Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
April 29, 2018
“Stop Those Random Acts of Kindness”
1st John 4: 7-12, 17-21 - The Message
7-10 My beloved friends, let us love one another because love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know God if you don’t love. This is how God showed love for us: God sent God’s only Child into the world so that we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we “once upon a time” loved God, but that God loved us and sent God’s Child as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.
11-12 My dear, beloved friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love one another, God dwells deeply within us, and God’s love becomes complete in us—perfect love!
There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.
19 We, though, are going to love—to love and be loved. First, we were loved. Now we love. God loved us first.
20-21 If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.
I grew up in a church that my family had been members of for generations – a small church with a cemetery in the back at the intersection of two gravel roads, surrounded by fields of wheat. A real-life Field of Dreams. (The picture above is from "Tractor Transportation Sunday.)
People don’t move in or out of places like that very often, so during my entire childhood, I remember only one family joining our little Methodist church. The Springs were Baptists from Oklahoma stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base. They fit in well enough, but there was one “problem.” Throughout the sermon, the father was accustomed to saying “Amen,” boisterously. We were the frozen chosen, so such expressions kind of frightened us. But we were also too polite to say anything and he was too caught up in the Spirit to notice. They became valued members of the community, even if people were still jumping years later whenever Frank belted out another “Amen!”
When I moved away to college, I went to the only Methodist Church in town. That’s what we were. It never occurred to me that I would look anywhere else.
It wasn’t until I moved to Minneapolis that I first understood the process of “church shopping” and could appreciate how difficult it is. Having left my Methodist upbringing, I tried the Unitarians, Episcopalians and the Metropolitan Community Church, a predominantly LGBT denomination. But ultimately, I chose to pursue ordained ministry in the United Church of Christ, so I had to find a local church where I could belong.
How many of you have ever gone “church shopping?” As many of you know, it’s easier said than done. A few months later, I found and finally joined Lyndale UCC, which I learned later, just so happens to be the church that Park Hill’s second pastor, Dick Kozelka, went to when he left here.
When I moved to Washington, DC, I had to go through the process all over again. I joined First Congregational, which just so happens to be the church where Park Hill’s first pastor, David Colwell, went after he left here. Although I joined it, it never really felt right and I found myself worshipping most of the time at Peoples Congregational, a Black Church, where I felt more at home.
But then, I had to go through the process all over again when I moved to Cleveland. Cleveland was harder. Cleveland had a fundamentally different dynamic than Minneapolis and Washington, DC. People moved to Minneapolis and Washington, DC. All the time. In contrast, in the early 90s at least, people did not move to Cleveland and the difference could be felt in how open people were to new-comers. It seemed like everyone had all the friends they needed. It was hard to break into a group that had all gone to high school together. Many churches had the same dynamic, or so it felt. It’s not always easy to enter a community of people who have been together for decades. Some seemed indifferent, and others even blind to our presence. Some churches could be described as a little too eager to see a visitor, but the worst was a church that was scared when I entered, or rather, stumbled in.
I tried to enter through the front door at the time indicated on the old sign with fading letters on the front lawn. The first door was locked. So I tried another door. And with a sufficient enough push, I sort of fell into the narthex where a small group of people looked horrified. I had to pry a bulletin from the clutched hand of an usher and find my own way to the sanctuary. I later learned that the members of the church parked in the back and used that as their main entrance. As I tried to remember what the service itself was like, I realized I had excused myself to go to the bathroom and left instead.
Being a pastor is obviously a different experience, but I have continued to experience first times, sometimes even second and third times, while visiting churches on vacations and sabbaticals. Art and I visited a church in Las Vegas a few years ago. We immediately felt welcomed. And when we went back a year later, they remembered our names. That’s our church in Vegas. We used to drive to Toronto regularly. We claim a church home there because on our first Sunday, Irving took us with him to coffee hour and introduced us to folks, always paying attention from a distance to make sure we were being taken care of. How do I remember his name? His genuine welcome alone made that our Toronto church. I have a church in Chiang Mai, Thailand, too. I can’t wait to go back and visit my church home next year.
