Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
May 12, 2019
“Kendrick: The Child Sacrifice”
Acts 9: 36-43 – New Revised Standard Version
Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. 37 At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40 Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42 This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.
Another school shooting this week. “Another.” Let that word sink in. “School.” A school with children in kindergarten. And 1st grade. And 2nd grade. Since there have been so many times we could say “another school shooting,” lessons have been learned along the way. Among the lessons learned is that law enforcement should immediately rush in, not wait as they did at Columbine. Another is that the media should spend more time honoring the dead than repeatedly saying the name and showing the picture of the alleged killers. That’s been easier to do this time because Kendrick Castillo is, was, in every conceivable way one could possibly describe, an exceptional human being. Kendrick Castillo is the definition of a hero. Selfless. Sacrificial. Honorable. The contributions he would have made to the world are staggering. One death shouldn’t matter more than another, but it sure feels that way sometimes. Not as in suggesting it should have been someone else, but rather, why someone like him?
It occurs to me that this is a little like the question we could ask about Tabitha, also known as Dorcas. Why someone like her? There was something about her. She was compassionate. Exceptionally compassionate. She was charitable. Other widows depended on her. That’s why people rushed to find Peter when Tabitha died. And that’s why Peter rushed to her bedside. Notably, she was also a disciple. She was not described as one of the women who followed Jesus. She was a disciple. You know, like Peter, and James, Thomas and the rest. Tabitha, the exceptionally compassionate disciple.
Kendrick and Tabitha were both really good people. Why was one of them brought back from the dead and not the other? Whether it’s healing from blindness and hemorrhages, or the resurrection of the dead to feeding 5,000 people, that’s a basic, fundamental question of miracle stories. Why some and not others? It’s a fundamental question to the concept known as theodicy. A question of suffering and divine justice. If God is good, then why is there evil? Rabbi Kushner famously asked, “Why do good things happen to bad people?” Or rather, more to the point today, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
In the same way, what about the other students who rushed to subdue the shooter. God forbid, but why didn’t they die? Thank God they didn’t, but they are going to suffer from survivor’s guilt for the rest of their lives. They will forever ask, Why him and not me? Their survival will no doubt be described as a miracle. It’s a miracle it wasn’t me or a member of my family. That’s how I would describe it for myself. With the inevitable struggle, but why not me? Perhaps it’s something you’ve had to ask yourself over the course of your lifetime.
It is honorable to honor the heroes. It also happens, in this case, to be a handy deflection. Lesson learned, it’s a new strategy since we know that “Now is not the time” was always just means of saying it is never the time to talk about guns. And claiming “It’s all about mental health” was revealed as a lie the minute legislators went apocalyptic over the idea that a judge could rule that someone who is dangerous should not have a gun. Of course, we all know that offering someone “thoughts and prayers” has been spoiled with its overuse by those who are trying to deflect from the fact that beyond thoughts, actions will save lives.
I fear that “Honor the Heroes” will suffer the same fate. Kendrick Costillo was a hero, but that doesn’t make it OK that he was also just the latest child sacrificed at the altar of people who demand the “right” to arm their own militia. Thank God there weren’t more this time. “This time.” Every school child in America fears it might be them the next time, or the time after that. They are reminded of this every time they do another lock-down drill. Lock-down drills, of course, are an added lesson from so many school shootings. But that has also led students like the 6th grader who grabbed a bat and declared he would “go down fighting” and Kendrick to believe they need to take things into their own hands, no matter the consequences. Kendrick was a child sacrifice.
We don’t know the reason why Tabitha died. Clearly it wasn’t from old age. It was sudden. Unexpected. As the widows cried, they held up pieces of clothing that Tabitha had made for them. They were real people who needed her to be alive. And then she was. Peter said, “Tabitha, get up.” Just as Jesus said the same thing to the daughter of Jairus. “Daughter, get up.” And she did.
Tabitha is a miracle story. More than a few times, people have asked me about miracle stories, “Do I really have to believe this?” Among them, Tabitha’s is one of the easiest to explain away. For example, she was just in a coma and came out of it at just the right time. Logical. In a similar way, scholars have suggested, for example, that Jesus didn’t walk across water. He walked on a sandbar that no one could see. Other miracles in the Bible, however, are harder or even impossible to explain. Sometimes the explanations are more ridiculous than the miracle itself. And therefore, even more difficult to believe.
In fact, I don’t believe in miracles. But “believe” is the key word. There are miracles. It’s not our place to tell God what God can and cannot do. I just don’t think we are supposed to use our heads to believe in them. Rather, they are to inspire faith in our hearts. To have faith, not in miracles as such, but to have faith in God. Ultimately, miracles don’t make sense because that’s not what miracles are. They don’t make sense. They disrupt what makes sense. But, believe in them or not, we can recognize their purpose. More often than not, they are a sign to point to something of greater significance. I am grateful that there is more to this world than we can explain or understand. I am grateful that there are things capable of opening our eyes or minds or hearts to possibilities we are not aware of. Sometimes miracles are just seeing something that was already there.
One purpose of today’s story, among other things, was a sign to the early church that disciples, not just Jesus, were also capable of performing miracles. Or more accurately, that God was capable of working miracles through disciples. Which, we might say, means disciples can do something more than offering our thoughts and prayers.
But what that “something” is today, I don’t know. We can reason and talk and offer rational explanations until we are blue in the face – vote, protest, picket, and even pray. But if one is OK with child sacrifice, then frankly, at this point, I fear only a miracle will change people’s minds about whether we should choose kids or guns.
But one possibility is to pray for a miracle. An article I read this week in the Harvard Business Review, you know, the other Bible, opened my eyes to something else too.
A researcher in Behavioral Economics conducted a study. She gave participants difficult ethical dilemmas. In one scenario, participants imagined they were the president of a nonprofit working to end child labor in Southeast Asia. They had to decide whether to accept a significant donation by a company that is known to violate child labor laws or risk letting the nonprofit shut down completely. The researchers then divided the group and asked one, “What should you do?” They asked the other group, “What could you do?” The “could” group came up with more creative solutions to the dilemma than the “should” group.
Her conclusion: Approaching problems with a “should” mindset gets us stuck on the trade-off choices and narrows our thinking to one answer, the one that seems most obvious. But when we think in terms of “could,” we stay open-minded and the trade-offs involved inspire us to more creative solutions. That kind of blew my mind. So simple. Seeing something that was already there. Chances are you and I feel stuck about something in our lives right now. What if, no matter the issue, when I feel stuck, I asked what could I do instead of should? I already feel freer.
What was the miracle in the story of Tabitha? That someone can be raised from the dead? That the disciples are supernaturally capable? Or a sign that there is no point beyond which we should give up hope. And in the gun violence arena, maybe believing in miracles will at least make us more hopeful. That’s a start. But, more concretely, in any similar arena of competing moral interests, I find the simple idea of setting aside what we should do and instead think and strategize and collaborate on what we could do quite liberating. To free us from feeling stuck. And to free us from gridlock. Which would constitute a full-out miracle.
Where do you feel stuck in your life? There is something out there we could do that we simply haven’t seen yet. How to see starts with prayer.
Prayers in the Aftermath of Gun Violence
Leader: Giver of Life and Love, you created all people as one family and called us to live together in peace. Surround us with your love as we face again the tragedy of gun violence.
For the children and adults who have been killed, the many wounded and hospitalized, the traumatized, grieving survivors, and those known to you alone, Loving God,
All: Make us instruments of your peace.
Leader: God of Righteousness, you have granted our elected and appointed leaders power and responsibility to protect us, and to uphold our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Strengthen their devotion to our common life and give them clarity of such purpose.
For all who bear responsibility, for all who struggle to discern what is right in the face of powerful political forces, Loving God,
All: Make us instruments of your peace.
Leader: God of Compassion, we give you thanks for first responders: police officers, firefighters, EMTs, and all those whose duties bring them to the streets, the schools, the malls and the homes where the carnage of gun violence takes place every day. Give them courage and sound judgment in the heat of the moment and grant them compassion for the victims.
For our brothers and sisters who risk their lives and serenity as they rush to our aid, Loving God,
All: Make us instruments of your peace.
Leader: Merciful God, bind up the wounds of all who suffer from gun violence, those maimed and disfigured, those left alone and grieving, and those who struggle to get through one more day. Bless them with your presence and help them find hope.
For all whose lives are forever changed and broken by the scourge of gun violence, Loving God,
All: Make us instruments of your peace.
Leader: God Who Remembers, may we not forget those who have died, more than 30,000 in the past year, in the gun violence that we have allowed to become routine. Receive them into your heart and comfort us with your promise of eternal love and care.
For all who have died, those who die today, and those who will die tomorrow, Loving God,
All: Make us instruments of your peace.
Leader: God of Tender Mercy, be with those who are overwhelmed, enraged, frustrated and demoralized by the plague of gun violence. Give them a sense of your presence and plant in them the seed of hope.
For those whose hope for life in this world is shattered and broken, Loving God,
All: Make us instruments of your peace.
Leader: God of Justice, help us, your church, find our voice. Turn us from the worship of power. Give us courage to confront our false gods and to protest the needless deaths caused by gun violence. Help us rise above our dread that nothing can be done and grant us the conviction to advocate for change.
For your dream of a world where children are safe and all of us live together without fear, Loving God,
All: Make us instruments of your peace.
From a vigil in 2018 at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. sponsored by Bishops Against Gun Violence
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
May 5, 2019
“Life After Hate”
Acts 9: 1-9 – New Revised Standard Version
“Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.”
The top story on the Today Show on Friday had a surprising resonance for me with today’s reading from the Book of Acts. The story: A man convicted of a plot in 2009 to bomb the New York City subway system will soon be released from prison.
The man is Najibullah Zazi. He was a baby in 1985 when his family was forced to flee their native Afghanistan because of war with Russia. For nine years they lived on food rations in tents in a refugee camp in Pakistan. When he was 14 his family was allowed to resettle in New York. In his senior year, he dropped out of school and began working. By 21 he had his own coffee cart in downtown Manhattan. And then, a friend gave him an audiotape of a cleric that began to radicalize him to the point that he went off to fight with Al Qaeda to uphold the honor of Islam and liberate his home country of Afghanistan from the US, which had ironically opposed Russia’s occupation in the 80s when Najibullah was born and forced to flee. During his time with Al Qaeda, he was trained to build bombs. They sent him back to the US. He and two friends planned a suicide attack on rush hour trains below Grand Central Station. He was living here, in Aurora, in 2009 when he began buying the chemicals he needed to make detonators. The FBI learned of their plot and arrested him and his two friends. After his arrest, Najibullah switched sides and began to provide years of what the government called “extraordinary cooperation” that included insight into terrorist groups and information about his friends and family members. Ten years in prison and a commitment to life-long cooperation led a judge to say he earned a “unthinkable second chance.” Judge Dearie lamented that impressionable people had been “hijacked and corrupted by the rhetoric of hate.” Najibullah replied, “Your honor, the uneducated are perfect targets for the unscrupulous.”
