SERMONS IN PRINT

Updated: Dec 6, 2020


Rev. Lorrie Gaffney

Dec. 6, 2020 Welcome the Mess!

Sue Monk Kidd

I find something breathtakingly hallowed about this truth: that in the midst of pain and crisis God is drawing us to wholeness... I struggled to trust that the whirlwind I was riding was a sacred opportunity- that it wanted to take me somewhere.”

We are the Ones We've Been Waiting For -- Hopi Elders' Prophecy, June 8, 2000

You have been telling people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour. And there are things to be considered…


Where are you living?

What are you doing?

What are your relationships?

Are you in right relation?

Where is your water?

Know your garden.

It is time to speak your truth.

Create your community.

Be good to each other.

And do not look outside yourself for your leader.

Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said, “This could be a good time! There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.

And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey come to a halt.

The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word ’struggle’ from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

This Advent the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas, we are reflecting on the question, “What longs to be born in you?”

As I consider this question and the Hopi prophecy, I hear a longing in myself to let go from the safety of the river’s shore and trust that the currents will take me safely in the right direction. And as importantly to trust myself that I can and will keep my eyes open to navigate obstacles and keep my head above water.

What about you?


Maybe you are feeling a longing to understand a relationship in a more life-giving way, or prioritize time with friends and family... Maybe it is to have more open-hearted awareness around our water and food production. Maybe it is finding more courage for loving truth-telling or vulnerable sharing... You are invited to consider what you would most like to give birth to this Christmas.

But here is the challenge friends. If you have given birth or seen a birth you know very well that it is messy. Blood is shed in the process of birthing. And so, it is with new ways of being.

Religion often tries to paint a sanitized version of spiritual journeys. After all we like to see baby Jesus cooing with lifted arms in sweet smelling hay. We don’t spend time smelling the animal poop surrounding him or seeing pooled blood in a non-climate controlled environment.

Jesus’ coming into the world was messy. It was chaotic... and it shows us the beauty and hope found in the midst of such times.

Author of our Lenten devotional “Low”, author and UCC minister John Pavlovich reminds us that, as much as we want our spiritual journeys to be “comfortable and clean” they are not meant to be something that “we can easily accessorize our lives with.” Pavlovich writes, “Life comes with the collateral damage of living, with failed plans and relational collapse, with internal struggle and existential crisis, and we carry these things with us into this season.”

The good news is we don’t need to discard our messiness to step into this season, and we couldn’t even if we wanted to. Bring every bit of your flawed self and all your chaotic circumstances to this (time). “Welcome the mess.”

“Welcome the mess” sounds so counterintuitive doesn’t it? But Mary and Joseph are our guides here. Mary stayed grounded in the midst of all the chaos and judgment surrounding her, but it was Joseph that really interested me this week. It was Joseph who had to let go of the shoreline, filled with all the religious rules, and expectations, placed on him to discard his pregnant wife-to-be. He could have clung to the safety of simply following the laws insisting on a woman’s purity before marriage. It would have been easier for him, and he could have felt justified by the rules of his faith, to publicly expose Mary, but it would have ruined Mary’s life- and cost him his heart. Instead of public shaming, Joseph chose to let go and trust the river of life and love would take him where he most needed to go on his spiritual journey; that this “whirlwind... was a sacred opportunity-- that it wanted to take him somewhere.” And it wasn’t easy. It was messy. But it did indeed take Joseph somewhere - and we remember him 2000 years later.

Remember when we talked about the problem of assumptions? Imagine the assumptions made about a man who stayed with a woman who became pregnant, through someone else, just before their wedding. The assumptions would likely be that he was morally crazy or weak. Yet fast-forwarding Hopi Elders' Prophecy, June 8, 2000

You have been telling people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour. And there are things to be considered…Where are you living?


What are you doing?

What are your relationships?

Are you in right relation?

Where is your water?

Know your garden.

It is time to speak your truth.

Create your community.

Be good to each other.

And do not look outside yourself for your leader.

Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said, “This could be a good time! There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.

And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey come to a halt.

The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word ’struggle’ from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

This Advent the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas, we are reflecting on the question, “What longs to be born in you?”

As I consider this question and the Hopi prophecy, I hear a longing in myself to let go from the safety of the river’s shore and trust that the currents will take me safely in the right direction. And as importantly to trust myself that I can and will keep my eyes open to navigate obstacles and keep my head above water.

What about you?

We often think of heroes as perfect people who are born that special way. But Wikipedia defines a hero as “one who displays courage and self-sacrifice for the greater good.”

Author and psychotherapist Peter Levine writes this about heroes: “Heroes aren’t born, they are cultivated through adversity. The most compelling heroes of ancient lore are the ones who suffer great disappointments and loss. They aren’t ready for the task at hand. They fail at first. They change.” And only then do “They prove themselves to others and to themselves. They earn the support of friends and allies. They persevere. They find their own mastery. They triumph.”


My favorite superhero is Spider-man. As Peter Parker, he was always being misunderstood, undervalued and underappreciated. Yet he didn’t allow the superficial assumptions or opinions of others to define him. He knew he was more even if others didn’t see it. He lived from the wisdom: with great power, comes great responsibility.

Like it or not, you my friends, are superheroes. That doesn’t mean you effortlessly save the day and make everything better. It means you live through adversity, are willing to suffer great disappointment - and losses - usually of the ego that says you can’t fail. Because you will fail - that is the messiness of it all. And then you will change and persevere. And only then, might the hero in you be glimpsed. It’s not all that glamorous after all, is it? It may not be glamorous, but it is indeed sacred. It is where life gets birthed - not only for the hero - but for those watching and longing to find their own way. Joseph had a great responsibility, not only to Mary, but to point the way for others of what a revolutionary love looks like.

Author, civil rights attorney and Sikh activist Valerie Kaur defines revolutionary love in her memoir, “See No Stranger.” Kaur writes:

“Love” is more than a feeling. Love is a form of sweet labor: fierce, bloody, imperfect, and life-giving—a choice we make over and over again. If love is sweet labor, love can be taught, modeled, and practiced. This labor engages all our emotions.

Joy is the gift of love.

Grief is the price of love.

Anger protects that which is loved.

And when we think we have reached our limit; wonder is the act that returns us to love.

“Revolutionary love” is the choice to enter into wonder and labor for others, for our opponents, and for ourselves in order to transform the world around us. It is not a formal code or prescription but an orientation to life that is personal and political and rooted in joy.


Loving only ourselves is escapism; loving only others is ineffective. loving only our opponents is self-loathing.

All three practices together make love revolutionary, and revolutionary love can only be practiced in community.

Revolutions do not happen only in grand moments in public view but also in small pockets of people coming together to inhabit a new way of being. We birth the beloved community by becoming the beloved community. . .. When a critical mass of people practice together, in community and as part of movements for justice, I believe we can begin to create the world we want, here and now.”

Revolutionary love looks like a church member offering to be a supportive presence with someone who is being bullied for being transgender. It looks like courageously examining the not so pretty parts of one’s self. It means continuing to hold hope for the healing of someone who cannot yet admit the suffering they cause - (think perhaps of two young boys destroying property once again). Revolutionary love means forgiving one’s self for failures and continuing on the journey to start again - knowing we never fall back to the very beginning but always start a little further along each time.

Friends, this week consider what longs to be born in you.Then get low.Welcome in the messy. Learn from Joseph.Become a real hero.Share revolutionary love.Because soon we will celebrate the birth of new life!Amen

Nov. 22, 2020

Rev. Lorrie Gaffney We Belong to the Land and One Another Soldier return home video (first 2minutes) https://youtu.be/_Bt7d5D1ay0 If I ever need a good cry I know I can turn on one of these videos of soldiers returning home to surprise loved ones. I wondered about this reaction in me. I know it is true for many others as well. There is a lot going on there that tugs at our heart. Henri Nouwen, Catholic priest, spirituality writer and social justice leader once said he would debark from an airplane and long to have someone there welcoming him back. We long to be welcomed home to the place where we are seen -- and loved anyway! When I was in college I must have unconsciously felt this deep need and so I decided to surprise my parents with a return home during Spring break.I got a ride share from Boulder CO to CC Texas - no small venture. Well, let’s just say it didn’t go like the movies. Life is full of complexities. But still we long to belong. We long to be welcomed home to where we belong to what most matters in life. Wikipedia defines belongingness as “the human emotional need to be an accepted member of a group. Whether it is family, friends, co-workers, a religion, or something else, people tend to have an 'inherent' desire to belong and be an important part of something greater than themselves.” You probably know by now that one of the most important stories in the Bible to me, is the story of Jesus’ baptism. Jesus doesn’t put himself above others but humbles himself -- claiming his need for God’s grace that connects him with all sinners and saints. As he is baptised the words of God are heard: This is my son, with whom I am well-pleased. Welcome home to the community of unconditional belovedness. It’s a God-hug. That is the beauty of baptism - the group God-hug of community celebrating this unconditional belonging. You don’t have to experience this only through baptism of course. And a church community, like any human group, will not always respond unconditionally as longed for. God is God and people aren’t God. People come with their own wounds and imperfections. And so we gather, not as perfectly loving people. We gather to claim the grace we are offered. The other story I have been thinking of is the story of the Prodigal Son. There are so many angles to explore. We can take on the role of the Father who graciously welcomes the wayward, undeserving son home with an extravagant welcome. We can enter into the story as the son, selfish, greedy, wasteful, doing our own thing, seeking superficial things in life, then becoming lost and experiencing real grace, real belonging for the first time. Or we could see how we are often like the older brother - wanting rules to win, rather than the messiness of grace. But this week, I found myself wondering about the mother. Now there is no mention of her. But I thought of the story of Mary and Martha. I wondered if the mother was busy supervising the feast. Excited to have her son back. Would she stay in the kitchen, coming out with food as a blessing like Martha? Would she, like Mary, come and sit at her son’s feet and give him her full attention- to listen to his heart? These questions around fostering a sense of belonging made me think of the Five A’s of Love. A concept from PhD psychotherapist David Richo in his book How to Be an Adult in


Relationships. The five ways of mindfully offering love and belonging are attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection and allowing. Do you know that babies are wired to look intently at the area of the face between the eyes. Survival depends upon attention. How we offer attention to another by noticing them, hearing their words and feelings can help another feel respected, understood, and valued. Acceptance of another means that the other can be themselves. They can share thoughts or feelings and not fear judgment of rejection, ridicule or being cut off. It brings a sense of security and confidence. It’s living into what we say when we take communion: Differences are not something we tolerate, they are indeed a blessing. The more differences we bring the more the sacred is found in our midst. Appreciation is like food for our souls. Research has shown that couples who stay together, rather than splitting up, are those who give 5 statements of appreciation to the other for every one complaint! We can show appreciation by noticing and saying thank you for qualities and actions of another. Affection is more than physical closeness. Affection is shown through conversation, gestures presence, playfulness, kind and thoughtful words and actions. Finally, allowing means we let go of control and give another freedom to be themselves. This is the real meaning of grace isn’t it. Grace is allowing another to be whomever they may be - even when it isn’t pretty- and still continuing to remember and love who they are most deeply. In the story of the Prodigal Son, can you see how well the father offered the 5 A’s to the son? The father gave the son his attention- even seeing him from a far way off. The son was allowed the freedom to make mistakes and still be accepted and loved as the father awaited his return home to himself. The son was showered with a feast of affection that showed he was valued and appreciated by words and actions. WhenI look at my own skills in offering the 5 A’s I feel like I might need to study and practice more soI don’t get 5 F’s! Thank God for grace! Friends, if we want to feel a belongingness to the land and one another, the key is being open to grace. If we want to know we belong, like Jesus we must stand in the muddy waters with all the other saints and sinners in need of claiming God’s grace in our lives. Most of us are very familiar with the song Amazing Grace but may not know the history as shared in WorshipResources Jan. 2018. “Written almost two and a half centuries ago in 1772, the words for the beloved song were borne from the heart, mind and experiences of the Englishman John Newton. Knowing the


story of John Newton's life as a slave trader and the journey he went through before writing the hymn will help to understand the depth of his words and his gratefulness for God's truly amazing grace. Having lived through a rather unfortunate and troubled childhood (his mother passed away when he was just six years old), Newton spent years fighting against authority, going so far as trying to desert theRoyal Navy in his twenties. Later, abandoned by his crew in West Africa, he was forced to be a servant to a slave trader but was eventually rescued. On the return voyage to England, a violent storm hit and almost sank the ship, prompting Newton to begin his spiritual conversion as he cried out to God to save them from the storm. Upon his return, however, Newton became a slave ship master, a profession in which he served for several years. Bringing slaves from Africa to England over multiple trips, he admitted to sometimes treating the slaves abhorrently. In 1754, after becoming violently ill on a sea voyage, Newton abandoned his life as a slave trader, the slave trade, and seafaring, ltogether, wholeheartedly devoting his life to God's service. He was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1764 and became quite popular as a preacher and hymn writer, penning some 280 hymns, among them the great "Amazing Grace,"... set to the popular tune NEW BRITAIN in 1835 by William Walker. In later years, Newton fought alongside William Wilberforce, leader of the parliamentary campaign to abolish the African slave trade. He described the horrors of the slave trade in a tract he wrote supporting the campaign and lived to see the British passage of the Slave Trade Act 1807. And now, we see the lyrics...carry a much deeper meaning than a sinner's mere gratitude. Close to death at various times and blind to reality at others, Newton would most assuredly not have written "Amazing Grace" if not for his tumultuous past. And many of us would then be without these lovely words that so aptly describe our own relationship with Christ and our reliance on God's grace in our lives.” The story and the lyrics continued to develop in more modern times as Harriet Beecher Stowe's classic African American novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, has Tom singing three verses of "Amazing Grace," including one verse not written by Newton, which is now traditionally sung as the final verse: When we've been there ten thousand years, Bright shining as the sun, We've no less days to-sing God's praise, Than when we first begun.”

