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Friday, March 17, 2017

Hegemony How-To: a review

A Review

Hegemony How-To: A Roadmap for Radicals
A review by Robert Brashear

As one who was profoundly occupied by the Occupy movement, both literally and figuratively for years, I jumped in to Jonathan Matthew Smucker’s Hegemony How-To…with great anticipation.  The book is both a critical analysis of that moment in US social history and also a valuable road map to organizing for broad based social change. For those of us who not only want to imagine a better world but actually help create it, this book is a very valuable tool. More explicitly, for those who understand that we must not only remove a President but an entire infrastructure that runs through the cabinet and congress, this may be the most important book you may read right now. 

First, the word hegemony has for most of us negative connotations.  While I suspect Smucker is being playfully provocative, for him in this book, hegemony is defined as  leadership or predominant influences exercised by one group within national, regions or local political spheres. For those of us who are experienced in classical community organizing, Smucker provides a potential bridge from the local to the national. And therein is the value.  Smucker’s analysis comes not only from a close look at Occupy, but at the 60’s movements Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). 

As a trained organizer, Smucker begins with stating the importance of power. He reminds us, that as Dr. King said, …power is nothing but the ability to achieve purpose…and that the refusal to use power is both political suicide and the abdication of moral responsibility.. He likewise makes us take a closer look at coercion as an appropriate tool, rightly pointing out that from strikes to community organization actions, change is achieved through coercion. What is critical is the content and practice of that coercion. 

Smucker also critiques the idea of the righteous few, that is the tendency towards insularity and self-selection that can lead inevitably to encapsulation, e.g., how SDS ultimately left behind the thousands who were being attracted to it and morphed into the Weather Underground. At less dramatic levels, progressives can be drawn towards that same tendency, viewing ourselves as the righteous few. 

What is missed is Pablo Freire’s  question: What can we do now in order to do tomorrow what we cannot do today? Or the responsibility to improve real people’s lives, mitigate real suffering and oppression in the here and now.. (That debate that we engaged in around Bernie vs. Hilary vs. non-participation. A debate that now feels like a luxury.)  That responsibility is the main motivator of most organizers I know. 

Smucker appropriately points out the difference in tasks of achieving moral legitimacy vs. political legitimacy, the symbolic contest vs. the institutional contest. For example, Occupy succeeded in winning the symbolic contest by introducing the inclusive concept of the 99%. A potentially large we. The political opportunity, the potential to realize actual institutional change was squandered. 
To build real power, it is necessary to move beyond self-selected groups like OWS and learn how to incorporate already existing blocs, as the SCLC did in the Civil  Rights Movement. As Alinskyite like the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) organizations do at the local level by being an organization of organizations. 

It’s also helpful to consider how we recruit people to demonstrations, for example.  Most progressives continue to argue the moral point even with people who already agree with them. The most important question get me to show up is what will  be  accomplished? Most of us have the 3-6 people who if they ask us to show up we’ll be there,no questions asked, because we know they will never waste our time as we will  not waste their’s. An organizer needs credibility on the outcomes side. Moral Mondays works because it’s moral grounding has actual political demands. It also works because MM shares a common moral language with the North Carolina legislature.

The leads to a conversation about shaping the meta narrative, or put another way, shaping what is understood to be, what Smucker calls  common sense. The everybody knows…Smucker looks at this as an achievable task. There is a spectrum of positions related to what is important to us: active opposition, passive opposition, neutrality, passive support, active support. The goal is to, through the use of dialogue and conversation, not debate, seek to find common  moral values, getting someone to shift just one position to the left on the spectrum. That is enough to bring about meaningful change. It’s what Smucker calls narrative insurgency, changing the narrative, the common sense,  from the inside out. 

As many progressives have come from a post-modern philosophical perspective, Smucker raises a caution as to the problems in finding moral common ground in a post-modern society. (That’s what makes New York a more complicated environment than North Carolina for a Moral Mondays type movement to be effective.) 

Related to OWS, Smucker believes that the allergy to leadership and refusal to be political along with its paralyzing commitment to hyper-democratic concensus decision-making were fatal flaws. I would, for the  most part, agree. 