An unrelated story later in the broadcast declared that Facebook will be banning all content related to “white nationalism and white separatism” from its platforms. An unrelated story. But they are not unrelated. Both are stories about terrorism and about using terrorism to protect what is “sacred” and under attack. With stories about one synagogue and one mosque and one black church attacked after another, it would seem an obvious illustration that white supremacists are terrorists. Obvious to everyone except a few people in the White House who downplay domestic terrorism as a few bad apples. Right up there with the “good people on both sides” apples at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. Just weeks before Heather Heyer was killed, by one of those fine citizens, government agencies dedicated to countering far-right extremism were defunded and their resources directed toward an exclusive focus on Islamic terrorism, even though white men on the far right carry out far more terrorist attacks. But what Judge Dearie lamented is equally true in both cases: “impressionable people hijacked and corrupted by the rhetoric of hate.” And the uneducated, we know well, are the “perfect targets for the unscrupulous.”
So now, according to the story, anyone who searches for words like white nationalism or white separatism on Facebook will be directed to the page of a group called Life After Hate, one of the only groups in the country whose mission is to help people escape from white supremacy and organized hate groups. A group the government stopped funding. There was an excellent essay about Life After Hate and the movement to reform white supremacists in Mother Jones last summer. I highly recommend it.
Shane Johnson is one of the “formers,” what people formerly involved in white nationalism call themselves. He was raised in a family that had been KKK for generations, in a town in Indiana where at one time half the population belonged to the Klan. When he renounced his past, complete with his own Damascus Road conversion story, his family broke nearly every bone in his body and left him along the road as close to dead as you can get. He recovered but still worse was his isolation from everything he had ever known. Leaving a movement with such social cohesion, he said, is one of the hardest parts. According to Shane, most people don’t join hate groups because they are hate-filled but because someone has invited them to belong to a purpose. In that way, Shane’s family background is an anomaly.
Last year he and another man were invited to consult with an agency working on an app that would use artificial intelligence to identify “hate tweets.” The program would reply to each hate tweet: “If you’re tired of living in the darkness of a hate-filled life, there’s a way out. No judgment. Just help.” Shane thought that was ridiculous. And that such a message would actually lead people to double down on their extremism, not leave it behind. You are “shaming them as living dark, hate-filled lives. You need to engage them.” Another “former” described needing a “helping hand, not a hand in our face.” Both argued that denunciation is a mistake. It’s like fuel on a fire, driving people who might be thinking about leaving back into the comfort of their existing social networks.
The essay said, “When it comes to changing individuals, denunciation may counteract rather than hasten deradicalization.” A sociologist from Chapman University said, “The uncomfortable truth is that the best way to reform racists may be to offer precisely what they aren’t willing to offer others, and precisely what many people in this polarized political moment feel they least deserve: empathy. One of the formers, Christian Picciolini, said that receiving empathy at a time when I least deserved it, from those I least deserved it from, was a transformative event that helped pull me out of the hate movement.”
Critics can rightly note that this another form of white privilege – expecting the oppressed to sooth their oppressors’ guilty conscience – and yet, according to a man whose father was one of the Sikhs killed by a neo-Nazi at their temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, empathy remains an effective tool. Extremists want their actions to inspire anger. “To respond with love,” he said, “is the biggest deterrent.” And certainly the farthest thing from our first response. It’s a provocative idea. And challenging.
So, to our reading from the Book of Acts today. What do Najibullah Zazi and Shane Johnson and Paul, still known here as Saul… What do they have in common? My difficulty in having empathy for them. At least, before the first two became formers. But Paul, whose words have been used to persecute LGBTQ people and silence women – even if some of his words are radically egalitarian – he’s sometimes the hardest in this group to forgive. Now, to be clear, I am not calling Saul a terrorist or a member of a hate group. He’s certainly been used by hate groups. But Saul is the one of whom the Risen Jesus asked, “Why do you persecute me?”
The story of Saul begins in chapter 7 when one of the 12 disciples named Stephen was put to death by a mob throwing stones. The first martyr. Before the people picked up their stones, they laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. But he wasn’t just the coat-check guy standing by. Chapter 8 begins, “And Saul approved of their killing Stephen.” The next sentence begins, “That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem… Saul ravaged the church by entering house after house; he dragged off both men and women and committed them to prison.” These are among verses sometimes claimed by anti-Semites to justify, in turn, their persecution of Jews. But what Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, is describing here is an intra-party conflict, not a conflict between two religions. Acts must not be misused for this purpose.
But, I want to come back to the challenge for all three of them. Can I have empathy for any of them? Before they are former. Before their life after hate.
John Pavlovitz, who is coming here next week, recently wrote in one of his most powerful blog posts ever about a young woman who approached him after an event in Omaha. With her voice shaking, she said, “I’m ashamed to say this but I find myself wishing these terrible people would just… disappear. What do I do with this anger?” John said, I knew what I had to tell her. That these feelings are unhealthy. That this kind of consuming hatred toward another human being was dangerously toxic. To remind her that this level of contempt for a stranger was exactly what she abhorred in the people she feels this way toward. I wanted to steer her away from such negative energy, but I couldn’t. I understood her. Her desperation and hopelessness make total sense. Wanting it to end is a natural human response to unchecked brutality and the unrelenting cruelty of this administration. You don’t actually wish to harm people; you just wish harmful people would stop harming people.
There are things we can do, but when there isn’t, we can control how we respond. Although, just after our reading today, the story continues about a man named Ananias who expresses exactly how hard this is. In a vision of Jesus, he was asked to visit Saul in order to lay hands on him to restore his sight. Remember Saul became blind on that road to Damascus. Ananias protested, “You can’t be serious! Everyone’s talking about this man and the terrible things he’s done, his reign of terror.” But in the vision, Jesus persisted. “This is the man I have chosen.” Reluctantly, Ananias went and no sooner after he spoke the words, “scales fell from Saul’s eyes – he could see again. He got to his feet, was baptized, and sat down with them to eat.”
The followers of the Way had every reason to hate Saul for persecuting them and every reason not to forgive him. So why then, of all people, was he chosen to be an instrument of God? Which means I have to ask, is this scripture even about Saul? Or us?
Eugene Peterson asks us to imagine one individual in whom we have given up hope. They will just never change. (There’re a few people I can imagine.) What would it mean to know that God has chosen her, or him, or them? Not only the people from whom I expect the worst, but who in fact, have done the worst, the most cruel, the most brutal… If I cannot have empathy, then what? Who am I?
Is this the dramatic conversion story of Paul from centuries ago or a question of conversion that we have to ask of ourselves every day? Of course, empathy is not the only response. The idea that we wouldn’t denounce every act of terror, whether foreign, domestic, or personal, makes love incomplete. Empathy an excuse. My sermon is entitled Life After Hate. But not anymore about Najibullah or Shane or Paul. Fill in the blank of the unthinkable. To bring it back home, by the grace of God, what kind of life could we have after hating them?
 Conversations with The Message and Its Translator, Navpress 2002
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
April 28, 2019
“Undoing the Criminalization of Homelessness”
John 20: 19-29 (Contemporary English Bible)
It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As Abba sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”
Jesus appears to Thomas and the disciples
24 Thomas, the Twin, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!”
But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”
26 After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!”
28 Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”
When he was in seminary, Will Willimon commuted every weekend to preach at a little church in rural Georgia. The first Sunday he arrived at the church, he saw the Sheriff standing next to his car waiting for him. He looked over and saw a padlock and big chain wrapped around the handles of the front door. The Sheriff explained that things had gotten out of hand at the last board meeting. The meeting ended with folks ripping up the sanctuary carpet and dragging out the pews that had been given in memory of their mothers and fathers. The Sheriff said he locked up the building until a new preacher could come and calm them down. But, Willimon said, things never really calmed down. Constant arguments. Pettiness. Fights in the parking lot after board meetings. He said, “I spent a year in that church that lasted a lifetime. I tried everything. And when I left, I spun my tires a little harder in the gravel parking lot, glad to be rid of such a pitiful group calling themselves a church.”
A few years later he ran into the new seminarian driving up every weekend to serve that same little church. Poor woman, he thought; only 23 years old. The young future minister told him, “They remember you out there.” “Yeah, I remember them too.” She said, “They’re such a remarkable group of people.” Willimon wondered why she didn’t use a more sarcastic tone. “Remarkable?” “Yes, all their ministries, like their crisis center for families in trouble, free day care. And there’s not a lot of interracial congregations in rural Georgia. They are the most faithful group of disciples I’ve ever encountered.”
Willimon didn’t say anything to her about how the church had to be chained up and padlocked to keep them from dragging any more pews out the front door. But he mused to himself, “Somehow they must have met Jesus behind those locked doors.” Willimon would have never believed it had he not heard it first hand from their young new preacher. How could anything good come from out of that group?
The same thing could have been said about the 12 disciples, now 11, minus Judas. Today’s text takes place on the first day of the week, the day of resurrection. Ten of the disciples were in a house behind locked doors, frightened they might be next. Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” He showed them his hands and his side. Again, he said, “Peace be with you” and told them he was sending them out into the world – a world they feared would try to execute them next. He told them to continue sharing the vision of the Kingdom of God – good news for the poor, liberation for the captives, freedom for the oppressed, and, most of all, about the love of God – adding, “if you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”
That’s all well and good. But remember: this is Sunday. It was just Friday that he had been executed. Hung on a cross. Just after he had been put through a sham trial, lied about, spat upon, flogged – a word that doesn’t do justice to the images of him being whipped to an inch of his life. He had been mocked, he had been betrayed. Peter denied even knowing him. And then, while he hung on that cross, not one of the 12 was there. And yet, two days later he’s talking about forgiveness? Thomas might have doubted his resurrection. But I would have doubted his or anyone’s capacity to forgive that quickly. Rising from the dead is one thing. Forgiving people who were not there for you? Which one is harder to believe? Resurrection or forgiveness?