This week I received a text from Reb Fleming who has agreed to let me share her words with you today. She wrote “the homework assignment (from last Sunday) left me aching for the sacredness of the desert where nature only required opening the front door to solitude and space and silence and stone. Then, low and behold, I opened my back door last evening and over the top of the neighbors houses, squeezed in around fences and cars, was a sunset who whispered, “I was always here.” “I rest in the grace of the world, and I am free.


I found myself thinking, Yes...the best preacher I ever heard was a sunset. Or maybe a swan in flight... I think of Mary Oliver’s words: And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?” And have you changed your life?


I thought this week-of the painful disappointment of not receiving the welcome home I had hoped for in my college days. But this is what grace offers us... Because I know the disappointment and longing for welcome, I can write a new story that replaces the one of loss

with one of joyful commitment to offer a welcome to others.


Friends, let us change our lives, allowing God’s grace to fill us and flow through us so that all may hear the words God is always whispering and longing for us to claim, “You are my beloved. In you I am well pleased.” “Welcome Home!” Amen

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Nov. 1st, 2020


Rev. Lorrie Gaffney Nov 1, 2020 God is Still Speaking... Are We Willing to Listen?

This story was retold on a blog I recently read:

I remember the first so-called “Christian” event I ever went to I must have been five or six years old. It wasn’t church or Sunday School. No, the first “Christian” thing I ever went to was a funeral. It was amazing. I’d never been inside a church before. And the first time I saw that guy hanging up there in his underwear, I had absolutely no idea who he was or how he got there. So, I asked my Dad and I simply couldn’t believe it when he told me it was Jesus. “How did Jesus get up there?” I asked.

“He was nailed up there, a long time ago?” Dad answered.

“Why Daddy, why did they nail him up there?”

“So, he would die?”

“What?

“You mean they killed the baby Jesus? Why did they kill the baby Jesus Daddy?”

At this point my mother had had enough! So, she tried to baffle me with the facts of the matter. “Jesus died for you, for all of us, because we’ve been bad. Jesus died so that we could all get into heaven?”

“Why Mommy? Why can’t we all just go to heaven? Why doesn’t God just let us in?”

“Because we’ve done bad things. Bad things must be punished. So. Jesus died on the cross so that we wouldn’t have to?”

By this point all I wanted to do was to get out of there. I mean, the murdering so-and-so’s killed the baby Jesus. Nailed him up there on the cross so that he would die. And all because of something I’d done? It was awful?

I remember watching the guy up at the front wearing a dress. And he kept doing this X (crossing himself). And when he did this X he kept mumbling something but I couldn’t figure out what he was saying. So, I spent the rest of the service waiting and watching for him to do this X and trying to figure out what he was saying when he did this X.

Well, it wasn’t until we got out to the grave-side where I could get closer to the action that I finally figured out what the guy in the frock was saying when he did this X. “In the name of the father and of the son and into the hole he goes!!!” For months after that funeral I would do this X, cross myself and repeat the magic words: “In the name of the father and of the son and into the hole he goes!!!”


That humorous story, by comedian Dave Allen, was shared on a blog by Rev. Dawn Hutchings. Today I want us to consider the ways we allow easy black and white ideas of God to remain; to assume we understand well enough, rather than doing the hard work of asking questions, going inward and wrestling with the mystery of our still-speaking, all-loving God.


Often people will say they don’t believe in God because of the simplistic ideas that are promoted in faith traditions- ideas from scriptures that are taken literally, rather than metaphorically, or as story lessons to learn from. Too often, historical scholarship and science are simply discarded so that the hard work of deconstructing and reconstructing ideas of creation and God isn’t required.


Rev. Hutchings reminds us that the early writers of scripture had no concept of germs, viruses, cholesterol, blood clots, cancers, birth defects and more, so it was assumed that these were caused by God’s supernatural powers. They were “divine punishment inflicted upon sinners by the record-keeping God who looked down from the heavens and occasionally responded to prayer for healing.”

We see in scripture that it was believed that “God controlled the weather and sent droughts and floods to punish the wicked.” Insurance companies have long used the language of “acts of God” to describe disastrous natural events such as some floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, and more. The language “acts of God” focuses the blame for these catastrophes on God - it’s nothing to do with us - God’s mad! And then of course it’s convenient to make assumptions around what God is mad about. Of course that would become whoever we want to scapegoat. Those Gays- they are the reason God sent the tsunami!. Blacks getting “uppity!” -- that’s why KKK intervention is needed - we have to protect the order God wants!


In her book Radical Acceptance, spiritual teacher Tara Brach tells the story of the spiritual community she lived in for 8 years right after college. In her late 20’s she was teaching regular classes in yoga and meditation, getting a doctorate in clinical psychology and seeing clients in her counseling practice. She was spread thin and chastised by the ashram’s teacher for not giving more to the community. After marrying, she was thrilled to find herself pregnant and decided to take a month off from her counseling practice. She went on a retreat led by the ashram teacher and two weeks into the retreat started bleeding heavily. Friends took her to the hospital, where she lost the baby in miscarriage. She rested for two days grieving, praying and recovering, and on the third day went to a talk led by the teacher to be with her spiritual community. The teacher entered with his entourage and began staring directly at her. He broke the silence by calling the name he had given her and asked her to stand. Of course Tara thought he would be checking on her with concern. However he instead declared that the baby’s death was caused by Tara being so professionally ambitious and ego centered; she was willing to have sex but did not really want the child. Tara became numb and questioned herself after that, until in anguish and desperation she reached out to the presence she called the Beloved and found herself replacing condemning voices with caring presence.


Much of this seems to center around the very human need for control. If I can control my idea of God, then I can make sense of things in the way I want. Now, making sense of things is good. That’s why we should embrace the sciences. But it is when we refuse to be open-minded to new awarenesses and understandings that we get into trouble. I’m not talking about becoming flighty and changing with every passing whim. I’m talking about a willingness to go deeper into mystery.


When we consider that we are all just walking each other home, as Ram Dass described in his book Be Here Now, we recognize that we don’t know just how our lives will be influenced, and influence others, to grow closer to the very source of life which we call God, mystery, love. As we heard last week, we do have a choice in how we allow the events of our life to become gifts or curses. If we want our lives to be a gift that blesses, we can learn from the Toltec wisdom shared by don Miguel Ruiz in his 1997 best-selling book, The Four Agreements. Interestingly, I still see a copy of this in every airport bookstore!


The Four Agreements are simple, but deeply challenging to choose to intentionally live.

The First Agreement is: Be Impeccable With Your Word.

This means to speak with integrity and avoid gossiping or speaking against yourself or others. The power of words is used in the direction of truth and love.


Second Agreement is: Don’t Take Anything Personally

What others do or say is not about you - it is a projection of their own reality and wounds that we can become immune to rather than victims of.


Another Agreement is: Always Do Your Best

Your best will change from moment to moment and year to year but doing your best under all circumstances means you can avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret. You become kinder and gentler in recognizing you don’t have to be perfect. You can always start again.


Finally, the Agreement I want to look at a little closer is: Don’t Make Assumptions.

“Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. Find the courage to ask questions and express what you really want.”


We all make assumptions. We often make an assumption that others experience life just as we do. When we make assumptions we fail to ask questions about another’s ideas, fears, wounds, longings and joys. We instead make a false connection that the other thinks, feels and understands the way we do. It is a recipe for conflict in relationships, and perhaps as importantly, it misses out on the magnificent mystery that the other is a unique “galaxy” that we only get to see a bit of.


In the words of Margaret Wheatly: It’s not our differences that divide us. It is our judgments about each other that do. Assumptions seem to be a kind of lazy way of judging and labeling another. You are simplistically defined as this or that, I don’t have to really see you; the comfortable ways I have constructed my ideas can remain unchallenged.


The Pharisees, in our text today, wanted to simply follow the law that was comfortable for them - not really see the woman they accused of adultery - or the hypocrisy of their idea that the woman was the only one they needed to hold accountable. Jesus’ words and actions said to these Pharisees - unless you are without sin, do not judge. Take the plank out of your own eye first. But let me be so bold as to suggest a few word changes to our Matthew passage. Instead of “You hypocrite!” (which sounds so like the critical voice we so often use for ourselves), first take the plank out of your own eye... I’d like to suggest the word Tara Brach encountered: Beloved. Jesus says to those who will hear: Beloved... for the life I long for you to know... take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly, with eyes of love, to remove the speck from another’s eye.


Father Gregory Boyle, founder of HomeBoy Industries that works with gang members in LA, and author of Tattoos on the Heart writes, “Stand in awe at what the poor have to carry, rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.” We are all poor. Let us see another and stand in awe at all they have to carry that we may never know -- rather than choosing judgment.


I invite you this week to consider some assumptions you have made about other people. How might you reconsider those assumptions, and instead look at them with the eyes of one looking at the stars in the night sky - seeing unfathomable mystery, worthy of awe. And Beloveds, may you experience God gazing at you with even greater loving awe. Amen

Matthew 7:1-5

1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.


James 4:11-12

11 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

John 8:1-8

1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.







Oct. 4, 2020


Rev. Lorrie Gaffney Oct. 4, 2020 Growing Pains

Arnold Toynbee’s defines history as::“one damned thing after another.”

Dr. Martha Beck, life coach and author writes, “so far, 2020 has taken this to a whole new level - and it’s not over yet! More and more of my friends and clients are asking me the same questions: How do I keep dealing with this, month after month, when it just won’t let up? How will I ever get back to normal?

Beck continues, “If you’re wondering the same thing, here’s my answer: You won’t. The normal you remember, the normal you were, is gone forever. And that’s okay. In fact, if you know how to allow “one damned thing after another” to shape and change you, 2020 could be the year that transforms you into a wiser, calmer, stronger version of yourself.”

Beck invites us to try an exercise. “Scroll back through your photos and find some pictures of yourself from last year. Just look at that innocent, unsuspecting person, the one who was so excited to go on a cruise, attend live concerts, try out new restaurants. You’re not that person anymore. You live in a different world. Feel how much you’ve changed, and how quickly.

This little exercise puts stark attention on how much we’ve all lost. So many of our illusions are gone. So many happy events didn’t happen—and may never happen. Our lives seem to contain so much less now: less security, less activity, less company, less money, less of almost everything we value.

When we realize how much “one damned thing after another” has taken from us, we can have trouble focusing on anything but loss.” With sustained crises, we become depleted, making it hard to muster emotional energy to go on. “We start to forget the patterns of thought and action that once formed the core of our identity. Eventually, we reach a crossroads. Depending on how we react to our depletion, we can sink into a kind of meaningless despair, or allow ourselves to be transformed into something that transcends our former selves.”

The key piece of shifting from despair into transformed living, seems to be where we put our attention. Beck writes, “As you look at pictures of your former self, you may cling to the hope of returning to your old life. Grasping for what’s irrevocably gone, you’ll feel it slip away all over again. It’s a recipe for hopelessness. The way to avoid this is to take your attention away from what you’ve lost and focus on what you are becoming. You may not have noticed this, but during this calamitous year you’re paradoxically becoming both less than you once were, and much, much more.

