Are you seeking a faith that will keep you safe from the world? A God who will protect you from all of the bad things out there? Perhaps you are looking for a faith that puts your happiness above all other things, or one that promises riches, power and health in accordance with the amount of faith you have?
If these are things you are seeking from a faith, let me tell you…
Christianity is not the faith for you.
Christinity is not easy.
Christianity will not keep you safe.
God will not make you happy, nor will God give you things in measure to your faith.
This is not how it works.
Over the past few months, as the ocnversations about immigrants and refugees have gotten louder and more vitriolic, as conversations about our neighbors at home and abroad have led to some Christians reaching out and some calling to build walls, over and over again I have heard people of faith say, “We just want to be safe.” “This is about safety.” “We can let in refugees, but only the safe ones.”
These are likely similar to the thoughts the priest and the Levite had while walking past the man on the side of the road, dying from his injuries. They just wanted to be safe, to be pure, to be clean. But the one that Jesus lifts up is the one who risked his own safety to help a stranger – a stranger who might be faking it, a stranger who might be unsafe.
The Christian faith is a difficult faith. We are called by Jesus Christ to follow in his footsteps, yet is seems that most people who call themselves followers of Christ skip past the crucifixion to the resurrection. They skip past the pain and sacrifice and focus on the glory. There has long been this strain in Christianity. But as of late it has gotten louder. The (already warped) conversation that used to center on personal salvation in the hereafter has somehow warped (further) to center the Christian narrative around the individual’s personal safety & satisfaction in this life alongside salvation in the life to come. This is the American version of the gospel. Individual salvation. Individual safety. A God fearing life that overflows with rewards for good behavior. In this version of the gospel, the rewards go to those who live their best life, who work hard, & who follow the rules. The poor, the infirm, the mentally ill, the stranger, anyone who doesn’t fit or anyone who didn’t start out with the same things I started out with be damned. This isn’t about you. Jesus loves ME.
This is not the gospel. There is no good news in this. There is no redemption, no radical reorientation of the world. Just a sustaining of things as they have been, a holding up of this so that it things will always be this way.
The gospel commands risk. The gospel is not safe. The Good News is not comfortable for many of us. Jesus calls us to be unsafe.
Christ says, “Pick up your cross and follow me.”
Christ says, “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Christ says, “Give up all you have and follow me.”
What does it look like to follow Christ? It looks like hanging out with the undesirables of the world – in his time, the tax collectors, criminals, prostitutes, the mentally ill. In our time this might be the undocumented, criminals, prostitutes, members of the LGBTQ community, people who have HIV, the homeless, and the many other people our society pushes to the margins. It looks like breaking rules of propriety and breaking down walls to show love to those society has deemed unworthy of love. It looks like caring for the least of these, wherever you are, however you can, without concern for safety, without interest in your own personal gain, without regard for your own personal happiness.
The God of Safety is a false God. This is not the God of the Bible, it is a golden calf, a thing invented by us to make us feel good – to make us feel as though when we put worries about our own safety first, we are doing the right thing.
But this is never something God promises.
This is never something God asks of us.
God never says, “Stay safe.”
God says, over and over again, “Pick up your cross and follow me.”
And on that path, before we reach glory, we come face to face with pain, with sacrifice, with death.
There is no getting around that.
Jesus points us to the cross, which is standing right in the middle of the path to glory.
We cannot honestly follow Jesus and stay safe at the same time. Jesus commands us out of our homes, and churches into the streets, into the places where the hurting, diseased and dangerous dwell. Jesus commands us to tear down our walls and open our arms to the suffering, to hear the stories of the displaced and dispossessed and to have our hearts broken open again and again by the pain of others.
The road to the resurrection is filled with danger, pain and sacrifice.
And we make the road by walking.
Rev. Elizabeth Rawlings is the Lutheran pastor for The Sanctuary, a Lutheran Episcopal Ministry to the University of Washington. She enjoys disrupting things and creating community, aspires to read more and play video games less. Her call caring for students in these times gives her life. Rev. Elizabeth blogs at feetinarmsout.wordpress.com & she is helping her students practice radical self-love this Lent through meditations that can be found at www.sanctuaryuw.org.
