Teaching that Calls out Evil

Hmmmm, in working on the sermon for this weekend, I began to wonder, “What was Jesus teaching — I mean exactly what was Jesus teaching — when the man with the unclean spirit yelled out “Have you come to destroy us?!” A colleague of mine, put that question into some different words — perhaps, “Have you come to destroy the way of life that we hold dear?”

I’ll give that this certainly could be your basic exorcism casting out a demon. The belief in demon-possession was common. And folks would have been very impressed if Jesus could cast out demons by simple command. But I’m interested in the ‘unclean spirits’, the ‘evil’, that takes over our lives, our world. Whether they be our love of violence and clamor for revenge, our greed, our racism, our heterosexism …. the list goes on.
I really like Michael B Raschko’s “A Companion to the Gospel of Mark”, (Twenty-Third Publications), in which he talks about how sin and evil can possess and distort the heart of each person, corrupt and pervert the lives of institutions great and small. He names particularly excessive individualism and consumerism. (see his book, pages 23-24)

The gospel of Jesus the Christ gives us the values and words to name the evil, call it out, and live in the direction of God’s Reign.

Sooo…. I wonder what exactly Jesus was teaching that day that ruffled the feathers, and rattled the cage of the man with the unclean spirit? Was he talking about money? That’s what he talked about most. Was he talking about forgiveness and reconciliation? That would upset the spirit of one who felt a right to hate and revenge. Was he talking about Love, that great commandment? If he talked about Love with the authenticity of his life behind it, he would surely be speaking as one with authority and evil would see itself in the mirror of Jesus and recognize itself for what it is.
I wonder what he was teaching ….


Critical Presence

In late October and early November of this past fall, I was in India on a Global Ministries People to People Pilgrimage.  My  friend and colleague Frank and I co-led this trip which included 15 of us.  Three of us had been on a trip together two years ago.  On that trip we spent all of our time in southern India, where our home base was Mudiyor Balar Kudumba Grama Pannai, known in English as Family Village Farm, the home of almost 200 orphaned and semi-orphaned children, homeless young women and elders.  From there we ventured to visit the Shieffelin Research Institute for Leprosy at Kirigiri, and Shanthigramam, a haven for elders who have been cured of leprosy but still have no place of welcome home.

This year we spent time in the south with these and other Global Mission partners; then we traveled some thousand miles north to spend time in Mungeli at Christian Hospital and the Rambo English School.  We even got in a safari at the Kanna Tiger Reserve.

There were clearly life-transforming relationships, encounters, and experiences throughout — as there were before.  But this time is different.  This time the Global Ministries philosophy of ‘critical presence’ is still stirring in me in ways I have yet to fully understand.  There were people in our contingent who were nurses, medics, teachers who planned and filled critical roles in health screenings, who guest taught in nursing school classes, who led music.  But all of us, whether or not we had those particular skills, were simply open to being present, learning from our mission partners, and caring in the best ways we could.

Yes, I had the humbling privilege of preaching in chapel while at Christian Hospital in Mungeli, but the most meaningful moments for me were those holding the hands of women in surgery and in childbirth.  Though I did not speak Hindi and they did not speak English,  I will never forget the feeling of looking into their eyes and feeling the grip of their hands.  I will never forget simply holding the clawed hands of women and men who have been scarred by leprosy.  I will never forget standing in the wards at Kirigiri with those being treated for leprosy.  I will never forget simply being with the children and the young women and the older women and men at Family Village Farm.

In these weeks since our return, I have first had to adapt to being back.  The truth is that I did not want to come back.  I want to be in India.  I could very easily spend significant time at Family Village Farm, or at Christian Hospital in Mungeli.   But the most significant realization has to do with critical presence.  We talk about critical presence as a philosophy in Global Ministries; yet I am coming to believe that critical presence must be the heart of my ministry no matter where I am.  Now I need to discern what that means for me — in congregational ministry, in presence with seminary students, in the community, and yes, in mission local and global.










Urban Way of the Cross Walk

The Maundy Thursday Tenebrae and Communion is over and now we sleep until Good Friday.  I always like our Good Friday Way of the Cross Walk.  We started the walk several years ago and it has grown, now including seven congregations of five denominations — Disciples of Christ, Episcopal, Mennonite, Presbyterian and United Church of Christ.