Smucker connects the emergence of OWS to the preceding anti-World Trade Organization protests, the Battle of Seattle, etc. And that is his background. But there were other streams as well, e.g., disaffected Obama campaign volunteers who felt their hope betrayed and brought passion and highly developed social media skills with them. There was always a constant tension between anarchist and movement politics that became paralyzing, in my observation.  (I continue to be curious as to how the Occupy culture came to be. Who proposed the working groups, spokescouncil structure, facilitation methods, etc? That will be someone else’s book…)

Likewise, I have tended to be defensive about the accepted wisdom that OWS was a failure. I sincerely appreciate Smucker’s assessment that changing the common sense around income inequality was a significant victory. His critiques are equally valid. But I would add what is not so directly visible:

  1. The radical success of Occupy Sandy that will have long term political effects in Staten Island and Rockaway 
  2. Occupiers who remained and embedded themselves in New York City politics and had a real impact on City Council elections.
  3. OWS veterans providing broad based logistical support for the Climate Change march. 
  4. OWS veterans providing logistical support for Black Lives Matter 
  5. OWS veterans in the heart of the Bernie Sanders campaign                                                                           There is a through line there that can’t be ignored. We are at a moment when a broad based national movement not only to resist but to reshape and reform needs to come into being. In that regard I appreciate his criticism of the word activist. It is a contentless word describing activity, not commitment.  What is clear  is that a class of professional activists…and accompanying 501c3’s… has emerged whose livelihood depends on  the continuation of their own issue situation within a system of dominance and privilege, i.e. the status quo. We need to ask what churches, and/or communities of faithful resistance, are called to be and do. What we need are values driven communities of mutual accountability and commitment that can begin the organizing work. Jonathan Smucker has given us a valuable tool for that project.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Transfiguration Sunday: Last Sermon


Lots of strange feelings as i enter the chapel for my last “official” sermon at West-Park as I move ever closer to retirement. At least as pastor of West-Park church. It’s moving to see so many people turn out. Old members who had walked away. Angry, or just quietly. Jasper who I baptized 15 years ago. New musician friends. Like Joel. Whose presence and interest alone was almost enough to make me change my mind. My friend and colleague Elise. The radical artist Heide. My favorite musical collaborator Jeremy back from Switzerland. My boys, Nate and Dan. The Grotowski Seed Group. A full congregation. We run out of bulletins. 

Sooner our later, we have to start.  We sing Jesus the light of the world. I greet everyone. Joke about it being a big daythe Oscars, you know?  Leila and Pat bring up the once-shattered Cristo Rey from Cali, Colombia (gift of the Sanchez family..) that has no when put back together again by Leila's husband Berik. 
Table with Cristo Rey

Then time for scriptures, like Exodus 24:12-18, Moses on the mountain…and then Matthew 17:1-9, the story of theTransfiguration. We sing Julia Ward Howe’s Mine eyes have seen the glory…with special emphasis son the line as he died to make us holy let us live to set all free…and I remember our amazing year with Bill Schimmel on accordion and that my son Micah went to Ward elementary school and that we need to take a new look at John Brown, especially in the current day…(and of Louis De Caro’s religious reassessment )

Then, finally, time for the sermon….



Well, this is it. 
Transfiguration Sunday. The end of the long season of light that began with Epiphany.  One final burst of light before the beginning of Lent. Well, and for me, the end of a season that began nearly 22 years ago on April 1st, 1995. Not that it’s always been a season of light. Nor (I hope) is this my last burst. But this season is winding to an end. 

Leave it to our new President to use the week before Transfiguration to degrade a community whose identity also begins  with trans. And to also push for ICE raids in NYC and seeking to silence those who bring us the light of truth and fact. I have not as a rule singled out Presidents. But this so an unprecedented Presidency. yes, singular. know the story.  Jesus,  accompanied by Peter, James and John goes up the  mountain. All of  sudden, they see Jesus with Moses and Elijah. In shining, shimmering  white. Peter, with his usual lack of impulse control wants to build 3 sukkot and just stay there. The Holy Spirit  repeats these words from Jesus’ baptism,
This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!
Which of course, frightens them. And Jesus tells them Do not be afraid. And they head back down the mountain.