If you have been feeling beat up, you are sharing company with Job. Fr. Tom Jackson, in his blog Progressive Preaching writes, “Job is a book designed to teach us wisdom.

It is not a history book. It does not depict the real-life experiences of a man named Job. Instead, it is a story that looks at some very difficult theological questions. Like why do bad things happen to good people? Why is there evil in the world? Why doesn’t God fix everything so there’s no more suffering, no more pain, no more heartbreak? ...Heavy duty theology.”

Much has been said about the story of Job who is described as blameless and upright; one who fears, (meaning reveres), God and turns away from evil. Job is a wealthy man, with a large family and extensive flocks. Satan challenges Job’s goodness, saying to God that Job is only good because of all his comfortable abundance. But if that was all taken, then Job would curse God and turn away. God allows Satan to test this claim, as long as Job remains living.

In one day, Job discovers devastating losses: livestock, servants, and 10 children dead. Job mourns, tears his clothes, but still reaches out to God in prayer. Again Job is tested. He is afflicted with horrible skin sores. His wife tells him to curse God and die, but Job continues his struggle to accept his circumstances. Three of his friends sit with him in his mourning and on the seventh day Job curses the day he was born. HIs friends let him know that something must have been his fault; he must have committed some sins that offended God and he should strive to be forgiven and live more blamelessly. In fact, he probably deserved even worse punishment!

Job laments the suffering of innocent people while wicked prosper. He wants to confront God with his complaints but can’t find God. Job knows that wisdom is hidden from human minds and God is a mystery. He chooses to respect God and avoid evil even in his suffering. God eventually restores his life with even greater abundance.

There have been many ways of looking at this story. One is to focus on Job’s patience. Some like to see God, like Job’s friends did, as a patriarchal judge punishing people for sinning or not adequately pleasing a demanding God. If something bad happens it’s your fault. God is keeping a tally and condemning us to cancer or losses.

One of the key moments in this story for me, comes when Job’s wife argues that Job should curse God and simply die. Job answers her by saying, “shall we receive the good at the hand of God and not the bad?”

Job seems to know that suffering is part of life. It is not a judgment from God. Bad things do come to good people, just as good things come to evil people. It’s not about God doling out rewards and punishments. Job represents the quintessential innocent victim. So this story tells us there will be good and bad times that come for us unbidden and not understandable. So how are we supposed to live in the face of suffering? What are we to do, how are we to act? Job friends and wife let us see that easy pat answers to avoid experiencing the pain are not the way. Job doesn’t fixate on his losses even as he mourns the pain of them. He stays in relationship with God, showing us that raging and demanding answers from God are acceptable. They are human; they are real and part of engaging an authentic relationship with what matters. Eventually Job shows us that new, even stronger life arises from the ashes of even the worst sufferings we face.

Author Max Lucado writes: “Growth. You can feel the pain in that word right off the bat. How many times have our children complained of “growing pains?” Well spiritually the same thing happens. Growth comes mostly from pain. We often give our children the impression that difficulties are to be avoided at all cost and that hard circumstances reflect the absence of God in our lives”... but every challenge, every valley and every moment of pain shapes us into works of art reflecting the image of Christ.

Dr. Beck shares the story of the Samurai sword as an analogy for the suffering and challenges in our lives. She writes:

“For centuries, the most sophisticated technology on earth was the Japanese samurai sword. To make these swords, artisans would melt tons of sand, extracting a bit of metal so rare and pure it was called “jewel steel.” They’d take a block of this extraordinary substance and heat it, cool it, fold it, beat it with hammers, and repeat—for months on end.

The blade created by this process had over a million individual layers of steel and virtually no impurities. It was light enough to feel like an extension of the samurai’s arm, sharp enough to cut a hair floating on water, flexible enough to bend almost double and spring back straight, strong enough to slice through a bale of hay in a single stroke. Many of these swords are such exquisite works of craftsmanship they’re revered as national treasures.”

You, my friends, are a samurai sword - God reveres you as a national treasure. Beck writes that, “when the universe wants to create something exceptionally beautiful and useful, it takes the finest material available and then beats the ever-living crap out of it for a long, long time.”

Hear Beck’s words of encouragement of the life emerging, even now, from the ashes:

“So if you feel beaten down by life—by the events of the past few months, other patches of bad luck, everything you’ve ever experienced—you’re not wrong. This world is a forge, and right now it’s hard at work. It’s melting you down to jewel steel, the purest most precious essence of your being. It’s scalding, freezing, and beating you. When it’s done, nothing may remain of you but light, sharp, flexible, pure perfection. You can see this happening already, even if you’re still in the middle of the process. Compare the person you are today with the one in those year-old photographs. Along with the grief, depletion, and the disappointment you’ll find characteristics that show you turning from a lump of sand into a samurai sword.

First of all, notice how much lighter you’ve become. Many people tell me that since 2020 began, they’ve realized that they need far less stuff than they once thought: less clothing, less space, less face time with colleagues, less fuel for commuting. One woman told me that after a few months in lockdown, she gave away about ninety percent of her possessions. “At first I just cleared out what felt excessive,” she said. “But it made me feel so free I just kept going until I only have what I actually want. It’s like a huge burden has been lifted.” Much of what we’ve lost wasn’t necessary. Notice where you can enjoy the lightness of having and doing less.

Next, consider the ways in which you are sharper than you used to be—more discerning, more able to see what’s important. Remember meeting friends at a coffee shop, hugging family members from out of town, or passing around a new baby to be kissed and cuddled? We used to take such things for granted. While they were happening, we might have been thinking about things like what we were wearing, the impression we were making, or where we needed to go next. Now we’re much more keenly aware of what was important about those occasions: the physical presence of loved ones, the feel of a kind touch, the deliciousness of simply occupying space together. During 2020, our perception of what’s important has been honed so sharp we’ll never forget the true value of our experiences.

You may also realize that you’re more flexible than you were prior to 2020. You’ve had to solve difficult problems, work in more restrictive circumstances, find your way around more obstacles. This exercises your creativity and makes you more resilient.”

Friends, consider how we have moved into Zoom worship and are working on how to create a joyful and safe physically distanced Halloween celebration.

“Finally, notice that like a samurai sword, you’re far stronger now than you used to be. You may not feel it yet... But each small thing you do now requires more strength, and you’re rising to it. Comforting a friend, finishing a project, finding the optimism to enjoy a day—all these small acts, taken in such difficult circumstances, build more strength than you may have noticed.

Now, put away the photos of the person you were last year. Let go of that image, that person, that person’s expectations. Relax into the forger’s fire, the hammer’s impact. Allow yourself to be melted and re-formed, over and over. If you focus on what you are becoming, instead of what you’ve lost, you’ll begin to see that one damned thing after another can be exactly what you need to become pure treasure.

Let us listen and reflect on Mary Chapin Carpenter’s song, “Where the Beauty Is”

What stands out? What does it say to your life?

It is my prayer that each of us will dig down deep and find the spark of beauty that is always present and waiting for a chance to shine. Amen

*******************************************************************************************************************

September 27, 2020 Ruth Bader Ginsburg just died...


Rev. Lorrie Gaffney Sept. 27, 2020 Be Notorious



Any of you not sleeping so well these days? If you are sleeping like a baby, come talk to me! We have had a year of turmoil. COVID, Black Lives injustice and protests, fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, election interference and chaos, a new low for civil discourse - how we speak and listen and respect one another.

Last week, in Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper, Shriver wrote about her grief over the death of one of her heroes, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. She writes

Her death brought me to tears for so many reasons. I admired her. I was deeply grateful to her. I depended on her. I depended on her being here. I depended on her voice, her judgment, and her guidance in the public square. Her death left me feeling down, really down. I even felt a wave of despair come over me... Who will ever replace her? I wondered. Who has her character, her fierceness, her ability to work across the aisle? Who will be the beacon of hope that she was?

In her despair Shriver found herself simply wanting to go back to bed. She wrote about her son’s friend who could no longer handle the confusion over what to think and had decided to “just bow out.” Another friend felt they had nothing left to give and decided to simply “go quiet.”

As Shriver wrestled with despair, hopelessness and wondering what we really should be doing right now, a friend, Tom, shared a story about Eckhart Tolle.

“Before he became a big famous author, Tolle asked himself how he could use his voice to reach more people and cut through the noise? Tom told me that Tolle said to the universe: “Use me. Use me.” He told people to invite the universe to use them, but to also be prepared for what comes next. What came next for Tolle was his book “The Power of Now” and worldwide acclaim. What came next was a larger platform for his voice and his words, as well as a deep connection with those he was trying to reach.”

Shriver had previously prayed every morning on awakening “God show me the way.” After hearing this story she started adding, “And use me” to her prayers.

Still me, show me and use me. Watch out because we already started praying that today! Now I’m not saying you are going to write a best-selling book like Eckhart Tolle. But opening ourselves to be of use to our families, neighbors, community and world is the way to have real and abundant life.

Our scripture excerpt of the Good Shepherd passage has so much going on. There are mixed metaphors where Jesus describes himself in various roles.

It’s easy to get confused and miss key concepts as the Pharisees did. Rev. Dawn Hutchings, in her blog Pastor Dawn, lists some of the various metaphors in John’s Gospel prior to this passage and after:

I am the bread of life, I am the light of the world, I am the Resurrection, I am Life, I am the True Vine, I am the Way, I am in God, I am in you. And then in Ch. 10, the metaphors get mixed in the same passage. First Jesus says, I am the Gate, and then says, I am the Good Shepherd.

Another well-known metaphor for Jesus is the Lamb of God. In today’s text, let’s look at how Jesus uses sheep as a metaphor for the People of God and himself as their Shepherd.

Petty, in his blog Progressive Involvement writes about the psychological metaphor of sheep. Petty says, “Psychologically, "sheep" also refers to a primitive aspect of one's own personality, the instinctual ability to try to discern and recognize the "true voice" and distinguish it from false ones.

"Thieves and robbers" are false voices and false guides. These false guides are many. They are attractive to us because they offer the possibility of by-passing the hard work of discernment of the "true voice." If we will only give our power over to them, they promise us relief from the task of mature ego development. "Thieves and robbers" are not only figures from outside of ourselves, they are also aspects of our own inner psychology. This is the part of us that wants to deny difficult truth and take the easy path of satisfying our own self-centered desires.”

So when Jesus, the true Shepherd who really cares for his sheep says “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly, we are being called to the hard work of discerning the true voice within and outside of us that is one of caring. We are also to examine the places where we are choosing the easy, selfish, uninvested path which leads to harm for ourselves and others.

So how do we really know which is the true Good Shepherd voice and which is that of the fly-by-night hired hands, or thieves and robbers? In the Salt commentary for May 7, 2019, the authors tell about when Louis Armstrong was asked to define the rhythm known as “swing” and Armstrong “famously replied, “If you have to ask, you’ll never know.” He wasn’t trying to be cocky but he was making the point that verbally defining something doesn’t mean understanding it. The author writes, “the way to understand swing is to hear it, to dance to it, to get a feel for it. In the end, swing really isn’t something that can be explained; it has to be experienced.”

Pharisees and other critics of Jesus want a clear definition of who he is. Is he the Messiah or not. These metaphors are not adequate for them. They don’t recognize his voice because they are unable to sense his love and care; so no argument or miracle will persuade them. A good shepherd that cares about the flock is something experienced. Animals sense another’s motives. We too know when someone has our best interests at heart; that their interests and ours are connected, mutually desiring life and good things.

https://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/salt-lectionary-commentary-easter-4

Ruth Bader Ginsburg said: “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” She knew others sensed if they were cared about, or an object to win a legalistic argument with. She is known for the deep friendship she had with fellow Justice Antonin Scalia who very often held clear points of disagreement. Neither gave in to the other in the name of that friendship, but they didn’t take it personally or let it get in the way. Scalia’s son tells a story of someone seeing two dozen red roses in Scalia’s office and asked what they were for. Scalia responded that he gave RBG roses every year for her birthday. The friend joked, “why would you do that? It won’t make a difference; she will never vote your way!” Scalia responded, “Some things are more important than votes.”

Shriver describes RBG this way: RBG “fought to make life equitable, just, and fair until her dying day. She was 87 and still suiting up every day. She always had something to give and to say, and she never stopped trying. She used her voice every single day on behalf of what she believed to be right.”

We don’t need to be RBG. But we are wise to learn from her great strength of character and action. She did not choose the way of the hired hands in our Gospel story who abandon the sheep at times of danger. She did not choose the self-centered path of thieves and robbers who bypass the hard work. In so many examples, she chose to follow the way of the Good Shepherd who is committed to care, protection and abundant life.

