December 3, 2017 – “Defiance”

Today’s text is from Daniel 3:8-30

Cows. For every three Americans there is one cow in the U.S. – or should I say, bovine – the all-encompassing term for this species. Because you’ve got bulls, mavericks, calves, heifers, steers, oxen, beef cattle, dairy cattle, and of course, cows.

Nearly one-hundred million cattle roaming the countryside. Now, here in the U.S. we don’t consider cattle anything too sacred – of course farmers are going to consider them part of their livelihoods – but here in the city we don’t see cows too often.

Which makes the term “sacred cow” even stranger for our American ears. This idiom in English comes from the fact that for many religions and peoples across the globe cows are considered sacred. They’re simply crucial to sustaining life – they provide work in the fields as oxen, they provide meat as beef cattle, they provide milk as dairy cattle – they’re truly the lifeblood for many people across the millennia.

And so we get the term “sacred cow”; and according to the folks over at Merriam-Webster it’s something that is “unreasonably immune from criticism or opposition”. Unreasonably immune from criticism or opposition.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego have run into a sacred cow in today’s reading. As we heard last week the people of Israel are in exile in the city of Babylon. And the king of Babylon couldn’t care less about the religious beliefs of this exiled people.

These three won’t worship this sacred cow – this idol before them – this thing that wasn’t the Lord God.

And so there are consequences. We’re told they don’t care. They tell the king, “We do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us. But even if he does not, we want you to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

But even if God does not. They’re defiant. They spit in the face of the king. They claim, on their lives, that nothing is more important than the Lord their God. That no matter what happens they will have faith; that nothing the king can or will do will remove their faith in God.

What a faith to have. It’s not a faith and trust that requires God to save them in that moment. It’s not a faith or trust that must be propped up by miracles. It’s a faith that is grounded in the deep foundations of God’s promise of salvation. It’s a faith that doesn’t waver in the face of adversity or fear. It’s a faith that doesn’t budge even in the face of death.

And so these three are free. They’re free to go about their lives living out the principles and foundations of their faith. They’re free to go toe-to-toe with the empire and their sacred cows because God has already taken care of them. So, they have nothing to fear.

But to have this type of trust in God’s promises is incredibly difficult. To live out God’s justice and righteousness in the world without fearing the consequences or retribution from those who demand allegiance to their idols and sacred cows is frightening.

Take the continued reckoning on the numerous men who have been accused of sexual harassment recently. Males in positions of power have always been unreasonably immune from criticism or opposition. Women across this country, and the world, have faced this idol and found themselves powerless. Even when they have come forward – when they’ve felt empowered and free to speak out they’ve seen the fires as a consequence – they’ve been called liars, threatened with lawsuits, told they should’ve spoke up sooner – all hell breaks loose when these men have found their idol status beginning to crumble.

And so, like the king, they turn up the flames, they dial up the heat on the furnace of deniability. And so many women are faced with a choice: Be called a liar, be told they’re political pawns, be told that sacred cows will burn up anyone in their path who dares oppose them; or, or, be thrown into the fire even if no one comes to save them – all in the name of justice.

Or take the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. In the spring of 1963, King was in jail. His disapproval rating hovered around 37% – but it would get worse – three years later, just two years before his assassination, it landed on 63%. 63% of Americans disapproved with Martin Luther King, Jr; a number today that stands at only 4%.

But back in that Birmingham jail, King wrote this: “One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

“Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake.”

One week before this letter was written marches and sit-ins had been occurring in Birmingham. A week after these began a judge decided People of Color needed to remember their place – needed to remember they must bow to the idol of racism.

And so, an injunction against parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing, and picketing was implemented. Two days later, King was arrested; arrested for not bowing to the idols and sacred cows those in power demanded he follow.

The flames were fanned, the furnace set to high; because when sacred cows are challenged all hell breaks loose. A landscape that made 63% of Americans disapprove of Martin Luther King, Jr.

And so, as we enter this season of Advent with our focus of “Holy Darkness” we’re reminded that engrained in our minds as a society and culture are the ideas that light is good and dark is bad; that white is pure and black is bad.

We’re reminded of all the ways People of Color are still demanded to bow to idols of racism and white supremacy – sometimes even derogatorily told to stand – all to the gods we’ve created.

Holy Darkness reminds us that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. Holy Darkness asks us to uncover the sacred cows and idols that exist everywhere in our culture. Holy Darkness invites us to walk with the oppressed into the flames of fury because there is only one god that we worship: The God of new and abundant life.

