23 October 2008

Matthew 20:1-16

A sermon by Miller Hoffman

There is a magical place in Brooklyn called the Park Slope Food Coop. It is a grocery store owned by its members and committed to making healthy, affordable food available to everyone who wants it. Everyone pays a one-time non-refundable fee, about twenty bucks, and a one-time refundable investment, about a hundred bucks, which you can pay over time, and you become a shopper and a co-owner of the organization. You’re one of more than twelve thousand other owners, but you get to suggest and vote on things if you really want to, like whether or not to sell meat and beer, or whether or not to allow non-members to shop, like they do at the coop in Ithaca for an extra mark-up, or whether or not to stock the Creme Freshe in the dairy case or with the juice and Fresh Samanthas.

Famous people are members of the Park Slope Food Coop, like John Turturro and his wife Catherine Borowitz, who I stalked once, sort of, and Sapphire, who wrote the novel Push, who I just said hi to, quietly, in my head. Total nobodies are members, like me and Corrine. People are members from Brooklyn and other NYC boroughs, and from Long Island and Westchester and other suburbs, and even from Connecticut. You do the fee thing, take an orientation, and work a two-hour-forty-five-minute shift once a month. Even John Turturro. Everyone is the same. It was founded by a bunch of 60s and 70s hippies, like our sensei Annie Ellman, who came here in March to talk about her other wacked out, radical ideas: peace, breath, centeredness.

The Park Slope Food Coop is a little bit like home for me and Corrine, maybe for Sean and Loren, too. (They were our squad leaders, a long time ago.) It’s a little bit like home for me, and I think a little bit like heaven. Not because it’s idyllic. You can actually live the dream of finding non-genetically modified breads and cereals, and buying affordable fresh, organic produce, even in the middle of Brooklyn, New York City. You can buy twice or three times the cheese there as I can get here for the same price, in as good or better a variety. Manchego and Glouchester with Stilton were my favorites. You can buy a Nikki McClure calendar right there in the stationary section, an artist who does these incredible wood cut prints of people connecting with the earth, and which we can’t get anywhere here but online. So you can do all of this great stuff and buy all of these great things that can’t be done or bought here, but it’s not, you know, utopian.

Boy, you should see how pushy and nasty and annoying people can be when they think they’re part owners of something. You should see what ridiculously petty, minute things people really want to suggest and vote on. Ask Sean sometime about how obnoxious the people there could be. (He has this great very funny and somewhat shameful story about having an argument with a shift worker and getting nowhere, and so he just spontaneously started to speak to them in French.) But it is sort of like heaven because everyone is the same, even though they’re all different. Everyone has to work. Everyone owns it. Everyone has the same say in matters. And the staff, when they start, they get paid the same as everyone else doing their job, no matter how long those other folks have been doing it.

If you get hired as a Receiving Coordinator, you get paid the same as any other Receiving Coordinator, even if they’ve been working there for ten years. You get paid the same to work in the office as everyone else in the office doing your job, no matter how long they’ve been there. I don’t know why. Most members don’t even know this is the case. I’d like to believe that it’s a response to the discrepancies in pay between men and women, between white folks and people of color, doing the same job. I’d like to believe that it’s connected to building cooperation and teamwork between co-workers, rather than competition and hierarchy. I’d like to believe that it’s a correction to the myth of the meritocracy.

You know, the meritocracy. The illusion, the tall tale, that says that if you work really hard you will be rewarded. The lie that says we all get what we deserve. The fiction that says bad things happen to bad people, and good things happen to good people. Meritocracy is a deception that, I believe, is part of oppression, part of the line that the regular folks get fed by those in power. Keep working hard. Keep giving us your sweat and tears, keep making money for us, your turn will come. Soon. Then you can name your own price, be your own boss. It’s part of the hustle to keep things the way they are: Keep working hard. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t question the system, because the system is going to reward you. Scout’s honor.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, President Bush will hire and defend the bungling of his pal Brownie, who had no more business overseeing the Federal Emergency Management Agency than it seems he had overseeing the International Arabian Horse Association. Sarah Palin will give out high-paying state positions to her high school friends who are not experienced or qualified for the job, like the State Department of Agriculture job, which paid something like $95k, that went to her childhood pal who “liked cows.” I’d like cows, too, for $95k. Palin, herself, will become the Republican Vice Presidential nominee after a shockingly brief and narrow record of public service. Mayor Ryan has similar credentials, for Pete’s sake. These examples sound totally partisan, so please know that, even though I spent twenty minutes googling Democratic nepotism and came up with squat, of course it happens there, too, of course it does, and the liberal media machine is just covering it up, like they do. But my point isn’t that only Republicans are schmoes. I’m trying to say that meritocracy is a myth.

