Can anything good come out of …? Today’s sermon

Can anything good come out of Oxnard?

I remember an encounter in my first days here at Our Redeemer. It was with Rusty Jackson, a long time (but not his entire life) Oxnard resident and founding member of the church. Upon our introduction, he looked at me, and with a twinkle in his eye said, “You know they say that nothing good comes out of Oxnard.”

Was he referring to this text in John’s gospel? Where Nathanael seems to initially reject Jesus because he was from Nazareth? Philip had invited him to come and meet Jesus, who just might be the promised Messiah. But this promised Messiah was coming from the wrong town, the town with the bad reputation.

We don’t really know why Nathanael scoffed at the idea of something good coming from Nazareth because we don’t know too much about the town except that it was small. And maybe that’s the point… sometimes we scoff at or are afraid of that which we don’t know.

Can anything good come out of Oxnard? Some outside of Oxnard would say “no.”

I remember being in a group of people in Ventura a few years ago. The leader was asking where everyone was from. Most were identifying some neighborhood in Ventura. I said, “Oxnard.” And the leader replied, “I’m sorry.” We’ve since become friends and I’m not sure he would respond in the same way today.

I think that all of us in Oxnard, whether we live elsewhere and worship here, whether we’ve moved here, or whether we were born here and continue to live here… I think that we all can say there is mostly certainly good that comes out of Oxnard. We can be proud here at Our Redeemer that we are known for our excellent preschool…good comes from here!

So maybe we are better prepared than others to not so quickly dismiss a place because we don’t know enough. I’ve told you stories of my once upon a time fear of parts of Los Angeles. In retrospect my fear of LA was a racist fear of others…or people I didn’t know. But then I went there and spent time and learned how ignorant I was.

Today, in our divided nation and even divided world, we may find ourselves asking the question more often…of places, of people, of affiliated groups.

All of my sermon up to this point was written before the news broke of the president using vile language to describe countries south of our borders (Haiti and El Salvador) and all the countries that make up the continent of Africa. What I had written after this point seemed so sadly connected and yet irrelevant…so an update was in order.

Today, with the gospel text in one hand and the news in the other, the question asked by Nathanael, ”Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Becomes the questions:

Can anything good come out of El Salvador?

Can anything good come out of Haiti?

Can anything good come out of Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe?

Can anything good come from these countries whose residents have dark skins? Or does all the good stuff come from countries like Norway, whose residents are white?

On this weekend, when we honor the ministry and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we are presented with these questions. Our faith gives us the answer.

The answer is not found in the stories of all the good that has been done by immigrants from these countries…and other countries. Certainly their contributions help to make America great, even as we remember that except for Native Americans we are all from someplace else. It’s also important to remember that the majority of our African American brothers and sisters trace their roots to people who were forcibly kidnapped and sold as slaves…and it was their work…unpaid work…that led to much of the prosperity upon which this nation was built. We are still dealing with the legacy of this racism… of this evil.

I digress… the answer to the question of whether anything good can come from these countries is not found in the good things that people from these countries do…as appreciated and honored those good things are. But the problem with uplifting people who’ve done well is that we imply that they must earn the respect that is due to them as human beings.

No the answer to the question of whether anything good can come from these countries…through our faith…is a resounding YES!

Yes…good can come from these places because God is good and God is there just as God is here. When we look at our world we remember that it is good because God created it and then said “it is good.” And on that ultimate day of creation, God made human beings, God said, “it is very good.”

It is very good… our created world and all the inhabitants. Because of sin, no place is perfect, including these United States. Because of sin, no person is perfect, including you and me. And that is why Jesus came… because of love for this big giant imperfect mess of a world. And his primary teaching to his disciples and to us is that the only way that we could make things better and that is to love one another as we love God.

It’s that simple and it’s that difficult.

Did you notice Philip’s response to Nathanael’s question? He didn’t argue. He just said, “come and see.” And with these words took Nathanael to meet Jesus.

Let’s go and see.

I have a friend who organizes a mission trip to El Salvador every August…who wants to go? I’d love to join him, while bringing others along. But maybe we can’t all travel to other countries. We can still make concerted efforts to learn about people of other nationalities, faiths, and political perspectives so that we can see the humanity and even the face of Jesus in those we do not know. Jesus loves them and invites us to love them too.

Gratitude 2/10

Today I was able to run my scheduled 6 miles with a friend. It was wonderful to be able to chat while easily covering those miles. When I first started running, it was just me. My daughter also began running at about the same time but we were not on the same schedules. Then my husband and son started running as well. We’ve have great experiences together at races and Saturday long runs. But usually I’m alone for my runs during the week. Sometimes this is good as I contemplate Sunday’s sermon…or other deep topics. Other times it is lonely. So today was a treat…

Today I am personal thankful for: M26 Running Tribe and all the new friends I’ve made since joining about 18 months ago; this morning’s run; and that this week was the first week of training for Mountains to Beach! Now I just need to shave 6 minutes of my marathon!