We’re reminded that civil disobedience is usually not accepted by the majority of society – by those in charge of the idols and sacred cows. We’re reminded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood in defiance to those in power and refused to bow to their sacred cows. We’re reminded that women across the world are unveiling the abuses and harassment they face on a daily basis. We’re reminded that acts of civil disobedience by Martin Luther King, Jr. were once as unpopular as Colin Kaepernick.

And so this day we pray for courage. We pray for justice and not silence. We pray for faith that can move mountains and faith that is rooted and grounded in the foundation of salvation found in Jesus Christ. A faith that cannot be moved come hell or high water or the fires of the hottest furnace when idols and sacred cows are thrust before us.

For our God has saved us. There is no doubt, no question, no reason to not believe you are redeemed through the death and resurrection of your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

And so we pray this day that like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego we have the courage to challenge the unchallengeable. To question the unquestionable. To face the fires of oppression and continue our march for justice anyway, for the God we serve will deliver us.

But even if, even if God does not, our ultimate deliverance has already been secured in the hands of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. For nothing – not even the burning fires of death – can separate us from the love and salvation of Jesus Christ.


November 26, 2017 – “Exiled”

Today’s text is from Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14.

Jeremiah is up against fake news. His people, the people of Israel, are in trouble. They’ve been exiled – banished, deported – from their home country to a strange and foreign land.

They find themselves in the city of Babylon. Their culture, their religion, their way of life – all of it – gone. They’re devastated, in pain, and looking for any sign that God will reverse their fortunes.

This is where the fake news enters the equation. False prophets are spreading false hope to the people. They’re telling the Israelites that in no time at all they’ll be back home in Jerusalem. That there’s no reason to worry, no need to fear, no need to put down roots in this foreign city because God is going to rescue them soon.

And this is where Jeremiah enters the equation. See, Jeremiah knows something about this exile that no one else does. Jeremiah knows that the people weren’t banished from their homeland by an enemy, or army, or hostile people. The people of Israel were sent into exile by God.

The hope of leaving anytime soon is simply untrue  – because God is requiring 70 years worth of exile in this foreign land.

70 years. That’s multiple generations. There’s no hope of leaving tomorrow, or next month, or next year, or in the next decade, or even in a lifetime.

The false prophets bringing the false hope are a dangerous virus in the midst of a weary people. It’s a deadly bug that strikes the exiled people of Israel, and us, right in the heart. It hits our memories of what used to be – for the people of Israel it was life in their own country, in their own city, with their own customs and rituals and norms. False hope was a pair of rose colored glasses that looked at the present in front of them and only dreamt of the past and not visioned for the future.

False hope would prevent them from addressing their current reality, false hope would reject the future because it was filled with unknowns and anxiety and fear, false hope longed for the past, for the what had been, for the glory days.

God hears their cries, it’s just not the answer they want. And so Jeremiah tells the people what they need to hear; the truth. That there’s no going back, there’s only going forward. That this is the hand the people have been dealt. So now what. Now what are they going to do about it?

This, so often, is life. That no matter how much we pray, cry, dream, wish, or hope – that often the disease remains, the pain won’t go away, the diagnosis won’t change, a loved one can’t come back, friends let us down, job doesn’t pay enough, can’t catch a break, the meds don’t help, the anxiety won’t go away.

In times like these it’s easy to think back to a better time, to dream of the past and wish it were the present. But Jeremiah warns the people – and us – against such false hope.

Jeremiah says this is the hand you’ve been dealt – now what? Wish for better cards or play the hand you’ve got? Hope and dream for the past to become the present? Or hope and dream for the present to become a new future?

So often we as a people look to the past and dream it were our present. But as Jeremiah asks the people of Israel, and us, what was so great about the past? The people of Israel were sent into exile because their past was less than stellar.

And we, as a people, when we hear about being made new, being made great, is it in reference to the past or the future? Is it a hope that lies in what has been or what could be?

See, hope is a powerful thing. Hope of newness, beginnings, hope built in the reality of the present. Because sometimes our present reality is bleak. Sometimes we might wish that God would snap a finger and make everything better. Sometimes a new chance, a new family, a new job, a new city, a new home seems like it would make all the difference.

But this isn’t the purpose of our faith, this isn’t the mission of our Savior. In Jesus Christ we have each been called to live in the midst of the world around us. We’ve each been called to spread the hope of new life through every aspect of our lives.

We’re each been called to create a new and hopeful future, not simply dream of what could have been, but what could still be.