Symbolism? Well, by tradition,  we’ve got The LAW. And the PROPHETS. Remember Jesus said, I came not to abolish but to fulfill the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:18)…These are the lectionary read in Jewish services every week. Jesus both maintains tradition and challenges authority. And he demands that we speak to when authorities fail short, be they church or government officials.

The story speaks to not wanting to leave mountaintop experiences…and in these last 22 years there have been many:

  1. I came here as a designated pastor. With a renewable (one time) 3 year contract. The church decided  to make it a permanent call.
  2. Our first Comfort ye concert with stars of the  Metroplitan and City Operas. For homeless. For the Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing that we helped found. The singers blowing out the back windows of the church with Oh Holy Night. We hosted this for 10 years. In 2001, the deep bass voice Try to remember a time in September leading into Oh Holy Night…
  3. The funeral service for Arthur Cafiero, formery of the Metropolitan Opera, formerly a chef who catered Central Park symphony picnics, who sang with us, rang bells for  the executed and died homeless on our steps. Who rests in our cemetery.
  4. The day of and days after 9-11. The first Sunday after at  West Park when we were exactly who we were supposed to be.
  5. The Lysistrata project  production against the Iraq war with a cast of formerly incarcerated and homeless because they pay the bill. And the Not in Our Name concert. 
  6. The day we took the gates in front of our front doors down. 
  7. That first crafts fair and concert and former PCUSA moderator  Rick Ufford-Chase from Stony Point visiting us in a church with no heart and no restrooms. Ana Vega’s weekly sacramental cafe con leech
  8. Wheeling the communion table back up the street from exile at St. Paul and St. Andrews
  9. The concert for Andre Solomon-Glover
  10. The welcoming of Occupy Wall Street
  11. Teddy Mapes and his amazing memorial service that drew more than 250 in a living witness to who we are and what this place i
  12. A lunch with volunteers from Sacramento who restored the chapel  and Theatre Dzieci who had just performed a passion play..
  13. Programs that drew visits and from government officials …with flags!… from Serbia, Japan, Denmark and Kazakhstan
  14. The conversation with Simran Jeet Singh of the Sikh community
  15. Visits from Amy Goodman, Cornell West, Michael Moore
  16. The 70th anniversary of Hiroshima  & Nagasaki, the 
  17. 50th anniversary of the murders of Goodman, Cheney, and Scwerner
  18. The service  when Bread &Puppet  Theatre came to be in solidarity with us  when we expected a hostile Presbytery moderator to come
And so-so many more…

What you didn’t see….

  • A member who struggled with many issues playing piano and  one of  Noche’s world famous flamenco dancers wandered into the sanctuary and broke into a fiery improvisational dance to her music…
  • Two women from Alabama who had lived together faithfully for 25 years flying to New York City and West Park to make that  love legal at last..
  • The Peace Poets, who created the songs for the Black Lives Matter marches (I can’t breathe) recording their album in our gym with Jeremy (, 100 queer kids dancing joyfully and celebrating the release of Love Songs for the Rest of Us, in our gym..(
  • The amazing love relationship of Philip and Ruby, his baptism, her being his godmother..
  • John walking Rachel home, every Sunday

All those moments where for just one moment there was a glimpse of what was supposed to be where you go, yes that’s it…

And I confess to not having been able to figure out how to channel that flow of fleeting moments into a great rising tide…but each one was no less real..

Valleys too…the fights…the conflicts that led to both parties…and there closest friends… leaving…people who left from anger, disappointment or just plain exhaustion, the light of hope they had seen extinguished…I take responsibility for that…and you should know that their faces are before me every day and the weight of their absence is always with me…

Back at the foot of the mountain, there is work to be done. 
Law and prophets work. STAY FAITHFUL. Don’t let the unique legacy of light  that began way before me go out. 

My mentor once told me that if God wants something to be done in the world, it is already being done.. we just need to see it..keep looking…and welcoming…

Do not be afraid…that’s what he, Jesus, always says..keep pushing the boundaries…

You have each other. You have all that is needed. They looked up…and saw only Jesus…don’t worry about doctrine. Enjoy theology, exploring it. Don’t argue about it. Or if you do, enjoy the argument.  Don’t worry about what you can or can’t believe but how to live. Follow Jesus. Feel him in your midst. Stay faithful. Love each other. That’s the start. Love each other. Love each other. Love each other. 

