Sermon: “When the President Comes to Church”

Luke 4:14-30
Mission First: Gathered Series
Second Sunday of Epiphany
January 15, 2017
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

If Donald Trump showed up at the door of this church, would you let him in? Just hold that thought for a bit.

A few years ago, I was involved in helping the church I was at in sponsoring a refugee family.  We worked with the Minnesota Council of Churches which has a good record of helping people from around the world settle here in Minnesota.  We learned that we were going to sponsor a family coming from Somalia.  This is not unusual; Minnesota has been a leading destination for refugees from Somalia, which has been dealing with a civil war for almost 25 years.  Now, most of the people who come from Somalia are Muslim.  This tends to be the dominant religion in that part of the world.  I didn’t think much of this fact until I got an email from a woman who was a member at the church.  She was upset about us helping these refugees.  It wasn’t because they were African.  She was upset because…you guessed it, they were Muslim.  As much as I and the Senior Pastor tried to talk about the need to help these people who were simply looking for a home, she was resolute she thought these people could be trouble.

 

Now, we did go ahead and sponsor this family and helped them acclaimate to American society.  But I was dumbfounded that someone was more worried about a person’s faith than they were about helping a family find a safe place to make a life.

 

Another story.  About 20 years ago, I attending a Baptist church in Washington, DC.  Back then, the church was made up of both liberals and evangelicals.  A minister that had been involved with the church was asked to serve on the pastoral staff.  She was more than qualified for the position, but there was an issue: she believed in the inclusion of LGBT people in the life of the church.  In the 1990s this was still a controversial issue in this Baptist denomination.  During a meeting to discuss the issue, another woman rose to talk.  She was from the evangelical faction of the congregation. She admitted that she and this pastor didn’t agree on this issue.  But she also had a relationship with the pastor and counted her as a friend.  She urged the congregation to call this pastor and they did.  Here were two women, who were on different sides of an important issue and yet they maintained a relationship, they respected each other.

These are two examples, one positive and one negative.  There are those who are willing to reach out to those who are different backgrounds and beliefs, and there are those who think that there are good people and those who seek to harm others. It seems at times that we as a society are less willing to be friends of those who are different from us.  Our society has learned to segregate themselves into groups where we can be with others that think just like us.  We start to think that the other side is not simply wrong; but somehow dangerous to the very social fabric.  

 

Churches are no less different than the wider society. It’s becoming less and less common to see liberals and evangelicals in the same congregation.  Both sides look at each other as apostates, not really Christians.  We see ourselves as doing God’s work and the other side?  Well, not so much.

 

I’ve not done such a good job at spelling out our current sermon series which is based on gathering.  The church is a gathered community.  It is gathered by God.  But what does it mean that we gather?  If it is God who gathers us in, then who is part of the community? Who is not?  

 

Today’s text has always been an odd one for me.  Jesus is back home in Nazareth and he’s asked to read scripture at the town synagogue. He gets up and reads from Isaiah 61.  This is Jesus way of announcing his ministry and his mission statement. He tells the crowd that he is the Messiah, the Lord’s annoited.  He is here to preach good news to the poor, to liberate the imprisoned and the oppressed and to give sight to the blind.  

 

Now, the people didn’t really get that he was connecting himself to this passage, until he adds to the passage that what was promised in Isaiah is being fulfilled as the people are listening. Everyone is astounded at what they have heard.  Some were proud, some were questioning.  One the surface, we think this is about what they had just heard.  But Jesus could sense people’s hearts.  Something wasn’t right, the people were missing the point.  He knew they were more interested in him performing more miracles than they were about taking this passage to heart. So, that’s when Jesus took what could have been a nice experience and pushed it a bit further. He tells them that he knows they want him to produce the signs that took place in Caperneaum. But he warns them by telling two stories.  First he talks about how the prophet Elijah helped to feed a poor widow and his son in the town of Zarapath.  If you can remember from a few months ago when we learned about this passage the town of Zarepath is outside of Israel.  Jesus is saying that there were other widows who were dealing with hunger because of the draught, but Elijah was sent to help this foreigner.

 

Then he shares another story.  The prophet Elisha healed a Syrian general named Naaman from leporesy even when there were others in Israel who suffered from leporsy.