Here, within the contours of my own, personal world, a good friend of mine has the pedigree. Her dad’s a lawyer who has defended political protesters and activists since the 70s. Her sister is named after her godmother, one of the Weather Underground. She went to a good, selective, private university where Saul Bellow, Ralph Ellison, and Toni Morrison are former faculty. Her dissertation was a intelligent and incisive look at the race riots in 1919 Washington, DC ... and she’s nevertheless been getting jerked around by one academic institution, even as she’s being courted by another, more prestigious, one. I know that there are folks in this room who are connected to higher learning, and I don’t mean to be disrespectful to you, but whatever the academy uses as its criteria for acquiring and advancing faculty, it does not use merit. I don’t know what it uses.

Bad things happen to good people, talented people, hardworking people. Good things happen to bad people. Good things happen to random people, people who got there first, who were in the right place at the right time, who knew the right people, who went to the right school, who married into the right family, who dressed right, who fell down the right hole.

It’s not totally haphazard, of course, or it wouldn’t work. It works the same way fat-phobia works: Average people gain and lose five or ten pounds over the holidays or when their eating habits change, and that gets generalized and Imbued With Deep Meaning until all people of size are assumed to be people who eat too much, gluttons, food addicts. All of them. Instead of just getting to be fat people with the same mix of healthy or unhealthy or ambivalent relationships to food as slim people. Hard work has to pay off in some cases, in enough cases, to take on its Deep Significance. So we get to hear stories often about folks like Abraham Lincoln, who read his law books by fire light, and Rockefeller and Cinderella to keep us invested in the system, keep us buying into the myth, keep us believing in merit.

I don’t know whether you are persuaded. Maybe you are picking up what I’m putting down, or maybe you’re still on the fence. But, ultimately, you don’t have to agree. The parable of the vineyard owner in today’s text insists that it’s irrelevant. The world of the parable rejects merit and assumes a universal wage. According to Matthew’s Jesus, heaven’s commonwealth discards the system of reward based on who worked longest, or hardest, or through the scorching heat. The kingdom of heaven pays everyone the same, whether they labored for the full twelve-hour day or only part of it, even just an hour. Even just the one hour, for pity’s sake.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll admit that my instinct is to side with those workers that got picked up at six a.m., who worked through the long day and the hottest hours of the day, just like it’s my impulse to sympathize with the older sibling in the parable of the Prodigal. I was here all day, all along. I work all. the. time. Where’s my party? Where’s my bonus pay? Even at the magical, home-ish, heaven-like place called the Park Slope Food Coop, everybody has to work their shift. And it’s always a two-hour-forty-five-minute shift. Everyone gets paid the same, and everyone works the same. It seems reasonable to me to ask, even to ask with a little attitude, maybe hands on the hips, maybe with a little stamp, “Dude, what’s my angle? Why on earth would I show up at six a.m. if we’re all going to get the same thing in the end?”

But of course that question assumes that everything is all about the end. What if it’s not? What’s fair, after all? What if everything is all about the work itself? About being brought in? About having what we need?

It’s no accident, I think, that the wage paid to every worker in the parable is one denarius, which is understood to be the amount of money that a family in poverty needed at the time to exist for one day. The New Revised Standard Version of the bible translates the amount as “the usual daily wage.” The vineyard owner isn’t paying every worker ample, or abundant, but enough. One day’s worth of rent, shoes, bread. One day’s worth of what they need. This generosity is not measured in surplus, but in sufficiency, for everyone.