It will be all right. There’s Lent then Easter. Spring is coming.


And that was it. My heart was pounding. Joel and Carrie who perform as Hot Glue and the Gun had a special song.

There were prayers. any prayers. For Rachel. And Ruby. And me.  Jim  Nedelka, now at Jan Hus, gives us words of encouragement...Jeremy and I finished with Rest Awhile..

Following the service, there were hugs. And tears. And food. And the Seed Group sang…
The Seed Group

And I tried to take it all in and understand it. I think why couldn’t it have been like this? Just like this? See? Which is impossible. So I let it go. So I just let it be.        And thought, and felt, thanks. Just thanks.
Thanks Chuck and Angela

First Reading Exodus 24:12-18

12The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” 13So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 14To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.”

15Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16The glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. 17Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.

Psalm 2

1   Why do the nations conspire, 
          and the peoples plot in vain? 
2   The kings of the earth set themselves, 
          and the rulers take counsel together, 
          against the LORD and his anointed, saying, 
3   “Let us burst their bonds asunder, 
          and cast their cords from us.”

4   He who sits in the heavens laughs; 
          the LORD has them in derision. 
5   Then he will speak to them in his wrath, 
          and terrify them in his fury, saying, 
6   “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.”

7   I will tell of the decree of the LORD: 
     He said to me, “You are my son; 
          today I have begotten you. 
8   Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, 
          and the ends of the earth your possession. 
9   You shall break them with a rod of iron, 
          and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.”

10  Now therefore, O kings, be wise; 
          be warned, O rulers of the earth. 
11  Serve the LORD with fear, 
          with trembling 12 kiss his feet, 
     or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way; 
          for his wrath is quickly kindled. 

     Happy are all who take refuge in him.

Or alternate Psalm Psalm 99

1   The LORD is king; let the peoples tremble! 
          He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake! 
2   The LORD is great in Zion; 
          he is exalted over all the peoples. 
3   Let them praise your great and awesome name. 
          Holy is he! 
4   Mighty King, lover of justice, 
          you have established equity; 
     you have executed justice 
          and righteousness in Jacob. 
5   Extol the LORD our God; 
          worship at his footstool. 
          Holy is he!

6   Moses and Aaron were among his priests, 
          Samuel also was among those who called on his name. 
          They cried to the LORD, and he answered them. 
7   He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud; 
          they kept his decrees, 
          and the statutes that he gave them.

8   O LORD our God, you answered them; 
          you were a forgiving God to them, 
          but an avenger of their wrongdoings. 
9   Extol the LORD our God, 
          and worship at his holy mountain; 
          for the LORD our God is holy.

Second Reading 2 Peter 1:16-21

16For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 18We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.

19So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

Gospel Matthew 17:1-9

1Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Saturday, February 25, 2017

What does "loving your enemies"mean in a time such as this?


Keffiyeh on the altar

As I enter my final, week, yesterday was a classic West Park day…

With a church full of activity, there were two experiences…First, Philip’s mom appeared at the church to tell us of the  death of her son. Philip came as one of our paid singers. He had been  a full time “cover” singer for the Met opera. He had developed a relationship with Ruby Thron, who had come here from 2nd Presbyterian with her friend with Irene (of blessed memory). They wanted a church that was friendly to lgbtq people. He had never been baptized. Had left the pentecostal church if his youth due to their condemning attitudes about lgbtq people. He had   tried the Unitarians but felt they  left “a hole in his soul..” West-Park brought acceptance. And Jesus. He asked to be baptized with Ruby as his godmother. Became a member. Than an elder. Volunteered as a singer. Retired from  the Met. Then became our administrator. Then he for full time work with the West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing .He served as manager of the Mikalski AIDS residence, named for a former West Park member. When Ruby needed home health care, he retired to become her full time caretaker. He separated from us for a while during one of our many church fights over the building and our future. But took it on himself to reconcile. He has not been able to come here from way downtown, but we  have been in touch on a weekly basis. He said, “coming to WP was the best the that ever happened to me. It saved my life. And gave me a purpose…”