God is a God of order” is something I’ve heard countless times from conservative pastors. What they’re referring to is 1 Corinthians 14:33: “For God is not a God of disorder, but of peace.” In many churches it’s used as the reason that church services and worship must follow a specific format, and the reason that the established pastor is the primary person to speak, to lead. “Order,” it seems, is when nothing out of the ordinary happens; it is when only certain types of people decide what can be said and done as part of church, what is holy and what is Christian.
As church members who do not want to upset the cart of this “order,” you are expected not to speak up unless called upon (unless you are a cishet white man you probably will not be called upon.) “Order” has come to mean that silence is a sign of holiness, and that anything unusual is not godly. Stay quiet and don’t be weird. Ultimately it suggests that following established power structures and not speaking out are the holy things to do.
Over the centuries, Christian culture has become about telling people to hide. Hide our bodies, hide from positive talk of sexuality, hide our strange thoughts, hide our questions, hide our weirdness, hide different ways of wanting to do things, hide our hurt, hide our thoughts and hide our needs. Hiding has become holy. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Smile and do what’s expected.
But the fact is that hiding was the very first fruit of sin. It was the clear evidence to God that people had become broken. The Garden of Eden was a place of freedom and openness, but then Genesis 3:10: “I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.”
Hiding is diametrically opposed to God, to who She/He is, and to who She/He created us to be. God is color and expression and creativity and weirdness. God is certainly not One who hides, and did not design us to do so, either. God created each one of us to contain unique pieces of the Godself. Each one of us is meant to display and bring something new. But humans — especially humans in power — can always be counted on to fear that which is unfamiliar, and that over which they do not have control. Yet every time one of us chooses to hide, that is one more facet of God’s nature that is stifled.
Silence is not order. It is fear that seeks silence as a moral touchstone — fear of oneself, fear of others, and fear of anything that one cannot understand or have power over. It is easier to regulate than to open up Church — open up the world — for people to bring whatever they possess, and then see how those things can fit together. We can never expect to see the fullness of the Church’s capacity when we utilize the natures and preferences of historically accepted leadership figures alone.
The word for “peace” in 1 Corinthians 14:33 is the Greek eirḗnē, from the root eirō, which means “to join” or “tie together into a whole.” It is a reference to wholeness, which by definition can only occur when every part is tied in. And that is not achieved by mimicking others or adhering to conventionality, but by bringing who we are. We are meant to discover what the tapestry of the Church actually looks like and how great its capacity for creativity. Anything less is not the body and is not truth.
So many leaders within the church would rather make art by way of copying and pasting a stock image rather than by utilizing all of the supplies at our disposal and fostering an atmosphere in which new things can be made. If we were truly utilizing what we could, each successive generation would contain even more color and expression than the previous. The true order of God and of the universe is to bring the pieces of glory contained in all creation — in every person — into play in all beauty and truth.
Hiding was never something godly and lovely. God is always saying and doing new things out of Her/His unchanging nature of love, and we were made to do the same. “Sing to the LORD a new song… all the earth,” Psalm 96:1. We need to push ourselves and love ourselves, learning about the pieces of who we are. We cannot continue to see unconventionality as disparate from God. Our goal should always be to make the most that we can with all that God has given us, not to gatekeep which parts of people are worthy, or who, by making us the least uncomfortable, deserves to be heard.
If we value a peace of silence over a peace of harmony, God’s creation is stifled and the world becomes off-kilter, like an instrument playing out of tune. Until its frequency has been made harmonious with (and by) the spectrum of creation, the music it plays will never be beautiful.
As usual, the solution is less simple than people want it to be, but more glorious. God has never asked us to avoid being different, outspoken, strange, expressive, etc. God simply wants us not to be discordant. That means fostering the true gifts that are within all members of a community and learning how they can be interwoven. When each instrument is played well, it brings out the glory of the others. We need to learn how to love ourselves and love others — including all of the unusual pieces — otherwise our holiness will always be hidden, buried in the ground.
Megan Mercier is an author and homeopath living in Madison, Wisconsin. She writes the fantasy series The Innerland Chronicles and other fictions under the name Windy Phillips, and also passionately writes, speaks and advocates on the topics of abuse, feminism, and the Church's responsibility. Follow her on Twitter @nutmegisme and her blog at sherlocktam.blogspot.com. She owns and runs Freedom Homeopathy during her spare time as a single mom.“
This guest post was written by Marian Edmonds-Allen and originally published on patheos.com.
Glitter is serious business. No, really.