Friends, we have some praying to do. Let us start our day with the prayer: Still me, Show me, Use me. Instead of going back to bed let us commit to a good thought, a good word and a good deed each day. Each of our lives has something unique to offer our family, friends, and world. And that something is valuable and needed. Never underestimate the small moments that bring forth life: listening to a worn out vendor at the farmer’s market, taking flowers to someone as a blessing, calling someone that you wouldn’t normally spend time with... Friends, whatever it is, if it is being used by God, it won’t be easy or self-centered -- risk and the vulnerability of an open-heart will be involved. But as you offer great compassion, care and protection of life, your actions will join the work of the Good Shepherd in bringing forth abundant loving life. That is why you are here. You have come here that you - and others -- may have life and have it abundantly. May it be so. Amen.

One way we can avoid going back to bed in despair and become actively used in the ongoing work of God is to join with others in a month grounded in daily prayer reflection as we lead up to voting on Election Day (see sent daily reflections) If you have a small object that reminds you of God’s presence you are invited to bring it forward as we ask the Spirit to still us, show us and use us in bringing forth God’s kingdom of love here on the beloved earth we inhabit together.

Blessing

Lord’s Prayer Sung



PRE ELECTION PRAYER

Beloved of Christ,

Rev. Karen Winkle of Community Spirit Church (UCC) in Montrose Colorado wrote this to her congregation:

“After watching the Democratic National Convention and then the Republican National Convention, I found myself filled with a heavy mix of dread and anxiety. How could I possibly survive the days and weeks leading up to the election, I wondered. How could I keep from giving in to my worst thoughts and fears?... how will we all keep our spiritual centers? How might we make ourselves useful between now and Election Day?”

And instead of going back to bed in despair, Karen created daily prayers to be prayed leading up to the election - and even better- she shared it widely and generously!

Karen writes, “ Along with making it a priority to cast our votes, our prayerful engagement on behalf of our country is another way to become involved, a powerful way to participate with God in creating a nation that is both just and compassionate.”

Friends, we get to join Community Spirit and other churches filled with caring compassionate souls, like our Ogden UCC, who will be praying this together!

Attached are daily reflections to spend time with. Please adapt or add whatever is meaningful for you. You are encouraged to create your own “altar space” with items that ground you in God. Suggestions might include: a candle, something of nature/beauty, a Bible, devotional materials, poetry or music, a cross or anything else that connects you with God’s love. You may want a pen and journal to capture thoughts, hopes and prayers. Find a small object, rock, smooth glass, to tuck one in your pocket each morning so that as you go about your day you are reminded that God is present with you and attentive to the prayers you have lifted up. Karen suggests the reflection time begin with grounding. “Take a few minutes to breath with intention. Feel your feet on the floor. Set aside any preoccupations, mindful that they’ll be waiting for you after you pray (if you’d like to pick them back up again!). Sing a verse of a hymn, if you like. Listen to a bit of music, if you prefer. Dab a bit of essential oil on your wrist. Find within yourself that quiet center, that place where God resides. Move through your time of prayer as the Spirit moves you. Close with a brief prayer of thanks for God’s faithfulness and abiding present. Tap your head, shoulders, thighs, and the tops of your feet as a silent blessing.” As we pray, we also become instruments of God’s peace as we shift from being merely observers of current events to active participants committed to engaging the ongoing work of God. Please bring an “altar object” with you to Zoom worship on September 27th. We’ll be consecrating them and asking the Spirit to bless us as we make ourselves useful in this world that God so deeply and dearly loves.

Peace and gratitude,

Lorrie

A Month of Prayer As Our Nation Prepares to Go to the Polls October 2020

by Rev. Karen Winkle

Monday The prophet Micah tells us that God’s desire for us is that we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. As our nation prepares to go to the polls, pray that our collective deliberating and decision-making might reflect God’s dreams for us as a people. Pray God’s blessing upon every ballot and polling place. Tuesday Pray the Lord’s Prayer, pausing to place extra emphasis on the line “on earth as it is in heaven.” Using your spiritual imagination, picture God at work within each voter, that his or her choices in the voting booth might help us all become the answer to Jesus’ prayer. Wednesday “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other,“ Mother Teresa observed. Pray for those candidates and voters with values and visions that differ from yours. Ask that God might heal our divisions and enable us to see one another as kin. Thursday Read Psalm 46 and hear it as a prayer that is at this very moment being lifted up on behalf of all who are feeling uncertain or fearful today (including you, if you’re in that space). Let your attention fall on any phrase you find especially helpful. Spend a few extra minutes with the verse “Be still and know that I am God.” Friday Our sacred story begins with God creating out of chaos. At the end of each day, God was pleased with what God had fashioned. With this in mind, lift up to God anything on the local, regional, or national level that feels chaotic today. As you do, ask God to plant deep within you the certainty that even now in the midst of hard headlines and concerning realities, God is at work. For a few moments, even longer, let God’s peace fill you. Saturday Jesus wants to carry our weariness. Offer Jesus whatever burdened thoughts or feelings you have about our nation and its future; as you entrust these to Jesus, notice where in your body you feel lighter or more spacious. (Or point Jesus to those places in your body needful of lightness and spaciousness.) Give thanks for Jesus’ steady companionship. Sunday Keep company with the prayer printed on the reverse. If a specific line speaks to you, repeat it as many times as feels right. Let your God love you!

Let Your God Love You

Be silent. Be still. Alone. Empty before your God. Say nothing. Be silent. Be still. Let your God look upon you. That is all. God knows. God understands. God loves you With an enormous love. God only wants To look upon you With love. Quiet. Still. Be.

Let your God Love you. --Edwina Gateley

Sept. 20, 2020

Rev. Lorrie Gaffney September 20, 2020 The Art of Kneeling

There is an art to falling on your knees, even if it is just a metaphor. Learning this skill is a life-long journey for me. I’m still learning but one of my early teachers was a Dentist living in Hebron in the Occupied Territory of Palestine. I was part of a delegation to Israel and Palestine with the Compassionate Listening Project when I stayed overnight in Dr. Naheel’s, at one time beautiful, 4 story home. It was where she grew up; where her father died of a broken heart after the upstairs was taken over by soldiers for it’s vantage point on a hill. When I was there the upper floor was totally destroyed. The wall connecting the neighboring home had been removed and we walked through rooms filled with rubble and walls spotted with blood stains. Naheel showed us this after fixing a wonderful meal where we met some of her family members, including the two young daughters she is raising in a home where soldiers come and go daily. To get to her home we had to park outside of a concrete road block and walk in - which is what she does every time she gets groceries or goes to work. Her formal living room, where we slept, had a window broken by Israeli settlers who wanted her family out.

As I heard the stories of danger she, and her family, faces by staying in their home, it broke my heart. As I was leaving this kind, gentle, smart woman and looking at the risk these beautiful girls were facing, my anguish was visible. She kept saying “it’s alright.” I kept saying, “No, it’s not” How could I walk away and leave someone so dear in such danger? How could I return to my country where the narrative only demonized the Palestinian people? I left, feeling utterly powerless, with a heavy heart and real heart pain for a year. I had helplessly fallen on my knees and done a face plant. It was only much later that I would understand something more of where Naheel found strength in the midst of occupation and subjugation.

Naheel’s situation may have placed her on her knees, but her face was not to the ground. Naheel resisted and persisted by refusing to move out of her home; by engaging groups like Compassionate Listening. And most importantly she resisted and persisted by lifting up her eyes and opening her heart to include even the soldiers. As she showed me the destroyed upper floor she pointed out the doorway that was marked with lines indicating the number of days the Israeli soldiers had left before they could leave a place they did not want to be. She had sighed and gently said, I know these soldiers are just boys, like all boys. It’s not their fault.”

Dr. Naheel showed me there is an art to falling on your knees. It requires resisting hate and allowing God’s love to be poured out, even in the midst of pain. It requires persisting in faith by lifting one’s face to a sun that continues to rise on even the smokiest of days.

Our gospel text today shows someone who understood the art of kneeling. She was a non-Jewish Canaanite woman, (Mark’s gospel says she was Greek), who had heard Jesus’ teachings and recognized Jesus’ healing power. In today’s text, Matthew 15:21-28, Jesus and his disciples had entered the Gentile region of Tyre and Sidon when a Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

And now look at her face turned upward to the rising sun. She is still on her knees but with courage and conviction of just faith she replies:

“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

People are often aghast at this passage because Jesus seems to be calling the woman a dog who isn’t worthy of him.. In fact, Jews, in Jesus’ time sometimes did refer to Gentiles as “dogs.” Non-Jews were considered unspiritual and could render a Jew ceremonially unclean. So here is this gentile “dog” wailing, disrupting their peace,- a woman - considered nothing- no one; there are more important people to spend time and energy on. Why wouldn’t Jesus send her away? Now just before this story, Jesus had offered a teaching about the hypocrisy of the pharisees who focused only on rules. Jesus clearly said that it isn’t social or religious rules that matter, but rather having an open heart that cares about people. He was always turning around expectations and prejudices - pointing to something deeper. Jesus demonstrated this by breaking the rules of healing on the sabbath. But the disciples obviously still didn’t get it.

So he gives them another teaching moment. Jesus knows what the disciples are thinking- and missing- and so he answers them with their own logic, their own cultural brain set. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” Now of course this counters what we know of Jesus’ teachings and actions around Samaritans and other outsiders. And this woman, broken open by her suffering, understands Jesus, his teaching and his spiritual power. And so she kneels before him.

Now some commentators claim that she got Jesus to change his mind about her. Her faith and submission finally convinced Jesus that she deserved the healing. No. He always knew her value. Nothing changed there. She knows she is not in his cultural tribe and she knows his power is greater than any tribal rules. This is what Jesus has been trying to say to his disciples and this woman says it so well: On her knees, with her face to the Son, she says, “even the dogs get the crumbs from the masters table.” Rules don’t matter in the place of great suffering. I will take your crumbs. And Jesus said to her, loud enough for the disciples to hear and learn from: “Woman, you have great faith!” She got it! And her open-heart found healing.

Friends, will it be said we have great faith... or that we safely followed the rules? This woman shows us the way to healing. Because of her open-heart, she knew that life was more important than rules. She spoke bold, persistent and courageous words, but it is her body that perhaps spoke loudest. She fell on her knees before Jesus. Not as a submissive dog with its head fearfully down. She was not afraid of Jesus.

Kneeling is a posture of respect and submission. Submission is a loaded word. It has too often become synonymous with abusive “power over”- especially power over women. Religion was used to tell women they were to submit to their husbands- and that generalized to all men. Women were not to speak in church or lead others. Don’t get me started! We’ll leave that for another day. If women were told to be submissive, men were told not to be- that it was a sign of weakness. But what about Jesus? We have lots of examples of Jesus submitting to authority, submitting to death. The on-line dictionary defines “submissive” as ready to conform to the authority or will of others.

And this is where kneeling becomes an important act to understand. In the Aug. 14, 2020 Deseret News article by Kelsey Dallas, Ansley L. Quiros, assistant professor of history, describes the role of kneeling in faith-based protests in the 1960’s when “black students held “kneel-ins” in front of racially segregated churches, urging white worshippers to notice the Black community’s pain and reform their ways.” Today, kneeling continues to play a role as a symbol of protest begun by Colin Kaepernick, as a way to call attention to the need for reform in police violence against unarmed black people.

In Sept. 2017 Scientific American, Jeremy Smith and Dacher Keltner wrote about what is communicated in kneeling. It is usually a sign of deference and respect as seen by people kneeling before kings, queens, altars or asking someone to marry them, or to get down to a child’s level. It doesn’t appear threatening. The authors write: “While we can’t know for sure, kneeling probably derives from a core principle in mammalian nonverbal behavior: make the body smaller and look up to show respect, esteem, and deference. This is seen, for example, in dogs and chimps, who reduce their height to show submissiveness. Kneeling can also be a posture of mourning and sadness. It makes the one who kneels more vulnerable. In some situations, kneeling can be seen as a request for protection—which is completely appropriate in Kaepernick’s case, given the motive of his protest.”

If kneeling makes a body smaller, a pumped fist makes a body larger. According to Smith and Keltner researchers have shown that “even blind athletes from over 20 countries thrust their arms in the air in triumph over winning, which reveals the deep-seated urge to signal power with that body-expanding gesture. They continue, “You can also find power in the fist. In the Darwinian sense, teh fist is the antithesis of the affiliative, open hand, but when we combine a raised arm with a fist, it becomes something more communicative - a rally cry. It’s a gesture that seeksto bring one group together, while warning another away.” This is why the black-power fist can feel subversive or dangerous. Yet when John Carlos and Tommie Smith gave the black-power fist into the air during the medal ceremony in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, they also bowed their heads in a “sign of respect and humility that accompanied their social signal of strength and triumph.” The black-power salute with humility, or bending a knee on a football offers complex non-verbal messages that aren’t often found together. They signal something more than one-dimensional power-over, or shrinking under another’s power.