Thomas wasn’t there to witness any of that. He told the ten and the rest of the followers in the room that day, “Unless I can see it for myself, I won’t believe.” And ever since, we’ve known Thomas more for that single statement of doubt than anything else. And there isn’t really that much more to know. Other than appearing on the various lists of the 12 disciples, he is only mentioned one other time in the whole Bible – when a messenger came to tell Jesus that his dear friend Lazarus is dead, the brother of Mary and Martha. Upon hearing the news, the disciples all urged Jesus not to go their house. This could be a trap to arrest him and, by extension, the rest of them. Arrest him, and whatever else might happen. But Thomas alone insisted that they should go with Jesus, “that we may die with him.” In that moment, he was the only disciple who didn’t doubt but dared to speak up.
And then, with the disciples locked behind closed doors, if you think about it, he was the only one who dared to speak up again. The one who dared voice his question. Far from just being called Doubting Thomas, shouldn’t he be given some credit as Daring Thomas – the Brave, Bold, and Courageous Disciple. It often takes courage to be the only one to speak up and say, “I’m not so sure about that.”
In that same vein, I’m not claiming courage for speaking about it, but I’m not so sure about Initiative 300 on our Denver ballots. Why are so few people questioning the $1.5 million story told by developers? For supporters, Initiative 300 is about undoing the criminalization of homelessness, one piece of which is the urban camping ban. Opponents claim Initiative 300 will destroy the city. Both sides admit it will do little, actually nothing, to address the growing number of people with no place to live in Denver. But can’t we at least start by refraining from arresting people for not having a home?
That’s the question Nathan Woodliff-Stanley, the head of the Colorado ACLU and a Unitarian Universalist minister, asks. He says the “Vote No on 300” campaign is using false and misleading scare tactics to paint an image of homelessness as out of control and encroaching everywhere. Denver, he said, has got to get serious about creating real solutions. But in the meantime, “Human beings shouldn’t lose their human rights just because they’ve lost their home.” Whether it comes from this election or in any other form, citizens of Denver must undo the criminalization of homelessness. And of poverty.
Pieces and parts have been done. In December, Denver announced it would no longer charge defendants for GPS-tracking ankle monitors before their trial. The city also eliminated many of its pre-trial fees after settling a lawsuit in December filed on behalf of a man who sat in jail for five days because he couldn’t afford a small administrative fee. Pieces and parts.
I don’t know whether Initiative 300 is the right solution, but I do know that it is wrong, let alone inefficient, to solve such complex issues with law enforcement. Now, I don’t wish to demonize people who will vote no – the voters. I don’t doubt the sincerity of people wanting to do the right thing. But I do doubt those in charge of messaging for the opposition because they have overplayed fear in the form of exaggerations of dire consequences. Not only meant to frighten but to confuse.
William Sloane Coffin, the fiery prophet of Riverside Church in New York City, once said, “You can’t think straight with a heart full of fear, because fear seeks safety, not truth.” How might that be true in Denver? Perhaps fear seeks safety, like property values, not truth, such as that resting shouldn’t be a crime.
Thomas should not be disparaged for doubting. In fact, I can write a whole other sermon about my preference for doubt over certainty. And we shouldn’t disparage the disciples for being cowardly. I’m rather glad to know I’m in good company. Instead, I’m grateful that Jesus still saw the good in them, the possibility of transformation in them. I’m grateful that he never gave up hope in them, that his heart was full of love and understanding for them. If you notice, he didn’t chastise Thomas for doubting. He simply said, “OK, here, take a look.”
It is sometimes said that doubt is the opposite of faith. But doubt isn’t the opposite of faith. Doubt is the opportunity for faith. If we never wrestled with the “whys” and “how comes” of life, we would never grow into new and deeper understandings of the world and of our self. When we wrestle in the night with the angel, we are blessed for it. Not weakened by it. Don’t be afraid of doubt.
Coffin said, “fear seeks safety.” I might add, fear seeks certainty. He continued, “A heart full of fear makes us feel weak and inadequate and small. But, on the other hand, a heart full of love has a limbering effect on the mind.”
I admit I had to look up the meaning of the word limbering. I looked for some synonyms and among the words was flexible. A flexible mind. Or, an open mind, which also just happens to mean unbolted and unlocked – like the door behind which the disciples hid.
For all the expressions of sincerity toward homeless people, I hope that the day after the election, developers will take the $1.5 million spent on TV commercials and use it as a down payment to begin building until there is enough affordable housing that there is no one left on the street to be locked up for not having a home.
And why couldn’t that happen? Remember those church members ripping up the carpet. Who would have ever thought that people taking back their family pews would end up being considered the most faithful disciples that young preacher had ever encountered? And who knows what might happen to the hearts of people involved with this ballot initiative? Look what Jesus can do behind locked doors – whether of a house on resurrection day, a church in rural Georgia, or a wood-paneled boardroom in downtown Denver. Jesus surely demonstrates we should never write people off but keep forgiving and hoping for them.
My hope is that Jesus may inspire a heart full of love to draw us out from behind our locked doors too – whether it is the door closed to a family member with whom we are estranged or a friend we have blocked or the neighbors outside our door who’ve lost their home. Good news for the poor, liberation for the captive, freedom for the oppressed, and most of all, about the love of God. Imagine what we can do together when we are motived by love instead of fear. It might seem like a cliché, but it’s still true. I have no doubt about it.
And when you vote in this election or any other, consider which choice is rooted in love and which is rooted in fear. And then, then choose love. Always choose love.
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
April 21, 2019
“Where Shall We Look for Hope?”
Luke 24: 1-12 – The Message
At the crack of dawn on Sunday, the women came to the tomb carrying the burial spices they had prepared. They found the entrance stone rolled back from the tomb, so they walked in. But once inside, they couldn’t find the body of the Master Jesus.
4-8 They were puzzled, wondering what to make of this. Then, out of nowhere it seemed, two men, light cascading over them, stood there. The women were awestruck and bowed down in worship. The men said, “Why are you looking for the Living One in a cemetery? He is not here, but raised up. Remember how he told you when you were still back in Galilee that he had to be handed over to sinners, be killed on a cross, and in three days rise up?” Then they remembered Jesus’ words.
9-11 They left the tomb and broke the news of all this to the Eleven and the rest. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them kept telling these things to the apostles, but the apostles didn’t believe a word of it, thought they were making it all up.
12 But Peter jumped to his feet and ran to the tomb. He stooped to look in and saw a few grave clothes, that’s all. He walked away puzzled, shaking his head.”
My favorite line in that passage is: “Why are you looking for the Living One in a cemetery?” Or more traditionally: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
I really like that line because it has a ring of truth. And it seems particularly relevant in times like these of bigotry and misogyny; of lies (and lies about lies); of xenophobia that not only uses immigrants as pawns to score political points but purposely inflicts suffering on children. Those “good people on both sides” folks burning black churches and painting swastikas on synagogues, terrorizing Muslims standing in line at the supermarket. Cruelty, and the tolerance for cruelty, is shocking, except that we aren’t shocked anymore. We shake our heads and grow more cynical. But without the reflex of being shocked, we may begin to forget a little thing called hope. If you’re like me, that’s what I need today. But where do we look for hope? And hope in what?
The Book of Revelation describes the Second Coming as the event when the savior returns to earth to defeat evil and establish his reign of righteousness. Chapter 19 says, "I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns."
I’m rather dubious about the “Second Coming.” That’s not my theology. But many people were disappointed on Thursday when it didn’t happen. As many had hoped and others had feared, Robert Mueller did not come riding in on a white horse, eyes like blazing fire, his head adorned with many crowns.
A lot of people pinned their hopes on the Mueller report, as though our nation could be saved by a smocking gun that would quickly lead to a change of leadership at the top. That will solve our problems. That will be our salvation.
Perhaps no one would have said such a thing out loud, but if you listened to the yearning in people’s voices, maybe even your own, that was the message. Waiting for Mueller Time. Hoping. Hoping it would be that easy to reverse course on cruelty and the tolerance, even celebration, of cruelty. But that’s like looking for the living among the dead. I’m dubious about the “Second Coming” because, to me, it’s passive. We just simply wait around for something to happen, for someone else to make something happen. But hope isn’t found in someone else or in something easy. Where do we look for hope? Ironically, I find hope in Good Friday.
When Archbishop Desmond Tutu proclaimed the words of our opening litany this morning, he wasn’t was offering a flowery sentiment. He was calling for people to change their lives in ways that would transform the suffering of his people in South Africa. Like Jesus, it was a message for two audiences – those who suffer and those who cause suffering. Imagine what it would have been like to hear:
“Love is stronger than hate.” Would you have been scared to hear that or encouraged? Would your heart warm or your blood cool?
“Goodness is stronger than evil.” That isn’t passive.
“Light is stronger than darkness.”
“Life is stronger than death.”
South Africa was a lot like the Roman Empire that killed Jesus on Good Friday. Ruled by cruelty, violence, and repression. God had an answer for that and has an answer today.
You know, the powers of hate and death like Good Friday. They use it to try to convince us they’re in control and will always be in control so just let them be and worry about the next life. In heaven you’ll never feel pain again. So, don’t worry about having health care in this life. In heaven you’ll be reunited with your loved ones, so don’t worry when we rip your children away today. They want us to have a Good Friday faith, which is to reduce our faith to hope in an afterlife. They don’t understand that hope springs forth from the worst Good Friday can offer.
Because from there we become Easter people – people with resurrection hope. Resurrection hope is deeply grounded in our Good Friday experiences and is how God changed and continues to change what is possible for God’s people – in this life, this morning – not in some afterlife removed from compassion and justice today.
Some may say Easter is about how God wins. Victory. But Easter isn’t about God winning but about God’s transformation of what winning means in a world full of Good Friday faith for both those who suffer and those who willfully cause suffering. And it transitions the ministry of one man to the whole Body of Christ. The women go to the tomb looking for Jesus, but he isn’t there because he is now among the living. In us. Among us.
Easter is God’s answer to a Good Friday faith – they are inextricably linked. We must remember that Easter doesn’t make sense without Good Friday. Otherwise it is just sentimentality. An affirmation that spring follows winter and flowers will bloom again. A reason for bonnets and pastel colored sun dresses and Easter egg hunts. Easter means nothing without Good Friday which is why, ironically, I find hope in cruelty of country’s Good Friday times, along with the way, the reason, the how, to be an Easter people.
What’s that how? Our Litany
One: Where hatred roars, we will sing of love.
All: Where fear stalks, we will stand with courage.
One: Where bigotry rages, we will call for justice.
All: Where pain overwhelms, we will extend comfort.
One: Where systems oppress, we will work for change.