The experience of being welcomed is often intangible. A gut reaction. Although I’m convinced more churches lose their visitors during the passing of the peace than its worth as guests stand and watch the members be friendly to each other. But with all my experiences, I realized the most important factor, to me, has been whether people look at you as they walk by. Not being spoken to is one thing, but not being looked at is a whole other psychically disturbing experience. A smile is nice; a nod, maybe; one word can make it “wow!” But more than anything? Eye contact! Being seen in an anonymous world. You may have other criteria.
I’m sure we have all had variations on these experiences and have stories we could tell. Your first day at work, being welcomed into a new family, neighborhoods…
During seminary I spent a semester in Washington, DC. As part of that experience we were guests in a dozen embassies, most of whom have impressive buildings and expensive furniture. The only country that didn’t, Bangladesh, had a collection of mismatched plastic chairs and, among other things, desperately needed some new paint. But it was also the only embassy that, on a hot, muggy day in DC, thought to welcome us with little Styrofoam cups of red Kool-Aid. The image of those cups, that experience of hospitality, has stuck with me for 30 years. Along with Irving and the face of the usher clutching her pile of apparently members-only worship bulletins.
So, where am I going with this? Well, in church settings at least, to experience anything other than extravagant hospitality is unchristian. “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God.” Jesus told us that all the law and prophets could be summed up in two great commandments: to love God and to love our neighbor as yourself. Jesus later answered the question, “And just who is my neighbor?” He told the story of a man most people didn’t want as their neighbor. Jesus even went so far as to command us to love our enemies, too. Clearly, neighbors are not only those with whom we went to high school and share a common history.
As Christians, Jesus gives us a clear expectation, an aspiration, yet we still might struggle with questions like: “How can I love people that I don’t know?” “How can I love people who may not love me back?” What if I love but they don’t love me? Think of the anxiety that comes with saying “I love you” for the first time, not an usher to a visitor!, but to someone you really care about and hope they feel the same about you. Filled with anxiety, do I dare say it?
But what about people I don’t like? Or people I don’t trust? This passage in 1st John even answers our question, “If I don’t have enough time for the people already in my life, how can you ask me to love more?” Simple. Because love is from God. We don’t create it. We just live it. Breathing and loving should be the same kind of thing. We need both to survive. In and out. Breathing, along with compassion and kindness. Loving, along with food and water.
1st John is really just saying we need be channels of love. Love flowing through us, beyond us. “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God.” But of course, lots of things can block that flow, particularly fear and trauma. Past experiences may cause some people to be convinced that they are supposed to love, they’re even commanded to love, but that they themselves are utterly unlovable. I’m always shocked when someone can quote the first part – love your neighbor – but has seemingly never heard the second: “as you love yourself.” They’ve never noticed it or seem to think it means instead of yourself. Love your neighbor instead of yourself. No. Some people think they are unlovable. And even go so far as to say, “I was abused because I deserved it.” Or “I have done something that is unforgiveable.” Persuaded they have no value.
But the fiery social justice preacher William Sloane Coffin said, “God’s love doesn’t seek value, it creates it. It is not because we have value that we are loved, but because we are loved, we have value.” I am somebody.
To make it crystal clear, 1st John asserts, “We’re able to love because God first loved us.” I might mention, without conditions met first. There is no “if you do this, then I’ll love you.” People get that wrong about God all the time.
God, who we remember, IS love, even loves us without fearing that we may not love in return. Throughout history, God repeatedly established covenants with people with whom God had the experience of broken covenants. Why did God keep trying? Because God IS love. Not just that God loves us and so loves the world, but God IS love. Verb and noun.
Love is the very definition of God. And a relationship with God is by its very definition an experience of being loved. Valued. Seen. Therefore, beloved, there is absolutely no reason not to love one another.
But, that doesn’t mean we don’t still try to find reasons. Verse 18 speaks of fear. “There is no room in love for fear.” Or as the traditional reading of it says, “Perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”
However, William Self reminds us “fear does protect us and warn us. Fear is just the parent of caution. It’s an incentive to preventative action.” It keeps us safe. “Stranger danger.” Doesn’t fear have an appropriate place in our lives? In fact, both Proverbs and the Psalms speak of the “fear of the Lord as the beginning of wisdom.” But fear in that context is really talking about awe, wonder, amazement, respect, and reverence of God, not the fear of punishment.
But think about all the politicians and preachers who seek to make us afraid. They don’t want us to be compassionate. They have no interest in building sympathy or encouraging us to love. They want to divide us and consolidate their own power.
