A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Remembering The Slave Girl

I thought I would share the sermon I preached a few days ago.  With recent political events, I feel like I have to say something.  Perhaps there is a relevant tidbit or two in here:

In Acts 16 we read about a slave girl with the power of divination.  We don’t know exactly what this means but we do know this power gives her owners some economic benefit.  And we read this girl follows Paul and Silas and repeatedly proclaims them to be “slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.”  This seems harmless enough but alas Paul finds these proclamations annoying and so he orders the spirit out of her.  And that is all we are told about the slave girl.  I find this troubling.  Here is a girl, held as a slave, one of the most vulnerable in society, and Paul seems to give her no consideration other than removing the part of her which annoyed him.  She is left with lowered value in the eyes of her owners but as far as we know still a slave, still at the mercy of these men whom we will find in the following verses to be completely without scruples or mercy.  

As I considered the seemingly gross injustice of the treatment of this girl, I tried to think of Jesus in this situation and tried to imagine him treating her so callously.  And suddenly I realized this story reminded me of the story of the Syrophoenician  woman.  In the story of the Syrophoenician woman the woman begs for healing of her daughter and persists despite Jesus’ attitude of exhausted dismissal toward her pleas.  It made me wonder if perhaps the slave girl had a purpose to her annoying proclamations.  Perhaps she followed Paul and Silas hoping they would be worn down into seeing her plight and freeing her from the spirit within her.  Perhaps there were things about her divination duties and the position they put her in which made her long for healing.  Perhaps her cries were annoying to Paul because he felt called to heal her but knew to do so would be dangerous and so she persisted until Paul could resist no longer.  For Jesus the Syrophoenician woman’s persistent and wise words moved him to act.  For Paul it seems to be the sheer weight of annoyance.   But this is all speculation since we know so little about the girl or the situation. Perhaps this girl’s slavery was being unfairly lengthened due to her economic usefulness, maybe the divinations were part of a larger illness.  And it could be I am way off base, she didn’t want to be healed, lost her value to her owners and lived out a pitiful existence abandoned and alone.  Whatever the case I feel it is my duty to honor her story by at least acknowledging that she had one.  

There is much to wonder about regarding the slave girl but the behavior of her owners seems pretty clear.  Upset at their loss of profit, they slander Paul and Silas.  They play upon the prejudices of the local populace and appeal to their patriotism in order to get what they want, revenge upon Paul and Silas.  Prejudices are a reliable way to stir up violence and so Paul and Silas are arrested and beaten.  

Phillipi was a place important to the Roman empire.  Imperial power was strong in such a place and with many benefits but also ruthlessness.  Seminary professor, Matthew Skinner points out the description of imperial rule which the story from Acts lays out for us:  An empire which exploits the power of religion, and values people for their economic worth, skillfully uses scapegoating, utilizes violence and torture, and refuses to admit defeat. (from ON Scripture article)  

So many of these imperial tactics are being paraded before our eyes this election season it is appalling.  Obvious use of religion to manipulate is rampant.  Scapegoating of refugees, muslims, undocumented immigrants, hispanics, transgendered people is just a tip of the iceberg. Calls to violence toward those who disagree have become common place.  Refusal to ever admit any mistakes or wrongdoing regardless of the magnitude of the offense has become bread and butter of politics.  Valuing people only for their economic worth has distorted our view of reality until someone who has benefited from privilege and power with every breath from the first moment of life can claim to be outside of the establishment and we buy it seemingly because of the economic power associated with a name.  

It is discouraging, depressing, appalling, and frightening.  So, what can we do?  We can remember the slave girl.  We can commit to never forget she and people like her have stories.  They are people of equal value to the more powerful of the world.  We can work to lift up stories of the oppressed, those suffering from injustice and discrimination, the outcasts and the feared.  We can value people just for being people, not for their economic status or how they can promote our own agendas.  We can stalwartly resist violence in all its forms and remember honesty and repentance as virtuous acts.  We can refuse to be silent in the face of hatred.

We are not a people without hope.  We are a people guided by love, healed by forgiveness, and called to be light in the darkness as was one who came before us, Jesus, our guide and our hope. Amen.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Think of the Children

Lately the phrase “think of the children!” has come to mind a few times.  Of course, this immediately makes me recall a Simpson’s episode in which a woman repeatedly shrieks “Think of the children!” and “Won’t someone please think of the children!”  Ah, the Simpsons.  Indeed such a cry can be a meaningless play on emotions, as it was intended to portray in the aforementioned episode but recently it seems to me thinking of the children might be an extremely helpful thing to do.  

