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Sunday, December 4, 2016

That Branches Bear

John preaches repentance and pruning as a present reality oriented to the future, to God’s future, that we live our truth as Christ for the world, bearing fruit for the healing of all things.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Second Sunday of Advent, cycle A
   Texts: Matthew 3:1-12; Isaiah 11:1-10

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

John the Baptist isn’t someone you’d want at a dinner party.

Really, he’s not someone we’d want to speak to us here. His yearly arrival on Second Advent is a shock of harsh critique, threats of axes chopping and fires burning. He’s not good for polite society.

But he is God’s messenger preparing the way for the coming of Christ into the world. John is the one asked to get the people ready, to get us ready for Christ in our lives. For John, that means repentance is needed, literally a changing of our minds, a redirection of our lives. What’s hard is he delivers that message with such threatening language and tone.

But why must we hear John as all or nothing? If some are all good and fruit-bearing and others are all bad and must be cut down, where’s the hope for repentance? There’s no hope for fruit at all if the tree is gone.

But the whole tree doesn’t need to be cut down if it isn’t bearing fruit. Not if fruit is God’s goal. Rather than deforestation of fruitless trees, we might better hear John as preaching a repentance of pruning.

Careful pruning is critical to the plant’s life, to bearing fruit.

John’s axe threatened leaders of the people he thought were hypocritically seeking baptism. Maybe that’s why he was so harsh. Seeing John’s tool more as a pruning knife gives us a vision of preparation where all need trimming, all have dead branches preventing fruit from growing.

Pruning is the gardener’s way of keeping plants healthy and productive. Branches that don’t produce need to be trimmed away so they don’t drain resources from the rest of the plant, so fruit-bearing branches will thrive. Many plants also need the old, dead heads of fruits or flowers cut away after the season, so new buds may come.

Pruning often looks harsh. It leaves a pile of branches and leaves that need to be burned, or composted, in our modern metaphor. Sometimes pruning almost looks like an ax was used, that the plant was reduced to a stump. Our spirea at home need to be pruned almost to nothing for them to come back in the spring bushy and floral. It seems impossible when such pruning is done that new life could return. But that’s how it can.

Which suggests we’ve been looking at repentance in the wrong direction.

Pruning removes the dead parts, the unfruitful branches, the past life of the plant that no longer gives life, so the plant can thrive and grow and bear fruit. Pruning is actually all about the future.

So is repentance. Too often we’re focused only on the past when we consider confession and repentance. We feel regret for past actions, frustration at our continued difficulty at stopping doing things, sadness at pain we’ve caused. We seek forgiveness, and go on our way.

But repentance is not just about the past. The turning of our minds toward God is a present movement oriented to the future. The whole point is turning, shaping, for what is to come. Our future, bearing fruit for God. God’s future, where the world is whole and healed, and enemies live peaceably together.

Grace is also all about what is to come. It’s not just forgiveness that takes away past sin and that’s the end of it. Grace is all about God readying us for a new future, a new life of blessing for this world.

And even if the pruning we need feels as if we’re reduced to a stump, God promises to bring a shoot of new life from the deadest of stumps. That’s grace. God will raise up in us, from what looks dead, a new branch that will become a blessing of life for the world.

But wait. Are we saying that Isaiah’s not just talking about Jesus, the shoot from the dead stump of David’s family tree?

Are we claiming this Messianic prophecy applies not just to Christ Jesus but to us?

Yes, we are. In our baptismal rite we claim for each whom we wash in God’s waters the same seven-fold gifts of the Spirit Isaiah promises the Messiah, the Christ, will have. We lay hands on the head of God’s child and pray for the Spirit of God to come: the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the Spirit of delight, of joy, in God’s presence. In baptism, we audaciously claim the anointing of Christ as our own anointing, our own Christ-ing.

This isn’t a new claim. John just said Jesus would bring a baptism with the Holy Spirit. As far back as St. Ambrose we have evidence that this prayer was part of the laying on of hands at baptism, and many of the early Church teachers assumed the seven gifts of the Spirit promised about Christ Jesus in Isaiah are also promised to us.

That means we also are the shoot from the stump, the righteous branch bringing life, not just Jesus. We are God’s Christ life growing up out of what seems dead and gone. We are the ones to help bring in a peaceable reign of God where even enemies delight in each other as dear friends.

So what are we to do about this today, tomorrow? How shall we respond to John?

