw it and it can shatter. And if broken, it is possible to glue it back together but the scars will always last.
God has made each of us and each of us is a beautiful work of art… useful… varied… and we come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors. And each of us carries the scars of being broken and put back together. Maybe some of the pain we feel is like stepping on the broken shards of that shattered pottery.
But it is in being willing to step into one another’s pain that we have the opportunity to experience Jesus, who (Surprise!) never really left. Friday I saw two stories that are related to Ferguson and which brought tears… not of sadness, but of hope.
I saw the first story on the morning news. I thought to myself, “I should share that.” Then I looked down at the newspaper and there it was… “Ferguson activists find unity at the table.” A woman, Cat Daniels or better known as “Momma Cat”, has been cooking a Sunday meal for those who have been seeking change in Ferguson. Why cook, because according to Momma Cat, “food has a healing power… food can heal your soul.” The interviewer asked her about the police across the street… she said that if anyone with a badge and a gun joins the buffet line “she’ll gladly fix them a plate.” There is hope in eating together… welcoming one another.
The other story is one that took place in Oregon on Friday. There was a protest of the events in Ferguson. And as with most protests, the police were present. Maybe you’ve seen the photo. Another 12 year old boy… African American as well, was at the protest and was holding a sign that said “free hugs.” A police officer began talking to the boy. At the end of their conversation, the police officer pointed to the sign and asked, “Do I get one of those?” He did, and the photo is of this police officer and the boy hugging, with the boys eyes filled with tears.
And… you know what dear brothers and sisters? I’m pretty sure that we saw Jesus.