Messages of Hope

Month: November 2020

Jesus and the Reign of God

Published / by Sandy

Richard Rohr reflects on Jesus and the Reign of God. The last Sunday of the Church year (Nov 22) has a focus on the Reign of God (Reign of Christ), before we move into Advent.

Jesus announced, lived, and inaugurated for history a new social order. He called it the Reign (or Kingdom) of God and it became the guiding image of his entire ministry. The Reign of God is the subject of Jesus’ inaugural address (see Mark 1:15, Matthew 4:17, and Luke 4:14–30), his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7), and the majority of his parables. Once this guiding vision of God’s will became clear to Jesus, which seems to have happened when he was about thirty and alone in the desert, everything else came into perspective. In fact, Matthew’s Gospel says, “From then onwards” (4:17), Jesus began to preach.

In order to explain this concept, it may be helpful to first say what it is not: the “Kingdom” is not synonymous with heaven. Many Christians have mistakenly thought that the Reign of God is “eternal life,” or where we go after we die. That idea is disproven by Jesus’ own prayer: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

Thy Kingdom come” means very clearly that God’s realm is something that enters into this world, or, as Jesus puts it, “is close at hand” (Matthew 10:7). We shouldn’t project it into another world. What we discover in the New Testament, especially in Matthew’s Gospel, is that the Kingdom of God is a new world order, a new age, a promised hope begun in the teaching and ministry of Jesus – and continued in us.

I think of the Kingdom of God as the Really Real (with two capital Rs). That experience of the Really Real – the “Kingdom” experience – is the heart of Jesus’ teaching. It’s Reality with a capital R, the very bottom line, the pattern-that-connects. It’s the goal of all true religion, the experience of the Absolute, the Eternal, what is.

God gives us just enough tastes of God’s realm to believe in it and to want it more than anything. In the parables, Jesus never says the Kingdom is totally now or totally later. It’s always now-and-not-yet. When we live inside the Really Real, we live in a “threshold space” between this world and the next. We learn how to live between heaven and earth, one foot in both worlds, holding them precious together.

We only have the first fruits of the Kingdom in this world, but we experience enough to know that it’s the only thing that will ever satisfy us. Once we have had the truth, half-truths do not satisfy us anymore. In its light, everything else is relative, even our own life.

(Adapted from Richard Rohr with John Bookser Feister,  Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount (Franciscan Media: 1996), 3–4, 29, 109–110, 111)

Our Values Matter

Published / by Greg Elsdon

Our Values Matter

A sermon from The Most Rev. Michael Curry is the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.

And now in the name of our loving, liberating, and life-giving God, father, son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak and taught them….” Matthew 5:1-2
 

I

The Beatitudes, just read in a variety of voices from around our country, are part of a compendium of some of the teachings of Jesus that tradition has called “The Sermon on the Mount.”  They are so named because the setting for these teachings of Jesus is on a mountaintop. That is not an incidental detail.

In 1939 the late Zora Neale Hurston published a novel that retold the biblical story of Moses and the Hebrew freedom movement recorded in the book of Exodus. She told it in the idiom of African slaves in America, but she wrote it as an ingenious critique of lynching and the immorality of Jim Crow segregation here at home, and a critique of the rising tide of fascism, authoritarianism, hatred, and bigotry around the world that would lead to the Second World War. She titled the book, Moses, Man of the Mountain.

“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain and taught them.”

The mountain is not an incidental background detail. When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain and began to teach them. Matthew was deliberately and intentionally invoking the memory of Moses around what Jesus was doing in the sermon on the Mount.

It was on a mountain called Sinai that God confronted Moses and challenged him to live beyond mere self-interest and to give his life in the service of God’s cause of human freedom. “Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt land, and tell ole Pharaoh, let my people go.”

Years later when the Israelites had won freedom, it was on that same mountain that Moses received the Ten Commandments; God’s law and principles for living with freedom.

And at the end of his life, it was on another mountain, Mt. Nebo, that God allowed Moses to, as the slaves use to say, look over yonder to behold a promised land.

Centuries after Moses, in Memphis, Tennessee, a follower of Jesus named Martin, on the night before he was martyred for freedom’s cause, spoke of hope in the biblical language of the mountain. “I’ve been to the mountaintop, and I’ve seen the promised land.” No, the mountain is not an incidental detail.