We begin by claiming our true identity as God’s Christ. You are Christ, so be Christ. Live that truth in your place, in your life. The Spirit of God intended to bring God’s anointing is now laid upon you, upon me, upon the whole Church throughout the world. We begin our response to John by realizing that the coming of Christ for which we are preparing is happening in us.

Knowing this, we can face the pruning knife with much less fear. There are things in us that need removal if we are to be God’s Christ-branch bearing fruit in this world. Things that maybe used to be helpful but now are dead, useless, or worse, taking our energy away from life-giving things. There are sins to which we are tied that trap us, that need to be removed, not for fear of punishment, but because they are pulling us down and keeping us from growing and deepening in our Christ-life.

Letting God’s Spirit prune away these things will hurt. Some of these dead things are familiar and comfortable; some are deeply rooted.

But the Pruner always has the good of the tree in mind, even if the cut is deep. Christ Jesus, who died and rose for our life and the life of the world, sees the true Christ in each of us and rejoices in that life-giving plant. So the cutting away of the deadheads and the useless branches is all to free us to grow and live as the Christ we are.

John might not be great dinner company, but listen to him anyway.

Harsh and loud as he can be, John is God’s chosen messenger to prepare us for the coming of Christ into the world. Much to our surprise, he proclaims that we need to be reshaped and pruned because we are that coming of Christ into the world. Shouting John is the one God needs to wake us up so God’s people begin to bear fruit in this world for the life of the world.

Because this pruning, this repentance, this turning of our minds and lives and hearts to God, is a present truth oriented always to the future, to God’s future. That God’s future might become present reality, a whole, healed, blessed, peaceable world where all bear fruits of love and peace and righteousness and gentleness and grace to each other, to the creation, to God.

This future is coming. Christ is coming. We only just realized Christ is coming in us, too. It’s time we lived that way.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Think About These Things

In a challenging, frightening world, Paul invites us to focus on the grace and gift of God that is our hope and our life, and find God’s joy and peace.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   Day of Thanksgiving, year C
   Text: Philippians 4:4-9

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

Someone gave me a piece of bacon this week.

We were at the regular pastors’ text study at Maria’s on Tuesday, and one of us got more bacon than she wanted. She gave me one of the extra pieces. Let me tell you, a free piece of bacon on a Tuesday morning is a very good thing. A colleague who shares her bacon is a colleague worthy of praise.

This may seem like a small thing. It is a small thing. But it was a moment of gift for which I was thankful. It was a little piece of joy in the day.

So I’m thinking about that bacon this week.

Because that’s what Paul told us to do. He might seem simplistic today, urging us to think about the good, the excellent, in our world. But there is so much negative in this world that demands our attention, and we so easily find things that lead to despair, sadness, anger. What’s there to lose trying Paul’s way?

Maybe we can rejoice when someone gives us a piece of bacon.

This encouragement concludes a beautiful letter from Paul.

There is love and encouragement both ways. The Philippians love and support Paul, even financially, as he travels in ministry, and now in his imprisonment. In turn, Paul lovingly praises their partnership with him in the Gospel, their shared relationship in Christ that gives him hope and life.

In this letter, Paul speaks of the challenges of life in Christ, of witnessing to Christ with their lives. Doing that has landed Paul in prison; some of them are also encountering hostility for their witness. Paul calls them to share the mind of Christ, who emptied himself of divine glory and became human, facing death on the cross. Such is the life in Christ, Paul says. A mature faith willingly takes on suffering as Christ did, for the sake of others, for the sake of the Good News.

This is a letter of encouragement to people who live in a difficult world and whose witness to God’s love in Christ causes challenges, suffering, possibly even death. It sounds familiar. But today we hear Paul’s conclusion, and it is a light in the darkness.

Rejoice in the Lord always, Paul says. The Lord is near.

The times may be hard, and taking on Christ’s life is not easy. We can be afraid, and anxious. So, Paul says twice that we can rejoice in Christ, because our Lord is near. We are not alone in this life and witness. We are loved by God in Christ forever. So rejoice in that!

If Christ is near, we can release our anxiety and worry. That’s easy to say, but Paul says the way to let go of worry is to pray with thanksgiving about everything. Bring all worry, all anxiety, all fear about the world to God in prayer, and give thanks at the same time. We thank God while we ask because we know we’ll be heard, and calmed, and given hope. And we’ll find joy.