Smith and Keltner write that the act of kneeling for the anthem at a football game signals disagreement with norms that don’t offer equal protection under the law that the flag represents, and a refusal to conform. The athletes are showing deference for the song and the flag, but they are deviating from the cultural norms, which can create a sense of threat.” This sense of threat to the status quo can be witnessed as kneeling players are booed and called things like “unpatriotic, ungrateful, disrespectful, and degenerate”; teams fined, or players not signed for a team. And of course it matters that “most of the athletes are black and much of the audience is white; that the ancestors of one group were brought here as slaves and the ancestors of the other were their owners.”

It also matters how one interprets faith, and Kelsey Dallas describes the role of different faith perspectives. Eric Reid, a safety for the 49ers joined Kaepernick on the field because of his faith. He knew he needed to “stand up for what is right” by kneeling, because his faith moved him to take action. He looked to James 2:17: Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Some athletes kneel as a response to God’s call to build a better world.

Others however, feel taking a knee during the anthem is insulting to God who is the only one that they bend a knee to. Still others, sometimes called “Christian nationalists” “paint the nation’s history with a kind of virtuous brush” and believe their country is favored by God and change is not needed. A good Christian is one who is patriotic and loyal to the nation and so taking a knee is viewed as an attack against what is held most sacred. This view is represented by Rev. Robert Jeffress, who leads an evangelical Christian megachurch in Texas when he said, “There is a way to protest social injustice without disrespecting our country,”

What we stand for includes what we kneel for. Our Centering Song, Let us Break Bread Together, was formed by the W. African Gullah slave culture in the southern coastal areas of colonial America. They understood suffering and grave injustice that brought them to their knees, but their kneeling was not one of resignation, weakness or fear. They found empowerment by humbly kneeling to what was more true and powerful than their suffering, and lifting their face to the rising sun, entrusting God with their life and opening themselves to God’s all-loving mercy.

Let us break bread together on our knees, turning our face to the one who returns our gaze with one of unconditional never-ending love. The one who calls us to open our hearts to people and the things that matter most. May we find the bold persistence and courage of the Canaanite woman to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly to bring forth healing in our lives and world. Amen.

The religious significance of taking a knee Kelsey Dallas@kelsey_dallas Aug 14, 2020,

https://www.deseret.com/indepth/2020/8/14/21362248/athletes-kneeling-national-anthem-colin-kaepernick-eric-reid-sam-coonrod-patriotism-religion

The Psychology of Taking a Knee Jeremy Adam Smith, Dacher Keltner on Sept 29, 2017

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/voices/the-psychology-of-taking-a-knee/

September 13, 2020

Rev. Lorrie Gaffney Sept. 13 2020 Mantra Matters

I have to be honest. I love nature, and I know that insects are an important part of our ecosystems. But I have a fear of certain insects and there are many I would personally choose to do without. It’s somewhat irrational that they repel me so much. I wish I loved them the way some others do, like my son-in-law Eon, who shows real respect and care for all manner of creepy crawly things. I recently watched him scoop a bee from some water to keep it from drowning. And I really don’t like spiders. I wish I did because they have some real furry ones in S. Utah with all kinds of colors and designs. When I was in seminary I would stay in Denver with my daughter Sam and Eon. One day, as I was preparing to take a shower, I saw a spindly spider in the bathtub. In my mind, that is something to step on. Eon came by and saw it and gently picked it up and placed it outside. And then of course that spider was back in the tub the next day- or one of his relatives!

How about you? Are there things that you fail to find beauty in that others seem to appreciate? I remember someone from this congregation enjoying their yard of bright yellow dandelions that others might choose to kill off.

In her blog, author and retreat leader Joyce Rupp described hearing about a colorful field of sunflowers in a nearby park. When she eventually got there, expecting a scene from Van Gogh’s painting, what she saw was faded tattered brown heads of plants bent and drooping. She had arrived too late. There is a big difference between sunny yellow fields and a field of dead plants. Disappointed at such a dry barren forsaken-looking scene, her first response was to get back in her car and go home. But then she says, “Something nudged me to look closer. Once I walked into the field, disappointment turned to wonder. I never knew how large the sunflower heads could be, some eight inches wide. Because of such abundance, the seeds’ weight forced the stems to bow and bend. My thoughts became absorbed in how much it costs the plants to bring forth this rich harvest. I noticed flocks of goldfinches deliriously feeding on seeds spilling out from sunflowers that were now transformed into nourishment, easily giving of their summered lives to enrich others.” Two days later Rupp returned and once again looked closely and listened deeply.

“Those heavy, drooping heads replete with ripened seeds spoke to me of personal diminishment, of all sorts of loss bound to come sooner or later. Not only does this required transition happen to individual persons. Societies and organizations also experience seasons of bending low. Dying comes before rising. Death arrives before new birth. Few want to accept this reality. But accept it or not, this pattern shapes how growth usually occurs. Unable to hold their heads high any longer, the sunflowers bowed to the way life naturally unfolds, the ageless pattern of life, death, rebirth—sunflowers teaching me anew that I, too, wend my way through this configuration, slowly bending the stem of my life, allowing my head to reach my heart—accepting, releasing, fulfilling.”

As I read of Rupp’s encounter with the sunflower fields, I realized how, so often, the very things that we dismiss, want to avoid or discard - or even crush like a spider- are the very things we need to get closer to - to examine and wonder about- to get curious. In fact, there is very likely something in what repels us that is calling us to move in and see from a different perspective.

This is true for the natural world of bugs and plants and it is especially true of our engagement with others and even ourselves.

Jesus was continually teaching his disciples to truly see people they wanted to overlook. From Zacchaeus the tax collector they wanted to hate, to Mary of Bethany who appeared to the disciples as overly extravagant in her anointing of Jesus’ feet with expensive nard, to “sinful” prostitutes and women accused of adultery, to children who were deemed unimportant. Jesus was continually telling all those who others rejected, or overlooked, that they were beloved. If we are to follow Jesus then we must also lift up those who are being pushed down.

Actor and director Chadwick Boseman who recently died from colon cancer at age 43, was a follower of Jesus’ way as seen in his commitment to lift up black lives. The President of Howard University recently called attention to the grace that accompanied Boseman’s humility. Boseman’s humility was not about shyness or weakness, but came from real courage, and a deeper identity in who he was, and what really mattered.

A couple of years ago, he gave the commencement address at Howard University at a time only a handful of people knew he was battling colon cancer that included multiple surgeries and chemotherapy. He could have focused his speech on himself, garnered deserved attention and sympathy but that wasn’t what he wanted to lift up. Instead he chose to lift up the struggles in his life that the students could relate to and learn from.

Early on, as he was just getting started in acting, he gave up a role because it contained too many harmful stereotypes of black people. It took a lot of strength and courage to speak out and it cost him the role and a time of uncertainty for his career. But eventually it led him to a path he might not have otherwise taken and playing strong inspirational people like Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall and the Black Panther. Boseman told the graduates, “When I dared to challenge the system that would relegate us to victims and stereotypes with no clear historical backgrounds, no hopes or talents, when I questioned that method of portrayal, a different path opened up for me, the path to my destiny."

Boseman encouraged the students to focus on their life purpose, even when it’s hard. He said, "Sometimes you need to get knocked down before you can really figure out what your fight is, and how you need to fight it, ""Whatever you choose for a career path, remember, the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose. As you commence to your paths, press on with pride and press on with purpose.”

The week before last I introduced James Hollis, Jungian psychotherapist and author who invites us to shift from the idea that “we are here to be happy,” to “we are here to live lives of meaning.” Hollis, now 80 with a cancer diagnosis continues his work, finding meaning in helping people navigate life. In an interview, he was asked about a six word mantra that he says daily anytime he rides his townhouse elevator six floors up or down. The mantra is his way of staying grounded in his heart and purpose.

His 6 words are: shut up, suit up, and show up.

He explains that he wouldn’t say “shut up” to another person, but that it is his reminder to quiet the overly busy noise of his mind and listen more deeply to what’s valuable. Suit up is his way of reminding himself of the importance of continually growing and being prepared. Show up is his reminder to put himself out in the world authentically and vulnerably with people and situations that matter.

I played around with shifting the wording from “shut up” to “wake up” because I tend to think you shouldn’t say to yourself what you wouldn’t say to someone else and maybe “grow up” instead of “suit up”, but I really like the meanings behind his mantra.

I played around with creating my own 6 word mantra and I invite you to do the same. I first made a list of words that are important to me: curiosity, delight, trusting spirit, welcoming failure, grace, continuing to grow, listening deeply, loving open-heartedly....

And then 3 words found me. I guess I am more a three-word mantra gal. At least for the time being, my three heart-grounding words are: curiosity, courage and compassion.

For me, curiosity means to look deeper, beneath the surface of emotions, things or people who feel more uncomfortable or unknown - to wonder and have awe for diversity.

Courage, to me, means to be willing to be present to challenges. I like the idea of shifting the definition of courage from “fearless”, to courage is “fear walking.” And engaging life with real courage and open-hearted curiosity means to show up with compassion. None of the words feel adequate alone or even as a duo - all three are meant to go together.

Your homework this week is to make a list of words that are essential to your heart. Can you choose three or more to create your grounding mantra - knowing it may be fluid and changing? If you send me some of the words that are important, I would like to include those in future reflections.

As we listen to our song of reflection, Betty’s Diner, I invite you to consider a person or time, you were seen and treated with unexpected kindness and respect.

When have you been the waitress serving grace and blessing to people in everyday encounters - just because... because you see that they, like you, are truly a beloved child of God.


August 2, 2020

Rev. Lorrie Gaffney John Lewis Matters



John Lewis: Badge of Honor

I cried when I saw the image of Congressman John Lewis’ body being carried across the Edmund Pettus Bridge one last time - this time with rose petals lining his path. It wasn’t just the image though, it was also hearing that Alabama state troopers were leading the way and saluting his carriage as it passed.

It was a different story on March 7, 1965 when 25 year old Lewis was on the front line of over 600 activist crossing the bridge from Selma to Montgomery, demanding voting rights for Black Americans when Alabama state troopers used tear gas, clubs, horses and dogs to attack the marchers and prevent them from crossing during what is known now as Bloody Sunday. Lewis was beaten unconscious and suffered a skull fracture.

There is so much we can learn from this deeply spiritual, man of faith and love-in-action, that I want to reflect together and consider what we might take away and live more fully from how he lived his life. In particular, I want us to look at how he lived the prophet Micah’s words:

God has told you 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?

Representative James Clyburn, the Democratic majority whip for S. Carolina, said that when he told his father he would not be following him into the ministry, his father responded: “Well, the world would rather see a sermon than hear one.” And Clyburn considered Lewis “both a minister and a living example, who demonstrated what it means to follow the moral compass directed by one’s faith. “

Lewis was born the third son of sharecroppers in a family of 9 children, working brutally hard as a child in the fields of Alabama- and as we heard preached to his chickens! He had a loving family and was powerfully influenced by church and scripture.

Lewis' words and life make a beautiful sermon and here are some of my favorite examples. In a 2004 interview with Religion and Ethics Newsweekly Lewis shares the grounding for his actions.

“At a very early stage of the movement, I accepted the teaching of Jesus, the way of love, the way of nonviolence, the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation. The idea of hate is too heavy a burden to bear. It’s better to love. When we were involved in the sit-ins, in the freedom ride, on the march from Selma to Montgomery, we were not struggling against people but against customs, traditions, a bad way of life, and we were trying to win people over and be reconciled to each other. I think I had maybe what I call an executive session with myself, and maybe an executive session with God Almighty, and said, “I’m not going to hate. I don’t want to go down that road. I’ve seen too much hate, seen too much violence. And I know love is a better way.” You feel so different, and you feel so much better. You sleep better. You rest better. When you don’t have any ill feelings, you don’t have any hate or malice to people who maybe arrested you, beat you, jailed you, or tried to kill you. We all are brothers and sisters, we’re all a part of the same family, we all live in the same house — the house of faith.”