The mountaintop: That is where prophets and poets look over yonder, to behold not what is but what ought to be. To behold the promised land of God; a new heaven, a new earth, the kingdom of God, the reign of God’s love breaking in, the beckoning of the beloved community, a reconfiguration of the landscape of reality from the nightmare it often is into the promised land of God’s dream for the human family and all creation.

“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain and taught them.”

What did he reveal from that mountaintop? He told them about the way to the promised land.

Blessed are you when you’re poor and broken-hearted. Here’s the way.
Blessed are you when you’re compassionate and merciful. This is the way.
Blessed are you when you’re humble and meek. This is the way.
Blessed are you peacemakers who will not cease from striving until human beings learn to lay down their swords and shields down by the riverside to study war no more.
This is the way to the promised land.

Blessed are you when you hunger and thirst that God’s righteous justice might prevail in every society, in every age, for all time.
This is the way.

Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.
Love God, your neighbor, yourself.
Love when they spit, shout and call you everything but a child of God.
Love!
This is the way. the way to the promised land.
When you live something like this, when you look something like this,
when we love like this, then we are on our way to the promised land.

You may be thinking, this sounds wonderful in church, but will it work in the world? Can such lofty ideals about hope, beloved community, and the reign of God be translated into human reality and society? Some years ago I was in the public library working on a sermon. I took a break and walked around the stacks looking at books. In the religion section I came upon a little book with an old black binding, published by St. Martin’s Press titled, The Great Sayings of Jesus.

The forward to the book was written by Richard Holloway, who once served as the Primus or presiding bishop of the Scottish Episcopal Church. He said that in Gospels generally and, “In the Sermon on the Mount, in particular, we get from Jesus something of God’s dream for a transformed creation. But the epilogue [the rest of the Gospel story] reminds us that the dream is costly, that dreams are cruelly disposed of by the world as we know it. Yet the dream lives on, nothing can kill it for long; and Jesus goes on breaking out of the tombs into which we have consigned him.”

“The dream lives on.” Do not underestimate the power of a dream, a moral principle, eternal verities, virtues and values that lift us up and move us forward. For true and noble ideals and the dream of a promised land have their source in the God who the Bible says is love. And God, as my grandmother’s generation used to say, God is still on the throne!

Our ideals, values, principles and dreams of beloved community matter. They matter because they drive us beyond service of self alone, to commitment to the greater good of us all. They matter because they give us an actual picture of God’s reign of love, and a reason to struggle and make it real. They matter to our lives as people of faith. They matter to our life in civil society. They matter to our life as a nation and as a world. Our values matter!

II

They matter in some simple and yet significant ways. A number of years ago Robert Fulghum wrote a wonderful book titled, All I really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.
Here is a list of the things – the values – he learned: 

  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Don’t hit people.
  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
  • Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • Wash your hands before you eat.
  • Flush.
  • When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.

Imagine a world in which these basic values don’t matter.

Share everything? Imagine a world in which the value of sharing is replaced by greed and selfishness.
Play fair? No, cheat, lie, steal. That would make for an interesting World Series, NBA Championship, Super Bowl, election, democracy.
Wash your hands before you eat. No, let’s spread the germs.
Flush. I rest my case.
“When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.”
No, it’s everyone for themselves.

Our values matter! A world, a society, a life devoid of values and ideals that ennoble, that lift up and liberate, is a world descending into the abyss, a world that is a dystopian vision of hell on earth.

Mahatma Gandhi knew something about the power of ideals, dreams, and values. He said it this way.

Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.


Our values matter!

III

The values and dreams we hold as a nation, our shared American values, they matter even more. We hold this prayer service in the midst of a national election, in the context of profound divisions that left unhealed could prove injurious to the fabric of democracy itself. The right to vote and to participate in the democratic process is a value of the highest order.

To be sure, no form of governance attains perfection. The preamble to the Constitution wisely reminds us that each generation must continue the evolving work of forming “a more perfect union.” No, our democracy is not perfect, but it offers the best hope yet devised for government that fosters human freedom, equal justice under the law, the dignity and the equality of every human being made, as the Bible says, in the image of God.

Reinhold Niebuhr said it well, “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.”