With so few details provided – for example, why aren’t all the workers out at six a.m.? Did they have good justification for coming out late, are they lazy? – with so few details provided, every piece of information takes on greater impact. So it’s certainly no accident, I think, that the owner goes out so frequently throughout the day and picks up all the workers who are waiting for work. There is no discrimination, no application process, no hiring criteria. Whether they are experienced, inexperienced, fit or out of shape, young or old, if they are out waiting for work, they are hired. Everyone who wants to work gets work. And it doesn’t seem to matter why they weren’t there earlier. Nobody asks whether they have a good justification. Everyone is brought into the kingdom. This generosity is not extended by invitation, but through radical inclusion.

I’m as big a fan of hard work as anyone. “A job worth doing is worth doing well.” “God helps those who help themselves.” “Never put off until tomorrow...” and so on. But if we think that hard work is a means to an end, if we are expecting to be rewarded somehow for working hard, doing the right thing, being good, paying our taxes, turning out lights we don’t need, flossing, if we’re waiting for someone to say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant, you and only you may now enter into my heaven...” Well, I think we are starting to figure out, if we didn’t already know, how that’s going to turn out. According to Matthew, and Jesus, and all.

What if everything isn’t all about the end? What if it’s about the beginning? What if it’s about bringing everyone in and giving everyone what they need? Even if they’re on welfare? Even if they’re one of those jerks who seem to get all the breaks? What if what they need is to know, with certainty, that they are valuable and beloved? What if the denarius we’re supposed to pay them is opening our hearts and our pews and our right speech to people who don’t “deserve” it? Being kind and patient and gentle with people who haven’t “earned” it? Giving people what they need, loving them, showing them love, in all the ways that love feeds people, even if they haven’t worked for it?

How many people that you love actually earned it? Earned your love before you gave it them, I mean? Especially you folks who have children in your life. Some slimy, discolored, wrinkly creature comes out screaming, pooping indiscriminately, relentlessly wanting something or needing something. Did you wait until those kids had demonstrated that they were worthy of your love before you gave it? Did you wait until they were successfully potty trained? Did you wait until they actually did their chores? “I didn’t love you until now, child, but you have made your bed well.” Or our lovers, your partners. Did they really do anything to earn our love before we started loving them? Of course, they have deserved it and not deserved it hundreds of times since, but love doesn’t really operate in a meritocracy. Love thinks it’s a myth, too.

You know what the good news is here. I think we know it, even as we might be stubbornly insisting that we’ve been there since six in the morning, we have worked through the long day and the hottest hours. The good news is that, no matter how hard we work and try to do the right thing and be good, we aren’t always. We can’t be, it’s not humanly possible. We can’t always “deserve” to be loved. Corrine could make the argument that I barely manage to deserve it most of the time. But in the kingdom of heaven, it doesn’t matter. Merit isn’t the criteria for reward. Everyone, everyone, gets what they need .

That’s grace. That’s the meaning of it. Free. Fundamental. For everyone, without exception. We show up at six a.m. some of the time, because we value the work, because it feeds us and energizes us, because it’s worth doing. And some of the time, no matter how hard we’ve tried to be “good” the rest of the time, we don’t get out there until five in the afternoon. And heaven and the things of heaven and the people who buy into heaven’s way of being pay us anyway, enough. All of us. What we need. Earning and merit and desserts are not part of the equation, only grace: mercy, reprieve, blessing, love, forgiveness, sometimes just enough for the day. Sometimes just barely enough.

Welcome home.

13 October 2008

“If It Is of God…”

Preached by Laura Cunningham
Presbyterian Welcome Revival
September 8, 2008 at Rutgers Presbyterian Church (NYC)
Acts 5:27-39

Thanks to Mieke and the rest of the Presbyterian Welcome board for the invitation to be with you tonight. It’s always a little risky when a girl from Georgia (me) and a boy from Texas (Chris) get together to plan an evening worship and start using words like “revival” and “testimony.” You can take us out of the south, but that old time religion – it sticks to you longer than leftover grits in a cast iron skillet.