Lewis shared his concern that the grounding of the civil rights movement be understood, saying:

“I’m deeply concerned that many people today fail to recognize that the movement was built on deep-seated religious convictions, and the movement grew out of a sense of faith — faith in God and faith in one’s fellow human beings. From time to time, I make a point, trying to take people back, and especially young people, and those of us not so young, back to the roots of the movement. During those early days, we didn’t study the Constitution, the Supreme Court decision of 1954. We studied the great religions of the world. We discussed and debated the teachings of the great teacher. And we would ask questions about what would Jesus do. In preparing for the sit-ins, we felt that the message was one of love — the message of love in action: don’t hate. If someone hits you, don’t strike back. Just turn the other side. Be prepared to forgive. That’s not anything any Constitution says anything about - forgiveness. It is straight from the Scripture: reconciliation. So the movement, the early foundation, the early teaching of the movement was based on the Scripture, the teaching of Jesus, the teaching of Gandhi and others. You have to remind people over and over again that some of us saw our involvement in the civil rights movement as an extension of our faith.

On so many occasions during the past two years I wished and prayed and somehow want to go back 40 years ago when the ministers, priests, rabbis, nuns, bishops, and others stood up. And sometimes I feel today that maybe, just maybe, the religious leaders are too quiet. They need to make a little noise. Need to push and to pull and [need] to be prophets. You know, Dr. King and others had the ability, had the capacity to rally people, to get people together. I will never forget, after Bloody Sunday in Selma in March of 1965, after we had been beaten and tear-gassed and trampled by horses, two days later, more than a thousand religious leaders — priests, rabbis, nuns, ministers — came there. Not just to Selma, but they got in the streets of almost every city in America, at the Department of Justice, at the White House, preaching the good news.

Today on some of the big issues, moral issues, [it] seems like we have been so silent. Somehow we need to find a way to reclaim our position as people of faith. We don’t need to sort of give up, or give out or in, or get lost in a sea of despair, become discouraged; we just need to get out there. When I was growing up, my mother and father and grandparents used to tell us, “Don’t get in trouble. Don’t get in the way.” But during the ’60s, the religious community got in trouble. We got in the way. And it’s time again for the religious community to get in the way. To get in trouble. Good trouble, necessary trouble.

In a conversation with Krista Tippet from On Being Lewis shares more of his convictions:

“First of all, you have to grow. It’s just not something that is natural. You have to be taught the way of peace, the way of love, the way of nonviolence. And in the religious sense, in the moral sense, you can say in the bosom of every human being, there is a spark of the divine. So you don’t have a right as a human to abuse that spark of the divine in your fellow human being.

We, from time to time, would discuss if you see someone attacking you, beating you, spitting on you, you have to think of that person, you know, years ago that person was an innocent child, innocent little baby. And so what happened? Something go wrong? Did the environment? Did someone teach that person to hate, to abuse others? So you try to appeal to the goodness of every human being and you don’t give up. You never give up on anyone.

Well, I think in our culture, I think sometimes people are afraid to say I love you. But we’re afraid to say, especially in public life, many elected officials or worldly elected officials, are afraid to talk about love. Maybe people tend to think something is so emotional about it. Maybe it’s a sign of weakness. And we’re not supposed to cry. We’re supposed to be strong, but love is strong. Love is powerful.

The movement created what I like to call a nonviolent revolution. It was love at its best. It’s one of the highest forms of love. That you beat me, you arrest me, you take me to jail, you almost kill me, but in spite of that, I’m going to still love you. I know Dr. King used to joke sometimes and say things like, “Just love the hell outta everybody. Just love ’em.”

Krista Tippett asked Lewis about an African proverb that is found in both of Lewis’ books: When you pray, move your feet. One of the marchers said that he felt like he was praying- his feet were praying - as he marched.

Lewis shared that “the freedom rides were love in action, the march from Selma to Montgomery was love in action. We do it not simply because it’s the right thing to do, but it’s love in action. That we love our country, we love a democratic society, and so we have to move our feet.” Lewis, who became a congressman in 1987, prayed with his feet through his involvement in American politics - involvement which he sees as an extension of his faith, just like his involvement in civil rights.

Lewis saw the humanity in everyone - even those who were attacking, beating or spitting on him. For me, his legacy is summed up by a story Krista Tippett told of interviewing Lewis during a civil rights pilgrimage he led in 2013 through his native state of Alabama alongside a delegation of over 200 people that included the Republican House Majority Leader, the daughters of Lyndon Johnson and George Wallace, and civil rights luminaries like Ruby Bridges -the first African American girl to desegregate an all-white southern school. Tippett says that the five-day pilgrimage to the holy ground sites of the civil rights movement was one of the most transformative experiences of her life. She describes her experiences of walking through the auditorium doorway where Gov. George Wallace barred entry of the first two African American students in 1963, leading to intervention of the federal government. Worshipping in Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, where four little girls were killed in a KKK bombing in 1963. Walking across the bridge from Selma with a nun who had ministered to the marchers when they were beaten back violently on Bloody Sunday.

But it was in Montgomery that the real legacy of John Lewis’ love in action might best be experienced. Tippett sat down with Lewis and the chief of police as the police chief offered the first ever public apology to John Lewis, and he shared his efforts to bring the truth of that history to upcoming police officers. He didn’t just offer him words however, the chief of police also gave him his badge, bringing both men to tears.

It was the power of love in action. Lewis has cautioned about patience saying that what we work for may not happen in our lifetime... but it will happen in someone’s lifetime. And he is emphatic that “you must do all you can do while you occupy this space during your time.”

And I’d like to close with classic John Lewis- and his open and whole-hearted wisdom:

“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”

May it be so. Amen

Reflection Questions

  • What stands out about John Lewis’ life?

  • What does good, necessary trouble look like to you?

  • Have you ever considered seeing someone difficult as the young child they once were? How does that change things?

  • How does the life of John Lewis inspire you to live differently?

*******************************************************************************************

July 19, 2020 Rev. Lorrie Gaffney Contagious Joy


Lurking in the back of my mind is this idea - it’s an idea that I know isn’t quite right, but it gets stuck there - it’s the idea that this is not a time for joy. I mean really a pandemic - people suffering, over or under-worked? And doesn’t it seem careless to have joy in the midst of such racial angst, transgender people being murdered, and on and on.

And yet I know it doesn’t serve anyone to join in anxiety, sadness, fear and hopelessness. But still - joy at a time like this? Won’t it seem selfish, uncaring, insensitive?

Have you wrestled with how to be in this complicated world like I have? How to take care of your own emotional well-being and still care deeply?

Well, as I wrestled with a sense of needing more delight, more joy, more sparkle in my life, I found myself turning to some incredible teachers. Take Maya Angelou. She is a leader of black lives that matter and she has known much suffering. Yet she also glows with strength and a delightful, full-throated laugh! Her life and her words invite us to live a deep joy. In her younger days Angelou danced in nightclubs for pay. She danced with Alvin Ailey on variety shows. And there is a photo, published in the New York Times of Angelou dancing with fellow poet Amiri Baraka, just for the joy of it. However the caption said these two great American poets were dancing a traditional African mourning dance over the remains of Langston Hughes at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. When Angelou saw that she telephoned Amiri Baraka and asked if he was doing traditional African dance. Baraka said, “NO I was doing the jitterbug!” Angelou responded, “yes and I was doing the Texas hop!


Michelle Obama is another one that similarly inspires me toward the joy that surpasses all understanding; reminding us that “when they go low we go high.”

How about you? Who do you think of that finds and shines joy in the most unexpected circumstances?

Psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Brach tells a story of a family that went to a restaurant for dinner. Listen carefully. This story has a valuable message for the young at heart in all of us.

The waitress arrived at the family’s table and the parents gave her their orders. Immediately their 5 year old daughter piped up with her own order. “I’ll have a hot dog, french fries and a Coke.”

“Oh no you won’t, interjected the dad, who turned to the waitress and said, “She’ll have meat loaf, mashed potatoes, and milk.”

Looking at the child with a smile, the waitress said, “So hon, what do you want on that hot dog?”

The family sat stunned and silent when she left.

But a few moments later the little girl, eyes shining, said, “She thinks I’m real!”

Real happens when you look another in the eyes and see someone or something as fully beloved, valuable, sacred, important. Real is a gift you offer - especially someone who has been told they are not real because their skin color is “wrong” their choice of who to love or be is not ok; or those who feel they are inadequate or flawed. Real is the gift Becca Stevens offers women who are survivors of trafficking, prostitution and/or addiction through Thistle Farms. Just this week I saw this clip of women graduating from Thistle Farms two year program where the philosophy is Love Heals. Their true graduation is from an identity that they are broken and worthless objects to real beloved beings - and their joy is contagious!

https://youtu.be/lqu7vZqO3nE

Jesus' life and teachings are all about helping people know who, and whose, they are- regardless of anything done or undone. Jesus let people know they were “real” and deserving of his living water of joy. Being seen as real, and living joy, go together like two sides of a coin. I’d love to know your favorite Jesus story of this. Is it Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well? Perhaps Jesus having a meal at the house of the much despised tax collector Zaccheus? Or his response to the Pharisees wanting to stone a woman accused of adultery that we heard in our Gospel reading today, saying: “the one without sin is the one who should cast the first stone.” Or perhaps it is his admonition to allow the children to come to him?

Jesus knew that children were the key to living real - living with joy. Children know how to laugh out loud, twirl, be fascinated with a tiny bug, and give koala bear hugs.

Maria Shriver, in her blog The Sunday Paper said she “posted a picture on instagram of a young girl having a blast.

The caption underneath reads: Remember her? She is still there... inside you... waiting. Let’s go get her!

Or picture a young boy. Remember him? He is still there... inside you... waiting. Go get him.

That young child that was made for embracing life with joy is still inside me and you. The wholeness of that child you were born with didn’t go away with age. Let’s tell stories of that fun, loving child you remember. The one who danced, ran through sprinklers, cuddled on laps and gave pat pats or high fives. Can you still connect with that child’s spirit and play together?

Shriver set a goal for connecting with her inner-child joy during her retreat time in August when she takes a break from the news and daily routines of working life. Shriver writes, “It’ll be my goal because I know that I’ll need that little girl’s sassiness, laughter, spirit, strength, and playfulness as I head into what will undoubtedly be an out of control Fall.”

So what does it look like to connect with one’s inner child? How about finding joy in the simplest of things: an oreo cookie? Don’t forget to eat at least some of the middle first! How about laughing just a little louder - maybe even squealing when talking to a friend on the phone. Shriver decided to play catch with her grown daughter. How about finding a hula hoop or jump rope? Or organizing a social distance egg race! Play. Make someone laugh and laugh with them. Watch Pluto the talking dog on YouTube. Feel your toes on the grass, and find shapes in the clouds... other ideas????

Do what you can to break up the breaking news, the routine, toss off the heavy blanket weighing you down. Find that childhood spirit with mouth wide open, eyes sparkling, hands outstretched. Pablo Picasso said: Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.

Friends, it is not just for you and your emotional well-being. Those around you, the world, needs your spirit of life, of joy so that the work of God-with-us, God-among-us can begin the healing that is needed.

I’d like to close with this wish from Maya Angelou to you:

My wish for you is joy. When you wish someone joy, you wish peace, love, prosperity, health, happiness... all the good things.

May joy be yours and may it become what is really contagious. Amen

May 10, 2020 reflections by Lorrie Gaffney “Birthing Love” On this Mother’s Day holiday, I would like to celebrate mothering - in all the life-giving forms, ways and the people who offer it. And I realize that not all mothering is life-giving. Spiritually or emotionally wounded mothers can be a source of pain and suffering to their children, often unintentionally. But as I reflected on mothering, I thought of my daughter and the way her eyes light up when she sees her now two year. And I think that all really good mothering has to do with delight that recognizes the amazing sacred image of God in the other. And guess what! The good news for today is that we all get to be mothers! We can all give birth to delight that brings alive the image of God in another. As you will see this goes beyond gender. The person I thought of as my favorite mothering figure was a man named Andre Trocme. He was a pastor in a small French village called Le Chambon during World War II; a village that looked just like the neighboring protestant village, except that this one, Le Chambon, was responsible for saving over 5,000 Jewish lives. I dragged my family to the middle of nowhere to sit on a bench and visit the cemetery of this small village. I looked out at the woods where Jews, hidden by the villagers, could escape when the farmer’s dogs barked warnings of approaching Nazis. I saw the Presbytery door where Trocme invited the SS guards into his home for a home cooked meal before they took him away on arrest. It looked like every other village, so what made this village so willing to take on this risk? When Trocme first arrived the people were not especially friendly or connected. Like many villages, they were in dire need of a source of income, so Trocme started a school. He recognized a practical need as well as spiritual needs. What I most admire about him is that he led by example. He would never ask anyone to do what he would not do. After the war, when the village was recognized for all the lives they saved, villagers were interviewed about what made it possible for them to do what they did. Over and over the same response.... Oh how could we not, I dont’ know what you are talking about, these were children of God, what else could we do? They felt there was only one possible option. When someone is recognized as a child of God they must be cared for, protected. Trocme mothered the people of the village to give birth to the awareness that they were children of God - and so were the fleeing Jews. And the villagers gave birth to the image of God in the Jews they were protecting, nurturing, keeping alive, even at great risk to themselves. That is what good mothers do isn’t it? Their nurturing glance says “I see you and I delight in you. You are a sacred child of God to be protected, loved, valued, encouraged to thrive.” Who needs that mothering today? Well everybody. Truly, we all need that life-giving mothering so that we can grow to be our best. As a young girl I was feeling a little lost when my first grade teacher took me under her wing and encouraged me by letting me know she saw something in me - she saw me! Who might not be getting adequate mothering? Maybe you know a family that is struggling. Next week we will look at some of those who are inadequately seen through the lens of love; those in the margins and in the LGBTQ+ community, whose differences aren’t fully valued, welcomed and delighted in.