1st John even calls it out: “If anyone boasts, ‘I love God!’ and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar.”
If you have Netflix, I encourage you to watch the movie “Come Sunday” about Pentecostal Bishop Carlton Pearson, a protégé of Oral Roberts in the 90s. Pearson’s fall from grace came when he disputed the concept of hell as a punishment, recognizing the destructive power of using the fear of hell as an incentive to love God. He seemed to grasp its absurdity when he finally said it out loud. And suffered tremendous consequences.
But whether religious or political, fear cannot generate compassion. Fear cannot generate sympathy. Fear cannot generate kindness. Fear cannot make America great. Fear will never bring healing and wholeness, only its opposite. Only love can. And I want to add, if anyone working on the mid-term elections to unseat those currently in power only focuses on making people afraid of this administration to win, they will be no better. And there will never be healing for our minds and our bodies and our spirits. Or our divided nation. We must aspire with our whole being to love each other, not make a counter-attempt to heighten our fears of the other.
If we want to live in the way of God, love won’t have it. Perfect love casts out all fear – theirs, mine, and yours. Letting God’s love flow. Which I believe is sometimes just getting out of the way. Look what love can do!
So, when I think about all the places where I haven’t felt welcome, which really means I didn’t feel loved, were they just afraid? Was I just afraid? Certainly, that church in Cleveland made it seem that way. The look of fear as I stumbled through the door has been forever seared on my brain (and heart). Just as powerfully as that little Styrofoam cup of red Kool Aid. And Irving in Toronto. And smiles all day long in Thailand.
I love the idea of “random acts of kindness.” But as someone once reminded me, the world needs more than “random acts.” Stop being random about it. The world needs people who adopt a lifestyle of kindness, who look around the see the world’s needs. To see people often not seen, hiding in the shadows. And churches don’t need a few more people here and there to be friendly, but a congregation of people always on the lookout to offer hospitality. To see our neighbors, blending in among our friends.
Beloved, love is from God, let us love one another. Not randomly, but always and everywhere. Aspire to a lifestyle of Christian kindness, compassion, justice, and love. What’s the first change you can make?
 William Sloane Coffin, The Courage of Love, New York: Harper & Row, 1982, p. 11
 William L. Self, “Homiletical Perspective” on 1st John 4:7-21, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, page 467-471
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
April 15, 2018
“I Believe in the Bodily Resurrection.
(Wait! Hear Me Out)”
Luke 24: 36b-48 – The Message
Jesus appeared to them and said, “Peace be with you.” They thought they were seeing a ghost and were scared half to death. He continued with them, “Don’t be upset, and don’t let all these doubting questions take over. Look at my hands; look at my feet—it’s really me. Touch me. Look me over from head to toe. A ghost doesn’t have muscle and bone like this.” As he said this, he showed them his hands and feet. They still couldn’t believe what they were seeing. It was too much; it seemed too good to be true.
41-43 He asked, “Do you have any food here?” They gave him a piece of leftover fish they had cooked. He took it and ate it right before their eyes.
44 Then he said, “Everything I told you while I was with you comes to this: All the things written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets, and in the Psalms have to be fulfilled.”
45-48 He went on to open their understanding of the Word of God, showing them how to read their Bibles this way. He said, “You can see now how it is written that the Messiah suffers, rises from the dead on the third day, and then a total life-change through the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed in his name to all nations—starting from here, from Jerusalem! You’re the first to hear and see it. You’re the witnesses.”
If we say someone is a fundamentalist, it’s often meant as an insult. A way to dismiss them or their beliefs as ignorant or judgmental. In my less than better moments, I’ve done it too. Once. Or a thousand times…
There are moments, however, when I cringe at the judgmentalism thrown back in their face. The number one definition of a fundamentalist on urbandictionary.com says this:
“They have ridiculous, childish defenses to intelligence that borders on insanity. The level of hypocrisy and stupidity most of these people exhibit is truly profound.” That’s not fair.
So, what is a fundamentalist? Or perhaps, first, what was a fundamentalist?
