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We Need to Talk About Friday

Here is my sermon from Sunday. It is offered in the hope that it will bring hope and comfort in a place of despair and grief.

Scripture: Isaiah 61:1-11.

I was going to say something very different until Friday came. I was going to talk about what is coming, about a vision God has for us, about something we cannot see. Now it seems so empty, unreal, theoretical.

We need to talk today about what happened on Friday. We need to tell each other what we think and feel after seeing images and hearing stories like the ones we saw and heard from Newtown, Connecticut. We cannot stuff our tears down into our souls and hope they will go away – they cannot. We cannot hide behind some policy argument and pray that our spirits will be healed in the meantime. Nor can we put away our memories of this shooting in the same place as the one we put our memories of Portland, Oregon; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Aurora, Colorado; Tucson, Arizona; and the others still more weeks and months in the past. Here in this space we must have the courage and the compassion to shed our tears, to share our anger and our grief, to wonder about our world and God’s movement in it. Because if we cannot grieve here in the presence of God and the community of disciples of the Crucified One, where can we possibly hope to grieve?

On Friday we saw parents running to their child’s school and then to the local fire station, terrorized by the thought that their child would not be there but still in their classroom. On Friday we saw a school building turned into a morgue, a place of death and destruction. As the governor of Connecticut noted, “Today evil has visited the people of Newtown.”

We gather today knowing full well that evil is real. We have seen it with our own eyes and heard it with our own ears and we can no longer run away from it. Evil torments us, terrorizes us, oppresses us. We turn our lives upside down in an effort to protect ourselves and our children from evil only for it to slither its way through a crack in our defenses anyway. So we throw up our hands and wonder if anything can be done to prevent evil from visiting our lives too. We despair, we cry, we rail against the injustice of it all, and we lift all of it up to God and beg Him to do something with it.

We are not the first to have the visitation of evil, nor will we be the last. The Israelites of old had their land, their temple, their freedom and their families all ripped away from them. Some stayed to work for empire after empire who took their crops for their food and their children for their armies. Others were deported and forced to serve their new masters. There were certainly the brokenhearted, the captives, the prisoners. There were plenty of ashes and tears.

And into this place where evil has visited steps the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah peers into the future (whether near or far we cannot say) and sees something more than the pain being endured in the present. He sees cities and communities being rebuilt. He sees garland instead of ashes, comfort where there is mourning. He sees justice against those who brought evil to his people. He proclaims a year of the Lord’s favor.

To be honest, today all these things seem very far away. They seem empty, unreal, theoretical.

They also seem revolutionary.

We live in the heart of the American Revolution. The great orator and governor of colonial Virginia Patrick Henry lived only a few miles from here. He also led and participated in the American Revolution against Great Britain. He saw the evils of oppression bearing down on the people of the colonies and he did not shy away from them. He noted, “For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst and provide for it.”

But Patrick Henry did not stop at knowing the worst – he looked forward to something better. He had no qualms about acknowledging the reality around him and the reality of human beings, that we thirst for power over one another and seek to enslave one another given the chance. Patrick Henry also saw that it didn’t have to be this way, that there could be something more. He knew that it would be a struggle; he knew he would have to fight for it, even die for it. But he pressed on anyway to that vision of liberty for all. Thus began the revolution.

Today, this Sunday after Friday, we hear the call in Isaiah of another revolution. It is a revolution against evil in our world. It is a fight to honor every living human being, to break the chains of oppression and to comfort those who grieve with hope. It is the acknowledgement of reality and looking forward to something better, something purer, something God-infused.

Now the revolution among the American colonies was fought muskets and cannons as well as with words and documents. The revolution of God is fought not with guns but with relationships, not with declarations of independence but recognition of dependence. The kingdom of God outlined in Isaiah begins not with a battle at Lexington and Concord but with the surrender at Golgotha. The Advent hope we cling to on Sunday is directly linked to a different Friday, one that we can only the see the goodness of given that Sunday always follows Friday.