On March 1st, as the Christian world enters the holy season of Lent, LGBT and LGBT affirming clergy will be offering ashes mixed with a bit of purple glitter as a means of welcoming LGBT people who may have felt rejected by the church and as an affirmation of God’s love for all. The project is a partnership between Parity, Liz Edman (the author of Queer Virtue), and Metropolitan Community Churches, and has clergy from a variety of denominations who will be participating throughout the country, currently in eleven states.
Parity has been receiving criticism that our Glitter Ash Wednesday project is “Blasphemy!” “Save glitter for Fat Tuesday,” some critics say, because glitter betrays the “somber time that is Ash Wednesday.”
We disagree. In fact, the whole point of Glitter Ash Wednesday is to reflect the deep, somber, serious faith in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that millions of queer Christians have. And yes, there are millions of us queer and queer positive Christians. Surprised? No wonder, because the lie gets told over and over again that “God hates fags” and that homosexuality is sinful. Precious few queer Christians survive the hate and make it through to become visible members of the church.
I spent five years working with LGBTQ+ youth and their families in Utah, and saw time and again hundreds of youth and children kicked out for being–or even seeming–LGBTQ+. Parents told their kids, “I wish you had never been born” and even “I wish you were dead.” One week eight young people died by suicide. One night a young girl slept in the snow because her parents told her to leave at bedtime. One Christmas a young teen found himself with a suitcase and no place to go. One trans girl, kicked out by her father the Bishop, walked for miles to “safety,” only to be assaulted again and again.
And why? Because of the misplaced belief that God hates queer people. That queer people are not born that way, that they need to change or face the consequences of their sin. The still burgeoning field of “reparative therapy” attests to that, with thousands of people to this day subjected to terrifying experiences, including physical punishment, all trying to win God’s (and parental) love.
“Throw religion out!” is the rallying cry, and no wonder. While 20% of mainstream Americans don’t identify with a religion, 50% of LGBTQ identified people refuse religious affiliation. Some say this is further proof that God hates gay people, that gay people hate God back. My experience with queer youth, especially queer homeless youth, shows the opposite: spiritually gifted people whose gifts are denied long enough that they no longer even try.
What happens when queer people lose faith? The majority wins. The very people who say God hates gay people are the people who control churches, communities, and governments. Laws are passed, and the cycle continues. Try telling a trans kid that the reason they can’t use the bathroom that matches their gender identity is because “God made Adam and Eve,” and watch their face fall and then harden. Religion is killing kids and expelling them from their homes. Religion is excluding queer people from assuming leadership positions.
But Jesus despised religion and loved people who were hated and excluded–He gathered them to Himself. This Glitter Ash Wednesday, queer Christians are not being silly and disrespectful. They are claiming their birthright as children of a God that loves them, exactly as who they are. These queer and queer positive Christians are claiming the journey that is Lent, towards the persecution and death of Jesus. And these queer and queer positive Christians also claim the resurrection of Jesus. For when those ashes sparkle, that glitter shines, it is a reflection of the very light and life of Christ Himself, given up as a gift for all people. Queer Christians claim that gift, on Ash Wednesday, for all to see.
For more information, visit http://www.queervirtue.com/glitter-ash-wednesday.
Rev. Marian Edmonds-Allen is the Executive Director of Parity, a faith-based organization that works to empower LGBTQ and allied people as they explore the intersections of their spiritual, gender and sexual identities. Parity offers a range of education and advocacy programs for adults and youth, and supports new and prospective LGBTQ faith and social justice leaders. Find out more at parity.nyc.
The Slate Project will be participating in Glitter + Ash this Ash Wednesday, March 1, 2017, at the following locations and times in Baltimore, MD:
7-10am - Penn Station
11-2pm - North Ave. & St. Paul St.
3-6pm - University Pkwy & Charles St.
Iron Man began what is now known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (a.k.a. the MCU) way back in May 2, 2008 and is still considered one of the greatest movies in the continuing collection. Tony Stark says, early in the film while promoting his Jericho missile, "Is it better to be feared or respected? I say, is it too much to ask for both?", and it seems to be the same question that Marvel Studios was asking when releasing their first venture into this acclaimed shared universe. Theologian and Author, John Piper said, "All heroes are a shadow of Christ." Despite whatever thoughts you may have about his books, it is still a thought that I have considered. Watching these movies that have enthralled comic enthusiasts around the world, I can't help but see how the narrative of the Christian faith is seen through this particular lens and platform.