Despite our flaws and failings, we have some shared values. One of them is the preservation and perfection of representative democracy itself, “that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

We don’t think of it this way very often but love for each other is a value on which our democracy depends.  On the Great Seal of the United States, above the bald eagle are banners on which the Latin words, e pluribus unum are written. Those words, e pluribus unum, literally mean, “one out of many.” One nation from many diverse people.

But do you know where those words come from? They come from the writings of Cicero who lived during the time of the Roman Republic. Cicero said, “When each person loves the other as much as himself, it makes one out of many.” Cicero who gave us those words said that love for each other is the way to make e pluribus unum real. Jesus of Nazareth taught us that. Moses taught us that. America listen to Cicero, Jesus, Moses. Love is the way to make e pluribus unum real. Love is the way to be America for real.

We have some shared values.

Thomas Jefferson gave voice to these shared values in the Declaration of Independence.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

We have shared national values. Abraham Lincoln gave voice to them when he said in the Gettysburg Address:

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

We have shared national values. Every one of us was taught these words as a child in school.

I pledge allegiance to the flag
of the United States of America
And to the republic for which it stands
One nation, Under God, Indivisible
With liberty, And justice, For all

 We sing our shared values.
 

America. America.
God shed his grace on thee.
And crown thy good with brotherhood.
From sea to shining sea.

At a church picnic, many years ago when I was a parish priest, I happened to be sitting at a picnic table with parishioners, several of whom were veterans of World War II and Korea. One of the men sitting there, then well into his 80s, was one of the Tuskegee Airman, the first black air unit to fight.

He started talking about Eleanor Roosevelt, and he spoke of her with great reverence and respect. He went on to explain why. In the beginning the Tuskegee airmen were being trained to fly, yet they were prohibited from flying and fighting for their country because of the color of their skin.

At the time there was a great debate in Congress and the country as to whether or not a black person had the lung capacity to handle altitude. And, if they had the brain capacity to handle the intellectual rigors of flying. Scientists were brought in to argue the case on both sides. Nothing changed. The Tuskegee Airmen kept training.

The tide turned when Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States, went to Tuskegee and brought the press with her. While the cameras flashed, she got in a plane piloted by a Tuskegee airman and flew for 45 minutes over the Alabama countryside. The picture of her in the plane with the black airmen went viral. And it changed the debate.

What led Eleanor Roosevelt to stand with them? In a spiritual biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, Harold Ivan Smith said she “wanted her critics to join her in working toward a new America that lived out the Declaration of Independence and the Beatitudes of Jesus.” She was holding on to deep American ideals, the values of this country. And lifting up the values of God.

What led the Tuskegee Airmen to fly, fight, and even die for their country? Between 1943 and 1945 those airmen flew over 15,000 sorties. Recognitions included 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Silver Star, 14 Bronze Stars, 744 Air Medals, and 8 Purple Hearts. In 2007 President George W. Bush awarded 300 Tuskegee Airmen the Congressional Gold Medal.

I was raised by folk like those guys sitting at that picnic table. In her living room, my grandma proudly displayed the pictures of her two sons who fought in World War II, serving in segregated units within the Army Air Corps. My wife has her grandfather’s discharge papers; he fought in a black unit in World War I. This I know: They loved America even when America didn’t love us. They believed in America because – even when America falls short – the values and ideals of America, the dream of America, stands tall and true and will one day see us through.

So whatever your politics, however you have or will cast your vote, however this election unfolds, wherever the course of racial reckoning and pandemic take us, whether we are in the valley or the mountaintop, hold on to the hope of America. Hold on to hope grounded in our shared values and ideals. Hold on to God’s dream. Hold on and struggle and walk and pray for our nation, in the words of James Weldon Johnson…

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.


This sermon has been shared with Church Anew with permission by the Office of the Right Reverend Michael B. Curry, The Episcopal Church, in its entirety. The Most Rev. Michael Curry is the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church and the author of the book “Love Is the Way: Holding On to Hope in Troubling Times”.

Always was, always will be (NAIDOC Week 2020)

Published / by Sandy

NAIDOC Week 2020 acknowledges and celebrates that Australia’s story didn’t begin with documented European contact. The very first footprints on this continent were those belonging to First Nations peoples.
NAIDOC 2020 invites all Australians to embrace the true history of this country – a history which dates back thousands of generations.
It’s about seeing, hearing and learning the First Nations’ 65,000+ year history of this country – which is Australian history. We want all Australians to celebrate that we have the oldest continuing cultures on the planet and to recognise that our sovereignty was never ceded.