The roots of fundamentalism started in a relatively benign way and in a pretty genteel place – in a speech at the Presbyterian General Assembly in 1910, before the word even existed in the dictionary. But the concept quickly took hold and a movement formed around which there was agreement on five fundamentals:
1)The literal interpretation of the Bible, including creation in literally six 24-hour days, 6,000 years ago
2)The absolute historical accuracy of Jesus’ miracles
3)The substitutionary atonement of Christ
4)The virgin birth of Jesus
5)His bodily resurrection
Today it would seem to include opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, and a belief in free markets, and so on and so forth. But the roots of Christian fundamentalism began as a protest against increasing rationalism within Protestant Christianity. It was an embrace of the supernatural, largely a reaction against people known as modernists.
Among their other sins, modernists embraced biblical scholarship that included various methods of inquiry such as historical and literary criticism. Modernists, for example, would say, sure, creation may have happened in six days, but each day might have represented a millennium. Modernists embraced scholars who debunked miracles, suggesting, for example, that Jesus was able to walk across water because it was low tide. Modernists attempted to accommodate new scientific reasoning. For example, as the field of psychology developed, it brought about such suggestions that when Jesus said, “Your faith has made you well,” perhaps their affliction was all in the mind of the individual.
That kind of “wishy washy” approach to scripture explains the fundamentalists insistence on such things as the literal virgin birth and the literal bodily resurrection. These were not interpretations. And they were not negotiable. If the Bible said it, then it happened in exactly that way. Fundamentalists, of course, have never liked the fact that, for example, there are two creation stories, the kind of thing scholars of historical and literary criticism point out. Two versions of Jesus’ birth. Four different lists of who saw Jesus first…
During the early 20th century, all sorts of denominations were thrown into turmoil, none perhaps more so than the Presbyterians. But, largely, in nearly every case, the fundamentalists were defeated. They lost control of mainline denominations and their colleges and seminaries, so they started alternative institutions.
Congregationalists were largely modernists, proponents of an educated clergy and founders of such schools as Harvard and Yale. But not all lay people liked the education of their clergy, or at least some of their methods of scholarship which took away some cherished memories. Then and sometimes even now. As fundamentalism continued to take hold, some split off in the 1930s to form the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference.
Many of you know that the UCC is a union of four major traditions, declared in 1957. Congregationalism, of course, and two German immigrant denominations: the Reformed, who came from war-torn, poverty-stricken Germany in the late 1700s and early 1800s. And the Evangelical Synod, again immigrants from Germany during a time of crisis and chaos in that country in the mid to late 1800s. Among those who, as I mentioned last week, were given free land to settle in the Midwest and West while newly emancipated slaves were given nothing, no land, no economic base upon which, unlike these immigrants, could build their new life. Freedom, but only for hunger, as Dr. King put it.
As I’ve said before, these were not today’s small “e” evangelicals but big “e”, capital “e”, Evangelicals, members of a relatively tolerant and open-minded united church back in Germany. Also known as unionists. Their counterparts, the other side, back in Germany and here today, are Missouri Synod Lutherans.
The fourth group in the UCC is the least known, in part because they were very small and because their name was simply “Christian;” period. Their name made them largely indistinguishable, except that their beliefs were in sharp contrast with much of Christianity at the time, in the early 1800s. In such sharp contrast that, in one case, an angry mob in New Hampshire tried to burn down a church with its members inside because they did not insist on adherence to such doctrines as the trinity. This was before fundamentalism! They’re kind of the anti-fundamentalists.
I admire these Christians in our family tree. They were staunchly anti-creedal and anti-hierarchical. They simply had “Principles,” which included these things:
1) Jesus is the only head of the Church, not a bishop or pope or any other authority. In fact, my favorite joke is the woman who said, “Jesus is the head of this church, pastor, not you!”
2) The name Christian is sufficient, not such divided sectarian names as Methodist or Baptist, etc.
3) The Bible is a sufficient rule of faith and practice. “A” sufficient rule, not “the” only. That is because they insisted on…
4) The right of private judgment and the liberty of conscience, something our “Big E” ancestors insisted upon too. The motto of the Evangelical Synod was “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, diversity. In all things, charity.” What was essential and non-essential? That could be debated.
5) Back to our Christian family, they believed that Christian character is a sufficient test of membership and faith, not having the right doctrine. A quite post-modern point of view. And clearly, anti-fundamentalism.
These Christians were often so out of step for their times with other Christian groups that no one would cooperate with them. They did find collaboration with the Unitarians, with whom they founded Antioch College. Unitarians were another group dogged for their unorthodox Christianity. Of course, you do know that Unitarians began as protest against Congregationalists who asserted the divinity of Christ. We’re the trinitarian conservatives on that divide. Isn’t church history fun!?