I love this verse by poet William Blake: And we are put on earth a little space That we might bear the beams of love.

This is our purpose in life, friends. But what does it mean to bear the beams of love. Isn’t it interesting how hard it can be to bear - to accept onto us- the beams of love. Something cheaper, like ease, or comfort or thrills are more readily chosen.

The poem is asking us though: Will you accept the love that is radiating into you, calling you beloved. Or will you turn away and say you aren’t worthy?

Jesus could bear the beams of the cross because he carried the beams of love in him. Jesus wore the beams of love well!

What if you are here to bear - accept, hold and travel within your very body - the beams of love? And then if we are to bear the beams of love within us we are to also bear forth the beams of love to others.

This is the task of mothering: to give birth to love within and to be midwife to birthing love in another.

Now when I physically gave birth to my first child I swore I would never do it again - it was that hard. And the thing about giving birth is it isn’t something we control and make happen in our timing. It is a process that happens through us, but isn’t about us. To say we agree to give birth to love is to say we agree to not being in control, to messy unknowns, to pain, to the possibility of loss. We agree to make space for another besides ourselves and our agenda.

And of course we can always find ways to say no to choosing mothering. Overworking or overplaying, drugs and alcohol and any number of fears or distractions are ways of keeping our heart numb and our eyes closed.

But love has a way of breaking through given the least opportunity. The mothering instinct of love is strong. And it feels like life.

Who has helped birth love in your life? What were you taught about love? What did you experience? Have you been a midwife, helping birth love in another?

Song Nobody’s Fault but Mine

● What has a “mother” taught you about life-giving love?

● What are your experiences of ‘mothering’, of nurturing and caring for others?

● When has God, like a mother, intervened in your life to offer the nurture and care you have needed?

● To whom, might God be calling you to reach out with a nurturing and caring spirit?



April 19, 2020

Rev. Lorrie Gaffney April 19, 2020 Peace Be With You: The Rainbow Jesus A few years ago we were just ending a party at our house. It was about 10 or 10:30 pm and the last few people were leaving, but the lights were all still on when the doorbell rang. Now anything after 10 is late for us, so who could it be? Maybe someone left something and was returning for it? But at the door was a little girl, about 10 or 11 years old and I recognized her as the delightful neighbor girl who, a few years earlier, had borrowed an egg and then later brought us chocolate chip cookies! What a deal! She looked anxious though on this night. She asked if she could stay at our house with us because she was home alone and was scared. Of course she could. And I was grateful she felt our home was safe for her to reach out to. It brought back memories of my own of being home alone, about that age, after some scary news story had been on TV. I was so scared I went into a closet and hid. How about you? Have you ever felt that knot of fear that just won’t go away? In our text today the disciples were feeling fear - for good reason. Their leader had just been cruelly handed over by an angry mob and murdered. Would they be coming for them next? The disciples hid out in a locked room, anxious and afraid. And then suddenly there was a person amongst them. How did he get in? More fear! And then Jesus, knowing their fears, reassured them by showing them the signs on his body of who he was. And he gave them the one gift that could never be taken away - the gift that could always bring peace in any circumstance - the gift of God’s spirit breathed into them - the spirit of love. Jesus had already given them, just before he died, the new commandment - rules for life - to “Love one another as I have loved you.” And now he adds a part of what that love looks like - forgiveness. Jesus wanted his disciples to forgive others, but he especially wanted them to know they were forgiven. There was nothing held against Peter for his denial, or the rest for their fears keeping them locked away. 1 John 4:18 says it well: There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. Jesus was saying “there is no punishment in me- only love.” Fear and punishment are connected, but I also think fear has to do with a broader desire to control life. To control not getting punished, not having pain, not looking bad... All real concerns. The problem we humans struggle so much with seems to go back to the garden of Eden. We want to be in charge of our lives. We want to be God, making things happen our way- in our timing. Think about the couple who prays it doesn’t rain on their outdoor wedding, at the same time the farmer is desperately praying for rain for his crops. It’s human nature to want to control our lives; to have comfort rather than pain, be rewarded rather than punished.


I read a quote on gratefulness.org the other day: There are no guarantees. From the viewpoint of fear, none (no guarantees) are strong enough. From the viewpoint of love, none (no guarantees) are necessary. No guarantees living, is what Jesus knew all too well. And Jesus knew that with love, no guarantees were required. Love was that real and that powerful. There is a story of a king who wanted a painting that depicted peace. He offered a contest with a prize for whoever could best show peace in their art. There were lovely scenes of tranquil waters, loving relationships, gentle animals. But the artwork that won the prize was one of chaos: churning high waterfalls with large rocks below, dark clouds, and small bird’s nest with newly hatched babies perched on a limb of a tree extending precariously over the edge of the falls. It looked anything but peaceful to most of the artists. But the king explained the reason for his choice: “peace does not refer to a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. Peace means being in the midst of all those things and still being calm.” So how do we get that kind of peace? I want it but it often seems elusive, even in the less important interactions of my day. So sometimes, a more challenging example of one who chose peace can help us reflect and consider what is going on. This story comes from Frank Rogers Jr. in his book, Practicing Compassion. “It was January of 1995, when Azim Khamisa awakened to find a business card tucked in his door from the homicide division of the San Diego police dept. Azim called the number on the card, and an officer shared with him the tragedy. Azim’s only child, a 20 year old college student named Tariq, was delivering a pizza during the night in a neighborhood known for occasional gang violence. As Tariq sat in his car, another car pinned him from behind. Two teens got out. Tony Hicks, all of 14 years old, was handed a gun by the older teen, the gang leader. Tony was ordered to take down the unknown deliveryman. Tony obeyed. He shot Tariq one time, the bullet piercing Tariq’s heart. Within minutes, Tariq suffocated in his own blood. The officer had come to inform Azim that his son was found dead at the scene. In the months that followed, Azim struggled with rage, helplessness, despair, even thoughts of vengeance. A devout Muslim, he also struggled with the Islamic invitation to resist being consumed by hatred and to find a way to forgive – even the unforgivable. He took care not to act out in his anger, but he didn’t suppress it. He found time to be still. He meditated prayerfully and sought therapy for his grief. Over time, the pain subsided, and Azim felt a sacred presence sustaining him. That sacred presence was expansive. It held him and his family. It held his slain son, Tariq. And it also held the boy so troubled that violence toward a stranger felt attractive. Azim came to realize there were victims on both sides of the gun. Not only was his son killed, but an African American 14 year old boy- raised fatherless in poverty and racism


– was being tried as an adult and tossed away into a prison cell for the unforeseeable future. Azim decided that the cycle of despair and violence must come to an end. He quit his job and created a foundation, named after his son, dedicated to eradicating the conditions of youth violence and teaching young people a peacemaker’s path of non-violence, forgiveness, and restorative justice. He invited the teen-age killer’s grandfather to join him. Then Azim visited Tony in prison. Though he had already felt some forgiveness in his heart, Azim grew anxious as he waited in the jail’s gated visiting booth. He was unsure what he would feel when his son’s slayer sat across from him. He imagined looking into the gang member’s eyes and seeing a cold-blooded killer. He became still and prayed for mercy. The boy entered the visiting booth, and Azim looked into Tony’s eyes. He did not see a killer. He saw a terrified child, beaten down by a world stacked against him. As Azim described it, he gazed straight into Tony’s soul and saw the boy’s humanity. In that moment of connection, both of their hearts broke open and both hearts were touched by a sacred grace. Azim shared- without malice or accusation- the grief of losing a son. And he listened to Tony share the pain of growing up fatherless in a gang-ridden ghetto. He wept for Tony. Tony wept as well, expressing how sorry he was and how he ached for some way to make it up. Azim offered Tony a way. Indeed, he did more; he offered Tony a job. Upon his release from prison, Tony could work as an advocate against youth violence through the foundation named after the very boy Tony had killed.” Eckhart Tolle has said: You find peace not by rearranging the circumstances of your life, but by realizing who you are at the deepest level. Azim had kept his heart open through spiritual practices and grief work. And then he allowed the Spirit of love to fill and surround him and extend to all. His faith allowed him to experience, at the deepest level, the truth that he was a child of God, his son was a child of God, and even the troubled youth that caused such pain was a child of God. Dr. Maya Angelou shares that she has had a lot of clouds in her life - challenging times. And lots of people who were rainbows in her clouds that continue to bless her with peace. Listen to her wisdom for your life: Dr. Maya Angelou: Be a Rainbow in Someone Else’s Cloud https://youtu.be/0nYXFletWH4 Tom Szalay shows us something about being a rainbow in someone else’s cloud. (Photo of Evelyn.) Evelyn was frequently seen by Tom, panhandling at the gates of the downtown Temple. Tom had befriended her over time and heard many stories of the difficulties she faced in her life. Abusive relationships, begging for money on the streets and more. You can see a rather weathered and worn face. And yet... look at her eyes. There is a sense of peace and strength in her. She


never would let Tom photograph her face until that day. What changed? I think she has that special look of peace because Tom gave her the gift of being seen and valued. He listened to her. Took her out to lunch. And gave her some money to get on a bus after learning she had decided to go to Chattanooga TN with money she had saved - the place chosen because she liked the way it sounded!


I had a first grade teacher that was a special rainbow in my life. I don’t remember a thing she taught me. But I do remember the way she made me feel. and often think of her. I invite you to welcome rainbow people into your life and to give thanks for them. And then to be a rainbow in someone else’s clouds. Your homework this week has two parts. 1. Make a list of those who have been rainbows in your life. Don’t forget to include beloved pets. Keep the list of names where you will frequently see it. What did they do? What touched you? What was it about them? 2. Pray a prayer of gratitude for them. Choose one you might do something special for (a card, a small gift, a phone call...). Extra credit. Cut colored squares of fabric or paper. Put a name of your rainbow people on each of the squares and attach to yarn to make a prayer flag. These don’t have to be super heroes - just caring peacemakers. Take a photo and send it to me, or post on Facebook! (Jesus and your own name are good additions!) Philippians 4 is the last chapter of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi. HIs letter begins with a greeting: Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. He continues in verse 4: 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Listen for Paul’s closing words for you: 8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen (in me), and the God of peace will be with you.