I’m from Atlanta, though. Atlanta Presbyterians don’t do revivals, especially when their church is on Peachtree downtown next door to the “symphony awchestra” and “museum of aht”, as mine was. I had to learn about revivals from my Cumberland Presbyterian cousins on the farm in Tennessee, or my mother’s stories of growing up in a small town in North Carolina. Or from TV. Or movies.

Or more recently from political campaigns – all of them carefully staged events designed to convert believers to a cause.

Here’s what I know about revivals. There’s no order of service, at least not on a bulletin. A revival is singing, praying, preaching by someone, often a guest preacher. A person gives their testimony, and folks are invited forward for an altar call. In my mama’s hometown – especially at the Baptist church – these revivals could last until late in the night.

Hard to imagine that a real revivalist might have chosen the passage for tonight from Acts, but after this year’s General Assembly, after reading blogs and hearing accounts from those who were there, I found myself thinking back to what some might call the first Christian revival, the visitation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. What happened to carry that Spirit forward? What made it such a success?

The beginning pages of Acts are filled with people giving their testimony about the work of the Holy Spirit, about Jesus of Nazareth and the power of God they experience in him. The apostles carry on Jesus’ work of healing the sick and teaching about The Way, just as the God of Israel had been at work through Jesus Christ. The religious authorities were none too pleased with these apostles, which meant that ministry was very dangerous work, often culminating in harsh punishment or prison time.

This evening’s passage comes from the second time Peter and John and other apostles are brought before the Jewish council. The first time they were arrested for proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection in the temple, but released on account of the power of a healing. They are arrested again, imprisoned, and then released by an angel of the Lord, whereupon they go right back to the center of worship in the temple and start teaching again. These apostles just can’t help themselves. And the temple police bring them right back to the council.

No matter what the consequences, though, Peter and John are right back at it.
They are part of a gifted group of people. God’s Spirit keeps sending them back, not just to the streets outside, but to the temple courts, to the heart of the worshipping community, and to homes, the places where the Spirit lives and moves every day. They keep speaking the truth they know. And they keep enraging those in charge, to the point that the council wants to kill them – force them to break one of the commandments.

This is bloody, painful business. Jails… violence… flogging… I’ve wondered if anyone on the Council took Peter aside and said look, there’s this group called the Essenes, over at Qumran- you all have a lot in common with them. Ever thought about joining them? It might make things a lot easier on you and on us.
I have wondered if I would have made it as a Christian back then, if I could have gone through the excruciating pain that these apostles went through, if I could have gone through those lengths to obey God rather than human authority. Or would I simply have said forget this, who needs this kind of abuse?

I don’t need to tell anyone here that these last few years have been bloody, painful business for a gifted group of my brothers and sisters, many of whom have been asked, “why don’t you consider the UCC, or MCC?”, many of whom have migrated to other denominations. I have wondered, if I were in their situation, would I have gone through all this stuff that smells like a bull’s back side, or would I have simply said forget this, who needs this?
For many of my sisters and brothers, speaking God’s truth, giving testimony to God at work in their lives is bloody business. Nothing I would wish on anyone.

But in Acts, there’s some crazy Holy Spirit stuff going on. The church grows through all of this mess. Something powerful is happening. The book of Acts describes people lining up on the streets of Jerusalem, just so Peter’s shadow can fall on them.

The Holy Spirit speaks in words from Gamaliel, a member of the Jewish council, “if this plan is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them…” At least for some folks, it was obvious that something bigger was going on. For those with a love for the same God these apostles had witnessed at work in Jesus Christ, their testimony pointed to something greater than the differences that divided them. A wisdom that God, in the end, would not let this fail.

Gamaliel, a reputed teacher of Saul of Tarsus, a great persecutor of the apostles, eventually became known for his own testimony.

These words are powerful testimony. In our day of an image culture, when it seems like pixels put together in colors and shapes make the most difference, it’s hard to imagine. But it was the words and actions of the apostles that were causing all of this trouble. The power of their experience of God, as they had known God in the person of Jesus, caused this trouble. The Spirit was at work in them and through them when they were put on trial, and nothing was going to stop it!