All: Now and ever, now and ever, now and evermore.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” That line took on a different meaning for me this morning. I was here about 4:30 practicing my sermon when Art texted a link to a news story from Sri Lanka, where only two months ago I spent 17 days on my sabbatical. Earlier today, on Easter morning, a coordinated series of eight bomb attacks on three churches and three hotels killed over 200 people, most while they were attending Easter services. 81 died at one of the churches, Saint Sebastian’s, I visited in Negombo. Over 500 more people are injured. And a country has been re-traumatized, ten years out from a bloody 30-year civil war. Who and why has not yet been answered. I am devastated and heartbroken for my friends and for the people of a country where churches and temples and mosques and Hindu kovils sit next to each other in exceptional, loving harmony. God, who resides in the in-between-ness of Good Friday and Easter, comfort the people and hear our prayer.
 Revelation 19:11-12
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
April 14, 2019
Palm Sunday 2019
From the Gospel of Matthew
Throughout the service, there is a running commentary as well as hymns and litanies interspersed between the scripture readings from the Gospel of Matthew.
Earlier this week, Vice President Mike Pence complained that he is a victim of religious oppression. That’s because openly gay Mayor Pete Buttigieg (pronounced buddha-judge) said of Pence, “If you have a problem with who I am, your quarrel is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.” Pence was shocked! Fox News was shocked. How dare he? I don’t have a problem with him. “He knows me better than that.” But Mayor Pete knows him all too well. As Indiana’s governor, Pence repeatedly blocked hate crimes legislation, said that homosexuality is “incompatible with military service,” wants to ban transgender soldiers already serving honestly. Pence sought to take money away from HIV prevention in order to provide government funded gay conversion therapy. And of course, his push for religious liberty laws to create a legal right to discriminate against LGBTQ people. The whole list is extensive and exhausting. And might tend to prove that Pence has a problem with the Creator.
Mayor Pete didn’t call Pence a bigot or a hypocrite. But you can’t do all those things and claim not to have a problem with LGBTQ people. You can’t do all that and then simply smile about porn star affairs, playmate payoffs, multiple marriages, serial adultery, and grabbing women’s genitalia. You can’t claim “family values” and then separate families. Or claim to be pro-life only until the fetus is born but not when he is hungry. You can’t decry migrants fleeing violence and then support removing any funds to make the countries they are fleeing any less violent.
Mayor Pete was pretty polite about it all. Jesus, however, didn’t seem to care about being polite. And today we’re going to hear Jesus call leaders out on their hypocrisy, with such verses as “Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they [pointing to the Pharisees and scribes, they] love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others.”
After that statement, can you imagine the conversation on Fox and Friends? Shocked spokesmen for the indignant Pharisees would call this accusation ridiculous. They would call Jesus a bully. The KKK would start planning a rally. Do things ever change…
Jesus began his ministry with a vision of a world turned upside down – or rather, set back up right: “Blessed are the poor and woe to the rich.” He taught a series of reversals: “You have heard it said, but I say to you.” But just to be clear, he was not denouncing Judaism, his religion. He critiqued how it had come to be practiced – how the authorities were more concerned for the letter of the law than the law itself – The Law, based on the love of God and the liberation of humanity from greed, hate, and violence. Jesus said:
5:38 “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also a second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
Jesus wasn’t talking about charity. He stood in front of crowds of lepers and prostitutes, the poor, the oppressed, and marginalized, and taught them how to subvert the system by means of love, as the indignant religious establishment stood by watching.  And, challenged us all to love our enemies:
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of our God in heaven; God makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as our God is perfect.
That last line is curious. Jesus wasn’t calling for “perfection” as we often think of it in modern terms. Eugene Peterson translates the meaning: “Live the way God lives toward you: generously and graciously toward others.” Perfect as in “completed.” We can get distracted by the word “perfect” and miss the point: that Jesus is calling out the hypocrisy of the religious establishment who are neither generous nor gracious toward others. He goes on concerning charity:
6: “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your God in heaven. 2 “Whenever you give alms to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your God who sees in secret will reward you.
And concerning treasures:
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Jesus concluded these and other re-interpretations and summed it all up in The Golden Rule:
7:12 “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.
So, how did the religious leaders respond to his criticism? Kind of like some have responded to a kneeling Colin Kaepernick. Not with concern for the poor or outrage over injustice but for being called out, complaining about ungrateful NFL players (those sons of … I can’t repeat our president in polite company). Their outrage was simply that someone would call out injustice, to the point that they whipped a crowd up into shouting about Jesus: “Crucify him.”
On Palm Sunday at this point we often listen the macabre stories of torture known as the Passion Narratives and sing about the “saving grace” of blood, sacrificing the Lamb. We sing of shame and blame. A familiar song for Holy Week, like many others in the hymnal, goes: “Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon you? It is my treason, Jesus, that has slain you. And I, dear Jesus, it was I who denied you; I crucified you.”
No. You and I did not crucify Jesus. We are not the guilty. But our faith teaches that we are the responsible. Kind of like the realization a white basketball player for the Utah Jazz named Kyle Korver wrote about this week. He slowly came to that same realization about white privilege. He said, “As white people, are we guilty for the sins of our forefathers? No, I don’t think so. But, he asked, are we responsible for them? We are responsible, he said, not because we are guilty but because we have benefited from “an ugly history…not some random divide.” And therefore, I’ve come to realize the problem isn’t primarily about racist hecklers. We need deeper solutions to racism engrained in our system. Not passing blame but recognizing the need for police reform, criminal justice reform, mass incarceration and ending the death penalty, wealth inequity, school discipline practices…
That’s exactly why it’s more important to remember why Jesus was crucified than how. We need not be fascinated by the details of his crucifixion, by some sense of guilt, but rather fixated on the people whom Jesus loved so much he would sacrifice his life to show us the way – to accept our responsibility as people of faith. And that’s why today’s mission partner is so important: The Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition.
Again, we remember, “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. Then, concerning prayer, Jesus said
6 “whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to Abba who is in secret; and Abba who sees in secret will reward you.
7 “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your God knows what you need before you ask.
So let us pray as Jesus taught:
Our Creator, holy is your name, Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is…
Listen to one of many stories told about Jesus:
15:32 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.” The disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in the desert to feed so great a crowd?” Jesus asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” Jesus ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground. He took the seven loaves and the fish; and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all of them ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. Those who had eaten were four thousand men, plus women and children.
The crush of the crowds was often relentless. The disciples were just as often clueless. And the criticism by the authorities unyielding: “How dare you say that about us?” But Jesus replied:
12:33 “Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good things, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person brings good things out of a good treasure, and the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
One: Jesus now faced the consequences of challenging those in authority. They clearly believed his teaching about the kingdom of God was subversive:
All: Break the chains of oppression;
One: Set the prisoner free;
All: Share your bread with all who are hungry; Clothe the naked.
One: Shelter the homeless and Give protection to the lost.
All: Why is this subversive? Isn’t this Good News?
One: Indeed, why do the powerful want to silence him?
16:21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
In chapter 17, Jesus again foretold his death and resurrection -- and even a third time after that
17:22 As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands, 23 and they will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised.” And they were greatly distressed.
SONG – WHY, verse 1
The crowds following Jesus only got bigger, upsetting the authorities and making them more nervous every day. His abilities went far beyond stirring up the crowds, however. It was the power of God through his miracles and healing. It was his great love and compassion for hurting humanity. Among many stories is this one in which Jesus healed two blind men:
20:29 As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. 30 There were two blind men sitting by the roadside. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they shouted, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 31 The crowd sternly ordered them to be quiet; but they shouted even more loudly, “Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!” 32 Jesus stood still and called them, saying, “What do you want me to do for you?” 33 They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” 34 Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they regained their sight and followed him.
Imagine the constant pressure of the crowds and the expectations for Jesus to perform. Like the rest of us, he often grew tired and weary, and you can hear how it got to him when he cursed a fig tree:
21:18 In the morning, he was hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.20 When the disciples saw it, they were amazed, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” 21 Jesus answered them, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done. 22 Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.”
SONG – WHY, verse 2
As we celebrated this morning with the procession of donkeys and palms, when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the crowds threw their cloaks and palm branches on the ground to welcome him like a king, but a different kind; not like the one also entering Jerusalem the same day on the other side of the city, riding on a chariot surrounded by soldiers. The power of Jesus did not come from force, but from love.
21: When they had come near Jerusalem, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me.
10 As he made his entrance into Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken. They were unnerved; people were asking, “What’s going on here? Who is this?” 11 The crowd answered, “This is the prophet Jesus, the one from Nazareth in Galilee.”
But the celebration quickly became provocative action.
12 Immediately then, Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13 He said to them, “It is written,
‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’;
but you are making it a den of robbers.”
14 The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children yelling in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry 16 and said to him, “Do you hear what they are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes; but have you never read,
‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise for yourself’?”
17 He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.
26:6 Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. 8 But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, “Why this waste? 9 For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. 13 Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
SONG – WHAT YOU HAVE DONE FOR ME, verse 1
His teaching about the sheep and the goats is one of the clearest things he ever said. His greatest sermon:
25:31-33 “When the Son of Man finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, he will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, like a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.
34-36 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’
37-40 “Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’
41-43 “Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because--
I was hungry, and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless, and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering, and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’
44 “Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’
45 “He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’
46 “Then those ‘goats’ will be herded to their eternal doom, but the ‘sheep’ to their eternal reward.”
Anyone who calls themselves a follower of Jesus or a Christian cannot ignore these words.
SONG – WHAT YOU HAVE DONE FOR ME, verse 2
26:1-2 Jesus told his disciples, “You know that Passover comes in two days. That’s when the Son of Man will be betrayed and handed over for crucifixion.”
3-5 At that very moment, the party of high priests and religious leaders was meeting in the chambers of the Chief Priest named Caiaphas, conspiring to seize Jesus by stealth and kill him. They agreed that it should not be done during Passover Week. “We don’t want a riot on our hands,” they said.
They waited. In the meantime, Jesus and his followers gathered for the Passover meal.
26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in God’s kingdom.”
INVITATION TO COMMUNION
One: We come to this table because Christ invites us. We come hungry, ready to be fed. We come thirsty, ready to drink. We come to re-member.
All: We come in remembrance, but much more: In recalling the life of Jesus, we are moved by the death of Jesus, to be Christ-like among suffering humanity.
One: Let us join here not in passive recollection, but active commitment.
SOLO/HYMN – JESUS TOOK THE BREAD
26:36 Following the meal, Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. 38 Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” 39 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “Abba, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.”
40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
42 Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “Abba, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”
43 Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let us be going. See, here comes my betrayer.”