One of the most obvious areas in which we need to “think of the children” is education.  Slashing funding for public schools seems to be par for the course in many areas around the country.  Legislatures are not content to limit themselves to cutting funding either.  Mandates about curriculum,bonds, school boards have all been tossed about without any seeming understanding of what will even work let alone what will benefit children’s education.  When it comes to education, thinking of our children should be the focus.  It is what our teachers, principles, paras, aides, cooks, custodians and all other staff at our schools are engaged in throughout the school year.  It is what will benefit our society, our legal system, and political system.  Having educated citizens impacts nearly every aspect of our lives.  Whether we have children ourselves or not, we all definitely need to “think of the children.”

We could also stand to “think of the children” when considering political campaigns.  In this case, such thoughts might clarify what should be obvious to us anyway.  Do we want national leaders who teach hatred?  When we teach children how to be good citizens, how to be good neighbors, and so on do we tell them saying hateful, ignorant, and cruel things is okay as long as you are using “straight talk?”   Do we teach our children basic decency and kindness is kowtowing to political correctness?  It is frightening to think we might have to ban children from watching the President of the United States make a speech for fear children would copy his speech at school and end up in deep trouble. 

Let’s reign in our political bickering, divisiveness, and party loyalty.  Please, think of the children.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Preaching My Way Into Hope

I have begun to despair lately.  I have come to wonder if there is anything left to say which will have an affect on anyone who does not already agree with the speaker.  We seem so divided, so fearful, so angry.  This week I found myself writing a sermon which ended up being my own attempt to preach my way out of despair and back into hope.  Thought I would share it in case others are feeling similarly.  Here it is:

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius…(Luke 3:1)”  Thus the gospel reading begins by trumpeting the name of the emperor and follows with a litany of men of power: governors, rulers, high priests.  Contrasted against this rapid fire list of the influential and the commanding, the word of God drops instead into the wilderness.  The word of God comes from the mouth of John, preparing the way for Jesus with a call to repentance, a call to turn in a new direction.   The word of God comes from the wilderness, not the temple made by human hands with ulterior motives.  Not from the high priest whose religion is undermined by benefitting from the ways of the world.  Mention of the wilderness brings forth many associations for people of Israel whose history is punctuated by difficult and dangerous journeys through the wilderness.  The wilderness is often where the children of Abraham encounter God. 

Finding God in the wilderness rather than places of power ought to make some sense to us as well.  After all, we do not come to be followers of Jesus as princes and princesses born into our faith through our ancestry nor by our own power.  We come as children of God by God’s grace, by God’s love, welcomed home from our own wilderness wanderings and taken in and adopted by the power of love not inheritance or might.  Sometimes we seem to forget this, calling this a Christian nation as though we have inherited some special treatment and privileges, as though the history of this nation is pristine and without sin.  We are called to the wilderness, to turn away from worldly powers, away from prestige.  We are called to repentance not recollections of some supposed glory days but remembering our own hardships and learned humility, recalling who we are, the wildernesses of our past, and what we have learned.  

This time of year is a time of waiting.  We are waiting for God to show up.  Don’t get me wrong, I trust God is all around us and within us.  Yet my trust is hazy at times as it is felt dimly through the clamor of day to day life and hammered repeatedly by the despair,violence, and selfishness present in our world.  I long for God to show up in a way obvious even to my hazy sensibilities.  This time of year such longing fits with the season.  We are awaiting God’s presence through a babe born in circumstances both extraordinary and oh so ordinary.  We are waiting for God to show up in new and unexpected places in that time when all things will be made new.  We are waiting for God to show up in our lives in a way which will renew our faith, our trust.  But we are called to do more than just wait.  We are also called to turn in repentance.  We are called to turn toward those who speak truth whatever they look like.  Then it was camel’s hair clothing now it might be a hijab, a hoodie, or someone drenched in dirt and grime from a desperate journey fleeing a shattered homeland.  We are called to turn to the wilderness of the powerless, the impoverished, the broken, the wounded, the outcast, and hear their voices as fellow adopted children of God.

If we listen to words bandied about on our televisions and computers, in our neighborhoods and stores, by politicians and reporters we will hear much fear.  Certainly there is much in this time which is uncertain.  But fear is rarely the source of good decision making.  Time and again throughout scriptures God calls us to “be not afraid.”  So, this season let us pray God will show up in a way that will rebuild our trust, our faith, and our hope.  Let us pray this is not a trust which sits back and does nothing.  Better yet, let us repent of apathetic trust, blind trust, trust which washes our hands of all responsibility beyond a few mumbled prayers.  Let us repent and pray for a renewed trust and faithfulness which sees brothers and sisters not threats, which breathes in hope and steps forth in compassion, a stalwart faith which stands, struggles and fights alongside those in need.  Let us pray for God to show up in the midst of our waiting and kindle within us anew a faith which lives out love.  Come Lord Jesus.  May it be so.  Amen.