In the bleakness of winter the ground turns from green to brown and the winds grow cold. It seems that death has laid its claim all around us. It seems that it will always be Friday, that the power of evil has won, and that our grief will never be consoled. But remember the words of Isaiah: “For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.” Today it is hard to hear those calls of righteousness and praise through the sounds of mourning. But it is coming, and we know it because the cross stands empty to the sky and the tomb contains only a few pieces of linen.

And so we stand together, we cry together, we huddle together, we get angry together, we fight together, we proclaim revolution together, and we say what we believe together. We know that evil is real and we do not turn away from it. Instead we fight it with good, with love, with Christ. And still we believe despite the pain and suffering that comes and finds our doors. We know how this revolution ends.

This is our Father’s world. Not evil’s, not sin’s, not death’s.

This is our Father’s world.
O let us ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong
God is the ruler yet.

And someday soon we will offer the second part, singing it with all the brokenhearted around us.

This is my Father’s world:
Why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King; let the heavens ring!
God reigns; let the earth be glad!

Until that day comes, until the revolution of the Christ-child is complete, we believe, we hope, we look to the stable and to the cross. We remember. And we also say together with voices cracking or shouting or somewhere in between, “Thanks be to God.” Amen.

God Chooses

Then Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do choose. Be made clean.” – Luke 5:13

“I thought you would be mad at me.”

The vase lay broken on the kitchen floor, the roses that Father had brought home to Mother strewn about. Ruined, it was all ruined. But little Timmy wanted to make up for his mistake, so he tried to clean up.

He hadn’t meant to bump the vase with the flowers. But he had, reaching across the table for something he had bumped the vase and it had gone crashing to the floor. The glass shattered into a gazillion pieces, the flowers were shredded by the flying glass. Timmy went to get the broom to clean up.

But he forgot to put on shoes, so as he started to clean up the glass lodged in his feet and blood began to flow causing an even bigger mess and pain for Timmy. After a few minutes Mother walked in – broken vase, ruined flowers, and most important crying and bloody Timmy. Mother reached down for her son, “Are you okay?”

“Yes.” Sniffle.

“Why didn’t you tell me the vase was broken? I would have helped you fix it.”

“I broke the vase, and I wanted to clean it up. I didn’t tell you because I thought you would be mad at me.”

In the time of Jesus and even today there is a sense that those who are in misery are there at least partly because of their own doing. God may be punishing them for a sin committed or a sacrifice forgotten. You can imagine the man with leprosy coming forward to Jesus here in Luke 5. He has nothing to give to Jesus. He can only ask. And like little Timmy, there is an undercurrent of fear here. What if Jesus says no? What if God doesn’t want to heal the leper?

“If you choose, you can make me clean.” I think God might be mad at me, but God has the power to heal this disease. Will you do it, Lord?

“I do choose, be made clean.”

God chooses healing and wholeness over disease and brokenness. I do not write this easily, because the evidence to the contrary seems overwhelming. There is so much suffering, so many who are not healed, so much broken like a vase bumped from the table turned into shattered glass.

And so Luke 5:13 is also a statement of faith. This is what we believe: that God chooses to make people whole again. That God wants to bring the broken pieces of life together again. That Christ on the cross is the ultimate choice of God to bring his children into His arms and hug them and tell them. “It’s okay, Daddy’s here,” after we have cut ourselves up.

We all make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean God is forever angry. Instead God chooses to heal. And for that we give thanks.

From a Lutherterian on Yom Kippur

For four years as a  student I worshiped with the on-campus Lutheran congregation at my university. As a member of the Presbyterian church I designated myself as the local “Lutherterian,” a combination Presbyterian-Lutheran. My daughter has school off today as our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrate Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. As I was going to sleep I couldn’t help but hear the words of the Kyrie from the Lutheran Book of Worship. Such is the life (and sleep) of an ecumenist.

In peace let us pray to the Lord.
Lord have mercy.

For the peace from above and for our salvation, let us pray to the Lord.
Lord have mercy.

For the peace of the whole world, for the well-being of the people of God,
and for the unity of all, let us pray to the Lord.
Lord have mercy.