And so began the actions that led to the execution of Jesus upon a cross – the means and method of the Roman Empire to send a warning to other would-be prophets. It would scatter all their followers. But while early Christians may have hid behind doors for a few days, they were inspired to organize communities of love and resistance. And so shall we. When we gather back here Thursday night, we’ll hear the events that follow his betrayal. And then, on the first day of the week, gather to remember that the love of Jesus for suffering humanity means hate will not forever prevail. Cruelty is already on the way out.
That’s exactly why it’s more important to remember why Jesus was crucified than how. We need not be fascinated by the details of his crucifixion, by some sense of guilt, but rather fixated on the people whom Jesus loved so much he would sacrifice his life to show us the way – to accept our responsibility as people of faith. And part of that responsibility is to consider our own hypocrisy and take the log out of our eye before pointing out there is straw in our neighbors.
As we gather today I invite us to honor the life of Jesus and remember his love through the sacrifice he made for suffering humanity in the words of the litany in your bulletin:
LITANY OF THE PASSION
One: Christ Jesus, in agony in the garden of Olives, troubled by sadness and fear, comforted by an angel;
All: Christ Jesus, betrayed by Judas’ kiss, abandoned by your friends, delivered into the hands of the powerful;
One: Christ Jesus, accused by false witnesses, condemned to die, struck by servants, covered with spittle;
All: Christ Jesus, disowned by your disciple Peter, delivered to Pilate and Herod, condemned as a criminal;
One: Christ Jesus, carrying your own cross to Calvary, consoled by the daughters of Jerusalem, helped by Simon of Cyrene;
All: Christ Jesus, stripped of your clothes, praying for your executioners, pardoning the thief;
One: Christ Jesus, entrusting your mother to your beloved disciple, giving up your spirit into the hands of your Father/Mother, showing us how to live and how to die through the example of your sacrifice.
All: Let us remember his death, but more importantly, let us imitate his life.
One: We will remember
ALL: WITH HOPE, BECAUSE HOPELESSNESS IS THE ENEMY OF JUSTICE
One: With courage, because peace requires bravery
ALL: WITH PERSISTENCE, BECAUSE JUSTICE IS A CONSTANT STRUGGLE
One: With faith, because we shall overcome. Amen
(Benediction written by Bryan Stevenson)
 “Sermon on the Plain” in Luke 6 is harsher than the Sermon on the Mount, aka The Beatitudes, in Matthew 5
 The Message
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
April 7, 2019
“It’s a Joy to Be Home”
Psalm 126 – New Revised Standard Version
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
3 The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.
4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
5 May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves
First of all, I am thrilled to be back home and see all of you. I am filled to overflowing with gratitude for the experiences I have had in the past three months and overwhelmed with appreciation for everyone who served in my absence, foremost to Terri who clearly demonstrated she is already a gifted pastor. Amen? When she finishes seminary and gets her master’s degree, watch out! I want to thank all the exceptional preachers who took turns sharing the gospel. To Tammy who kept everything running smoothly and the rest of the staff. Members of the Governance Team and Rob who stepped up for extra duties as Moderator. To Bill McCarron, I was so excited to see this lighting project was completed. And the boilers fixed! Thank you all.
The danger of naming any one person is the likelihood of leaving some person out, so when I say thank you to everyone, know that I mean YOU and all your contributions to and participation in the mission and ministry of our church. As far as I can tell, it was a positive sabbatical experience for the whole congregation which makes us stronger today than we were before.
And me too. I’m not sure what adjective can best describe my sabbatical experiences. Fantastic. Phenomenal. Incredible. Amazing on steroids. Words make it sound too puny. I’ve been in ministry long enough that this was my fourth sabbatical. This was extra-ordinary. I remember how burned out I was before my first one in 1999. I spent a quiet two months in a monastery outside Santa Fe healing, being fed, and renewing my spiritual life.
My second sabbatical in 2005 was very different. I had just completed all the research for my doctoral program so I used the sabbatical to compile and write my dissertation.
My sabbatical in 2013 was part of a larger healing journey not from burn out but from some painful experiences. I didn’t know I was on a healing journey until the end when I was getting ready to leave Bangkok and found myself plopped up against a tree crying. Like, really crying. But after that, the whole rest of my sabbatical made sense. And it was indeed healing.
So this time, when I found myself crying again, I was sitting on a plane leaving Sri Lanka on my way back to Bangkok. I had to ask, “What’s going on now?!” But I quickly realized I wasn’t sad that I was leaving Sri Lanka. I was simply so full of joy that I couldn’t keep it all inside and it was leaking out. I just felt complete and total joy for having been there, for three weeks of one joyful experience after another. When I thought more about how to describe the feeling, I felt clean; like I had had a bath to wash off all the toxic residue of living in America today.
All that joy continued through the rest of my travels up to and including last weekend when Art and I went on our last hike. We were in Estes Park. It had been gray and snowy for two days. On Sunday morning, though, we awoke to a bright sky. We went back into Rocky Mountain National Park and the snow off the mountains was blindingly breathtaking against the pure blue sky. We kept stopping to take pictures. One more. As we drove back to Denver, I told him I was really excited to be returning.
So, as I thought about my sermon for today, I didn’t want it to be a travelogue, “Here’s what I did,” but rather a sermon. I waited to read the lectionary texts to guide me and then marveled at the synchronicity. I had just spent months experiencing joy in one way after another, cleansed from the toxic soup of our country for a moment, and the first text I read was Psalm 126:
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
We were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
And our tongue with shouts of joy;
The Lord has done great things for them.
The Lord has done great things for us
And we rejoiced.
The last few verses abbreviated:
May those who sow in tears,
Reap with shouts of joy
Those who go out weeping,
Shall return home with shouts of joy.
The prominence of the word joy in the text and the predominance of joyful experiences during my sabbatical made me feel like God was saying, welcome home.
As I compiled all my Facebook posts and pictures into a sort of “book,” I created a top ten list of experiences. I want to tell you about three of them. The first one was terrifying. The second was all about enduring. And the third was gruesome.
First, terror. I was very excited to enter my first Hindu kovil, their place of worship. So far on my trip, I had been in beautiful mosques, especially the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, as well as churches, and lots of Buddhist temples, but this would be my first time in a kovil. My knowledge of Hinduism was, and still is, woefully lacking and completely absent about what happens during their regular religious ceremonies. My guide and companion through Sri Lanka, Naswar, who is Muslim, took me to the largest kovil in Jaffna just in time for the 10 am Friday “service.”
Despite the heat, I wore long pants and carried a shirt with sleeves just in case. To enter many Buddhist sites, shoulders and knees must be covered. A few days before, I had walked around a temple with my shorts halfway down my hips in order to cover my knees, so this time I was prepared. But I wasn’t prepared when I discovered that to enter a kovil, men must remove their shirts. When Naswar went to ask if we could enter, he came back with the terrifying news – at least to me. If I wanted to go in, I would have to be half-naked and barefoot. I don’t even take my shirt off at home so the idea that I would have to do this in front of hundreds of strangers was…. Flashbacks to locker rooms in junior high. But, to experience this literally once in a lifetime opportunity, I had to get over myself. Now. It was 10 o’clock and the service/ceremony was starting.
Naswar was totally up for it. He loves to take his shirt off. His other job is as a model. In fact, a few weeks ago he won another “top model” trophy in a world competition in Indonesia. So, I placed my hope that people would look at him instead of me. But the truth is, in the end, no one looked at either of us. They were there to worship. We all had our shirts off and it wasn’t all pretty. We went in and I got to experience what Hindus do when they gather weekly. I felt honored to be there, but even more so, out of my terror, I left absolutely consumed with joy. I even took my shirt off again later that afternoon to get into the Indian Ocean.
So, endurance. One of the things you may have heard me talk about before my trip was climbing Adam’s Peak, the tallest mountain in Sri Lanka. But it’s not just a hike. It’s a religious pilgrimage in the middle of the night in order to arrive in time for sunrise. There is a Buddhist temple at the top, but it’s a journey taken by all religions. I knew it would be hard. I knew it could be very crowded. That the weather at the top might not cooperate. I read all about it. Seven-mile round trip, 3,000-foot elevation gain, and all of it on concrete steps, 5,000 of them. Six hours on steps. Art and I trained at Red Rocks, going up and down from the stage to the plaza. To match it would be to do it 38 times. Or imagine climbing the steps to the top of the cash register building downtown five times. And then walking back down those steps five times. Except that would be far too easy. Those steps are all the same size and there are handrails to lean on all the way. On the journey up and down Adam’s Peak, however, no two steps are the same height, varying from 2 to 18 inches, or depth, varying from a few inches to a few feet. But for most of those seven miles, there’s no stretch of flat ground longer than maybe 12 to 15 feet. And there is nothing to hold on to for most of the journey. It wasn’t hot, in fact it was chilly nearing the top, but it was humid. I walked with rain falling from my head, but it wasn’t raining. I was just that soaked in perspiration.
About 4:30 in the morning, I was ready to call it quits. Even though I couldn’t imagine having to come home and say that I hadn’t made it, I had nothing left. I sent a picture of the steps to Art and then the words, “this is killing me.” Except the picture didn’t go through. Not enough signal. And if the text went through, all he would have known is that something was killing me – perhaps an animal, or a picture snapped as I was plunging off a cliff. It was four hours until I could check back in with him to say that I was still alive.
Other people were struggling too, so we kind of cheered each other on as we passed back and forth. A man handed me some kind of homemade food and insisted I eat it. We didn’t speak each other’s languages, so I wasn’t sure if what he gave me might make me high or maybe give me diarrhea, but that’s the kind of thing you risk. So I shared half a Clif bar with him too. His tasted better.
Among the climbers were people of all ages. It was the grandmothers with gray hair climbing barefoot in long white dresses that gave me the most inspiration; that is, when I wasn’t feeling embarrassed that I couldn’t keep up with them. I was told that the more times someone climbed to the top, the better “upgrade in heaven” they would receive, which is why this was so popular among the elderly.
I just kept grinding it out. Resting and climbing. Resting longer and climbing a little less until I finally saw the top. I thought. I used the altimeter on my phone to check that this was it. But it was a false summit. Another 1,000 feet up. The last part was even steeper than the rest. But, in the end, I did it. I arrived on the last final step at 5:45. I turned around and saw the first orange sliver in the sky. I made it at exactly sunrise. The sky was perfect. Enough clouds to give it some drama. I endured and saw the most glorious sunrise of my life, with hundreds of people packed on top of each other outside the gates of a Buddhist temple, with whom we would now have to walk down those 5,000 steps. My legs hurt like hell. But I was so happy and full of joy, it was… well, not any easier.