 

All of this riled up the people and they set to push Jesus down a cliff to his death.  Jesus is able to slip away, but it seems like he would not be coming to Nazareth for the holidays anytime soon.

 

So, why were the people so angry?  What made them so enraged that they wanted to kills Jesus? These were not unfamiliar stories, so what caused them to go mad with anger?

 

Just as Jesus was telling them that he was the Messiah, he was telling the crowd that this Messiah wasn’t coming just for the Jews, but for everyone.  Those tales were nice to say that God could care for some outsiders, but Jesus was pushing them.  God wasn’t just being nice to Gentiles, this was part of God’s plan.  No one group was special, which is how the people in the synagogue saw themselves.  But Jesus is going farther than this.  Jesus is not playing favorites.  Mary sung that things were going to be flipped upside-down and here is the proof.  Those that felt they were special, that they were God’s favorite, were no longer sitting so pretty.

 

Jesus would end up living out what he preached that day.  He would meet with Samaritans and Roman soldiers and a host of other folk that probably wouldn’t be welcomed in that synagogue.  Jesus was on a mission and he wasn’t going to be boxed in.

 

It’s easy to look at this and think that luckily we aren’t like these people in this passage.  I hate to tell you, but we are.  We aren’t any better than the townsfolk of Nazareth.  We might say we welcome everyone, but there is always someone that we don’t want coming into the doors of our churches.  We don’t want people of other ideologies in our churches or maybe someone from a different social class.  We say we have open arms, but too often we act like bouncers for the kingdom of God. Jesus was called to be servant to all, not just the people of Israel.

 

As I said earlier, it is God that gathers the church.  It is God that gathers this church. What does that mean for us and are we ready for who God gathers to this church?  I’d like to believe that I would be able to welcome all, but would I welcome everyone.  Would you?

 

The church is called to be light in the world.  God is building God’s kingdom with us.  What the world needs to see in this church and in all churches are communities that are willing to reach out to people regardless if they are not of the right group.  We need to be able to come together in prayer and worship with people that we might not always agree with.  

 

So, I come back to the question I asked at the beginning: if Donald Trump showed up at the door of this church, would you let him in?

 

There is a church that is actually dealing with that question or something like it. The Washington National Cathedral is hosting the inaugural prayer service for the President-elect.  The Cathedral has a history of hosting inaugural worship services, so this is keeping in line with that tradition.  But the idea of allowing Donald Trump into the doors of the grand cathedral has upset many people around the nation.  The Cathedral is part of the Episcopal Church and the Bishop of the Diocese of Washington has tried to explain why they are hosting this service at this time.  I want to share what Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde said about opening the doors of the church to the next President:

 

First, I want to acknowledge the anger and disappointment that our decisions have engendered. And to say that I’m listening, because the spiritual principles that move many of you to protest are essential for the work that lies ahead. While I do not ask you to agree, I simply ask you to consider that we, too, acted on spiritual principles. Those principles, while they may seem to conflict with yours, are also essential for the work that lies ahead.

The first spiritual principle, which always characterizes the Episcopal Church at its most faithful, is that we welcome all people into our houses of prayer. We welcome all because we follow a Lord and Savior who welcomes all, without qualification. Welcoming does not mean condoning offensive speech or behavior; it does not mean that we agree with or seek to legitimize. We simply welcome all into this house of prayer, in full acknowledgment that every one of us stands in the need of prayer.  

The second spiritual principle that informs my decision is that in times of national division, the Episcopal Church is called to be a place where those who disagree can gather for prayer and learning and to work for the good of all. I am alarmed by some of Mr. Trump’s words and deeds and by those who now feel emboldened to speak and act in hateful ways. Nonetheless, I believe in the power of God to work for good, and the capacity of our nation to rise to our highest ideals. As President Obama said in his last speech, our nation’s future will be determined by our resolve to “restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.” I ask the people of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington to join me in dedication to that purpose, in faithfulness to Christ and as ones who cherish the gift of democracy.

 

Jesus’ mission on earth was to minister to everyone.  While the crowd in the synagogue thought God was just for them, Jesus was pushing the boundaries and saying that the love of God is for even those we deem outside of the love of God.  If we are honest, we will admit that this is a hard teaching and one we’d rather ignore.