Always was
Always will be
The Lands I walk on
And the Lands that walk within me

To know the history of First Peoples
Is to know the importance of place,
To know what being on country is,
Is to know and feel the connection

To want to hear the stories and feel the stories is our call to all,
To want to know and hear the Lands
as a gift, to our being and knowing,
To know and hear from First Peoples, is how we as First and
Second Peoples are called to the growing

To know the significance and compass that abounds us,
as First Peoples through place,
is to know our links to the Land surpasses all time and space

But in knowing that connection
Is to know and reflect on, dispossession and its true realisation,
To hear the Land relation, is a call to know
and reflect on the impacts of invasion and colonisation

What is country, what is milaythina ningee (Mother Earth) in the
now and in the forever time for First Peoples?

Stolen lands,
At the colonisers hands,
Stolen connection,
By forced removals,
Under the myth of protection.

The Land is us,
And we are the Land
Imagine and reflect on what happens when that is taken away?
May our Churches and agencies discern,
For it is in Nature’s classroom that we truly learn
Learn the struggle and the survival of a people and place in realisation,
Hear the cries of our people at the hands of colonisation

Reflect on Always was Always will be,
Not in words, but in action too
And embrace the message to unlearn and be free,
Not just in words but in hearts, souls and spirits too
And reflect on the privilege of the Land walked on and with:

Know its stories
Feel its stories
Feel its call
And feel its heart

The Land is my compass
It connects me
It connects me to place past present and future too
It’s who I am
It’s who we are as First Peoples
And in the discerning of justice for Land return,
It’s the knowing of the importance of Place,
The healing of Place is the place to Learn.

It’s in knowing this connection to Land, through this lens of
discernment the true lessons are learned
Honour the land and the stories
sitting within Country wherever you may be,
And be in the knowing and the growing of:

Always Was
Always Will Be
As you gather

Can you hear the stories of place?
And as you walk and gather and stand?

Can you hear the connection in the forever time
of First Peoples’ Connection to Land?

Walk it
Feel it
Know it
Hear it
Honour it
Sit and be

With what it means to truly honour,
The words “Always was, Always will be”

Alison Overeem, UAICC Tasmania
Leprena
November 2020, NAIDOC week

Alison also included specific reference to Lutrawita (Tasmania):
In Lutrawita, the 9 Nations of our ancestors
lived in harmony with the Land,
The Land is us,
And we are the Land
Imagine and reflect on what happens when that is taken away?
Declaration of “The Black War” here in Tasmanian must be told and must be heard,
The impacts of broken Treaties must be learned.

For such a time as this

Published / by Sandy

The world watches on as the U.S. waits for the outcome. So, this week, the following reflections may give some scaffolding to our hopes and prayers. (Not just for this election, but for the way we want to live in our global community).

     Choose this day whom you will serve...
          but as for me and my household, 
          we will serve the Holy One.
                                          —Joshua 34.15

Choose, this day.
As for me, I will follow the Beloved.
I will spurn violence and all claim to dominion.
I will stand for justice:
that all may be included in the blessings of life.
With the Crucified One,
I will cast my lot, and my vote,
with the poor in spirit, and those who mourn,
with the gentle, and those who hunger for justice.
I will stand with the peacemakers
and those who are persecuted.
I will follow the one
who fed all who were hungry,
who healed all who wanted to be healed,
and welcomed all who were pushed to the margins.
I will speak only the truth, and only lovingly.
I will examine, confess and resist
my own complicity in systems that harm,
and surrender what I can
so my living may be a blessing for the poor.
I will accept the power God gives me
to resist evil, injustice, and oppression
in whatever forms they present themselves.
I will live with hope and gratitude,
with courage and generosity and kindness.
Choose this day whom you will serve,
but as for me, I will serve the God of love.
[Friends, pray for America…]
(Source: Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Unfolding Light)