For this holy house, and for all who offer here their worship and praise,
let us pray to the Lord.
Lord have mercy.

Help, save, comfort, and defend us Gracious Lord.
Amen.

May the God of mercy, who forgives you all your sins, strengthen you in all goodness and by the power of the Spirit keep you to everlasting life. Amen.

To our Jewish friends, have a blessed Yom Kippur.

To our Christian brothers and sisters, remember the One Who Atones this day.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For the if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. – Romans 5:15

Witness to the Resurrection – Remembering Ruth Springer

A long time member of Laurel Presbyterian Church, Ruth Springer died last Monday at the age of 101. We will take time during our regular worship on Sunday, July 15, starting at 10 am to remember her and give witness to the resurrecting power of our Lord.

In preparation for that we are looking for anyone willing to do so to share their stories about Ruth and what they will remember about her. There are two opportunities for you do share. First, we will be meeting together in the church Fellowship Hall on Saturday, July 7, starting at 11 am for a time to talk, remember, and give thanks for Ruth. If you are not able to make that time, the second opportunity is to share you story with Pastor Andy via e-mail at laurelpres@verizon.net,

Even if you didn’t know Ruth, join us as we celebrate her life and look forward to the resurrection to come.

Laurel Gives to Virginia Randolph School

Rev. Andy Meyers of LPC; Diana Morris, principal of VREC; and Margaret Fitch, Elder at Laurel presenting a check for $1000.

The members of Laurel Presbyterian Church were invited to, “clean out their attics and closets” for a worthy cause. The church’s April yard sale brought out hundreds of folks from the Glen Allen community and yielded a donation for the Virginia Randolph Education Center on Mountain Road. VREC is a loving and welcoming school for handicapped and special needs children. Laurel Presbyterian sees this as an opportunity to help their neighbors in need. The Staples Mill church is looking to participate in the life of the school and to volunteer to help the students.

Realizing What We Are Saying

"Let us stand and say what we believe..."

I believe in the God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth…

We say it every week in worship, right after the hymn after the sermon. We know where it falls every week, and we know when it is our turn to begin the ritual.

“Let us say what we believe.” So we begin saying that we believe in God and somewhere about the time we mouth “creator of heaven and earth” our brains are moving on. Like the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed is one of those sets of words that we say a lot but in reality don’t pay much attention to, despite the awesome power those words convey. Do we realize what we are saying here?

Do we realize that we are placing our belief in one God in three persons, whatever that means?

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord…

Do we realize that with these words we are declaring that we follow Jesus and Jesus only, not any powers of this world nor any powers in the spiritual world other than the one who died on a cross in Palestine in the first century?

Do we realize that we are saying that we believe in the virgin birth, the movement of Jesus from Earth to the place of the dead (“sheol” in Hebrew and “Hades” or “hell” in Greek) on his way to rising from the dead, and that he will come again?

Do we realize that we are saying this with Christians from every time and place, those who say it openly and those who whisper it behind closed doors?

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,…

Do we realize that believing in the Holy Spirit means the Spirit might actually act in and through us to transform the church and the world? Do we want that, really?

Do we realize the covenant we are making here? Do we realize the awesome responsibility we are undertaking, to commune with the saints and to actually forgive those who hurt us?

the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

Do we realize just how radical this statement of faith truly is? Just how hopeful this truly is? Just how faithful?

Do we realize that we are committing to live differently, to live as if there is more here than what we know here or see here or feel here?

Do we believe this?

Amen.

At the Intersection of Belfast and Saint Louis Park, Part 2

You can find Part 1 here.

As is the case with all posts on this blog, the following is the opinion of Rev. Andrew Meyers and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the members of Laurel Presbyterian Church, its session, or the Presbyterian Church (USA).

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. – Ephesians 2:13-14

In Northern Ireland’s captial Belfast there are walls which still separate Catholic neighborhoods and Protestant ones, walls with gates closed every evening and opened every morning that can be closed should violence erupt again. These walls are called, “Peace Walls,” apparently for the notion that they keep the peace should war break out. Someday I hope the Peace Walls will come down. This will be the mark that the country torn apart by war and sectarianism has truly healed.