In our prayer, the peace of God that is beyond our understanding will come to us, and keep our minds and our hearts in Christ Jesus. The circumstances we face aren’t the issue, Paul says earlier in this letter. What matters is to know the peace and joy of God who is always with us, always loves us, no matter what happens.

Living in God’s peace then frees us to focus on the good, the true.

Think about honorable things, what is just and pure, what is pleasing and commendable, what is excellent, what is worthy of praise. Focus your mind on these things, Paul says.

Paul’s no blind optimist. He sees challenges and faces them head on. He names evil and preaches against it. He critiques his congregations and calls them to new life. Paul’s a realist.

So when he says to these people he loves, let your mind dwell on things that will edify you, bring you happiness and joy, he’s saying that from a realist’s perspective. There will always be problems and things that need us as Christ. This world is filled with pain and suffering, we struggle with evil.

But don’t let it overwhelm you, Paul says.

Take some time to smell the roses. Enjoy a piece of bacon. Delight in a child’s smile.

There is grace, there is good, there are excellent things. Think about them.

Yes, there are problems out there. But there are also wonderful people who are dedicating their lives to make a difference. Think about them and rejoice. There are people standing with the oppressed, people creatively seeking solutions to our society’s problems, people praying daily for the life of the world. Think about them and rejoice. There are people of faith, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and many others, who witness to their faith not with hatred and violence but with love and gentleness, and are making a difference. Think about them and rejoice.

Psychologists tell us negative thoughts and emotions cling to our mental pathways like Velcro, but positive thoughts and emotions are more slippery, like Teflon, and easily disappear. Recently I heard a neuroscientist has discovered that might physically be true. But it seems if we hold to positive things as Paul encourages for at least 15 seconds they stick to our neuropathways, they stay with us. I don’t know if that’s true, but it makes sense to the wisdom of the ages. It makes sense to Paul.

Whatever is good, whatever is true, whatever is excellent, whatever is honorable, whatever is worthy of praise, think about these things. And the God of peace will be with you.

Actually, isn’t this exactly why we have a Day of Thanksgiving?

Sometimes when things are going well we forget to be grateful. But when they’re hard, when there are so many things people fear, when we’re worried about our future and our country and our world, isn’t it a gift to hear Paul today? To do what he says, and focus thankfully on what is beautiful, what is good, in people, in nature, in life?

So let us rejoice. God is near, and loves us and this world beyond our imagining. Let us pray with thanksgiving alongside our requests. And the peace of God will take away our anxiety and fear. Fear and anxiety may come back, because the problems we face will still be there. But we’ll handle them far better with God’s peace and joy filling us. So let’s keep thinking on these things of excellence and beauty, dwelling on the grace and the good and the gift.

And I am so thankful for that bacon. God is good.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, November 20, 2016

All Things

Christ rules over the universe, but not in the normal way, so as followers of this King, this Sovereign, we follow not in the normal way, but Christ’s way, willing to take death and resurrection into ourselves for the sake of the world.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   Christ the King, the Last Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 34 C
   Texts: Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43; Jeremiah 23:1-6

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

We should be careful as we celebrate today that we truly see and hear what God is doing in Christ.

When the feast of Christ the King was first established in the nineteen-twenties, it was a witness in a world of rising nationalism, fascism, and racial hatred and tension, that our trust lies with Christ who is reconciling all things to God, not with any human governments or rulers.

God is pleased to reconcile all things through Christ, Paul says, whether on earth or in heaven, to God’s own self. All things, the creation, beings sentient and otherwise, living things, rocks, planets, stars, all are reconciled into God through the ruling grace of Christ. This is whom we serve as we celebrate the feast of Christ the King.

But are we overlooking how God is doing this in Christ? God is making peace with all things through the blood of Christ’s cross, Paul says. And we have this in our Gospel today: a criminal dying on a Roman cross, who looks at Jesus, also dying on a Roman cross, and sees a king. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” he says.

Look, this is not news to us. We know we follow a crucified and risen Christ. But as we look to God for the hope of reconciliation in our fractured world, as we imagine how Christ reigns over us and the world, we can’t ignore this confusing paradox of the ruler of the cosmos receiving that crown on a humiliating tree of execution. All God’s reconciliation hinges on this, and so does all our hope.

Paul’s claim is a ray of hope in a world hopelessly divided.