Rev Steven Koski, First Presbyterian Church Bend Oregon, writes:
I want to publicly announce who I believe will lead us out of the mess we’re in: YOU. Whoever wins or loses, what is at stake in this election and it’s aftermath is the kind of people we choose to be and become. No election can decide whether we will become bitter or better. No election can decide if we will shrink in fear or step up and in with courage. Only we can make that decision. Regardless of the outcomes of Election Day, the world we wake up to tomorrow will be on edge, fear will threaten to overwhelm and hate and violence will continue to be a threat. The way we choose to love is more important now than ever.
Whether today results in the outcome we fear the most or the outcome we most desire, the holy work of love that is ours to do remains the same:
To bring love where there is hate; to resist hate without becoming hateful ourselves; to shine light in the darkest corners; to offer hope where there is despair; to overcome evil with goodness; to be the presence of mercy where there is cruelty; to offer healing where there are wounds; to work for reconciliation where there are divisions and restoration where there is brokenness; and to extend generosity where there is need.
We don’t simply cast votes on Election Day. We cast votes every single day with our hearts, voices, hands and feet. Our best hope is not in who wins the election. Our best hope is in you, in us, together.
Turn aside for a few minutes today from the anxiety of election results. Find a way to practice kindness reminding yourself of the power of goodness that resides within you, a goodness stronger than evil. Take deep breaths today breathing in “Love wins!” and breathing out “Love always wins!” reminding yourself that if love isn’t winning, it just means the story isn’t over yet.
What is the holy work of love that is ours to do? That work is now more important than ever.
(Source: Steven Koski’s Facebook page, 3rd November 2020)

God of Justice and Peace, as the world rotates today, may your calm filter each corner of our communities. As many of us wonder “what happens next” in this very unusual year, we seek spaces free from anxiety.
God, my soul aches for humanity. I hurt when I don’t see my neighbors remembering that, they too, are connected with everyone else. The choices we make today impact not only ourselves but our neighbors across this planet.
As we walk this surreal landscape, we pray that we can choose to love our neighbors across this world. Turn the feet and the minds of those who bully, those who hate. May the dawn of your hope fill our souls with new possibilities, knowing that tomorrow may bring the light for which we’ve been searching. Amen.
(Source: Rev. Michelle L. Torigian, posted on revgalblogpals)

God, you are creating a world where everyone can live an abundant life. We confess that we often work against your creative spirit, instead creating systems that privilege a few and leave behind the rest. We confess that we benefit from injustice, and we often do not want to give up our spot at the top. We confess that sometimes the words we say and sing in the sanctuary do not match our actions in other parts of the building, let alone other spaces in our lives. We confess that we prefer to offer you what is easy and hope that is good enough to get us through the week. Forgive our inconsistent faith, our hypocrisy, our hard-heartedness. Open us to your way, and give us courage to walk your path of healing, reconciliation, justice, and peace. Amen.
(Source: Teri Petersen)

For those of us who want to see democracy survive and thrive – and we are legion – the heart is where everything begins: that grounded place in each of us where we can overcome fear, rediscover that we are members of one another, and embrace the conflicts that threaten democracy as openings to new life for us and for our nation. . . .
Of all the tensions we must hold in personal and political life, perhaps the most fundamental and most challenging is standing and acting with hope in the “tragic gap.” On one side of that gap, we see the hard realities of the world, realities that can crush our spirits and defeat our hopes. On the other side of that gap, we see real-world possibilities, life as we know it could be because we have seen it that way. . . .
If we are to stand and act with hope in the tragic gap and do it for the long haul, we cannot settle for mere “effectiveness” as the ultimate measure of our failure or success. Yes, we want to be effective in pursuit of important goals. . . . [But] we must judge ourselves by a higher standard than effectiveness, the standard called faithfulness. Are we faithful to the community on which we depend, to doing what we can in response to its pressing needs? Are we faithful to the better angels of our nature and to what they call forth from us? Are we faithful to the eternal conversation of the human race, to speaking and listening in a way that takes us closer to truth? Are we faithful to the call of courage that summons us to witness to the common good, even against great odds? When faithfulness is our standard, we are more likely to sustain our engagement with tasks that will never end: doing justice, loving mercy, and calling the beloved community into being.
Richard Rohr writes: Parker Palmer’s understanding of the “tragic gap” recognizes that no matter what we do, we can never completely solve the problem. In all our actions, there is always a space left incomplete, imperfect, which God alone can fill. The search for “the perfect” often keeps us from “the good.” The demand for one single issue about which we can be totally right actually keeps us from reading the whole picture – often this is true in regard to voting. 
Reference: Parker J. Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit (Jossey-Bass: 2011), 10, 17–18, 191, 192–193.