 

Would Donald Trump be invited here?  That’s a question you need to wrestle with so I’m not going to give you an answer.  I pray that we can be like Christ, to get outside of our comfort zones and welcome everyone to God’s kingdom.  Even when we find it difficult.

 

Would Donald Trump be invited here?  Thanks be to God. Amen.

Mistakes, I’ve Made A Few

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The email said it in clear words. I had made a mistake.  And people weren’t too happy about it.

Making a mistake in my world can be a big deal, at least in my mind.  It brings up fears and shame.  I start to worry that I will lose my job (something that has happened) and I feel incredibly stupid.  No one else makes mistakes, I say to myself.  You 47 years old and you make mistakes like a 12 year old. Get it together! Says another voice.

It has always been funny to me how we talk about mistakes and how we actually feel about them.  People talk about mistakes as the thing that makes us human and helps us to be better people.  But when mistakes actually happen, they are treated as serious breaches of protocol.  Because I see this disconnect in how people handle mistakes, it makes me even more rigid and hyper-sensitive in trying to not make a mistake, because when that happens, people don’t take it lightly.  They get angry and at times look for ways to get rid of you.

I’ve been thinking about this in the context of being autistic.  It’s easy for someone with autism to view a mistake as a world-shattering event. A lot of writers try write advice on how to calm people down and see that mistakes happen. While that’s true I’d love if there were a blog post on how to deal with mistakes as an autistic when your neurotypical boss gets angry because you included the wrong information in an email or when you forget to check the voicemail message that day.

I’ve always been someone that hated mistakes.  If I had a low grade on a quiz, I would turn it over because I didn’t want to see it.  I would spend hours on a journalism story in college making sure every fact was correct.  I don’t like mistakes, and it’s hard to calm down and accept that I do make mistakes (sometimes because of being autistic), because sometimes there are severe consequences for making a mistake.

Sometimes what I wish is that someone come and tell me things will be okay and that I can learn from this.  Sometimes I want to be told that I am still worthy and loved even when I mess up, especailly when I mess up big time.

I’m going to have to find a way to accept that mistakes will happen and learn to live with the mistake and how to correct it.  And to let go of a certain amount of perfectionism.  But I think it will take a while to deal with the ongoing fear, because the worst did happen.

Sometimes life for someone with autism is not just difficult, but downright scary.

Preach the Gospel. Use Words.

When I was in seminary, I learned one of those ten dollar words that mean something to the art of being a pastor.  That word is proclamation or its even more fancy Greek version,κήρυγμα or kerygma. Kerygma means preaching.  When a pastor gives a sermon, he or she should be participating in proclaiming or kerygma.

But while preaching is kerygma, it isn’t everything.  Kerygma has a larger meaning; it’s about telling a story, telling a specific story.  The ethical teachings of Jesus had to be placed in a context.  The early Christians found a way to tell the story of Jesus and they called it, the proclamation or kerygma. This is how theologian C.H. Dodd described it:

According to the evidence of the New Testament, the earliest exponents of the Christian religion worked out a distinctive way of presenting the fundamental convictions of their faith, in a formula which they called “the proclamation. The Greek word here is kerygma. Our translators of the Bible commonly render it “preaching” but in its current implications at the present day the word is misleading. Kerygma properly means a public announcement or declaration, whether by a town crier, or by an auctioneer commending his goods to the public, or by the herald of a sovereign state dispatched on a solemn mission, to present an ultimatum, it may be, or to announce terms of peace.

The Christian “preacher” thought of himself as an announcer of very important news. He called it quite simply “the good news,” or in our traditional translation, “the gospel. ” It was this “good news” that was embedded in the “proclamation”, the kerygma. It was essentially a public announcement of events of public importance.

Dodd goes on to say that the proclamation could be recovered from the New Testament and the proclaimation had a purpose; to be confronted by the living God:

The form and content of the proclamation, the kerygma, can be recovered from the New Testament with reasonable accuracy. It recounted in brief the life, and work of Jesus Christ, His conflicts. sufferings. and death. and His resurrection from the dead; and it went on to declare that in these events the divinely guided history of Israel through long centuries had reached its climax. God Himself , had acted decisively in this way to inaugurate His kingdom upon earth. This was the core of all early Christian preaching, however it might be elaborated, illustrated, and explained.