Ironically, given all their difficulties, the Christians sixth principle was the union of all Christ’s followers, “that they may all be one,” which they did with the Congregationalists in 1931, all while the modernist-fundamentalist chaos was still in high gear.
For those who wonder why I find any of this interesting, in the category of “who cares,” I teach this stuff at Iliff, our local, very liberal seminary. But still, what does any of this have to do with the Gospel reading for today?
Remember Smokey read this morning: “The disciples thought they were seeing a ghost, so Jesus told them – touch me. Look me over from head to toe. He showed them his hands and feet. A ghost doesn’t have muscle like this,” the Gospel writer says. And then he ate some fish. In another Gospel, Jesus was on the beach cooking fish for the disciples while they were still out on their boats. There are several occasions of such appearances meant to prove that Jesus was bodily resurrected, not just a figment of their imagination, people deluded by their grief. Such stories include when he told Thomas, “Here, put your fingers into the nail holes in my hands.”
It appears that the bodily resurrection of Jesus was just as important to the Gospel writers as to fundamentalists. Leaving those of us in the modernist camp, today’s liberals and progressive Christians, in somewhat of a quandary. What do we do with this?
UCC pastor Dwight Welch said: “I used to say no, I didn’t believe in the resurrection. And I still don’t believe that the laws of biology can be suspended in our favor, that a dead body can be physically resuscitated. I don’t believe religious faith [requires] the suspension of our critical faculties nor a requirement to believe things we know aren’t so. That is a form of magic, not an expression of faith. But my answer has changed now. Today I do believe in resurrection. It is a kind of resurrection that happens when there is a transformation of our lives such that our old self dies and a new self, a more authentic and real self emerges.”
Perhaps that doesn’t exactly address the whole “body” thing. But it does contend that resurrection is real.
But Rob Bell articulates something I find even more helpful: “Resurrection says that what we do with our lives matters, in this body.”
Bell is an evangelical now excoriated by fellow evangelicals for having turned to the dark side, becoming one of those people whose mind is so open, his brains have fallen out – in other words, he’s become a liberal. (gasp)
But Bell’s statement allows me to proclaim, though I can hardly believe it (hands held around my head): “I believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus.” Hear me out. It matters that we don’t just think things about Jesus but that the body of Christ becomes real. And that’s you and me. Because, we are his resurrected body.
Do we want people to say of us, gee, what a nice guy, or is it that we put our bodies on the line? It’s not that Black Lives Matter existentially. It’s that black bodies are sacrificed on the streets, and as we saw this week in the movie Marvin Booker Was Murdered, on the streets and inside the jails, alongside Michael Marshall, here in Denver, by people meant to protect our bodies and theirs.
When Jesus spoke with Thomas, did you ever notice that even after he was resurrected, Jesus was left with scars on his body? Scars gained for standing against the Roman Empire, standing with and alongside the poor, oppressed, marginalized, and vulnerable people of his time.
Therefore, his bodily resurrection, then, also includes the cuts and gashes he received from being beaten as he too walked across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma. And six gunshot wounds in his back for standing in his grandmother’s back yard with a cell phone in Sacramento. Red marks around his neck from being placed in a choke hold in New York City while crying out “I can’t breathe.” And again in Baton Rouge. Holes in his flesh, not from nails but shot while holding his hands above his head in Ferguson. Buying Skittles in Florida. And reading a book in Minnesota.
Sure, that’s not exactly, or not at all, what fundamentalists mean by bodily resurrection, so I’d still expect to get hate mail from them. And maybe a few odd glances from fellow progressives, looking at me eschew for such blasphemy as saying, “The bodily resurrection of Jesus is real.” But actually, that’s all I really want. I’m just looking for something that is real. For faith to be real. In our bodies, not just our minds.
What about the other fundamentals? Can I accept them too?
1) A literal six-day creation? I’ll accept that as soon as fundamentalists consider that feeding the poor is literal too. And loving your neighbor. Your gay neighbor, your Muslim neighbor, your homeless neighbor, your transgender and gender non-conforming neighbor, your immigrant neighbor, our Mexican neighbors… If we all believed in a literal “treat others the way you want to be treated,” then I’m all in.