April 12, 2020

Rev. Lorrie Gaffney  Easter 2020  Broken and Empty:  Being Resurrection

I know that the reality of our lives is one of vulnerability- all of us share that- and we certainly understand that now during the pandemic.  And if you are one that fully loves and lives vulnerability then feel free to go get some coffee right now. However, if you are at all like me - one that often fights feeling vulnerable- then let's talk.   I was raised in Texas.  You are to pull yourself up by your bootstraps.  Take care of yourself. Don’t let anyone see your weaknesses.  Pretend. Appearances are what matter. Put on a mask if necessary.  Safety is important - so close and lock the door to others.   But friends, this isn’t just a Texas phenomenon.  It is our independent “you can’t tell me what to do,” American culture that teaches us this at an early age. And it infiltrates our churches.  And yet, this dominant way of culture (and it is about dominance) wasn’t the way of Jesus.   Now I have a long history of not welcoming vulnerability.  For many years I would not even say the word vulnerability.  I was fine on the streets of Hebron with snipers on the corner, but do not ask me to share my weaknesses, fears, longings, or especially, needs.  It has been a long journey towards accepting the gifts of vulnerability.  How about you? What does vulnerability look like in your life?  Who has shown you the gifts that vulnerability can bring? Researcher, story-teller Brene Brown’s exploration of vulnerability has been helpful to me.  Brown says that the myth of vulnerability is that it means weakness.  Yet vulnerability actually requires us to take courageous risks of letting our true selves be deeply seen; of offering wholehearted loving, with no guarantees.   Brown has come to believe that vulnerability requires three things:  courage, compassion for self and others, and desire for connection: courage, compassion, connection.   And no where do we see that courage, compassion, and connection better than Jesus on the cross.   Church people often talk about those C and E Christians.  Do you know what I mean by that? The folks that only show up on Christmas and Easter.  It’s often referred to rather judgmentally. Like they ONLY come on Christmas and Easter, unlike good regular church attendees.  But I heard Nadia Bolz-Weber recently speak of Jesus’ incredible vulnerability and how she felt Jesus wanted to be forever known by a cradle and a cross.  Maybe C and E Christians are on to something. Maybe we should all be known as cradle and cross Christians who prioritize living Jesus’ way of vulnerability.  We all know a baby, born in a manger to an unwed mom, is a place of vulnerability.  But think about the vulnerability of the cross. Jesus was mocked for not saving himself.  What kind of king dies like that - without putting up a fight for his life? And he certainly didn’t look like the all-powerful God they imagined calling forth a legion of angels to make things right.  In this setting Jesus, God With Us, didn’t react by trying to protect his ego as others mocked him. He didn’t fight. He didn’t run. He entered into the sad reality of humanity by choosing the power of vulnerability (staying with courage, compassion, connection) even in his suffering. So what allowed him to make such a choice?   Brene Brown began studying people who lived whole-hearted lives of vulnerability.  She interviewed and studied thousands of people over many years, looking for patterns in people who really went “all in when it came to their relationships.”  She wondered “what qualities did these people have that made them so capable of both receiving and giving love?” And her research led her to the discovery that people who lived lives of love and belonging were people who deeply believed that they were worthy of love and belonging - regardless of the circumstances they found themselves in.  They didn’t believe that one day they would be worthy of love and belonging if... if they could only lose 20 pounds, keep their marriage together, get pregnant, stop saying stupid things.  If they could just get and stay sober, get a promotion or raise, be a better parent, have parents that understood and approved of them... then, then they might be worthy.   These folks who were living whole-hearted lives of courage, compassion and connection were people who simply knew they were worthy, regardless of what they did or didn’t do; regardless of what others thought they should do or be.  Jesus was clear about his worth and belonging even when there was no outside affirmation to lean on. When he was betrayed, denied, left to die alone, Jesus held his deep sense of worthiness. Jesus showed us what it looks like to hold onto the words, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased” even when others were stripping him, mocking him and casting lots for his clothes.   Richard Rohr has said church people have spent too much time worshipping Jesus, and arguing about the correct form of worship, rather than following Jesus.   Friends, this might sound totally crazy, but listen carefully.  If we really want to follow Jesus, then our path is one of claiming, every day, in all things, that we are worthy of love and belonging.  We follow Jesus when we hear the voice whispering, “this is my son, this is my daughter, in whom I am well- pleased, no matter the circumstances we find ourselves in.  And from that deep place of worth and belonging, like Jesus, we find the courage to allow ourselves the vulnerability of whole-hearted compassion and connection. .   Nadia Bolz-Weber put it this way when asked “What do Christians do in the world?”.  She responded, “Christians accidentally, despite ourselves, get to be agents of mercy and grace because we’ve been cracked open (by life).  Broken and healed people from which that stuff comes out.” (Stuff I would call love and grace).    We live resurrection anytime we allow our hearts to be broken open, emptied of ego self, so that the spirit of love can bubble up and land where it will land on the deserving and undeserving alike.  (bubbles) I’d like to share with you a video message by Walter Brueggemann:  But Not Held Christians are not those who identify as perfect and good people. Those who know and follow Jesus’ way are those who know well what it is like to be vulnerable -- held by fear and anxiety; those who understand the grip of grudges and resentment, doubt and fatigue. Those whose bones know what it feels like to be held too long by too much.  Christians are those that know all too well the reality of the forces of darkness hold, and yet trust deep in their souls that the power of darkness or death will never have the last word. This is why we say in this church: Love always wins.   The tomb is empty.  Christ has risen. And you are held - in love!   This is good news worth sharing. And may it be so through the example of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen This is a good time to let loose your love bubbles - allowing them to land wherever they will!




3/29/


2020 What is in a Word? Rev. Lorrie Gaffney

Luke 8:43-48 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

43 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians,[a] no one could cure her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. 45 Then Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” When all denied it, Peter[b] said, “Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.” 46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.” 47 When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. 48 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

What is in a Word?

Dawn Hutchings, known as Pastor Dawn on her blog, is a Lutheran Pastor of Holy Cross church north of Toronto. She wrote a few weeks ago about serving on the church council of her home Parish when she was 17 in the late 70’s. It was decided, for the first time, that Council members could help serve communion with the pastor. Laypeople could now pronounce the words, “The blood of Christ shed for you.” However, the Pastor told her it wasn’t the right time for her to serve as Worship assistant. Was she too young? No. It was that women were not permitted behind the altar because women were not allowed into the holy of holies in Bible times because of their monthly cycles. So only lay men could be worship assistants. It’s a blood thing. Never mind that Jesus shedding his blood has been something to regularly speak of in worship - something sacred -but for women, shedding blood required social distancing from anything sacred.

Now historically, there was a different idea about why Jewish women set themselves apart during their periods. It wasn’t that they were unclean and unworthy. It was a time that women were allowed to set aside regular workloads and gather around life’s sacredness. It was meant to be liberating for women.

But oh how words can change and change us. The word taboo originally came to western civilization from Captain Cook after visiting Tonga in 1771. However, the Polynesian word was “tapua” meaning “sacred” and “menstruation.” Originally it referred to what was to be revered, holy. Wikipedia defines taboo as: “an implicit prohibition on something (an utterance or behavior) based on a cultural sense that it is excessively repulsive or perhaps, too sacred for ordinary people.” What does the word taboo mean to you today? The meaning has certainly changed from liberating to oppressive.

My head is spinning with all that has and continues to transpire and change each day. Think about all the new words we’ve learned in the past month. Covid-19, social distancing, self-quarantine, shelter in place, flattening the curve... and more. And even the words toilet paper have new meaning in our lives!

The bleeding woman in our text today knew very well the words social distancing. She was to stay away from people and shout “unclean, unclean” as a warning to anyone coming too near. But it is another word in the text that I am grateful for Pastor Dawn calling to my attention. It was the name Jesus called the woman after she had broken protocol - not only by approaching Jesus, but also touching him. Jesus didn’t get angry or afraid. He called this outcast unclean woman, “daughter.” He gave her a “dad hug.”

Today we are asked to engage social distancing in order to stop the transmission of a deadly virus. And that makes sense. It is a caring response to protect ourselves and others. But we have to be very careful that social distancing doesn’t take on an oppressive meaning - one that dehumanizes others. Jesus is teaching us that fear and labeling of others is not the way. Jesus is teaching us that we are to call one another, “daughter, son, beloved” so that the actions that arise are those a good loving parent would offer the other.

Valerie Kaur, born into a family of Sikh farmers, is a civil rights activist, filmmaker, lawyer, faith leader and founder of Revolutionary Love Project. Kaur speaks of the practice of “see no stranger.” She encourages us to see people on the street or stores or bus and silently call them brother, sister, sibling, aunt or uncle, so that we see them as parts of ourselves - see them as family. Each person then becomes someone you imagine showing up to care about, someone to grieve with.

Now is the time to fan the flames of love. Anyone can fan flames of hate, anger or fear. Those flames easily catch and spread, causing great suffering and destruction. But fanning the flames of love is what Jesus taught and lived. It is why we choose to follow Jesus - and other great wisdom traditions that teach revolutionary love.

We will have difficult choices to make in the coming days. Choices that will require our deepest wisdom, rather than our reptilian brain fight or flight survival responses. Kaur writes:

“The blistering pace of the pandemic, the cacophony of commentary, the relentless barrage of breaking news without rest kills the root of our own wisdom, our ability to think clearly. It drives us to act on fear and panic — to hoard, to ban, to isolate, to self-protect, to act on racist impulses.

This pandemic will test who we want to be, as individuals and as a people. Will we succumb to fear and self-interest? Or will we double-down on love? Will we let social distancing isolate us? Or will we find new ways to reach out, deepen our connections, step up community care, and tend to the most vulnerable in our communities?

Is this the darkness of the tomb — or the darkness of the womb?

I believe this is a time to love without limit. This is a time to see no stranger. In doing so, we gather information for the kind of world we want, where no one is uninsured or disposable, where our policies and public institutions protect all of us.

And if panic or grief or rage seizes you suddenly, it's okay. It means you are alive to what is happening. The work is to breathe through it. It becomes a dance—to panic, then return to wisdom; to retreat then find the courage to show up with love anyway.”

Friends, what does doubling down on love look like for you these days? How might we reach out and actually deepen our connections even with social health distancing? How can we reimagine community care? I was speaking with Ruth on the phone the other day about my mom being in an assisted living that has locked the doors and allows no visitors and even requires eating in their own rooms. They are trying to protect the most vulnerable population but it is also so devastatingly isolating. Ruth responded, “What about sidewalk chalk?” Writing an encouraging message where it would be visible. Well that day, folks in my neighborhood must have thought similarly because I went for a walk and found lovely art and messages that said things like “we love our neighbors.” It is hard not to smile when you see things like that! Last week Monica said she did a zoom charades game with her family. This is a time to get creative!

We can be asking ourselves what things might form us into better, more loving human beings? What have we needed to shift, change, to slow down to better care for ourselves, our neighbors and our earth?

Arlene has shared this poem Lockdown by Richard Hendrick on our Facebook Page (see end)

Love is not for the faint-hearted. This is Lent. Look at what happened to Jesus! We won’t rush and bypass Lent... but we get through Lent by knowing in our bones what arises from the ashes. We carry the story of resurrection in us even as we wait with active hope for Easter time to arrive.

I’d like to close with a writing by Kaur on what love - revolutionary love - call us into: Consider that this was written by a woman whose long-time family friend was the first Sikh killed in a hate crime, outside his gas station, post 9/11. And Kaur later visited with the killer from his prison cell.

“Love calls us to look upon the faces of those different from us as brothers and sisters.

Love calls us to weep when their bodies are outcast, broken or destroyed.

Love calls us to speak even when our voice trembles, stand even when hate spins out of control, and stay even when the blood is fresh on the ground.

Love makes us brave. The world needs your love: the only social, political and moral force that can dismantle injustice to remake the world around us – and within us.”

“To pursue a life of revolutionary love is to walk boldly into the hot winds of the world with a saint’s eyes and a warrior’s heart – and pour our body, breath, and blood into others.”

Dear friends, love calls us to breathe and to breathe together as a community. Like any long labor we are going to take this together one deep loving breath at a time.

Amen

Reflection Practice:

Breathe deeply. Engage all your senses one at a time. Go outside if you can.

Breathe in. What do you hear? Follow this with “what do you smell? “Taste?” “See?” “Feel?

Write what you are grateful for. Share your gratitude awareness with at least one other person

Lockdown

Yes there is fear.

Yes there is isolation.

Yes there is panic buying.

Yes there is sickness.

Yes there is even death.

But,

They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise

You can hear the birds again.

They say that after just a few weeks of quiet

The sky is no longer thick with fumes

But blue and grey and clear.

They say that in the streets of Assisi

People are singing to each other

across the empty squares,

keeping their windows open

so that those who are alone

may hear the sounds of family around them.

They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland

Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.

Today a young woman I know

is busy spreading fliers with her number

through the neighborhood

So that the elders may have someone to call on.

Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples

are preparing to welcome

and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary

All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting

All over the world people are looking at their neighbors in a new way

All over the world people are waking up to a new reality

To how big we really are.

To how little control we really have.

To what really matters.

To Love.

So we pray and we remember that

Yes there is fear.

But there does not have to be hate.

Yes there is isolation.

But there does not have to be loneliness.

Yes there is panic buying.

But there does not have to be meanness.

Yes there is sickness.

But there does not have to be disease of the soul

Yes there is even death.

But there can always be a rebirth of love.

Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.

Today, breathe.

Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic

The birds are singing again

The sky is clearing,

Spring is coming,

And we are always encompassed by Love.

Open the windows of your soul

And though you may not be able

to touch across the empty square,

Sing.

Richard Hendrick March 13th 2020



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