We hosted visitors from the Waldensian church in Argentina. (Italian protestant) they emphasized that they were an immigrant church, not a mission church. They are our partner church  in Argentina and Uruguay. Mainly rural but now urban. They are trying to figure out what it means to be the church in the city. they have small congregations, 20 or so members. We gathered with friends from Jan Hus and West End. We recognized that coming from different  places, we now meet at the same place. They  were leaders in the marriage equality movement. And against femicide, murder of women as women. An area in which they are way ahead of us. It was a powerful time of sharing.

And we are meeting today on the day of theToday I an a Muslim Too rally…I will be headed there after worship if you’d like to come along…
Today I am a Muslim too

These are moments reflecting what we are…already. That we have meaning behind what we see, influence beyond our numbers.

I begin my reflection of my time with you. And what’s to come. Paul called himself a “skilled master builder” who laid down a solid foundation. I am not a skilled master builder, at least in the classic sense. We have been through several risings and falling in my 22 years. Several lives as a church. For better or worse, despite all predictions, we are still here. No..for better….let’s say it. Clear.

Someone else will have to build upon it. Someone(s) else will build upon it. As it becomes your responsibility,  Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. And I hope that  beyond anything else that  that foundation is Jesus Christ.
Pastor Bob at rally...

What does that mean?
  1. Love your neighbor or as yourself (from Leviticus ,at the very center of the Law, the Holy of holies, so to speak)
  2. Resist not evil
    1. Eye for an eye…never miss that this was a limit to vengeance. How many innocent people have died in the Middle East out of  vengeance for a 9-11 they were not responsible for and continue to suffer for today?
    2. Turning the other cheek..going the extra mile, etc..
      1. Loving your enemies   That’s big…what does that mean? I mean can you love     Donald Trump?  That’s the question you have to be able to answer. How? By praying for him? I remember how hard it was for me, in there Episcopal church worshipped in, to pray for our President Ronald….loving does not imply  accepting behavior we can’t approve…this is indeed a hard one…. 
REMEMBER: you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself         
So….to that end… loving our president means reproving our president…  

And remember:  So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours ….and that applies to pastors as wells presidents

And finally…..                  

you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you….what happens here is now up to you…so…
stay close to one another
study together
worship together
pray for one another
and ACT together



First Reading Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18

1The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 2Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.

9When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God.

11You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. 12And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the LORD.

13You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. 14You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.

15You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. 16You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the LORD.

17You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

Psalm 119:33-40

33  Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes, 
          and I will observe it to the end. 
34  Give me understanding, 
          that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. 
35  Lead me in the path of your commandments, 
          for I delight in it. 
36  Turn my heart to your decrees, 
          and not to selfish gain. 
37  Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; 
          give me life in your ways. 
38  Confirm to your servant your promise, 
          which is for those who fear you. 
39  Turn away the disgrace that I dread, 
          for your ordinances are good. 
40  See, I have longed for your precepts; 
          in your righteousness give me life.

Second Reading 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23

10According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. 11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.

16Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

18Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. 19For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, 
     “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 
20and again, 
     “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, 
          that they are futile.” 
21So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, 22whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all belong to you, 23and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

Gospel Matthew 5:38-48

38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Saturday, February 18, 2017

What does it mean to choose life?


Choose life….

On the night we first went to Ground Zero following 9-11, I looked around the 17 acres. I witnessed for the first  time the power of deconstruction. De-creation. Nihilism. Death. And I also realized  the power of creativity. Creation. Life.  And that we have a choice. It also changed forever how I understood creativity. That the act of creating is itself an act of resistance. The banners Chris Shelton created for us. Declaring  Beauty and justice. Ethics and esthetics. 9-11 haunted my consciousness. For nearly a year, I think every sermon i preached was somehow influenced by 9-11.

Our President has used 9-11 as justification for his executive order on immigration. Even though no one from any of the countries listed was involved and the three countries where they did come from, Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia…were left off..

Meanwhile, my neighbors have now put up signs on the corner deli run by Yemenites that say…STAY STRONG…We love & support you! We have your back!#NOBANNOWAY!! Your neighbors!