The third among my top ten experiences was not joyful but terrible and gruesome and grim. A pastor friend and I went to Montgomery, Alabama, to see the new memorial to victims of lynching. The memorial itself is oddly beautiful even though represents some of the ugliest parts of our American story. There are 800 large rectangles the size and shape of coffins. As you walk, the floor descends and the boxes hang higher and higher over you, like you can imagine someone hanging from a tree. Each coffin-shaped-object represents one county with a documented lynching. Some counties had one name, others had dozens of names. There were other signs along the wall too. There was a plaque for Calvin Kimblern who was lynched in Pueblo in 1900, in front of a cheering mob of 3,000 men, women, and children who had been let out of school for the day.
Like I said, the memorial is hauntingly beautiful, masterfully done, and as emotionally engaging as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. There is also an accompanying Legacy Museum. All of it the brainchild of Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative. The museum was built in what was an actual slave market. The museum takes visitors through an emotionally brutal experience, from holograms of slaves crying out from behind bars, asking where are my children? And then, when slavery was outlawed, images of lynching, and when lynching was no longer in fashion, the emergence of Jim Crow laws.
But the story didn’t end there. As Jim Crow laws were declared unconstitutional, still new forms of deadly racism continued to develop in their place, including drug wars that led to descriptions of children as super-predators and their mass incarceration, and overcrowded prisons for profit, and a vast increase in the death penalty ordered by judges over the objections of juries. And the killing of unarmed black men, always presumed guilty first, by police.
Among the exhibits, you can sit behind glass and listen on a phone as though you are talking with an inmate, including Anthony Ray Hinton who was on death row for 30 years for a crime he didn’t, nor could he have, committed, except that he was framed for being a poor black man in Alabama without real representation. Nobody would care. Just another means of lynching. I read, and recommend, his gripping autobiography. Just this week a black man and his nephew were released after 43 years on death row. Exonerated. Who, of course, shouldn’t have been on trial in the first place if they weren’t black and presumed guilty first.
After 2 or 3 hours in the museum I told Chris I needed to go to church. I couldn’t imagine any other way of putting everything into perspective to help me process it. I needed church. We went to Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. But first we visited the parsonage where Dr. King and Coretta lived when he was their pastor during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The house had their actual furnishings. We saw the couch where he sat with his children. We saw the dining room table where the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was born and the punch set that Coretta used to provide refreshments. The phone in the kitchen on which Dr. King received so many death threats and the hole in the porch where a bomb was thrown. And the study where Dr. King wrote his speeches and sermons.
Then we went to his church. The tour guide bubbled over with joy. She loved what she was doing. The tour ended in the sanctuary in the late afternoon. The sun started to wash the colors of the stained glass windows over the pews. Like it does in here. At that point I was about a week away and not quite ready to return from sabbatical. But this felt like a sign that brought everything full circle. In that moment, I was ready to come back. It was a gruesome and terrible day that ended with anticipation that I was ready to get back to the mission of our congregation to proclaim that God is love and Black Lives Matter.
I didn’t really want my first sermon back to be a travelogue, but after reading a scripture so infused with joy, I didn’t know what else to do but speak of the joy that arises out of terror. Joy that appears in the sunrise when we endure. And the joy that comes after weeping. Perhaps you can remember your own experiences of joy rooted in pain. And perhaps you can hear hope in my story that joy waits in the morning for you too.
It’s good to back. It’s a joy to be home.
 The Sun Does Shine
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
December 24, 2018
“When It’s Dark Out”
I have a story to tell tonight. It’s not a Christmas story but it’s a true story. And it doesn’t take place at Christmas or even among Christians, but among Muslims in the Sudan during the month-long holy season of Ramadan.
This true story was told by a teacher in the capital city of Khartoum. The country was so dangerous, you needed a permit to leave the city. Even so, this teacher would take his classes out into the desert. On this particular trip, he loaded 20 students onto the back of a flatbed truck.
If you don’t know, during the month of Ramadan, observant Muslims don’t eat or drink anything during the day, including water. Since they were supposed to arrive before dark, no one thought to bring any food or water with them.
Travel outside the city was not only dangerous, shifting sands in the desert make it nearly impossible to maintain roads. And whenever sand covered up the road, sometimes for miles at a time, they had to trust their instincts. They had no GPS. And in the desert, there’s no cell phone coverage.
After riding in the back of the truck for what felt like a really long time, rumors began to spread quietly among the students that they were lost, and when dusk came, sure enough, the driver admitted that they were indeed lost. But, he insisted they had to keep moving on.
They wandered through the desert for hours until the sun had completely set and it was time to break their all-day fast. Except, no one brought anything to eat or drink. No one said much, but each of them was thinking about stories of what happens to people who get lost in the desert. It’s not good.
As they kept moving forward, their headlights stretched out for miles into an empty desert. And then, just when they were feeling most desperate, most hopeless… they hit a rock. Some wires were torn and now the headlights didn’t work.
There was no moon in the sky that night. And with thick clouds, there were no stars either. They were travelling in total darkness. One person walked ahead of the truck, leading the way, and another stood in the back scanning over the cab as far as they could see.
With each passing hour, they lost a little more hope. Which made them even more hungry and thirsty. Not to mention, added to their fear of what happens to people lost in the desert. It’s not good.
And then one of the students in the back of the truck said “Hey! Isn’t that a light?” Everyone was excited. But no one else saw anything. They all tried to look as they could until someone said what others were thinking: “It’s just your imagination.” But she insisted – “There! On the horizon. It’s just the tiniest pinprick possible. I think. Maybe…”
The guide told her to point and even though he didn’t see it, he then directed the man walking in front of the truck to start moving toward something everything thought was only in her imagination. She kept saying, “Look over there. No over there.”
As they moved toward the “light,” it became clearer that it was only her imagination. It had to be a mirage because, as they got closer, it didn’t get any bigger.
But what else could they do but keep moving in that direction. There was no other direction to try. And then someone else said they thought maybe they saw something too. And a little way further, another one and another one. They finally arrived at the source of the light. But it was impossible that anyone could have seen it. It was only a candle. From miles away? One candle outside a few tents of a small Bedouin camp.
You see, one of the Bedouins couldn’t sleep, so she had come out of her tent, propped a crate on its side, and dripped some wax on it to hold a candle upright. That was it. One little candle.
But still, one girl saw that candle. And that’s what led a lost group of students through miles and miles of desert. One candle. It’s absurd. Until you realize, absurd or not, that is what saved them.
They owed their lives to a stranger who couldn’t sleep. And one girl who saw something in the distance that no one else could see. Who dared invite the rest to trust.
If there had been a moon or any stars or any other light at all, she wouldn’t have seen far enough into the distance.
In fact, if they had not lost their headlights, they might still be lost.
Oh, and by the way, they arrived just before dawn. Just in time. If they arrived any later, they would have had to wait a whole other day before they could eat or drink. That is, if they had ever arrived anywhere at all.
It may not be a Christmas story or a Christian story, but it still teaches a powerful lesson: No matter how dark things get, one candle can still make a difference.
The Gospel of John says,
“The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.”
It’s a dark time in our country. It seems like every week we can add more examples. And sometimes it seems like chaos, cruelty, and suffering are the only things we hear. It’s all exhausting. Spiritually, emotionally, and mentally exhausting. It’s easy to lose sight of any light out there because it’s so far on the horizon. But that’s why we keep coming back.
So when we listen to all the news of chaos, cruelty, and suffering and feel overwhelmed, remember, none of that is capable of extinguishing the light. Though we are travelling right now through dark times, as you watch the news, remember that darkness is ultimately powerless, inept, incompetent, and useless.
When it’s dark out, remember:
“The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can’t extinguish the light.”
Thanks be to God.
 Story significantly adapted from “A Great Light” by Rev. Angela C. Menke
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
December 23, 2018
“No Crib for a Bed”
Matthew 2: 13-23
“Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”
One year on Christmas Eve, a woman calmly told the pastor, “I will never set foot in this church again.” She placed her candle and the cardboard drip-catcher into the box and walked out. And, kept her promise. She was outraged about a reference in the pastor’s sermon about a little boy who had been murdered. Christmas was not the time for something so unpleasant.
But if not Christmas, when? How can we ignore one of our most beloved songs when it says “Away in a manger, no crib for a bed. The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head. The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay, the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.”
I mean, I can’t sing that song and not wonder whether migrants and asylum seekers stuck at the border might wish to be so lucky for a bit of fresh hay. Are there cribs for the infants at the sports complex in Tijuana where approximately 3,000 men, women, and children have been forced to wait for weeks and even months before being allowed to request asylum? No crib for a bed? When Amnesty International visited last month, Mexican officials admitted the sports complex lacked sufficient food, water and health services, and that respiratory illnesses were spreading among those there. But they also bitterly complained about having to foot the bill when the issue is that the US government refuses to hear these asylum cases.
In the second verse we sing: ”The cattle are lowing, the poor baby wakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.”
A manger is one thing, but imagine a baby trying to sleep through the night with all the noise inside one of the many detention centers inside the US. Reportedly, some children may be reunited with their families before Christmas, but earlier in the week there were still 14,000 minors in government custody. Earlier this summer, as we know, toddlers were ripped from their parent’s arms and separated with no apparent plan to reunite them. How many are still separated? I read that today most of the migrant children are teenage boys from Central America who have traveled alone, trying to escape gangs and violence. Alone, away from their families, especially on Christmas Eve, I can hear them singing, trying to hide their sobs,
“I love you, Lord Jesus; protect me, I pray, and stay by my side until night turns to day.”
In the Gospel of Matthew, Mary, Joseph and the baby had to flee violence too. Jesus wasn’t born in Pleasantville. And he wasn’t born at the North Pole. He was born in Bethlehem, a place ruled by a tyrannical, paranoid King Herod. He was an extremely cruel man, so repugnant that he reportedly arranged for men to be killed on the day of his death so at least someone would be in mourning.
The story of Jesus’ birth in the Gospel of Matthew is much darker than Luke’s more familiar nativity – the one of children’s pageants with cute shepherds and angels and animals in a barn. Except for the three kings, we don’t hear much about Matthew’s story. But, as you heard Patrick read, there is much more to it than the arrival of some magi.
As you are likely familiar, they followed a star in the east. They came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? We have seen his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage.” To which King Herod freaked out. He consulted where the prophets said the Messiah would be born and sent the Magi to Bethlehem. He asked them to report back so that he could go and honor him too. But through a dream, the magi were warned about Herod’s real intentions.
