Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Heads Up! by Hafidha Saadiqah (with an assist by Patti Lusher)

42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. Matthew 24:36-44

         In 1693, George Keith, formerly a Quaker, wrote a pamphlet entitled “An Exhortation and Caution to Friends Concerning Buying and Keeping Negroes.”  It wasn’t until 1781, 88 years later, that the Quakers in the New England colonies prohibited their members form slaveholding.

         During the Second World War the villagers of Le Chambon in south-central France hid over 5,000 Jews from the Nazis and smuggled them to Switzerland when it was safe.

         As of today, over 24 Christian denominations and organizations have submitted public statements in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the other native nations that have joined in a confederation with them.  And, many of their members of these denominations have gone to Standing Rock and lent their physical and material support in numerous ways, including being water-hosed in freezing temperatures and arrested. 

         These are just three instances where the Church of Jesus Christ has been alert, watchful, and engaged.  Without a doubt there have been others.  It may not be feasible or desirable for many of us in this fellowship to be at Standing Rock, or at any of the several post-election protests being held around the country.  Nevertheless, this passage of scripture is for us today.  “Keep alert”, “Be ready”, Jesus tells the disciples who had been following him for almost three years, learning, serving, growing a small meeting of several men into a small community of women and men of all sorts that had come to irritate the Roman government in the region of Palestine.  Jesus’ words come as a ‘“heads-up.”  Why?  Because something big was about to happen, to the Jewish community and the Jewish-Christian community.  The Roman government would bring all its power down on their heads and send them scattering to the four winds.  Sow seeds of doubt and dissension among them.  Have them work at cross-purposes.  Then they will destroy their own community.  Take over their institutions, dismantle key ones.  Disperse them among the nations of the world and no one would ever remember that they existed.  Those were dangerous times in the first century of this common era.  And these are dangerous times that we live in.  They are dangerous not simply because of cryptic prophecies, but because we see corruption, greed, despair, and complacency with our own eyes, in the wider world, and in our churches themselves. 

         Even so, these are fantastic times to be alive just as much as they are dangerous.  Life is always a mix of both.  Our lives, the lives of people around us, the life of the world always seems to be teetering on the cusp of falling headlong into some crazy chaos.  Nevertheless, Jesus’ words to us to stay vigilant, poised, to wake up and act is for us in our time.  If the Quakers (Society of Friends) in the 18th century did it, we can, too!  If the Protestant villagers in Le Chambon during WWII did it, we can, too!  If our sisters and brothers at Standing Rock can do it, we can, too!  If we are unsure about our mission - how to carry out our mission - we need only to take a look at these witnesses and follow their example.  Open your eyes!  Look up!  Take a second look, because what you may be looking at is not what needs to be seen; there’s something deeper to understand, to hear, to wrestle with, to commit to.  

         We live by our devices, our clocks, bells, schedules, Post-Its, and coffee.  Some of these we ignore and our lives are not so out of gear.  We can usually find our footing and then we’re off and running again.  But, one thing we can’t afford NOT to do is to be awake, alert, and watchful, as engaged Christians.  24/7 Christians.  Why?  Because so much is at stake.  Had the Quakers, the villagers of La Chambon, and the protestors at Standing Rock been asleep, think how worse our society would be.  It matters that we are awake.  It matters that we are engaged.  It matters that we reconcile ourselves to the fact that being Christian is a forever calling that is costly.  It’s a calling that is sharpened every time we stand up, stand with, speak out, speak with regarding any kind of destruction of lives, of communities, of the ideals of justice, equity, and peace.  And that’s not easy; it’s not always convenient, because we are subject to get hurt in the process.  

         On this first Sunday of Advent, we sit with many congregations in the Christian community, listening, singing, and watching in hopeful expectation of Jesus’ arrival among us.  Yes, we hear again the story of his arrival almost 2,000 years ago.  But, we await his arrival - again - in our clock-driving lives, in our church, in our homes, at our workplace, in our halls of justice, in lives and homes that are in chaos and needing a deep and abiding peace.  His is a continual coming, because we are continually in need of being reminded that God is with us - lighting our way, bearing us up.  God is with us catching our attention and strengthening us to go and do what we think we cannot do, for the sake of the good news of God’s Kingdom.  

         Heads up!  This Advent season, and any other season we get to be alive, we get see God calling us to embrace the implausible: an angel, a star, a pregnant teenage girl, a poor father-to be, a feeding trough in a barn, a cooing baby.  Head’s up!  Be alert!  Get ready!  Something wonderfully dangerous is about to happen, and we’re invited to participate in it.  Are you ready?