The problems our nation and world face are enormous, and need a God-sized reconciliation. We are destroying our future on this planet by practices that are inexorably changing our climate, and time is running out. Millions of our people suffer under systems of racism, gender inequality, and prejudice. Our laws aid the wealthiest and make it exceedingly hard for the poorest to survive. We have needed immigration reform for years, so we can be more welcoming to the stranger. We’ve long needed to solve astronomically rising health care costs. This all in our country. Oppression, war, famine, hatred, systemic failures of government, religious conflict, human environmental abuse, plague our whole planet.

But what drives hope into the ground is the divisions that prevent even talking about solutions. Our country is divided as deeply as many of us can remember, as is our world. This election is only the sign of an extended period of people on all sides isolating from those who disagree, listening only to our own points of view. Huge divides exist between those who live in rural areas and in urban centers, between rich and poor, between men and women, between races, between faiths, and these divisions only seem to be deepening.

A reconciliation in God through Christ is needed. But that’s not one side getting everything they want and not listening to the other. True reconciliation is our only hope. But it’s not what we might think.

Our challenge is that God will heal all things through reconciliation, not vengeance, forgiveness, not punishment.

In Jeremiah, God’s anger at the failed shepherds of God’s people causes God to promise to “attend” to their evil doings. God will raise up a righteous, wise Shepherd who will execute justice. Yet when this Shepherd comes, proclaiming God’s reign of justice and peace, righteousness and love, he is put on a cross. And on that cross, he looks at those who are killing him and asks forgiveness for them.

This is how God is “attending” to the evil-doing of God’s people? By forgiving? By taking on this death, which somehow reconciles God to this world?

This doesn’t always feel like an answer of hope and healing when we or others are wronged, or hurt. It doesn’t feel like a fair answer to those who have been beaten down and oppressed, who struggle to survive.

When it comes to our individual sins, we’re happy to be forgiven. But as a strategy for God’s healing of the world, we wonder how the cross can be effective if evildoers are not only forgiven, they get to kill God.

But we don’t see the world as God does.

On the cross, the Son of God looked out on some of the worst of human sinfulness, sights still familiar today. Religious leaders seeking to be faithful to God through hatred and death, soldiers exceeding orders by mocking humiliated convicts, crowds finding a day’s entertainment at an execution and joining in the derision. He had a pretty horrible view.

But what Jesus saw was people he loved. “Father, forgive them;” he said, “for they do not know what they are doing.” But of course they did, at least at one level. The leaders, the soldiers, the crowds, even the criminals were aware of what they were doing.

But Jesus saw people he loved. Christ embodies the fullness of God, Paul says, and here shows the fullness of God’s love: to receive hatred, evil, and death, and say, “I forgive you. I understand that you’re not aware of all that you are doing.”

Our problem isn’t that Christ is na├»ve and doesn’t see evil. Our problem is that Christ sees evil and offers forgiveness. Christ takes evil into himself in order to bring about reconciliation.

God will reconcile all things, but in God’s way.

God will heal divisions between people, heal the pain of this world, by loving us whether we do good or evil, taking on our evil and our death, taking all things into God’s own life. This is the way of the Triune God who made all things. Like it or not.

And is our way, if we celebrate Christ the King. If we truly follow this One who rules not from a throne but from a cross of death. We are literally crucial to God’s reconciling. As Fr. Richard Rohr has said: “Those who agree to carry and love what God loves, both the good and the bad of human history, and to pay the price for its reconciliation within themselves – these are the followers of Jesus. They are the leaven, the salt, the remnant, the mustard seed that God can use to transform the world. The cross is the dramatic image of what it takes to be such a usable one for God.”[1]

This is what it is to follow such a King, such a Christ. It is to follow our vocation, as Rohr puts it, “to share the fate of God for the life of the world.” To be usable, like God, for the world’s healing.

This sounds elevated and theological. But it is lived in our ordinary lives.

Living our vocation in such a divided world, being Christ’s reconciliation, might begin for some of us at the Thanksgiving table. I’ve heard from a number of folks who know there are political divisions and hostility awaiting them this Thursday, as they gather with their families. If listening between opposing sides of issues is going to happen, it will start with those closest to us. Being Christ at table with a loved one who makes you feel despair or sadness or anger is hard. But Christ would so listen, and love. This is a little death, such bearing with another. But in God’s love is resurrection life, and this path is the only way reconciliation can begin.

