Ready for action? I’m looking for help!
*Organize a fundraiser for a Black-led justice organization
*Organize an offering of letters/postcards to elected officials around issues of systemic racism (police brutality, mass incarceration, detention, bail, and more).
Contact Jennifer V to get involved.
*Song for liminal times: Canticle of the Turning
*June 17 is the 5th anniversary of the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston. Click here to view the ELCA’s commemoration of these martyrs at noon on the 17th.
*June 19, or Juneteenth, is the anniversary of when enslaved people in Texas received news of their liberation in 1865 (almost 2.5 years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed). A prayer for the day is available here.
*June 20 is the digital observance of the Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington. Click here to participate.
Here are some opportunities for formation:
The Poor People’s Campaign was started by MLK and continued by leaders such as the Rev. Dr. William Barber. They are hosting their June 20 March virtually due to COVID-19. Register to attend and get involved in advocacy for economic and racial justice here.
Have you heard of the Bible Project? They are a great resource for digging deep into the historical and literary context of Biblical texts. They have brief (but full) videos, at-home studies, articles, and podcasts covering the books of the Bible as well as genres and themes. I’ve been listening to the podcasts about apocalypses in the Bible, and they are awesome! Click here for their website.
It’s important for people who are White to listen to voices of Black and Brown folks. One resource to explore is Austin Channing Brown’s show “The Next Question.”
Walking with you on Jesus’ Way of Love,
Deacon Jennifer Vasquez
Daily Prayer for All Households
(Children, youth, and adults)
Click here for an easy resource for daily prayer at home. It includes a brief Bible reading (Psalm), prayers, history, spiritual writings, and a song — and it can be prayed in less than ten minutes.
Environmental Stewardship Team News
Our Team has been looking at the theme of PLANTS, so today we will talk about plant-based eating! Have you considered eating fewer animal products? It’s isn’t as hard or fringe as it used to be. CNN identifies four reasons more people are choosing to go vegan (click here for the article):
1. It’s good for the planet.
2. It’s good for your health.
3. It protects animals’ welfare.
4. It’s more convenient than ever.
If it seems overwhelming to go vegan “cold turkey” (bad pun), try starting with meatless lunches or Meatless Mondays. Another option is to incorporate vegan substitutes for some of the things you eat. Have you ever tried vegan ice cream at Jacky’s Depot? It’s amazing!
Pictured here is their homemade vegan cookie dough flavor.
Sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost – June 14, 2020
Deacon Jennifer Vasquez, D. Min.
Good morning, friends. I stand here in front of our sanctuary which has been empty of our community now for 97 days. I miss seeing all of you, especially my friends who are too young for cell phones and Zoom calls, as well as those who haven’t been able to join our groups, Bible study, or coffee hour meetings. I hope that you have found some new ways to nourish your spiritual life during this time apart.
We are certainly living through a unique time. Some people refer to times like this as “Kairos time” – God’s time, when the regular routines of the world that mark out time seem to stop and we are awakened to those things that really matter in life. Sometimes people experience Kairos time at the birth of a baby, or during a special “mountaintop” experience, or upon receiving a terminal diagnosis. Some of these times and situations are referred to as “liminal” or “thin” places where the distance between this world and the kingdom of heaven seems very small; in fact, the two spheres seem to overlap during these moments.
The COVID-19 pandemic is one of these threshold times, and it is special because we are all going through it at the same time. We are in the transition time between the “old normal” and some new and unknown future. We are not the same people we were 97 days ago. We are not the same church, or city, or nation, or world that we were then. We are in-between, waiting on the already and not-yet reign of God, in a perpetual Holy Saturday – everything has changed, and we don’t know what will come next, but we are waiting in anticipation. What will our new future look like? It’s scary and exciting at the same time, because we simply don’t know. But there’s always the hope that we could create a new normal, one that is more life-giving for all people. What we do know is that thresholds, liminal moments, are holy ground. And God speaks when we are on holy ground.
When I read today’s Old Testament story about Abraham, I think about liminal moments. Three strangers come to Abraham’s tent, and he welcomes them with hospitality. This was the ethic of the day; without tourism infrastructure, people depended on the kindness of others while traveling, and showing hospitality and honor to guests was a high value. Abraham ran, brought water, washed feet, killed a calf, and prepared a feast. We find out that he was actually entertaining angels who were bringing him news of God’s blessing, not just for him but for the whole world. He would have a son, a great nation would come from him, and all the families of the earth would be blessed through him. In Godly Play, we say “God came so close to Abraham, and Abraham came so close to God, that Abraham knew what God was saying to him.” This is one of Abraham’s liminal moments, the intersection between the earthly realm and the heavenly realm.
We are in a threshold moment not only because of COVID, but also because of the recent protests against police brutality. The White community seems finally to be waking up to the evil of White Supremacy, a narrative invented centuries ago by a small group of Whites in order to protect their power and wealth. This narrative allowed Whites to rationalize taking land from indigenous people; enslaving Africans to build this country; telling Latinx people that they were now foreigners on their own property; and robbing Europeans of their distinctive cultures and heritages. Instead of abundant life, White Supremacy caused division, loss of identity, and massive amounts of suffering. As the White community “wakes up” to the lies told by this false narrative, we are experiencing another liminal moment. We are on a threshold. Our nation will not be the same as we were before George Floyd; and we thank God for that. What new future will we create together? We can look to the gospel text for some guidance.