Sunday, November 13, 2016

OPPORTUNITIES TO TESTIFY by Hafidha Saadiqah (with an assist by Patti Lusher)

Luke 21.5-19
12“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.

         My words are spare this morning because I feel it’s needful to give space for some “holy venting.”  By that I mean expressing our confusion and dissatisfaction to God, and asking God what God is up to from here on out.  I’m persuaded that God can take it.  Also, this morning I’d like for us to hear from each other about what we’ve heard God say to us these last few days regarding how our nation can move forward.  As much as venting can be cathartic, I’d like for us to embrace the ministry of accompaniment: how we come alongside and support each other in our various ministries and causes without losing sight of our common struggle.  Remember, we are one body, with various gifts and callings, yet, one body in Christ. 

          But first, I want to share a few thoughts with you.  And believe it or not, this is a passage I chose back in September.  Three things I want us to think about now and remember as we move forward: (1) the end is not near, (2) we need to make up our minds now, and (3) be encouraged.

         The first, the end is not near.  With all due respect to my Dispensationalist friends, the world and the Church are always getting to to the end of something and starting the beginning of something else.  Life sometimes seems to be one big Mobius strip; the beginning and the end just folding into one another – ending and starting all at the same time and you can’t distinguish one from the other.  The world and the Church are full of so much turning and changing and shifting; so much troubling of the waters.  Depending on the issue at hand, you may be head-over-heels glad about the change, or, you may be as mad as you know where and not gonna take it anymore.  The reflex on either side of the divide is to cry doom and destruction; that our culture, our nation, the world is coming to an end.  I tend not to read scripture that way, but, I’m only one person and who cares?  But, I’m persuaded that our passage this morning is nearer to the “don’t panic” side. 

         When all hell seems to break loose - like it seems to have broken for all of us, some more than others this week – Luke simply says brace yourselves.  Don’t break ranks.  Don’t go frenetic.  Remain in place.  There is work to be done.  What we’re experiencing is not the end of democracy in the U.S.  But, it is the beginning of an ever-new recycling of upheavals about our national community, and what dignity looks like in that community.  This is not the end.  The U.S. will go on.  We will have successes.  The world will go on.  The Church will go on.  And, our call to stand in place remains the same.  Stand still and struggle until, because it is not over.

         The second thought I offer this morning is that we need to make up our minds right now.  We need to make up our minds – get it straight in our minds – that while civil rights for (1) LGBTQ folk, (2) black, brown, red, and yellow folk, (3) women, (4) gender fluid and gender non-conforming folk, (5) persons with disabilities may be our passion, our central calling as believers in the God of Jesus of Nazareth is this:
see to it that…the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”   

          Now this is tricky.  Many in the Church apply this injunction to literal tragedies.  That’s a sermon for another Sunday.  But, I do know that (1) many people who can see are still blind, (2) many people who have full use of their legs are not mobile, (3) many people who have received a clean bill of health are dealing with terminal illnesses, (4) people who do not wear hearing aids or cochlear ear implants are still deaf, and (5) some people who are walking around among us are “dead-er” than a doorknob.  Indeed, we move among them on our streets, on our jobs, in our families, and without a doubt in our churches.  We need to make up our minds that the Gospel of Jesus of Nazareth is not about our personal salvation, but for the deliverance, transformation, awakening of all people; that we are all to be reconciled to God and to each other…as a species of people who share this planet and a common destiny.  That’s it as far as I can see.  And, this leads me to my final thought which turns all of what I’ve said, and what you’ve been thinking this morning, on its head.

         Be encouraged.  “Our Father, who art …”  Part of the conversation we had at last week’s Bread of Life took up that question.  What is God’s will when two parties are praying this prayer -  for God’s will - and they hold competing concerns and hoping for different outcomes?  I believe we saw this play out last week in the elections.  I don’t know the answer to that question.  And, I don’t think anyone knows the answer.  Maybe there’s more than one answer.  But, what I do know is what Luke tells us in today’s passage: (1) make up your minds in advance – not to use and be held by the weapons of hate and fear and panic, and, (2) stay focused because “for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.  This is a moment to testify to God’s power to tear down walls of hostility, to sow and harvest the seeds of justice, and to re-create all our hearts as well as our world.