The walk will begin in the sanctuary of our DOC congregation and conclude at one of the Presbyterian congregations.  The walk usually includes people of all ages, including babies in strollers, and elders. One year a 15 year-old boy skateboarded most of the way.  Tomorrow it will likely be raining; even then a hardy smaller group will walk.

The Way is casual and involves everyone in leadership.  Each person has a copy of the 14 Stations we have created, with readings, reflections,  prayers, and songs.  As we walk between stations, the leader simply asks different people to read or lead prayer at the next station.

Ours is an inner-city neighborhood.  We create a different route through the streets and identify different stations each year.  Over time the stations have included such places as:  local markets, a fire station, a clinic serving Vietnamese immigrants, an alley where a young girl was murdered, nursing homes, boarded-up abandoned buildings,  mental health facilities, a coffee house welcoming those in the LGBT community, schools,  etc.   At each place, we make the connection between Jesus ministry and the path toward his crucifixion and our own ministry and the cost of discipleship.

Tomorrow our stops will include the telephone company, an area of small businesses, a nursing home, the Missouri School for the Blind, a residence for adults living with mental illness, a struggling residential area, a school that is being closed,   a building, now for sale, that housed a program for troubled youth, but had to move because the neighborhood residents did not want the program near them, a Center for Early Learning that supports both children and families, and a new neighborhood bakery and art center, a park, and an Ecumenical Food Pantry and Urban Ministry center.

As we create the route each year, and then walk it in prayer and reflection with others in our community, it is an opportunity unlike any other  to really see our neighborhood.  We see what is going well and we see the challenges.

“Sex Texts from the Bible”

Today was such a great Church day!  This was the beginning day of our adult Christian Education study of Dr. Teresa J. Hornsby’s book Sex Texts from the Bible.   We were delighted to have Teresa Hornsby join us to speak to the class in the morning and then speak again at lunch following worship.

Dr. Hornsby is Associate Professor of Religion and Director Women and Gender Studies at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri.

Her humor, insight, and way of approaching the texts with such honest openness was a delight for everyone.  We are really looking forward to our study of sexuality in the Bible using her book.

During both sessions today and the time following them, I realized and appreciated the atmosphere of joy, relaxation, delight as people in the congregation and visitors talked about sex and sexuality.   When we decided to do this study and to invite Teresa Hornsby to be with us, we realized that it would mean asking folks to pay for their books and to contribute toward expenses to have her join us.  (We’re a small, financially challenged congregation and do not have this in the budget.)

We had to laugh at the speed with which hands went up and wallets opened to purchase the book!  Then we saw this usual class of 10-12 expand to 25 this morning.  Worship attendance was up.  Energy high.  Laughter abundant.

In these challenging times, when people are anxious and tense, perhaps we need to remember to celebrate life!  As our financial secretary said, upon seeing the money coming in for copies of Sex Texts from the Bible, clearly “sex is recession proof!”

Let it be so!!

Beginning Again …

I’ve been away so long that I considered wiping the slate clean and starting a whole new blog… but that takes time I do not want to spend on the technicalities. So … starting again in the same place.

Of course, I’m not in the same place — we never are — The fall was caught up in teaching the every other fall History and Polity of the DOC class that I teach.  This round with 15 students.  At the same time, the congregation was entering a growing and baby-booming time.  We’ve been birthing and blessing babies and welcoming new families with children.  At the same time we are welcoming more GLBT folks who find an Open and Affirming, mission focused community in which to live nurture faith.

We have, of course, been through the most amazing presidential election of my lifetime.  After doing door to door voter registration, and phone bank working; then experiencing the absolute joy of seeing someone with solid principles, true faith, and a just vision elected as President, I find myself still just smiling at times!

Then the joy of the inauguration and seeing a diverse nation celebrate.  We were delighted and so very proud of our General Minister and President, the Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, as she preached at the National Prayer Service  on the day following the inauguration.   I realized at that time that we have a President who is aware of the depth and breadth of the Church.  One who reaches beyond the limits of the religious right, to a spectrum of faith leaders who view the world on a more complex level, who truly seek to embody and lead us into the oneness that is in God.

There are — and always will be — those who cling to the small minded, exclusive box that has come to represent people of faith.  But it is a joy to hear  the voice of the Church universal in the public realm.

Well, not many words today … just a beginning again ….