2) The historical accuracy of the miracles? Sure, when we remember that all history is interpretation, about which accuracy can never be absolute.
3) Virgin birth? Well, the word used by the prophet Isaiah concerning the coming Messiah is actually “young woman.” So, yes, but I choose the “historically accurate” translation of the original language.
4) Substitutionary atonement? I need to skip that one for now because it’s a lot more complicated than I have time for today.
5) The bodily resurrection of Jesus? Absolutely. But it’s only true when we put our flesh in the game for the people whom Jesus loved and sacrificed his life. Then the body of Jesus, with all its scars, bullet holes, cuts and gashes, will have been resurrected in full.
But what’s the point of such belief? That there is hope. That suffering is not the final or only answer to the chaos and cruelty of our times. What’s the point? That not everything can be understood on the physical plane. You might even say I believe in the supernatural, but I would rather say it’s an embrace of mystery. We can’t limit God to what we can understand.
So, sign me up as a fundamentalist. But remember, a fundamentalist is just someone who declares what is fundamental. My fundamentals include love and justice and compassion to be made real in the mind, soul, and bodies of Jesus’ followers. That Black Lives Matter. I could keep going, but what would you say are your fundamentals? Your absolutes.
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
April 8, 2018
“Resurrecting Dr. King’s Revolution”
God has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?”
One of the most inspired writings of Dr. King, to me, was his Letter from Birmingham Jail, expressing his “grave disappointment with white moderates,” whom he considered more of a problem than members of the KKK. If you listen to the rhetoric today against Black Lives Matter, it’s like little has happened in 50 years. Some days it feels like little has changed since the Prophets like Amos and Micah. People always pressing to go more slowly. “We agree with your goals, but wait, don’t push so hard.”
― Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from the Birmingham Jail
"Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, 'Wait.'
Letter from Birmingham Jail was written in 1963, one of nearly 30 times Dr. King was arrested. The bus boycott was ancient history. Passing the voting rights act in 1965 seemed like a long time ago. For most of America, the problem had been solved. By ‘68, Dr. King was no longer a hero. His Vietnam speech at Riverside Church in April the year before provided the nail to his coffin, pounded in by his own supporters who felt he was betraying the movement. His approval rating was 30-something percent.
In May 1967, King told the leadership of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference that he envisioned a new campaign; a radical new beginning, broadening from civil rights to human rights, from the particular struggles of the black community to the intertwined triple evils of racism, poverty, and militarism. Critics of Black Lives Matter might try to equate that to – See, all lives matter. But King’s point was about shifting from a “reform movement” focused on desegregation and voting rights to a “revolutionary movement” that would demand nothing less than “a radical redistribution of economic and political power.” Integrating a lunch counter, King said, getting the right to vote, cost Americans nothing. Now it was time to pay. They launched a new campaign – a Poor People’s Campaign focused on economic justice.
Eleven months before his assignation, a reporter from NBC asked Dr. King, “Why do black Americans face more obstacles than white European immigrants?”
King’s answer addressed the stigma assigned to color and then explained: “White America must first see that no other ethnic group has been a slave on American soil. America freed the slaves in 1863 by the Emancipation Proclamation but gave the slaves no land or nothing, in reality, to get started on.
At the same time, America was giving away millions of acres of land in the West and the Midwest, which meant there was a willingness to give the white peasants from Europe an economic base. And yet it refused to give its black peasants from Africa who came here involuntarily, in chains, and had worked for free for 244 years, any kind of economic base.”
(That really spoke to me, since my ancestors were among those who had been given 160 acres of land for simply showing up.)
King continued, “And so the emancipation for the Negro was freedom. But the freedom to hunger. It was freedom but to the winds and rains of heaven, not a place to live. It was freedom without food to eat or land to cultivate and therefore it was freedom and famine at the same time.”
― YouTube Video – MLK and Economic Justice https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORVRt5TytaE
Back to his Letter from Birmingham Jail, which still resonates. You’ve heard Dr. King say, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” What would Jesus do? And what should our legacy as his followers be?
― Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from the Birmingham Jail
“Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being 'disturbers of the peace' and 'outside agitators.'
But they went on with the conviction that they were a 'colony of heaven' and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be 'astronomically intimidated.'
They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.
Things are different now. The contemporary Church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the Church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the Church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are.”