But the path gets rockier. We learned from Luke this year that Jesus “welcomes sinners, and eats with them.” So our reconciliation work is not just with those we disagree with. Today Christ seeks those who proclaim hatred and intolerance, those who threaten and intimidate, those who do violence or use power to crush people, to spend time with them. Our King will seek out these whom we fear, these whom we stand against when they harm our neighbor, because Christ welcomes sinners and eats with them. Christ sees people he loves, as he did on the cross. At some point, Christ will call us to follow there, too.

If Christ rules in our lives and hearts, this is our vocation.

We begin and end at the cross, and it might be our own. Maybe small deaths, the daily pain that comes from risking to reach out to the other in love. Maybe even larger suffering. The only way walls that divide can be broken in Christ is by our willingness to lose, to break down our barriers, to listen and see as Christ Jesus listens and sees. To share this vocation of death and resurrection with Christ.

It’s a little frightening. But Paul says today we are given all strength in Christ, and patience to endure all that is to come. We’ve been rescued from the power of darkness, Paul says, and transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, in whom we have forgiveness and life. We are not Christ alone, we are Christ in Christ, with all the grace of God we need to be a part of this reconciliation God is making in this world.

We know how badly the world needs it. Now we know how badly the world needs us, and all who are drawn into Christ. God make this so, for the sake of this creation.

In the name of Jesus, Amen

[1] Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1999), pp. 179-180.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

In My Name

Words are hard to find, so Jesus speaks them to us: it’s going to be hard, but don’t be afraid, this is your chance to witness in my name, and I give you all you need to be Christ to this world in pain and need.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 33 C
   Text: Luke 21:5-19

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

Jesus said there will be wars and insurrections. And dreadful portents.

A pastor friend told me Thursday that an African-American pastor he knows called him and said, “I need you to know, before you preach, that black people are viscerally terrified.” They dread what is to come.

A local sixth grade teacher I know heard a commotion in the hallway Wednesday, went out, and heard a group of boys chanting, “Build the wall! Build the wall!” He worries what his Latino sixth grade boys and girls can do in a school like that. Other teachers I know report the same thing.

One of my daughter’s dearest friends is African American, gay, and lives in Texas. His family home is in east Texas. His grandma called him Wednesday saying that some of his family from the country are moving into the city for awhile because they don’t feel safe. They couldn’t sleep Tuesday night because there were Ku Klux Klan members marching in the streets of their town. Not ten of them. Over 100.

Stories like these are being told throughout our country this past week, stories of Muslim girls afraid to wear hijab to school anymore, African-Americans being told to get into the field and pick cotton, Latinos being told to get out. Many are physically threatened. Signs, graffiti, and flags of hate are appearing all over our nation. This is reality.

I don’t preach about whom to vote for, or criticize any of our people for how they vote.

In a Christian community we are joined in Christ in our baptism and in our life together we can and do disagree about political solutions. Every election leaves some disappointed, discouraged, even frightened because of likely policy and law changes that will affect their lives or the lives of many, and leaves some who are excited and hopeful for the same changes. In every election there are people within our congregation who voted differently, disagreed politically. This is normal, this is how it works, and we all have experienced both feelings at times. As disciples of Christ Jesus, we will love each other in our multiple political views and work out our differences in love. This is what we do, every year.

But as disciples of Christ Jesus we are called to speak the truth.

There is now a truth in our country that has nothing to do with Democrat or Republican, nothing to do with policy disagreements. All Christians, regardless of how or why we voted, must face this hard truth: we have elected to the office of President someone whose bigotry, bullying, prejudice, disdain, and hatred for any and all who are weak or vulnerable, were on constant display throughout the campaign, and contributed to some voting for him.

We will pray for him, constantly, that he be a faithful and good President. That is what we do. We will hope. That is also what we do.

But if he doesn’t repudiate the violent, evil, spewings he poured out for eighteen months that inspire the behaviors so many of our neighbors are enduring already, more of these horrors will keep happening. Even if he does repudiate it, the time for civility, tolerance, respect, and compassion may be passing in our country. In this new reality, people don’t fear being held accountable for such violence and hatred anymore. Not if our President says it and condones it, and encourages it. So they will keep doing it, until someone says they can’t.

I have felt the heaviness of this truth this week, knowing I would stand before you today, and that you have called me to speak God’s Word into our life together. You want to know if God has a word of grace and Gospel and hope. But I knew this truth needed saying, and that burden weighed on me.

Then I read the Gospel again. I prayed. And to my relief, Christ Jesus said to me, “Don’t worry; I’ve got this one. I know what to say.” So I gave thanks and stepped aside.

Now, hear what Christ is saying to the Church today.