And fortunately, Joseph was also warned in a dream to uproot his family and take them to Egypt because Herod would try to kill his child. There is no consensus on how long they were in Egypt, but it was likely as long as a few years. Jesus would have been a toddler refugee. There is no other way to describe their situation other than that they were migrants who crossed a border in order to escape violence and persecution. Thank God they were allowed in. And after however long, we’re relieved to know that young Jesus is now finally safe in his own home. And we can sing of growing child:
”Away in his own bed, no crib did he need, the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head. The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay, the little Lord Jesus, now sleeps on his own mattress from IKEA.”
But there’s more. In the polite, pleasant, company of church, we skipped over the part where Matthew tells us: “When Herod realized he had been tricked, he was so angry that he ordered the death of all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under.” I should see if Jeremy can find a way to add that to next year’s pageant.
We surely skip over this part because it is too horrific to imagine let alone mention at Christmas. Except it’s not that hard to imagine. We can even put a face to it. If we don’t know what Jesus looked like, well, then just take a look at the face of the seven-year-old Guatemalan girl Jakelin who died two days after being in the custody of US border control agents. Now, was border patrol responsible for her death? Didn’t they do everything they could? That’s a fair question. But their story is surely disputed by her father. And to which our government said, “See, that’s what happens.”
I don’t know what they were trying to escape, but we do know that before their journey northward, Jakelin received her first-ever pair of shoes. They departed from their tiny wooden house with a straw roof, dirt floors, a few bedsheets and a fire pit for cooking – which makes a manger filled with hay and the sound of cattle lowing sound like an upgrade. Jakelin and her father were not part of the big scary caravan of “invaders” that had traveled for weeks. Jakelin and her father didn’t walk from Guatemala and at the end they had walked less than a day as part of a small group and surrendered themselves. And now she’s dead.
In the Gospel of Matthew, this incident is known as the Massacre of the Holy Innocents. Remember Jakelin’s face.
Some scholars argue the Massacre didn’t really happen because Matthew is the only historical reference to it. Perhaps it’s just a literary device to connect Jesus with Moses. Perhaps it’s just a mythical legend. And yet, we can’t deny that it still contains truth. Even if it didn’t happen then, that time, we know such violence happens today. In Yemen and Syria. Or among our own country’s leaders who seem more than willing to engage in endless levels of cruelty toward suffering humanity.
Sojourners describes it this way: The administration would have us believe that this humanitarian crisis is the inexorable product of human migration. But, “this is the intended outcome of policies designed to keep asylum seekers from entering the U.S.” Currently, there are between 5,000 and 6,000 people on the waitlist to apply for asylum. Despite this overwhelming need, and the inhumane conditions they must endure while waiting, CBP only interviewed 30 asylum seekers the first day and 40 the next. They had weeks to prepare. But at this rate, people will be forced to live in squalid camps for hundreds of days.
“Our government is more than able to rapidly process more asylum claims but has simply chosen not to. Make no mistake, the disdain with which our government is treating asylum seekers is a deliberate choice to inflict suffering.”
Did it really happen in Bethlehem? I posted a meme from John Pavlovitz on our church Facebook page this week: “If you’re going to rejoice over the refusal of refugee families at our borders, you probably shouldn’t be sweetly singing about a baby with no crib for a bed.” As of this morning, that post has been shared 657 times and seen by nearly 52,000 people. One person replied that Joseph wasn’t a refugee. She explained, there was simply not enough room for them in the inn. If Luke was the only story, she would be right, but I politely reminded her of the story from the Gospel of Matthew. But, I don’t fault her. I wouldn’t be surprised if she had never heard this story read aloud in church. If we did read it every year, perhaps then we wouldn’t see such a shocking response to suffering from white Evangelicals. 68% believe we have no responsibility to accept refugees. This is not specific to the caravan of migrants but of refugees worldwide.
Did it really happen in Bethlehem? Does it matter? It is real today. But of course, then what? What is the good news this Christmas?
First of all, Christmas is not the time to ignore the news or leave it unspoken in church. This is exactly the time to remember that our vocation is to proclaim love when everyone else is screaming “Be afraid!” Christmas reminds us that love is made manifest in the care and protection of those who are most vulnerable. The Good News is that God chose to become incarnate in the most vulnerable way possible in order to experience our condition. Our God understands us and everything else we bring with us this morning that weighs heavily on our heart. So that we don’t just sing of an infant in a manger, no crib for his bed, but remember what it was like for the boy Jesus as a refugee in Egypt and therefore not forget Jesús stuck in a stadium in Tijuana.
And then to remember that beyond the carols, Christmas celebrates the birth of a child we know is going to die for speaking truth to power. Because he so loved world. Therefore, we sing and pray for all these children on Christmas:
“Be near them, Lord Jesus; we ask you to stay close by them forever and love them, we pray. Bless all the dear children in your tender care, and bring us together in love we all share.”
That’s the Good News of God’s love. For children at the border as well as for you and me, for us in our grief and sadness this Christmas when we remember people no longer with us. When we fear that this could be our last Christmas. When we struggle with hope in a cruel world. When we hear the words “stage 4.” God knows the difficulty of the human condition so that we can find comfort when we sing for ourselves:
Away in a manger no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head. The stars in the bright sky look down where he lay, the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.
The cattle are lowing the poor baby wakes, but little Lord Jesus no crying he makes. I love thee Lord Jesus, protect me, I pray, and stay by my side until night turns to day.
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
December 9, 2018
“Kinder and Gentler”
Luke 1: 68-79
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
who has looked favorably on the people and redeemed them,
69 Who has raised up a mighty savior for us
in the house of servant David,
70 as God spoke through the mouth of holy prophets from of old,
71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
72 Thus has God shown mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered their holy covenant,
73 the oath swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve the Lord without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness
all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
78 By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
The nation reflected this week upon the presidency of George Herbert Walker Bush, often in ways that, even if unintentional, so sharply contrast with the current president that, although his name was never mentioned at the National Cathedral, no one could mistake the two men.
Presidential biographer Jon Meachum shared his eulogy with Bush prior to his death. Bush complained that it was “too much about me.” Meanwhile, the current president sat brooding at that service, clearly unhappy it didn’t have enough “me” in it.
Meachum described Bush’s code of life. Among other things: “Tell the truth. Don’t blame people. Try hard. Forgive.” We were told he sought to make our lives and the lives of all nations “freer, better, warmer, and nobler.” Causes larger them himself.
Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulrooney called Bush courageous, principled and honourable.
Not to draw out too many more comparisons, but when Senator Alan Simpson said “hate corrodes the container that carries it,” nothing intentional or not could have been said more clearly.
How can we help but compare them? For example, their acceptance speeches when each was nominated at the Republication National Convention?
With dark imagery and an angry tone, Trump portrayed the United States as a “diminished and humiliated nation and offered himself as an all-powerful savior” on behalf of law-abiding Americans.
By comparison, Bush said in his acceptance speech in 1988:
The contrast is almost too obvious. But, not to suggest sainthood. One has to wonder what happened to kindness and gentleness and our better angels when it came to Willie Horton and the portrayal of black men. That television attack ad remains one of the most racist things to have ever aired as part of a presidential campaign – or at least until two years ago. And then there is the regrettable fact that Bush replaced Thurgood Marshall with Clarence Thomas. On the other hand, he named Colin Powell the first African American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
When someone dies we tend to remember them in their best light; you might say, to white-wash their misdeeds, but, once again, we not only mourned the death of a decent man this week but we continue to mourn the death of decency itself in the person of our nation’s commander in chief and his enablers. But of course, as Christians we believe in redemption and resurrection. And that’s the real good news. What, however, does that call from us in between?
The bulletin cover, songs and prayers, not to mention the big letters hanging on the banner in front of us, make it clear that today is Peace Sunday.
And that’s the line that really stuck with me this week. Not that peace is possible. But that peace is the way. Put another way, we could say that kindness is the way to kindness. Compassion is the way to compassion. Love is the way to love. In a world of people who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, starved for kindness, compassion, and love, we have to ask of ourselves: are we being kind, compassionate, and loving?
John Pavlovitz, in his new book Hope and Other Superpowers, said, “I carry a heavy sadness seeing the cruelty that now seems standard issue, the sarcasm, snark, and verbal venom so regularly wielded. And I grieve the most when I notice it in the mirror.” We cherish winning an argument over cultivating humility. We’d rather celebrate the accomplishment of blasting our opponents instead of understanding them. Bitterness is the opposite of kindness and if we want kindness to win, we have to be less bitter about the current state of our country. And, note to self, about our president.
Jesus knows a little about that. He was not born into a time of peace. And he tried to teach peace during some of the darkest days while Israel was an occupied territory of Rome. Caesar did not tolerate threats to his absolute power. Any peace that may have existed was the result of violent repression. And things did not improve in the years after Jesus’ death. In fact, when the gospel of Luke was written, prophecies that the birth of the infant Jesus would bring about an era of peace would seem flat out wrong. By the time Luke wrote his gospel, Rome had completely crushed any hope of rebellion and destroyed the Temple.
And yet, or maybe for that very reason, Luke used the word peace more than the other three gospel writers combined. He used peace as bookends for his gospel – from Zechariah’s words in the first chapter that God will guide our feet into the way of peace to among the last words of Jesus to his disciples: “Peace be with you.” You have to wonder why those who first read the gospel wouldn’t have thought this talk about peace was just a false hope; or worse, a lie.
There are many ways to define peace, but Luke’s purpose was clearly meant to contrast the peace of Christ with the peace of Caesar. The comparison couldn’t have been more obvious. Caesar governed violently by submission. In contrast, the peace of Christ is holistic, peace in one’s soul and in the world in a practical way.
Much like how Ralph Bunche wrote that “peace, to have meaning for many who have only known suffering, must be translated into bread or rice, shelter, health, education, as well as freedom and human dignity.” Bunche was the first African American winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950, resulting from his work with Arabs and Israelis. Jesus, too, taught people both with his words and with loaves of bread and fish.
Archbishop Oscar Romero had been preaching against the Caesar-like repressive force of El Salvador’s right-wing military government when they assassinated him in 1980. He taught those sitting in the dark shadows that “Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is the generous contribution of all to the good of all.” By the way, now Saint Oscar Arnulfo Romero.