― A New “Poor People’s Campaign”
Over 50 years ago. Today the Rev. Dr. William Barber, known for the successful Moral Monday movement in North Carolina, is spearheading a new national Poor People’s Campaign to coincide with the upcoming 50th anniversary.
Rev. Barber delivers sermons on a topic known as "the trick." The trick is Barber's term for something he describes as a weapon of mass distraction. The trick is how politicians persuade poor white working-class people that the source of their pain is people of color, immigrants and other scapegoats. "You have to show them the trick," Rev. Barber said.
"The majority of people in this country who are poor are white people. You have to undermine the trick and say, 'Listen, you want a living wage, but the people you voted for don't want you to have a living wage. You're upset that you don't have health care. Guess what, black and Latino people aren't your problems. It's the people who voted against your health care.' "
Organizers for a "new Poor People's Campaign" will launch six weeks of "direct action and nonviolent civil disobedience" starting May 13, Mother's Day. To King’s triple evils of racism, poverty, and militarism, the new campaign adds environmental degradation, disproportionately affecting poor communities of all colors.
Historians have often asked: What if King had lived to see his Poor People's Campaign through? Vietnam certainly intervened, sucking up massive amounts of money. But could it have worked? It was certainly daring enough. King and his staff were mobilizing an interracial army to occupy Washington, DC. He had recruited impoverished white residents of Appalachia, Latino farm workers from California and impoverished blacks from Mississippi. It was a Rainbow Coalition before the term was even coined.
Naturally, the campaign was severely tested by King’s assassination. But it still happened. 3,000 people lived in “Resurrection City” on the National Mall for six weeks. During the day they took part in daily demonstrations at government facilities and at night they ate together and sang and told stories about the movement in their own local communities. Beyond the grief of King’s death, however, seven inches of rain fell in those six weeks, making the living conditions miserable. Yet, they sparked a conversation around the nation. Not unlike the Occupy Wall Street movement, it might seem to have failed, but we’re still talking about the 1%. It changed our consciousness and vocabulary.
This week lots of people have been talking about remembering Dr. King’s dream. I think it is past time to resurrect Dr. King’s revolution.
― YouTube Video – Official Launch of the New Poor People’s Campaign
― Micah 6:8
God has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you?
Do justice. Love kindness.
Walk humbly with your God.
 Read more about it at https://sojo.net/magazine/may-2018/power-poor-peoples-campaign-king-barber
 Learn more at https://poorpeoplescampaign.org/
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
April 1, 2018
Mark 16: 1-8 – Common English Bible
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they could go and anoint Jesus’ dead body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they came to the tomb. 3 They were saying to each other, “Who’s going to roll the stone away from the entrance for us?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away. (And it was a very large stone!) 5 Going into the tomb, they saw a young man in a white robe seated on the right side; and they were startled. 6 But he said to them, “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He isn’t here. Look, here’s the place where they laid him. 7 Go, tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.” 8 Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”
Surely it has escaped no one that today is not only Easter Sunday but also April Fool’s Day. So perhaps some of you have already played tricks on your children by filling Easter eggs with broccoli and brussels sprouts. Or telling your kids the eggs are all hid but after 15 minutes of fruitless searching yelling, “April Fools!” And then watch the Jimmy Kimmel-style Halloween candy melt down.
Some of the suggestions for these kinds of tricks online sounded a little too mean-spirited for me. Like, freezing the jelly beans before putting them in the eggs and watching kids try to chomp down. I can’t imagine getting a bill from the dentist’s office would be very humorous. Or biting into a caramel “apple” onion. Filling chocolate bunnies with mustard. C’mon now, that’s just not right. Ruining chocolate is not funny!
So, today is April Fool’s Day and Ash Wednesday this year was on Valentine’s Day. What does it say that Lent began with a day for lovers and ends on a day for fools.
The Bible has a few things to say about fools. Proverbs, the Book of Wisdom, is full of quips, such as:
Foolishness is also a virtue in the Bible. In fact, Paul calls us to be Fools for Christ. What does that mean? In First Corinthians, he explains, “When we are insulted, we respond with a blessing; when we are harassed, we endure; when our reputation is attacked, we are encouraging.” Yes, to those who are perishing, the message of the cross will seem foolish.