In Matthew 9, Jesus is carrying out his ministry and sending out his disciples to do the same. Jesus’ work is “teaching in synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.” And when he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, deep in his guts, “because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” I also pray that God sends out more laborers to reap this plentiful harvest of energy that we are experiencing so that more policy and legislative changes can happen before the news cycle turns and White people turn their attention away from racism again.
Jesus then gives the disciples authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. The disciples are a ragtag bunch, including one who will deny him, one who cheats the Jewish people, and one who will betray him, among others. Yet this is the group that Jesus sends out to his work. I have heard lots and lots of advice for White people engaging in advocacy work. “Do your own work” and “Listen to Black voices” while also “Speak up, take a clear stand, and put your body between the danger and the oppressed.” In my conversations with others, White people are afraid to engage in advocacy work because they don’t know enough, or they think they will make a mistake or offend someone. But Jesus sent out the ill-equipped and ill-trained disciples to do his work. He gave them a few instructions, and White people also need to listen to Black and Brown folx for their insight. But we simply cannot wait until we have it all figured out to act. Going slowly and tiptoeing into advocacy so that White people feel comfortable isn’t ever going to work; the people in power are never going to feel comfortable with being challenged. Through COVID, we have all literally been sent out into the world. NOW is time to act. NOW is when policies are being changed. NOW is when we can prevent more deaths and suffering. In this in-between moment in history, this (our church building) is not where Jesus has sent us to walk his way of love; this is (the world).
“Don’t go to places you’ve never been among people you don’t know,” says Jesus. “Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” I speak as a 98% vanilla White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, and I know some of you in the parish are not White, and your work will be different. But for the majority of us who are, this verse is an admonition to go to White people and do the work of advocacy there. Talk to your family, friends, neighbors. Educate them, challenge their racist thoughts, and be a buffer so that you absorb their defensive backlash instead of our brothers and sisters of color, who quite frankly are exhausted at having to explain these things over and over again and try to convince White people to have empathy. Go first to the lost sheep of Israel, your own people, and proclaim the good news to them, “The kingdom of heaven has come near!” This is another liminal moment, where the liberation of God seems so much closer than ever before. This is good news to everyone but the oppressor. Some will hear the good news and rejoice; others will not, so we shake the dust off our feet and move on.
“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves.” When you do Jesus’ reconciling work, you will threaten the power structure. That is normal, and backlash is expected. You cannot change unjust systems without upsetting the people who benefit from them. They will attack you with words, psychological tricks, financial burdens, and find every possible way to try to manipulate you so that you are distracted or disheartened. Know that this is coming, and plan how to respond. Expect persecution. When you speak up in your family system, you will be seen as a “traitor” for breaking the pattern of the system, and you will be vilified. If you speak up to political powers that be, you might even be physically threatened. So be wise as serpents in your actions, and innocent as doves, always acting out of love and non-violence, but with an unwavering dedication to speaking truth to power in order to change systems.
This is a difficult call, and you might not want to follow Jesus into the world in this way. Having that choice, though, is White Privilege. Our Black and Brown neighbors do not get to choose whether or not to fight racism; it is put upon them as a condition for their survival. And so, as we love our neighbors, we also take on their sufferings. As we read in Romans today: “We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” When you speak up for your neighbor, God will give you the words. And when the backlash comes, the Spirit will fill you up so that you will not feel primarily pain or fear but joy in being considered worthy to participate in this fight for others.
Some people are uncomfortable with all of this political talk in a sermon. Comfort our anxious hearts, stay out of pop culture, and stick to preaching the good news of the gospel! The thing is – this IS the good news. The good news is that Jesus loves ALL people, and especially those on the margins whom society has labeled as unworthy of love. The kingdom has come near, and the kingdom is one of abundant life for everyone. NONE of us can have abundant life in an oppressive society. We are all trapped by empire ideology. When we can participate in the freeing of others, our own souls are liberated. We were created and called to make our lives a blessing to others. It is the vocation that we signed up for when we decided to follow Jesus’ Way of Love. Hoarding the blessings for ourselves is not what our soul most longs for. Doing this justice work gives our lives meaning and joy.
It’s time, Church. Jesus has sent us out of this sanctuary and into the world to carry out his work. It’s time to confess the sins of the past and the present. It’s time to lament the suffering in this nation. It’s time to act to change racist structures and policies that lead to untold suffering not only for our Black neighbors but for Muslims, refugees, asylum seekers, and undocumented folks. It is time to expose White Supremacy as a lie and sin that hurts us all. The disciples were sent out to “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” What spiritual illnesses might we be able to help to cure in our communities? Which depressed and downtrodden voices can we raise? Which marginalized people can we welcome and put in the center of our communities? What societal evils and demons can we renounce: lack of access to education? economic inequality? Unequal access to health care or housing? Mass incarceration?
Sometime in the future, we will be able to walk back through these doors. Every Sabbath, we will gather together again in joy to hear God’s Word and share how our stories intersect with it, to sit around the table together, to support each other and carry each other through hard times, and then to send each other out again into the world to love our neighbor as ourselves. We might never again get such a “thin” time, such an important threshold, in our lifetimes. You have the power to determine what the new future looks like. Listen to the Spirit. And walk through the door.