The preacher’s aim was to convince his hearers that they were. indeed confronted by the eternal God in His kingdom, power, and glory; that they, like all men. stood under His judgment upon what they had done and upon what they were, and that this judgment was now immediate and inescapable; further. that those who would put themselves under God’s judgment would, through His mercy. find an opportunity open to them to enter upon a new life; that actually, as a result of these facts which they proclaimed, a new era in the relations between God and man had begun.

Those who responded to this appeal and placed themselves under the judgment and mercy of God as declared in Jesus Christ, became members of the community, the Church, within which the new life could be lived. These members were then instructed in the ethical principles and obligations of the Christian life. This course of instruction in morals, as distinct from the proclamation of the gospel, is covered by the term “‘teaching,” which in Greek is didaché.

This order of approach, first the proclamation, then the beginning of instruction in morals, first kerygma, then didaché, seems to have been thoroughly characteristic of the Christian mission; it is precisely this order, first kerygma. then didaché, which we have seen to be general in the New Testament writings.

So proclamation wasn’t just saying something to say something. It was about telling a story, THE story and connecting it to the lives of those around them.

So proclamation is about speaking something. It isn’t something that can be achieved without words. Which means that the old saying attributed to St. Francis (but really isn’t his words), ““Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary,” might not actually make sense.

Now, most mainline Christians love this passage for one simple reason: you don’t have to talk about Jesus to people. You don’t have to look weird or like those evangelicals down the street. But as evangelical theologian Ed Stetzer said in a 2015 article, preaching the gospel is about preaching about the saving work of Jesus. Since Jesus is the gospel, we can’t really “live out the gospel,” but instead have to announce the gospel:

The gospel is not habit, but history. The gospel is the declaration of something that actually happened. And since the gospel is the saving work of Jesus, it isn’t something we can do, but it is something we must announce. We do live out its implications, but if we are to make the gospel known, we will do so through words.

He goes on to say that proclamation is the central task of the church (which means it isn’t just the job of the pastor):

It appears that the emphasis on proclamation is waning even in many churches that identify themselves as evangelical. Yet proclamation is the central task of the church. No, it is not the only task God has given us, but it is central. While the process of making disciples involves more than verbal communication, and obviously the life of a disciple is proved counterfeit when it amounts to words alone, the most critical work God has given the church is to “proclaim the excellencies” of our Savior.

So, why am I talk about proclamation at this moment?

Because it has implications for some of my work outside the pulpit and because this is a major weakpoint of mainline churches.

Communication, about who we are and what we do is not a very prominent mission within mainline churches.  There are some bright spots among the Lutherans and Episcopalians, but for the most part the task of communication is not considered very important.

About 10 years ago, things were different.  The birth of social media breathed new life into the task of communicating. Positions were created that were communications-focused. Conferences were held to help churches become more tech savvy.  But then, all of this stopped.  It might have been the Great Recession, but all of the sudden, it wasn’t so important to have a good website or effective social media presence.  Positions created a few years prior were cut with churches and middle judicatories putting the task of communications on already burdened administrative assistants or volunteers.

The thing is, mainline churches have long thought what was important is what we do, not what we say.  Except, if we don’t tell people why we are feeding the homeless or why we are taking part in this protest, then people don’t know we are doing this because we follow Jesus.  They will assume you are just nice people.

The fact of the matter is that we are called to preach the gospel. NOT be the gospel; that’s something onlyJesus can do. NOT live out the gospel, because again, Jesus.  We are called to preach the gospel and since we don’t possess the power to speak telepathically to people, we have to say something.

In a sermon I preached at a Presbyterian Communicators Network meeting in North Carolina in 2008, I said that being church communicators mean looking out to see what God is doing in the world:

Whether we are communicators at the church, presbytery, synod or General Assembly level, this is our charge: to find out what God is up to in the world, to be empowered by the Spirit to tell the story of healing and love to a world that desparately needs to hear it.

But most churches and middle judicatories don’t act as if this is such an important task. Most churches ask an admin to do it, if they have the skills. The same might go for middle judicatories.

Evangelical churches have tended to be light years away from mainline churches when it comes to communications. But they also tend to be better at proclaiming the gospel. I might not agree with how it is done at times, but they do show they have the skills to make sure their social media sites, webpage and newsletters are proclaiming the gospel message.