We might not always like the answer. The people of Israel knew that God was with them, knew that one day they would be in a better place.

But for 70 years they had to wait. And for 70 years God called them to make this foreign land, this strange city, this place that felt desolate and void of anything meaningful – God called them to love the creation around them just the same. God called them to love their neighbors as themselves. God called them to be hopeful for a new future instead of dreaming only of the past.

Because no matter where we are in life we have the ability to be Christ to the world through our words and actions. No matter what hand life has dealt us, we can look to the future with hope: because in and through Jesus Christ we have already received peace, joy, love, and salvation.

And so, we wait. We wait together as one people of God. We wait together in peace and love. We wait together through joy and sorrow. We wait because this is not the end, it’s only the beginning. And while we wait, we hope, we love, we sing, we pray, we dance, we cry, we forgive, we continue to bring about the future we wait for by doing God’s will on earth as it is in heaven. 

By loving one another, whether they are stranger or friend, native or foreigner, in the same way Jesus Christ first loved us: Abundantly and unending. 

November 19, 2017 – “Twilight”

Today’s text is from Isaiah 9:1-7.

Twilight. It’s defined as the time before the sun is visible above the horizon, yet its light is still scattered across the sky. A time of day that’s nowhere near close to the brightness of a clear, noon day, but still a great light in comparison to the midnight sky. 

Twilight. The word alone tells you what time of day it is. And yet it doesn’t. 

Twilight. The sun could have just dipped beneath the horizon and with each passing moment light becomes a thing of the past as the night sets in. 

Twilight. The sun may be moments away from bursting up over the horizon to transform the red-orange sky to a deep hue of daytime blue. 

Twilight. The people of Israel are living in it in our reading today. Having just been besieged by the Assyrian Empire they now find themselves living in a land of darkness. There is a yoke of burden on them, a bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressors bearing down on them. 

Twilight can quickly spiral into night. The silence and emptiness of night can overtake our senses, it can seep into your soul, it can take the very hope from you. The people of Israel – oppressed, rejected, silenced – the spiral of deepening night seeks to overtake them. 

But God hears their cries. God steps forth and promises a light that will shine in the darkness. A light that will overtake the night and lift the people into twilight and to the rising sun. 

Perhaps you are in need of this upheaval. Perhaps you are in need of the hope and promise of new life in Jesus Christ that transforms night into day – that flips the world upside down so that the setting sun begins to rise. So that twilight signals a new day and not the end to one. 

People across this earth are in need of this reversal, this upheaval, this changing of the cosmos to bring forth light. People are waiting to see if the twilight will turn into day or night. People are waiting, hoping, praying that slowly but surely light will beget light and that exponentially the sky will burst with brightness. 

It’s contagious, hope. Rebellions, upheavals, societal changes, justice – all of it often built on hope. All of it often built in the courage to say that night will not fall; that injustice will reign no more, that wars will cease, and that all people will be able to watch as twilight turns into morning. As morning turns into day. As day brings about justice and righteousness that will last forever and ever. 

All of it – established and upheld through the birth of a child. All of it – established and upheld through you and me. Night turned into day with the burning of tools of war. Night turned into day by the burning revelations of perverse injustice and oppression. 

Even now – all these thousands of years later – we see twilight being turned to day by the bright revealing of sin in the world. Even now we find the uncovering of injustice, we watch as the veil is pulled back and oppression exposed, we witness the voices of those who would seek to turn twilight into day. 

And yet we also see those who would wish to live in the night. We see those who would seek to hold the rod of oppression, the yoke of injustice, the flashlight of privilege that would allow some to live in the night and others to wander in despair. 

Justice and righteousness are something that must be established and upheld, according to Isaiah. Turning twilight into daylight and not nighttime requires courage and a willingness to also stand in the purifying and cleansing light of day. 

In Jesus Christ we find this light shining in the darkness. In Jesus Christ we find the hope and promise of night being turned to day. And through the power of the Holy Spirit we find that we too have the opportunity to shine the light of Christ in the world. 

We too – a people who live in twilight – a people who often wonder whether night is about to fall or if the hope of new life in Jesus Christ is about to shine bright – we too have the opportunity to establish and uphold justice. 

We too have the chance to seek out our neighbors across town and across the world and bring about the dawn of a new day. For the anxiety, the fear, the oppression, the burden of night are revealed and exposed by the burning fires of God’s justice and righteousness. 

For in Jesus Christ, twilight will turn into day, hope will turn into reality, and new life, justice, and righteousness will be abundant and overflowing.