I still sometimes wonder, is peace possible? And not just some time in the distant future but today? If you, like me, are skeptical at times, we have to remember that before Zechariah spoke his beautiful words he was mute – or at least he had been mute for the previous nine months because he did not believe the angel who told him that his wife would conceive a son. “How can this be,” he asked Gabriel? “It is not possible because we are too old.” And because he did not believe, he was made mute until the day his son was born. Similarly, Gabriel told Mary that with God, nothing is impossible. So, if the question isn’t whether peace is possible, then how? Not an emotion but the condition of wholeness for all parties.
John the Baptist called upon people to prepare the Way of the Lord by repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Perhaps we need to look in the mirror in order to repent our complicity in escalation. My own complicity. And then, as with all repentance, to turn in a new direction.
If we wonder if civility is forever dead, perhaps we need to remember that civility is the way to civility. Did decency die? Or is decency the way to decency. And kindness the means to kindness. And compassion the means to compassion. And love the only means to love.
As Dr. King said, “One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but that it is the means by which we arrive at that goal.” Of a kinder, gentler nation, a thousand points of light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
 John Pavlovitz, Hope and Other Superpowers, Simon and Schuster, 2018, Chapter 11 on Kindness
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
December 4, 2018
“Everything Will Be OK in the End”
Luke 21: 25-36
25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
It was just a week or two ago that I said I felt a little more hopeful than I had been for a while. I was cautiously optimistic. More women elected than ever. More People of Color elected than ever. More LGBT folks elected than ever. Various ballot initiatives around the country were approved to restore and protect voting rights, limit exploitation by payday lenders, and expand health care in some unlikely places. And somehow, the imminent threat of a dangerous invading force from the South magically disappeared from its 24 hour a day coverage over at Fox News. Seeds of hope blossomed.
But then, while we were in church last Sunday, having fun hanging the greens, we went home for lunch only to turn on the TV to witness scenes of mothers with their children in diapers running from the tear gas raining down on them. Not in Yemen. Not in Syria but outside San Diego – USA. Migrants seeking asylum, forced to flee from terror in their home countries, now forced to flee from terror by ours. My cautious optimism ebbed.
So, all week I looked for signs and stories of hope to replenish my soul. I was particularly moved by a story about members of CityWell United Methodist Church in Durham, North Carolina. They had provided sanctuary for Samuel Oliver-Bruno for 11 months. For 11 months he slept in a Sunday school classroom and tried to carry out a “normal” life while essentially being under house arrest. He taught Bible study classes, played in the church band, and did what he could to support his wife in her battle against lupus. One day U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services asked him to come in for an appointment. It was a hopeful sign of progress, but church members also worried ICE could use it for a trap. So, the church that had been providing sanctuary inside decided they must provide sanctuary outside the church too. Members accompanied him and kept watch as they drove the 15-mile journey. When they arrived outside the offices, they were joined by 100 more. They stood in the parking lot singing, making sure their witness was both seen and heard from inside those offices. But two minutes into their singing, someone screamed as they watched through the window. Two plain clothed men from ICE put Samuel in handcuffs and led him to an unmarked car. 100 people sprang into action and surrounded the car and prayed and sang Amazing Grace and other hymns for three hours. Finally, as they sang We Shall Not Be Moved, police carried 30 of them off to jail. That evening Samuel was put on a plane and deported to Mexico.
So, is that a story of hope or not? John Lennon said, “Everything will be OK in the end. And if it’s not OK, it’s not the end.”
Meanwhile in the Netherlands, a church has been in continuous worship for the last five weeks, 24 hours a day. You think a service that goes a few minutes over one hour is long? How about a service that, so far, has been going on for 840 hours straight?! Bethel Church in The Hague is protecting an Armenian family that has been part of the community for nine years. If deported, they fear the fulfillment of death threats for their political opposition. You may or may not know that sanctuary churches in the US, like CityWell, are only protected by a custom that says immigration officials won’t enter. It’s not by law. But a law in the Netherlands states that a raid cannot be conducted during a worship service. This small church had a creatively subversive idea, but they didn’t know how they could keep a service going 24 hours a day. When word of their plans got out, 420 religious leaders stepped up and one after another have been conducting what is essentially a filibuster service. Who knows how long it will take or whether it will ultimately succeed. But as John Lennon said, “Everything will be OK in the end. And if it’s not OK, it’s not the end.”
Jesus said in our passage today that “people will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world.” Eugene Peterson describes it as simply, “It will seem like all hell has broken loose.” Earlier in the same chapter Jesus described a time of wars and insurrections. “Nation will rise up against nation; there will be earthquakes and famines and plagues. Before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all…”
Apocalyptic texts like these are terrifying and troubling. In some cases, they are quoted to cause fear because somehow the fear of hell is supposed to make you love Jesus more. I doubt that Jesus said these words in order to make his followers afraid but rather to address people who were already afraid, living in a state of fear. Afraid of what was happening. Afraid of what could happen. Because, basically, everything was not OK. And it would, in fact, get worse as Jesus himself was denied and betrayed and handed over and flogged and executed. But on the third day, he promised, the Son of Man would rise. And then return again. But in the meantime, Jesus said, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.” Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down.
How many times in the past week, in the last six months, in the past two years have you felt your heart weighed down – maybe by fear. Or weighed down by despair, for example, over seeing women and children tear gassed, reminiscent of kids held in cages.
Or your heart weighed down by disgust. On Thanksgiving, yet another young black man was killed by police. Army-veteran 21-year-old E.J. Bradford Jr. was helping to apprehend an active shooter when police arrived at a shopping mall in Alabama. The police saw a black man with a gun and assumed he was the problem. The same thing had just happened in Chicago to black security guard Jemel Roberson. He had just apprehended a suspect when he was shot and killed by police. Both, by the way, were legally carrying their gun. To be fair, the police can’t always tell a good guy with a gun from a bad guy with a gun, but when the good guy with a gun is black, it seems like they are always assumed to be the bad guy. And did the NRA express any outrage?
Our hearts weighed down by fear, by despair or disappointment. Anne Lamott admits that even “hate has weighed me down in these past two years and muddled my thinking. It’s isolated me and caused my shoulders to hunch.” And, she asked, when our shoulders are hunched, where do our eyes look? We look down. We gaze upon the ground. We rub our feet into the dirt. What can we do? Jesus said, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” When we lift our shoulders and raise our heads, what do we see?
When I raise my head, I see 100 members of CityWell United Methodist Church singing songs for 3 hours while surrounding the car of a man they had come to love. I look up and see a small Dutch church in worship for 840 hours and counting.
When I raise my head I look up and see our second floor and the offices of Knitting4Peace – housed here at Park Hill, founded by Susan McKee, and now led by Kathleen Marsh. They have delivered over 140,000 knit and crocheted hats, gloves, blankets, peace pals and more around the globe, and to the women who sleep in our fellowship hall. It’s astonishing. They may even hit 150,000 items before the end of the year. But it was a little story I read in their newsletter on Friday that made my shoulders go even higher. Kathleen and Evan were in Los Angeles and taught 15 former gang members how to knit and crochet. So that these formerly incarcerated men and women could feel good about giving away hats and gloves and blankets and peace pals and more instead of being seen as recipients in need. That’s hopeful.
One more story of hope. In a small town in southern Mexico, a volunteer from the American Friends Service Committee witnessed a group of poor women bent over an open fire, making soup for more than 2,000 Salvadoran refugees heading north. Kathryn Johnson said it was common for the migrants and refugees to receive this kind of compassion and open generosity as they journeyed through some of the most impoverished towns and villages in Mexico. While the women served noodle soup from large steaming pots to the passing strangers, others provided free medical care and advice.
That’s the kind of thing that builds a reserve of hope to carry us through times when our shoulders are hunched and our hearts are weighed down.
But what could possibly give me more hope than to look up and see you? Could I have stayed sane or stay sane for as long as it will take to live through this mess without having you and this church – a place to sing and worship and pray, a place to give back to the world by, for example, making up cots for WHI, retreats to build resilience like we had yesterday? Plus now, a labyrinth to walk when any of us need it. And the echoes of children down the hall today preparing to present the centuries-old story of Christ’s birth, complete with costumes of cows and sheep. Could anything be more hopeful?
So, back to that John Lennon quote: “Everything will be OK in the end. And if it’s not OK, it’s not the end.” That’s the very wisdom Jesus was trying to impart to his disciples and followers. When these things happen, don’t be distracted by wars and rumors of war. That’s not the end. Don’t be distracted by those who would hate or betray you. That’s not the end. Destruction is not the goal. If things are not OK, it’s not the end.
You may make the same mistake I do sometimes when we think of hope. We often hope for something, perhaps something too concrete. I hope I get that job. I hope she will come to visit me soon. Those aren’t wrong. After all, I hope I have a safe and good time on my sabbatical. I hope that the church does well. I especially hope you want me to come back!
And yes, I hope for more peace and I hope for an increase in kindness and love. But as people of faith, I think our hope is more deeply in redemption. Not simply for these times to end but our hope is the redemption of these terrible fear-filled, despairing and disgusting times that lead good people to rage and even hate. Or worse, to give up. Redemption is hopeful because it asks “What can change?” and believes it will.
For example, I hope we learn not to take things for granted – things like the rule of law and respect for customs and the desire for democracy itself. I hope citizens are never complacent again. That would be the redemption of these times. And a more faithful goal than simply hoping or even praying for an end to this mess. How can these times be redeemed? Used for good in the end. Like, more women elected than ever. More people of color elected than ever. More LGBT folks elected than ever. Restored voting rights, limits to payday lenders, and expanded health care.
Hope is not wishful thinking but our combined action. And for Christians this hope rises out of destruction and the death of Jesus when things were not OK. But everything will be OK in the end. And if it’s not OK, it’s not the end. And that is our hopeful, good news as we begin the season of Advent.
One: Let us pray: Great God, help us to remember that how things are now, is not how they’ve always been;
All: And it’s not how they will always be.
One: Help us to remember that the seeds of your kingdom are growing among us now;
All: And the time will come when love fills the world.
One: Therefore we hope.
All: Therefore we hope.
One: And we pray for your coming to a world whose poverty, pain, trauma, and grief make your promises seem like pipe dreams
All: We pray for your coming into our neighbor’s lives who long to see love and compassion expressed through your people.
One: We pray for your coming to us. May you fill more than simplistic hopes but fill our deepest longings for peace and joy and love. Today, and everyday forward,
All: We hope.
 Her new book Almost Everything: Notes on Hope quoted by Janet Hunt in Dancing with the Word
If you enjoy these sermons, please support the work of Park Hill Congregational UCC
My three loves are being the Pastor of Park Hill UCC in Denver, Hiking in the Colorado Foothills and Mountains, and Travelling around the world