One of the first problems we see thematically present in this movie is the dichotomy of Tony Stark being a weapons manufacturer while at the same time being seen as a hero of sorts (much as his father before him was seen as a "war hero"). Many times, we may have seemingly contradicting things about us as people that need to have a light shone upon them if we're to reconcile our ourselves to our faith; in order to become holistic people, our faith should be shown in both word and action. This brings us to a major question that is covered in both the film and our own lives: what is peace? Is peace "having the biggest stick", or is it more aptly, much like the Hebrew word for peace (shalom), to be complete, perfect and full. In many ways, Tony Stark's development through the MCU shows a back and forth between trying to find his own completeness while continuing to have the bigger stick (i.e. control). For our own development in the Christian walk, this idea of completeness is better understood when finding our identity in Christ.
How do we do that? The way I've best articulated this idea to my students in the past is to stay rooted in the One that made you. This will look different for each of you, be it daily Bible reading or walks in the woods, but I’m not trying to be intangible when I say this: connect to God in ways that are natural to you, but also in new and unexpected ways. You are never a finished product and are always being made new, struggling with sins and dependencies, but through it all we should be asking ourselves, “where do I see God in all of this?” and looking for his hand in the daily, mundane things, as well as the grandiose. I believe wholeheartedly that continually striving to find your identity in Christ (s opposed to other things. i.e. job, family,money, etc.) and living out of that is the most important thing you can do for yourself and the community you find yourself in.
(The idea for this blog post was taken from a podcast that my friend Derrick Weston (@derricklweston) and I recently put together. I wanted to get the thoughts and themes that we discussed in text form to better articulate my own thoughts. Listen to the first episode of "The Gospel According to Marvel" over at iTunes and follow us on Twitter: @marvel_gospel.)
Zane Sanders is a movie lover with a marvel focus. He loves having these sorts of conversations all the time, so feel free to follow him on twitter @zaneEsanders and interact.
Author's Note: Communion is the celebration of the Last Supper. There are two elements: bread or a wafer and wine or grape juice depending on your denomination’s practices. Also depending on your denomination’s practices is whether the offering is symbolic or it actually becomes the body and blood of Christ.
Theological differences aside, I would like to focus on the repast or meal itself and what it means to share in this special meal with others.
I was raised Catholic but became agnostic from the age of thirteen or fourteen. I officially stopped going to mass when I turned eighteen. Still interested in religion, I wanted answers to the big questions and after several years of higher education I found myself knocking on Philosophy’s door. What I found was what philosophers call an aporia or inherent paradox. The philosophical reasoning ran out after a while and I was left with a choice: to believe or not to believe. I stubbornly remained undecided. Communion became part of the special-occasion masses at Christmas and Easter.
Then life decided to teach me other lessons and I went through a rough time. One day I was sitting alone in my apartment, feeling the deafening silence and isolation and I suddenly had a singular thought: “Find a church.”
I tried one church and found it closed. Never one to give up easily I turned right and walked to the next one. It was open; they greeted me warmly and gave me a book to read and a schedule of services. I had just met the Episcopalians. They mentioned an interdenominational service on Mondays. That was where I met Jenn, Jason and Sara. They were leading the Slate Project. It was the first service I would attend at my new church. I quickly became a regular at the more traditional Sunday morning service and the monastic service on Thursday nights as well as at Breaking Bread.
When I arrived at my first Breaking Bread service, I was overcome by friendliness. Everyone greeted each other and prepared for dinner. One or two chefs manned the kitchen. After singing and lighting candles, we gathered in a circle and one of the ministers blessed a loaf of bread and broke it in two, saying “This is my body, broken for you.” Jenn’s four-year-old son endearly calls it the “Jesus Bread.” Half the loaf was passed around and each person broke off a piece, handing it to his or her neighbor and echoing the minister’s words. I wondered what happened to the wafer but once I tried the Jesus Bread a quiet calm settled over my heart. It stayed there as I made new friends over dinner and I got to take the feeling home with me. We all shared in the loaf. Grape juice was drunk at the end of the meal as one of the ministers said “And at the end of the meal, he took the cup and said, ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’”
I have “Jesus Bread” and wine at the other services, both with social events afterward. Three times a week I receive the sacrament, which I find spiritually nourishing and I get to enjoy the company of my fellow parishioners, which is emotionally uplifting. It’s a lot easier to hold the “big questions” in my heart and accept that sometimes there is no clear answer, just Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith.”