Historically, mainline churches weren’t very strong with communicating the gospel, because culture was soaked enough with the faith that we didn’t have to. But those days are gone and it’s time to focus on how to learn to preach the good news through communication as well as other methods.

Because we have to preach the gospel and we need to use words.

Should We 86 2016?


I wrote the following for the church website and I’m cross-posting it here.
“Let’s 86 this year.”

That’s something I heard a lot about 30 years ago in 1986, especially in the days following the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger some 73 seconds after liftoff.  A number of events took place early in the year that made people want to just get the year over with.

Three decades later, I’m hearing a 21st Century version of 86-ing.  Go on Facebook and you will see a number of people saying that 2016 was the worst.  The reasons we see this passing year as a dumpster fire ( a very 2016 phrase) is because of the election and the deaths of several well-known celebrities, including David Bowie, Prince and most recently, Carrie Fisher.  We want 2016 to be over and done moving on to the next big thing in 2017.

But was 2016 really the worst?  Well, it really was the worse for those living through the Syrian Civil War.  It was the worst for people in Venezuela who see their economy melt down and find it hard to purchase food.  It was the worst for people living in parts of Chicago who are dealing with a rising number of homicides.

2016 did see an unusual number of high-profile deaths and for the fans of musicians and actors it can be a little heartbroken.  I for one will be watching Episode VIII of Star Wars with a hint of sadness, seeing Leia and knowing Carrie Fisher is no longer with us.

But 2016 doesn’t have to be the worst.  Whenever I couldn’t sleep, my mother would tell me to read Psalm 121.  This psalm is one that could be used as a blessing before car trips to Louisiana to see relatives.  In fact it was used many times before we pulled out of the driveway. “I raise my eyes toward the mountains.
Where will my help come from?”  We know the answer.  The psalmist tells us that no mater what we do, God is there with us.  None of this means bad things will never happen, but it does mean that we never face them alone. God was with us through the election.  God was with us as some of our favorite artists passed from the scene.  God was with us when a parent or grandparent died.  No matter what, our help comes from God above, meaning that the world can throw its worst, because we know God is there to help us face down the powers that seek to oppress us.

Was 2016 the worst? Before I answer that, let me tell you a story of a death that many of you might have forgotten.  The death of Bob Ebeling.  Most people wouldn’t know Ebeling.  He wasn’t a singer or actor, but an engineer who worked on the Space Shuttle program.  On January 27, 1986, Ebeling and four other engineers made a plea for the shuttle launch scheduled for the next day be cancelled.  The knew it was going to be very cold the next morning and they were worried that the O-rings on the fuel tank would fail causing an explosion.  NASA didn’t listen to the engineers and on January 28, the Shuttle exploded.

Ebeling blamed himself for the disaster and carried that shame for the next 30 years.  As he neared the end of his life, he shared this pain with the listening audience. Because of this people from around the nation wrote in to give Ebeling encouragement.  But what really lifted his spirits was when officials from his old company and NASA absolving him of any blame.  He died a few days later, but without the burden of shame.

Was 2016 the worst?  I don’t know. It didn’t seem that way to Ebeling. Yes, he died, but he did without the guilt he carried for decades.

But I do know that God was there even during the “worst times.” I do know that no matter what might be thrown our way God will not leave us abandoned.

I hope 2017 is a better year.  But everything is good when God is the author of our faith.

My help comes from God, Maker of Heaven and Earth.

Dennis Sanders
Pastor

Progressive Christian and Trump Voters

donald-trump-votersThe first day or two after the election I decided to contact friends and acquaintences of mine  who had voted for Donald Trump.  I wanted to apologize if I said anything off-putting to them.  To a person, all of them were gracious and even told me why they considered voting for Trump.  I took their responses to heart.  I didn’t always agree with their reasons, but I was glad to hear them and to give Trump voters are more humane face.

What’s been sad is that most progressive Christians haven’t been willing to sit and talk to Trump voters.  Like their secular counterparts, there is more interest in talking about Trump voters instead of talking with them.