In the midst of the changes going on in the PC(USA) some ministers and elders now known as the Fellowship have called for the establishing of “new Reformed body” within the denomination but separate. They call for new presbyteries based more on theology than geography, for a renewed focus on new church developments and congregational mission, and developing leaders for the church in this new time. This would give more of a sense of unity in the midst of calls for schism. We would still be under one denominational flag, we would still have pensions and property, we would still even have collegial relationships with friends. As a friend of mine noted, it would be like having Catholic orders – separate theological emphases all in one church. I believe the Fellowship is honestly attempting to find a way forward given the warring factions which have engulfed the PC(USA) over the past three decades, and I give them credit for that

From my perspective the Fellowship is proposing to build a set of peace walls within the PC(USA). The walls are designed to safeguard the theological purity of each side while allowing nominal unity of the body. They would act as the Belfast walls act, with gates that keep marauders from one side from invading the other should our verbal and theological debates flash again. The pro-gay ordination justice crowd would be happy (at least in their part of the denomination) and the anti-gay ordination Biblical crowd would get what they want (at least in their part of the denomination). Everybody wins, or at least everyone can co-exist. Again, the Fellowship is trying to find a new way forward that most can live with and I think this at least deserves consideration.

But. Yes, there’s a “but.” Peace walls indeed contributed to stopping the violence in Belfast’s most explosive neighborhoods. As the BBC noted in 2009, however, “For people living in the shadow of a concrete wall topped with fencing the peace they bring can help cement divisions rather than heal communities.” And fifteen years after paramilitaries stopped their campaigns, the council of the city of Derry is proposing to build a new peace wall in response to rising sectarianism.

Peace walls should not be confused with reconciliation. And the church is called to reconciliation as well as preserving truth and doing justice through the love of God, the grace of Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit. As the Confession of 1967 (at this time maybe the least popular of all our confessions) states:

To be reconciled to God is to be sent into the world as his reconciling community. This community, the church universal, is entrusted with God’s message of reconciliation and shares his labor of healing the enmities which separate men [and women] from God and from each other.

The walls built around presbyteries in the coming years should this proposal gain purchase will not come down easily. I get the feeling that for folks with vested interests on both sides of this debate that they don’t want the walls to come down easily. They’ve worked too hard and invested so much that to give up now would seem like capitulation to the enemy.

Yet just as much as we seek to speak the truth and as much as we seek to do justice, we are also called to do reconciliation. So if we are to erect walls between ourselves through the forming of non-geographic presbyteries, I would pray that they would be temporary and permeable.

Temporary non-geographic presbyteries would allow for us all to put down our weapons of verbal warfare and move together in areas of common concern such as mission, evangelism, and social witness. By moving away from constant debates about sexuality we might find see the grace of Christ at work in the whole denomination once again. Separation though should not permanently relieve us of the call live out the reconciling power of Christ. Christ broke down the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles as Paul mentions in Ephesians 2, and as such we are made “fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” (Ephesians 2:19). We are called to break down the walls of hostility we have built up over these past decades – not make them permanent.

Permeability in science is defined as the capability of something to permit the flow of something else through its spaces. Permeable presbyteries would indeed have boundaries for membership and theology. Permeable presbyteries would also regularly interact with others with whom they disagree not in a spirit of debate over a particular motion but in relationship and discussion about the issues that affect us all. In a covenant relationship defined this way, we will not cut ourselves off from one another but hopefully provide a safer space with which to have hard conversations, and even harder transformations.

If we cannot agree that these new governing bodies (or councils should the new Form of Government pass) are both temporary and permeable, then I will not support their creation. I cannot in good conscience build walls of separation and hostility in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ without the concurrent confession that their existence is due to our sin and failure and that repentance will require their eventual destruction.

No matter where we may go in these coming days, let us seek to follow the Shepherd and Bishop of Souls in the work of proclaiming his Gospel so that we may be able to do that which Paul asks of the Ephesians: “Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. …Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (4:25, 32).