Is it any wonder we find the word “community” in “communion?”
Pamela M. Shuggi is a member of the Cathedral of Incarnation in Baltimore. She blogs about books and experiences as vehicles to her personal and professional journey. Follow her at https://pamelashuggi.com. She teaches Spanish at Morgan State University and is a freelance writer, editor and translator. She is the proud pet parent of Caesar, an orange and white tabby cat. She enjoys knitting, reading, practicing yoga and walking.
I’ve been doing the work for LGBTQ equality in the church both personally and professionally for over a decade now. In the early days, because I was newly out and still so raw with that experience, I was happy for whatever crumbs of tolerance I was able to find. This church didn’t overtly condemn LGBT people from the pulpit so I felt good there. This person told me they still loved me even though they didn’t support my “lifestyle”; they got a pass because they at least still loved me.
As the years went on I became a little louder in my calls for true equality but I was still willing to walk and work with people who were on a journey. The mom’s of the kids who had just come out, the Pastors who were personally affirming but struggling with an unaffirming congregation, the people who “wanted” to be on board but just couldn’t get there “theologically”. I may have been frustrated at their slowness but I also trusted that they were moving.
Now, though? Now things have changed. It’s a change that I’ve felt coming on slowly, but that has crystalized rapidly since the November election.
I no longer have time to waste on mealy mouthed half acceptance. I no longer have time to “walk with you” on the journey you should have completed a decade ago. I no longer have time to hold your hand while you process your grief about your kid’s transition. I no longer have time to do this because people are literally dying (and your kid who is transitioning but who is very much alive isn’t one of them).
I run an online community called Sanctuary Collective. It’s a place for LGBTQ Christians to come together and find support. For some of them it’s the only place they can be around other LGBTQ Christians, for others it’s the only place they can bring all of themselves to the table. In in their affirming churches they still have to leave too much out. I am both honored to run this community and angered by the need for it.
And the stories I hear break my heart because they come from people who consider themselves loving and affirming but who won’t let LGBTQ people serve in leadership in their churches, or who require ridiculous standards around sex, or who “love” their kids but who still won’t let them bring their partner over for dinner.
All of these people who claim to love but who are killing the souls of LGBTQ people. It has to stop and it has to stop now. Right now. Right this instant. Not with another ten years of theological writings or discernment periods. Not with church committees to “examine the issue”. Not with agreements to disagree in love. A full stop to the oppression and marginalization of LGBTQ people in the church needs to happen today. No more excuses. No more journeys that are really shields to protect you from having to do the hard things.
People need to leave unaffirming churches. People need to abandon hateful theology. People need to love their LGBTQ siblings in all of their complexity (and that includes identities that you might not understand or be comfortable with).
In Deuteronomy 30:15 it says “See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.” God sets a choice between the people and lets them choose: life or death. there is no third way when it comes to justice, there is the way of life and the way of death. There is the full acceptance of LGBTQ people (which is the way of life for both LGBTQ people and for straight, cisgender people) and there is the way of death. There is no middle way. Not anymore. Though, the more I think about it, I don’t think there ever really was.
If you’re willing to choose life, then let’s get to work. If you’re choosing death? Well, I no longer have time for the way of death. My community and I have too much beautiful living to do.
Father Shannon T.L. Kearns (he/him/his) is a writer, speaker, and theologian. He is the co-founder of Queer Theology. He is also the founder of Uprising Theatre Company. He graduated from Union Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity and is an ordained priest in the Old Catholic Church. Fr. Shay is a sought after speaker on queer theology, transgender issues, and the intersections of identity and faith. He’s been published in Geez Magazine, Lavender Magazine, Believe Out Loud, and the Huffington Post, and featured in The Advocate and the Star Tribune. You can find him on Facebook, twitter, tumblr, instagram, and his website.
Originally a post on Father James Martin's public Facebook page, this reflection on the call to treat migrants and refugees as Christ went viral, and the accompanying video has been viewed by over 3 million people and shared over 50,000 times.
“I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.”
President Trump has announced that he will order the construction of a Mexican border wall, the first in a series of actions to crack down on immigrants, which will include slashing the number of refugees who can resettle in the United States, and blocking Syrians and others from what are called “terror-prone nations” from entering, at least temporarily.