Gratitude 2/9

Are you taking care of yourself? Over the past few days I’ve read posts from people who are feeling tired and discouraged. I’m learning that protest is not easy, especially when there is something new every day that can be protested. I decided that I need to focus my efforts on the call of faith to be welcoming to the stranger and to care for all who Jesus describes as “the least of these” (Mathew 25). I’ve also learned that it is important each day to see and rejoice in what is good in the world. This refreshes us spiritually and then energizes us for the work ahead. So dear friends, what beautiful or good thing have you notices today?

Today I am personally thankful for: Elizabeth Warren #shepersisted; for all the women in history whose collective work made it possible for me to serve as an ordained pastor; the early morning fog that enveloped the land to give a quiet beauty.

Gratitude 2/8

“Jesus spoke to them saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.'” -John 8:12

What does it mean to have the light of life? I would guess some of us have differing interpretations. For me, it is experienced in speaking, writing, doing…living… with integrity. It is also in bravely advocating for, and walking alongside, those who are different from me because this is how my faith instructs me to love God and love neighbor. These days seem dark and many are feeling hopeless. I understand this, as I vacillate between feelings of despair and the sure and certain conviction the Jesus is here alongside, saying, “you go, girl!” One piece of advice that I will be giving often is the importance of self-care. Please remember that you cannot adequately help others when you are not operating from a place of health (more on this later).

Today I am personally thankful for: my running coach who likes to have good discussions and who challenges me on my assumptions (and for his training me!); all the pastors I know who are living their own calls with integrity and who feel the struggle; a good early morning workout.

Gratitude 2/7

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As they left the demonstration, protesters attached their signs to the fence at parking lot C at LAX

 

“Let your light shine before others.” -Matthew 5:16

Before we can let our light shine before others we need to recognize that the light we possess is a gift of God’s grace. Jesus said, “you are the light of the world.” He said this to the community…you all. With this proclamation, you are light, I am light, we are light.

This is good news! We have the opportunity to recognize that light that exists in our neighbor. Then as we walk together our cumulative light shines ever more brightly on a weary world. I experienced this when I joined the Justice for All March, as well as the demonstration on behalf of our Muslim neighbors as LAX.

Some might believe that these marches and demonstrations are a waste of time, that they don’t really change anything. I believe that they do much! They energize those who gather together…they remind each of us that we are not in the struggle alone…they let the vulnerable know that they are not alone.

Of course more needs to be done…and will. My call as pastor reminds me that my role is the public proclamation of the Gospel…the good news of Jesus the Christ. This good news is that through Jesus we are loved…and we are all called to love God and to love our neighbor in return. Happy Tuesday!

Today I am personally thankful for: the reminders of God’s love and grace that I receive, especially when I am feeling down; the members of Our Redeemer who gathered last night to work on our upcoming Silent Auction Fundraiser; the opportunity to run 5 miles this afternoon.

 

Gratitude 2/6

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I celebrate the 7th anniversary of my ordination today. It should be a day of celebration, but I’m not feeling much like celebrating today. This morning I woke u[p feeling a bit like Elijah when he was whining to God. I have lots of whining that I would love to dump somewhere. So, these words of Jesus are speaking to me today, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Mt. 11:28-30).”

Today I am personally thankful for: the grace of God that sustains me in all things; the mental health benefits of exercise; and the cleansing rain.

Blessings?

Yesterday I help with the Ventura County Homeless Count. The geographical area for counting that was assigned to me didn’t have too many people in it yesterday…maybe because it was so cold that people weren’t yet out on the streets. Yes, it was cold and we were counting (interviewing) people who had no place to sleep the night before. It is a sad state of affairs. There are many reasons for homelessness and thus need to be many solutions. I know that many people dedicate their lives to helping in any way they can. Participating in the count (for 2nd year in a row) reminded me that we need to do more and that we need to actually “See” the people who seem to be invisible as we go about our daily lives.

14364767_10154005598513775_7633342390373738549_nOne of the people I spoke with was a young man who was sitting in front of a fast food restaurant with a sign. You are familiar with this as we are all familiar with this. This young man told me that he wanted a job, but that nobody would give him a job because he was homeless. “So here I am (pointing at sign), I don’t want to do this, I just want a f—n job!” I had no adequate words while I also fear that things will get worse.

Sunday I will be preaching on “The Beatitudes” or blessings that Jesus offered at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. According to these, this young man is blessed, as are those who advocate for him and all the homeless. May we all begin to live and act as if he truly were blessed so that he would then know it in this day.

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” -Matthew 5:1-12

These “blessings” are radical because then, and now, to “be blessed” is often equated with having an easy life…having riches…having power. The blessings that Jesus pronounces here are for those who struggle in all kinds of ways.

In seeing the direction our country is heading I feel the “blessed are the poor in spirit” in ways I’ve never felt before. My faith tells me that we are to be advocates for the poor, the immigrant, the refugee, the orphan, the widow, the prisoner, the outcast. These groups are explicitly mentioned numerous times in scripture. Yet, we as a nation are about to officially turn our backs on these people and I am saddened.

As the words of Jesus tell me, I am also blessed and it is that blessing received that is leading me to speak up, to march, to protest, to call, to write…the join the resistance to what betrays my faith as well as the founding values of my country. It is this being blessed by Jesus that will help me (and others) to stand strong even when attacks come and guess what…we’ll just be more blessed…Jesus said so!