Most of the criticism against Trump voters have come in the form of saying that they know that Person A who voted for Trump is a racist, but that they knew who they were voting for.  An example of this is a post by John Pavlovitz in mid-November.  He starts by saying that he understands the reason people decided to vote for the Donald, but they were aware of the dark sides as well:

I know you had legitimate reasons for voting for him; things that either real or imagined, genuinely moved you to your decision and that you wrestled with these reasons greatly. But I don’t care about those reasons; not because I don’t care about you or value you or want to understand you or because I don’t respect your road, but because those reasons can’t help those who are hurting right now—only your response can.

You see, regardless of why you voted for him, you did vote for him. Your affirmation of him and your elevation of him to this position, came with what you knew about him:

It came after hearing the horrible, degrading, vile things he said about women.
It came after hearing him encourage his supporters to be violent with protestors.
It came after he advocated for Muslims to be expelled and profiled.
It came after he made fun of a man with physical disability.
It came after he framed the BlackLivesMatter movement as criminal and subversive.
It came after he personally criticized the appearance and weight and sexual activity of women opponents.
It came after he chose a Vice President who believes gay people can pray away their gayness.
It came after the KKK and the neo-Nazis endorsed him.

These were all things you had to weigh to cast your vote, and by whatever method you used, you declared theses things within your morally acceptable parameters. You deemed these part of the “lesser of two evils”. In voting your conscience—these things made the cut.

This is kinda a passive-agressive way of saying these folks are wrong and maybe morally suspect. People make decisions when they vote and sometimes things are ignored because of higher concerns. It’s not something I like or would do, but people don’t vote for saints. There is the same kind of backhanded contempt in this video by Sojourner’s:

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The problem with these responses is that they treat the people who voted for Trump as either racist or indifferent to persons of color. It’s less about reconcilation than it is about shaming.

The thing is for those of who are Christians and didn’t vote for Trump, we need to be able to listen to Trump voters. Why did they vote the way they did? How can the church respond? How can we show voters there is an alternative?

Sometimes the people who voted for Trump did so for economic reasons. That’s been considered false by opponents, but I think there is a lot of truth to the claim. Writer Morgan Pheme says we should try to understand those voters and listen with some empathy:

Over the last week I have heard far too many of my fellow progressives dismiss Trump’s voters as racists, misogynists and fascists. While there are certainly a depressing number of them that deserve these characterizations, to brush aside the more than 61 million Americans who cast their ballots for Trump as mere hateful idiots is to perpetuate the liberal elitism that helped fuel Trump’s success and to disregard the economic and social problems plaguing our country.
There was a reason that Trump’s and Bernie Sanders’s cries for economic populism intermingled to a discomfiting degree during the campaign season: America is in thrall to corporate interests at the expense of blue-collar and low-wage workers; both parties were complicit in giving Wall Street a pass in the wake of the 2008 fiscal crisis; Democratic and Republican administrations have both driven disastrous deregulation in service of the donor class.

But we must also acknowledge that when hard-working people cannot support their families, when they suffer the loss of their dignity, when they can’t see a path for their children to have a better life than their own—the very crux of the American dream—these are conditions that can both unleash the ugliest elements of human nature—and propel people to throw caution and reason to the wind for the simple promise of hope and change.

There are Trump voters in our congregation. Instead of shaming them, maybe we need to seek them out and listen. We don’t have to agree with them, but we need to take the time to listen. If Christianity is about reconcililation, then this is a good opportunity live that out.

Who’s In Charge?

“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

-Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address 1861.

So, Tuesday night happened.  Donald Trump will be our nation’s 45th president.

I didn’t vote for either Trump or Clinton, but I was as shocked as anyone else. Sleep was not easy to come by Tuesday night. Part of the tension is the how President-elect stirred up both racial and ethnic resentment. Does that make me, an African American-Puerto Rican, less safe in America? Will racism or xenophobia affect me in someway?

 

While I’m concerned, I’m not freaking out.  I’m not in mourning.  I’m not breaking relationships with those that I know who voted for Trump.  I’m not freaking out because I truly believe that my ultimate allegiance is in Christ and not who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.   I believe God is in control.

Now, I know that phrase is sending a lot of my progressive Christian friends into orbit. Their response is similar to what Progressive Christian blogger John Pavlovitz said in his most recent blog entry regarding the election:

At times like these, Christians like to smile sweetly and say, “God is in control.”
No. God is not in control.
God didn’t vote for Donald Trump, you did.
Stop passing the buck to God.
God isn’t defacing prayer rooms.
God isn’t taunting gay teenagers.
God is not bullying kids on buses.
God isn’t threatening Muslim families.
White Christians are.
You are in control of this. You have pulpits and pews and a voice and influence and social media, so get to work. 