Those statements are like other sayings of Jesus, although not quite as clever. You may recall that Jesus said, “turn the other cheek” but not recognize the absurdity underneath the statement “as well.” Or telling the poor, when you’re sued, give your undergarment as well as your coat, about which we miss the humor of a naked man standing in front of a judge. Or the instruction to walk a “second” mile. As I’ve said before, they were all subversive tactics to confuse the Roman soldiers, to confound the Empire, not simply to sit back and take it. Just like the non-violence taught by Ghandi and King was not to enable subservience but to force change by exposing the absurdity of such oppression as colonialism and white supremacy.
Many of us were at the March for Our Lives last weekend. Despite the sober reason for the occasion, many of the signs were funny and very clever, like “Tweet others the way you want to be tweeted.”
But following the march my favorite headline was this: “The Young Lead the Foolish.” It was meant as an insult. “Mature bubbleheads supporting misdirected young marchers, who [as just teenagers] are biologically impulsive and notoriously shortsighted as to life’s consequences. It’s pure folly to believe these kids will save us from ourselves.”
But I say, let’s hear it for that kind of bubbleheaded foolishness and folly. Hip, hip, hooray. Except, of course, that gun violence is not funny. But the point is made. That which will save us will seem silly, like Easter. A Savior who dies?
Logic declares scared people are supposed to stay silent. Hide. Rome attempted to silence Jesus and scare off his followers by hanging him on a cross. To send a message to other would-be messiahs. The women were the first to defy this logic by coming to the tomb the morning after the Sabbath. Others followed. In fact, God turned Rome’s actions upside down and unleashed a movement born 50 days later on Pentecost that continues to this very morning, a gathering of fools who believe that hate doesn’t defeat hate, love defeats hate, darkness doesn’t win because light defeats darkness, and goodness defeats evil. And how kids will defeat the NRA.
The best sign of all at the March said exactly how: “This how we’re going to win. Not fighting what we hate but saving what we love.” It’s very theological. It’s very much who God is. God didn’t smite all her enemies, striking them dead with bolts of lightning from on high. God sent Jesus to teach us how to love our enemies. Sounds ridiculous, right? That’s exactly why it will save us and our country. The love of Christ and the foolishness of his followers.
Speaking of the March, did you notice the irony that the most powerful and memorable speech was silence? And how comical is it that the man who attempted to insult Emma Gonzales by calling her a skinhead lesbian was forced off the ballot in Maine? That’s resurrection-style subversion. That’s the kind of thing God used to defeat death. Expect one thing and get the opposite result. Like, God’s ultimate victory of love over hate, life over death, goodness over evil.
In addition to linking love and foolishness, starting on Valentine’s Day and ending on April Fool’s Day, we can’t forget that Wednesday is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who, I must say, often said very similar things. For example, “Love is not a weak, spineless emotion; it is a powerful, moral force on the side of justice” and how he called for us to act in ways that might seem foolish. Non-violence seems illogical. But to that Dr. King said, “Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.”
That’s all those Parkland kids are trying to do. To expose the absurdity. To stop our country from adjusting to, or giving in to, the inevitability of more mass shootings at elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, colleges and universities, shopping malls, churches, country music festivals, military bases, and on and on.
We lament, what can we do? But young people are calling the bluff. Unless the NRA comes to its senses and loves children more than guns, the Roman Empire fell and so will it. Bubbleheaded foolishness? Let’s hope so.
Perhaps it’s true that only children can accomplish this. For as the prophet Isaiah said, when the wolf lies down with the lamb, it will be because a little child has led them.
I am hopeful because we are reminded that with the resurrection of Jesus, God reversed what seemed inevitable. It’s not an April Fool’s joke. God changed what couldn’t be changed. And God will do so for you too. What are you dealing with this morning? We are not saved by adjusting to the darkness, but by becoming a force of light.
To what kind of bubbleheaded foolishness is God calling you?
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.
 All three quotes are from Chapter 26 – The Message
 How about a tweet?
 I wonder, though, not just smart; how about a stable genius? Oops, I’m sorry. A “very stable genius.”
 1st Corinthians 4:12b-13a – Common English Bible
 Luke 6: 27-31
 Isaiah 11:6
 Carol White, Mennonite
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My three loves are being the Pastor of Park Hill UCC in Denver, Hiking in the Colorado Foothills and Mountains, and Traveling around the world