These measures, which mean the rejection of the stranger, the rejection of the person in need, the rejection of those who suffer, are manifestly un-Christian and utterly contrary to the Gospel. Indeed, last year, Pope Francis said, "A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the Gospel."
To read the rest of the article click here.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light… (Isaiah 9: 2)
For months, many of us have walked in darkness. We have struggled through the seven stages of grief: shock, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression, and finally this weekend we collectively manifest our hope.
Saturday January 21, 2017 the world responded to the election of Donald Trump
as president of the United States. Millions of people around the world showed up to march. We not only marched against the rhetoric of fear, and the political agenda of domination embodied in the man who took the oath of office Friday. We marched for love, for freedom, for one another.
To read the rest of the article, click here.
Jesus wasn't white. We know this. I regularly visit a vast diversity of churches, and I always pay attention how Jesus is portrayed. It matters.
The predominant images of white Jesus aren't just factually wrong - they are theologically dangerous and inherently violent.
One need to look no further than Dylann Roof, who walked into a South Carolina church filled with God-breathed black people, spent an hour in Bible study, and then reloaded five times - all in the name of white supremacy. He was unapologetic and unrepentant, and he remains so to this day.
And he was confirmed as a Lutheran in an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) community.
This fact has been the source of much hand-wringing and general "Yes, but" comments - something that rubs me in a particularly wrong way, since these are my people. (I've been ordained in the ELCA since 2010.)
Roof is back in the news, not just because of the trial, but also because some more of his demonic writings while in prison have come to light. In particular, he calls Christianity a religion full of "white warriors," and sees Jesus as a holy leader in the movement for white supremacy.
Since Roof's actions are a special brand of horrific, we often get away with dismissing his disgusting views as a one-off. "That's not us," we say.
But as much as we may want to, we cannot divorce ourselves from Dylann Roof. He is ours; and we are his. It's what evangelical leader Jim Wallis calls the "original sin" of these United States. And this sin infects all of us - including, in a very specific way, white people like me. Like Roof.
In some ways, the very soul of white Christianity is on trial in our country today - and for too long, our defense has been some variation of "well, not all of us are..." This line of thinking simply does not hold water.
We are called to resist and call things what they are, not look the other way and theologically shrug our shoulders. Our Church has created the atmosphere for hatred to brew.
This is because when Dylann Roof looked up at white Jesus, he saw one of his own - a Savior for white people; a Messiah for whiteness; a teacher of white supremacy. Roof probably rarely - if ever - saw images of a Jesus who wasn't white. White Jesus is the norm. It's why when any of us, no matter what race, see a Jesus of color - a more accurate Jesus - it often elicits a reaction. We've been lulled into accepting an insidious lie.
And what a whopper it is. Turning Jesus of Nazareth from a brown, Palestinian Jew who was murdered by the Powers That Be into a white European bent on ushering in the opposite of the kingdom of God - nothing less than Roof's white supremacist "utopia" - is as big as lies can get.
This is the lie that feeds the unique breed of white American Christian terrorists. It's not enough to look the other way. We who are white and Christian must own it, claim it, and dismantle it. It's not easy work, but it's damn sure necessary work.
One could even say it's holy work.
Some Gospel lessons can be re-titled, “Christianity in one sentence or less” because they’re filled with concise statements on leading a life as a follower of Jesus. Like:
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34)
“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit” (I would also add to make sure you’re wearing good shoes) (Luke 12:35).
“The Lord is my Shepherd” (Psalm 23).
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16)
These neat little sayings got me to thinking about signs out front of some churches. You know the signs, right, with the large plastic letters or LED lights? The signs that have a saying for the week, and that are able to neatly bottle up the Christian message? Here are some choice selections:
“Need a lifeguard? Ours walks on water.”
“Bring your sin to the altar and drop it like it’s hot, drop it like it’s hot, drop it like it’s hot.”
“God reigns and the Son shines.”
And my personal favorite: “Don’t let anger kill you; let the church help.”
Aren’t such little sayings helpful in spreading the Christian message? Um, no. If it all breaks down to smart sayings, I could just stop this post. But being followers of Jesus is more than just taking in a one-liner. It’s about taking in the entirety of the message, all of the words of the Word made flesh born among us. Not just hearing or seeing these words, but listening to them, taking them in, digesting them in the Eucharist, even wrestling with them... having them accompany us on our journeys, especially during those times where we may just be in a rough place. Yet there’s a one-liner from the Gospel read on Christmas Eve that really gets to me. Some of us may have heard it while we’re stressed, while we’re fearful... “Do not be afraid...”