Christ Jesus today says, I told you times like these were coming.

They’ve come in many generations, but we are grateful our Lord cared enough to also warn us it would get bad sometimes. It helps knowing God’s not surprised by this. I began with those stories not to frighten or inflame fears, but because many of us live insulated from such abject fear and dread. Many of us aren’t at risk of these things that are already happening. We need to know the truth others face.

And yes, racism, misogyny, hatred of the other, bullying, disdain for the weak, existed before. They always have, and many have suffered. They’re enshrined in systems we perpetuate, systems that benefit us without our asking, structures long built up that powerfully continue to exist. What is different now is that we live in a reality where such things are endorsed at the highest level. Jesus’ warnings today remind us to be ready, as people who live in Christ, for what it means to be Christ in such a reality.

But there are those among us who know exactly what it is like to be on the other side of this, to be mocked and hated for who you are, to fear for yourself or loved ones, to be disregarded, or assaulted, or gaped at objectively, or silenced, or threatened because you were different. We need you to help those of us who don’t know that experience understand. We need you to help us all know how to stand with those who are threatened and are very afraid.

But Christ Jesus also says today “don’t be terrified.”

This is such a gift. Many of us are deeply afraid of what is happening, and the grace of Christ Jesus is this word, “Don’t be terrified. I am with you. I have overcome death; I have conquered these powers.”

But there is a harder word in this: Because we are Christ, we need to go from here and stand with all those who are truly afraid for their lives, their loved ones, with the bullied, the sick, the vulnerable, with those who are wondering what this country can be for them. We need to, with our bodies and arms and voices and love, say, “Don’t be terrified. We are with you.” That is the love we must bear to our neighbors, so they know it and know they’re not alone.

Because Christ Jesus says today that this is our opportunity to testify.

When we affirm our baptism here three times we loudly, boldly, renounce all the evil the world makes, all the works of Satan, all our sin that leads us from God. Now, Christ says, is the time for us to witness that in the world. If we don’t, if we who are insulated from the risks others are facing take comfort in our safe homes and our safe lives, we no longer are renouncing evil, and we have no business ever again saying in this place that we do.

Some of us have become complacent, trusting that leaders will care for justice and peace, hoping others will do this. We don’t have that luxury anymore. We can’t wait for others to care, others to say “no,” others to say, “this is not of Christ,” or even “this isn’t who we are as Americans.” Whether we’re 10 years old or 95, if we do not witness by our words and lives, we condone.

Christ also says this witnessing may lead to persecution, arrest, betrayal even by those near and dear to us. Maybe we’ve heard these words before and thought, “that doesn’t really happen anymore.” Well, it does. Sisters and brothers in the faith have been walking in solidarity with those who need it for years, to this day, from Standing Rock to police precincts. Some have suffered for it, been persecuted, arrested, hated by people close to them. If we haven’t experienced this, it’s likely because we’ve failed to witness to the hope that is in us, to the love of God that is for all people, to the grace of God that makes all things new, by standing with those who desperately need such hope, love and grace.

It’s time for us to get to work. Time to witness.

But Christ also says to us today, “don’t worry about what you will say (or do), I will give you what you need.”

We don’t need to worry about not having the right words, fear that we aren’t brave enough or strong enough. We don’t need to worry that we have no idea right now how to act, how to help, where to offer ourselves. Because this is Christ’s promise to us, and to all the faithful: We have an opportunity every day to witness to the truth about what God is doing in this broken, suffering world, and Christ will give us what we need to do this witness.

The words we need. The wisdom we lack. The strength we cannot find in ourselves. The courage that comes from the Spirit of God in our hearts. The compassion for others that is the very beating heart of God for this world. All of this we are promised.

Throughout these words, Christ Jesus keeps saying “in my name.”

That’s our hope and our call. We gather here as ones anointed in our baptism to be Christ for the world. We literally bear Christ’s name in our bodies, our hearts, our voices, our lives.

That’s what this is all about. We know things will be hard. We know many are suffering and afraid and need Christ’s love. So, let us be who we are. Let us be Christ, as we were made to be. We don’t need to be afraid, and we can hold our neighbors and tell them the same, because Christ is with us and with them. We don’t need to worry right now about details, we’ll get what we need as we go.

This is why we are here. So let us sing, pray, serve faithfully, and trust. Trust that the One who holds all the world in wounded hands now raised to life will hold us, too, as we bear this name into this world in need.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen


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