Saying God is in control doesn’t mean everything is okay. It doesn’t mean we ignore real problems. It doesn’t mean that God is controlling our every move. But I can say God is in control because God is the person I give ultimately allegiance to. To put it in more political wording, “Jesus is Lord and Ceasar is not.”

This evening I went to see Doctor Strange.  For those who don’t know the origin story, Steven Strange was a famous and vain neurosugeon who is severely injured in a car crash.  His hands, the one that made his living possible suffer extensive nerve damage and he is no longer able to do the one thing he excelled at.  This is where Strange makes the journey from normal man to socerer supreme, but together he has to be willing to believe that there is more than what he sees.  He has to be able to see into various dimensions to go beyond what he knows to be true and what is beyond reason.

Long story short, he had to have faith.

In reading and listen to the anger and grief coming from some progressive Christians I have to wonder at times if they have lost their faith.  We scoff at the notion of God being in control and instead believe it is all on us, or at least on having the right ideology.  During this election season white evangelicals were rightly criticized for placing so much on the notion of politics to trade in the faith for a few pieces of silver that they thought Trump would give them.  But Progressive Christians are no better.  We know longer believe that God is the ultimate and so we make leftist ideology our god.  We trade in the belief that there is a God that rules all of creation and is greater than any king, prime minister or president for the world of politics.  We wrap our politicians in a religious blanket, giving their words a tinge of God even though God seems to be somewhat diminished.  After a while, we become no better than religious conservatives in trading the politics of Jesus for the politics of Washington.

 

…to give you a future filled with hope

I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope.

Jeremiah 29:11 (Common English Bible)

Looking for employment is not an easy endeavor. In fact it can be soul-crushing. But then, so can having a job. Or losing a job.

As some of you who follow this blog may know, I have a part-time call at a church in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota. The reason I could do this part-time call was because I had a pretty good fulltime job. That is until two days before Christmas 2014 where I was let go from my position.

Let’s just say Christmas was hell that year.

shattered-dreamsI was hoping that I would find another good job soon. After all, I had experience and I was able to learn how to be sociable and keep my Asperger quirks to a minimum. But nearly two years later, I still haven’t found anything. I am thankful that I have found some part time jobs and have been able to stitch together a living, but it’s not even close to what I was making before.

Since early this year, there have been a few opportunities that presented themselves. I thought I did my best on the interviews sent some of my best examples…and the job went to someone else. I could say race was a factor, and there is some truth to that, but I can’t just rest and make excuses. I have to keep getting out there, but it gets hard to pick yourself up and try again, especially when you think you have the skills needed to do the job.

One of the things I’m learning is that all the job hunting trips people tell you to try to get a job don’t seem to work…at least not for me. I haven’t found that “hidden job market.” All the people I know haven’t really led me to a job. I’ve tried meeting with a few people just to get ideas and a number of them never bothered to respond.

All the while I remain somewhat jealous at my husband, Daniel. He doesn’t have a background in communications that I have, but he has been able to get two jobs as managers. I have some more skills than he does. He gets noticed and I don’t. (That could be that he’s white and I’m black.)

Maybe I have to considered that I’m not going to have a job where I can use my communication skills. It just seems that I’m not wanted, no matter how much I’ve improved my skills, no matter what I do to add value to an organization. For whatever reason, I’m not what people want in a prospective employee.

I started this post with a familiar, at least to me, passage. Too often, Jeremiah 29:11 is seen as a route to success. But I don’t think this is what this verse is about, especially since what I’ve learned about Jeremiah is that his life wasn’t that awesome.

I tend to think that it means that no matter how bad life gets for people, no matter how things don’t go according to plan, God is there to give us hope, to give us peace, to give us a future. It may not be the future we wanted, but it is a future with God, and I’d rather have that than nothing at all.

I will continue working with the jobs I have now and being a pastor to the little flock God has left me with. And I will try to keep looking for work. I have hope, not that things will work the way I want it to be, but that wherever I land, I will have God’s hope. It’s all I got.