I’m just back from Berlin…I went to church last Sunday…in coffee hour, I was asked endless questions…about life in the United States the days and what did I think.

it’s funny….that the closest experience I’ve had to the weeks after 9-11 have been these weeks after the inauguration..and every week it seems ti impact my sermons…

So the question before us today is what does it mean to choose life?

The answer from Jesus appears to be: 
Loving the Lord your God
Walking in his ways
Observing his commandments

(Note…he says not a word about believing…or doctrine….it’s a way of life…

….and to not be led astray to bow down and worship other gods…and that to is not about belief systems or doctrines but life choices, making other things, realities, your principle commitment…like money or power or security or nationalism….what you worship…because if you make anything else the center of your life, it will already be lost..

…loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you …

With all we are hearing, we need to pay very close attention, listen very hard for Jesus’ word..Comentator JiIl Duffield has said:

I am convinced that the only way we will hear and heed Jesus in these chaotic and difficult times is to listen carefully and in community. I am convinced that the only way our outward actions will match our inward hopes will be through prayer, worship and mutual accountability.

These, plus action, are the very qualities we are seeking to build a community on..we need communities of resistance who do this in plain sight, countercultural communities…

”Ministry requires seeing others and letting others see us for who we are." McCray pointed out that in our culture of social media we do a lot of looking, but very little seeing. 

Andrew Wilkes writs of Howard Thurman:

Thurman’s take on self-deception is especially important to retrieve in a society where self-righteousness lurks in a thousand places, including our own hearts. Deception, he argues, is a hound of hell that tracks the trail of the disinherited, its barking away the complacency of the gilded and impoverished alike.

And here is where our language deceives us. We cloak the color-coded stratification of wealth and opportunity in America, for example, with terms like “racial disparity” or “differential outcome.” Deception. Disparity rightly suggests that a problem exists, but the term leaves unspoken the degree and duration of the problem. Black and white unemployment has created two social trajectories of earning power for decades, a legacy carried forward by slavery, the strange career of Jim Crow, and a service economy that looks increasingly like an on-demand, servant economy. Overcoming these problems requires that we name them accurately, even if our problem-solving abilities are outstripped by the enormity of our challenges.

The price of deception, Thurman continues, is to become a deception.

When we talk about obedience, Jesus makes it clear that it’s more than about rules…he goes to the heart of the matter. Don’t turn his words into another set of commandments..

With the 10 commandments…I’m convinced that two through ten  are all related to the first…to have no other gods before you….the rest are all about having other gods…and in the end, they are about community, not individual righteousness..what it takes for us to live together. 

At the center of his conversation, Jesus says:

If you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.

In an age of alternative facts, Jesus says Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”

Deception….if we deceive, we become deception embodied…

Our communion is a sign of community and inclusion…openness and acceptance, sharing bread together…as my Yemenite friends say, Our culture is hospitality…If community is broken, if there are broken relationships, perhaps to be true to Jesus and the wholeness, we should leave and go take care of business before we share the bread…but instead, I’ll ask that as we break off a piece of bread today, we remember our broken relationship, meditate on what it might take to bring, or even move towards reconciliation, only then will the body be whole…

so….Choose life….

First Reading Deuteronomy 30:15-20

15See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Psalm 119:1-8
1   Happy are those whose way is blameless, 

          who walk in the law of the LORD. 

2   Happy are those who keep his decrees, 

          who seek him with their whole heart, 

3   who also do no wrong, 

          but walk in his ways. 

4   You have commanded your precepts 

          to be kept diligently. 

5   O that my ways may be steadfast 

          in keeping your statutes! 

6   Then I shall not be put to shame, 

          having my eyes fixed on all your commandments. 

7   I will praise you with an upright heart, 

          when I learn your righteous ordinances. 

8   I will observe your statutes; 

          do not utterly forsake me.

Second Reading 1 Corinthians 3:1-9

3And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? 4For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?

5What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. 6I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. 9For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Gospel Matthew 5:21-37

21“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

27“You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall not commit adultery.’ 28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

31“It was./ ‘also”?/ said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

33“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”.;/////