Do. Not. Be. Afraid. Spoken under the rule of an oppressive empire. Spoken to shepherds in the fields, literally and figuratively on the edge of society, by an angel of the Lord.
Don’t be afraid. It’s so easy to read. But do we remember this when we’re leading our day-to-day lives, and something happens where we had a planned trajectory for our lives... and it seems that God’s trajectory is entirely different from what you had planned? It’s no coincidence these words come to us in this season of Christ’s arrival. A child who comes to change everything. A child whose arrival is to redeem and restore a broken world. This is actually scary stuff. How can we not be afraid when we’re living in a stance of waiting and anticipation and when so much in the world around us is in turmoil? Hoping for divisions and fractures to be repaired, waiting and hoping for restoration in the nation, in the world. Especially wanting peace to reign upon this world where there is desperate need.
I’ve wondered what the Gospel of Christmas Eve has to say to us, especially when our plans and expectations we had for ourselves and the world do not coincide with God’s plans? What happens, when our trajectory isn’t what God intended? What happens when the plans you made... don’t happen? There’s fear, anxiety. Have you had them, fears and anxieties? Let me make a gross assumption: you’ve had them. During times when we don’t know what’s coming next? When you’ve had plans that you’ve made, determined and resolved where your life was going to go... just like shepherds tending their flock in a field late one evening? Just like Joseph resolved to quietly dismiss a pregnant Mary?
I think of Luke 2 being a call story. Not just for the shepherds to see God made flesh, but also for us to respond to God born in our midst. Like any call story, there is an individual who had plans, or was supposed to live out stereotypical expectations. Moses. Jeremiah. Jonah. Paul. Mary. The shepherds. Us. Then a messenger, an angel of the Lord, or even God’s own self comes to set a new path; a different path; a faithful path. There’s resistance and struggle. Why me God? How can this be? No, I am not worthy because I am not filled with holy words. No God, I had different plans for what I wanted for my life.
I am afraid.
Yet the angel of the Lord professes, “Do not be afraid.” The angel tells the shepherds to see good news and great joy: the Messiah. A chorus of angels arrives to profess, “Glory to God in the highest heaven!” I cannot imagine what was going through the minds of the shepherds at that moment. If they were terrified with what they just heard and saw. Yet they were able to take the words in, “Do not be afraid,” and hurried to Bethlehem.
What if the shepherds gave into that fear? Fear... it holds us back. Writer Annie Dillard stated, “So once in Israel, love came to us incarnate and stood in the doorway between the two worlds, and we were all afraid.” Afraid because this love challenges the plans we had for ourselves and for our loved ones. This love is radical, illogical, and goes against the norms of human nature. We are afraid because this Incarnate love challenges us to turn outward from ourselves and out to a world that desperately needs to know of this love. We are called to care about more than whatever the “status quo” may be. But to turn inward... we would live outside this illogical, radical love that was born into this world. God constantly calls out to you and me.
God is moving, and that is evidenced here. Today. Now. And tomorrow. Our God is a God of not just call, but out of response to such immense and illogical love, yearns for a response. Not a response to earn God’s favor, but that yearning to make the world right again, to live out that Emmanuel was here, that Emmanuel will come again. This is reflected in a liturgy of call and response; when God calls, God yearns and aches for us to respond to our neighbor in the pew. To our neighbor wherever we live. To our neighbor in desperate need. With such love as to be fed and bathed with God’s own life in the sacraments, we are called to respond. We are called to live out that liturgy, the work of the people.
God feeds us and prepares us, in hopes we’ll reach back, in hopes we’ll respond to one another, in hopes we’ll respond to God. Scripture continues to be fulfilled because God wants to be in relationship with us, and wants us to be in right relationship with one another to be Christ’s body in the world. The Scripture that has been fulfilled is when we realize that God’s been present for us all along, waiting for us to notice, waiting for us to respond to that call.
Rev. Tuhina Verma Rasche (@tvrasche) is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and serves in the San Francisco Bay Area. She also served as a young adult mentor with The Forum for Theological Exploration, blogs at thislutheranlife.blogspot.com and https://medium.com/@tvrasche, and is the Networker for and co-conspirator with #decolonizeLutheranism.