         Remember, the end is not near, make up your mind in advance, and be encouraged.  This is what I heard the Spirit of God say to me this past week.  What have you heard?  Come forward and take the mic as you are willing and able.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

TAKE COURAGE - by Hafidha Saadiqah (with an assist by Patti Lusher)

Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, 5according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear.

            Douglas P. deSilvey lived in Gulfport, Mississippi all his life.  He lived there with his wife, daughter, and his in-laws.  To him, they were his world.  They did everything together, and he considered himself a blessed man.  In an interview he said of his wife, daughter, and his mother-in-law, “These three women in my family have steered my life for the past 59 years, to the man that I am today."  So, when Hurricane Katrina hit, they did what they had done for all the other storms – they went to his in-laws’ home because it was on higher ground.  They would ride this one out and get back to normal.  Shortly after arriving at his in-laws, Douglas looked out at the bay and realized that the waters were rising fast.  Hurricane Katrina had made landfall.  Just as he tried to warn his family of the danger that was imminent, the roof collapsed killing his wife Linda, Donna his daughter, and his in-laws, Nadine and Ted.

Months later in his StoryCorp recording, Douglas reflected on that event and said that he’s asked God many, many questions about why he lost his family like that.  He says that he hasn’t gotten any answers.  He just gets up every day and goes to his job. But now, he has no one to work for, to plan for, to save for.

 We don’t have to have experienced Hurricane Katrina or any other natural disaster to know what devastation feels like; to have one’s world turned upside down, the focus of our life taken away.  Maybe it was a death, a divorce, an unfavorable diagnosis.  We’re left like Douglas deSilvey asking questions and waiting for answers.  And we’re also faced with the demand of “moving on,” picking up whatever pieces we can find and rebuilding.  ‘Moving on’ can be painful, almost unconscionable to entertain, particularly when our memories act like floodwaters that never seem to ebb.  Birthdays and holidays.  Purchases and promises.  Meals shared and plans made.  What do we do with them?  What are we to do with the stuff of loss and how do we go forward?  

“God doesn’t give us more than we can bear.”  “Time heals all wounds.”  “Hang in there, you’ll get over this.”  You’ve heard these statements and others like them.  And while they each may have a grain of truth in them, they sting and ring hollow upon a grieving heart.  But those were similar words of support Haggai offered to the people of Judah.  He was trying to stir them up after they had been displaced by war. He says, “Take courage.”  “Be courageous.”  Start rebuilding the Temple.  We can do this!  Wow, how flat that must have fallen on some of their ears.  “Easier said than done, Haggai!”  How were they supposed to do that when the center of their life had been destroyed – The Temple?  The Temple was the center of their religious, cultural and national life.  All the markers that told them who they were, what they stood for, and what was possible for them had been smashed to smithereens.  Where was this courage supposed to come from?

Nerve.  Pluck. Valor.  Daring.  Audacity.  Mettle.  Resolution.  Guts.  It goes by a dozen or so names.  But, one thing we would all probably agree upon is that courage only surfaces when we are afraid.  It usually doesn’t come when we ask for it. It has come to me when I’ve been terrified; when I’m doing the thing I’m afraid to do…to face…to say.  Looking back, courage has come to me in hushed tones, never in a lion’s roar; telling me to stay with it just five more minutes.   Courage has come to me in moments when standing up was the only right thing to do; to stretch and expand my horizon and re-examine how I define myself – by what things I define myself?  The tears and suffering that accompany courage ask me “What’s driving my life?”  “What’s driving your fear?” 

Maybe the way to understand Haggai’s words to those refugees of war was not Get a stiff upper lips, folks, but as an invitation to see that our life in this world which is centered in the heart of God is about soulwork – that sharpening of the inner ear, deepening our capacity to
sense and see beyond our current frames of reference.  This kind of being doesn’t happen overnight, but over a lifetime.  This is the work of God; drawing us by the Spirit’s tether into the deeper life of God.  A life that is not full of pat answers and quick fixes. Who knows what life will be like after Tuesday? But take courage, we will wake up the next day and God is in control. We are open to hearing what new thing God will do in our life, and in the life of our nation and our world.

As high-handed as it may sound, pain and ruin do not have to be the last words about our life.  Loss and starting over are opportunities to give birth to something new; a chance to recognize that it is the Spirit of God who keeps us, and it is the people of God who help us capture a vision of God’s plans for us.  Village Church, take courage.  Accept the invitation to discover what God wants to do in your life, in the life of our congregation.

            Are there reflections or impressions that any of us would like to share in response to the topic, the passage of scripture?