In this day and time, I don’t know if this new amendment is going to pass all of the presbyteries. This is what I know: that you can keep bringing people, people who are called, who are gifted with the Spirit, who know how to share the story of Jesus Christ with others, you can keep bringing people up on charges, keep flogging them with whatever part of scripture or the book of order or confessions seems most convenient. But the Spirit of God is more powerful.
According to the wisdom of Gamaliel, if plans or undertakings are of human origin they will fail, but if they are of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even be found fighting against God.

In this case, I have seen the Spirit at work in too many of my brothers and sisters who have shaped my own call to ministry. My own spirit has been revived by the witness of too many of my brothers and sisters whose identities intersect somewhere with the letters GLBTorQ. You know those stories, too – you could tell too many of your own, or you wouldn’t be here tonight.

Tonight, I want to ask you to bear some witness yourself. I’m asking you to let the Spirit keep working in you, to help our church be a place that looks less like the Jewish council and more like the early apostles, to help us to be a community where all can share their faith.

Having recently returned from my native region, I can tell you that we need people to share their stories across presbytery lines, who can go north and south and east (maybe not much further east) but at least west, who will be witnesses to the Spirit at work in regions where people have tried to silence it.

In our Presbyterian order of service, we have what we call an “invitation”, but my Tennessee cousins would look you straight in the eye and say, “Shoot, honey, that’s an altar call.” Tonight I invite you to feel that same Spirit, unleashed at Pentecost, that blew through the early apostles, in the midst of their trials, and that keeps blowing within and without General Assemblies, even in the midst of today’s trials. May the Spirit move you, as it did the early apostles, to speak about new life. May all of our plans and undertakings be of God, because if they are, they will not be overthrown. Amen.

06 October 2008

Faith and Fear

By the Rev. Arabella Meadows-Rogers, Executive Presbyter
Presbytery of New York City
Stated Meeting - September 27, 2008
2 Timothy 1: 3-7 and Mark 4: 35-41

Pioneers. Today we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ordination of clergywomen, and we named, Katie Cannon and Blanqui Otano and Peg Howland and Elizabeth Ehling, and Idalisa Fernandez, Pioneers in the faith, who risked and dared and faced hostility and fear.

This afternoon we talk about issues that divide us: race, class gender, language, country of origin. Difficult conversations, fraught with fear.

This summer I have been privileged to be a part of many leave-takings and many arrivals.: Jo Cameron, Ch Brewster, John Smucker, Scott Black Johnston, Charles Johnson….And part of my work every week is meeting with pastors, candidates, who want to be a part of the life of a congregation here. Each COM meeting, several annual reviews, several arrivals..times of change and times of hope and times of anxiety. And at each of them I was so aware of fear, and excitement, and hope, and expectation.. and fear, and fear, and fear.

I gave Charles Brewster a Russian doll to celebrate his retirement, one that opens to reveal another doll and another and another, and what I said was that I hoped his retirement would be about more mystery, more excitement, more new experiences.

But we all know that change, that is, mystery and excitement cause as much fear and dread as they do hope and expectation.

You know how children love the scary houses at amusement parks.

My cousin Will was about 4 when his mother took him to the scary house at the State Fair. And the car was careening around those dark bends, and scary things were tickling their necks, and monsters were rising up from corners, and Will was sitting, frozen and still and thrilled and scared, as each new shock came at him, . . . . .and then their car rounded a bend and 3 big musketeer-types rushed out the darkness and shouted, “Fire at Will!”

And 4 year old Will leaped up in the car, and quakily shouted back, “Not me! I’m your friend!”

We all want to make friends of what scares us, of what’s coming around the next corner. We all want to know that what’s ahead is more about hope and expectation and good things, and not about fear and churning stomachs, and scary times.

The disciples in the boat were afraid.

“Teacher, teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

How quickly they forget! That very day, Jesus had been teaching them in parables: on sowing good seed in good soil, on not hiding your lamp under a bushel, on the faith the size of a mustard seed.. He had been teaching them all day.

And now they got in the boat and forgot all he’d been teaching them. No faith like a mustard seed, no disciples acting like good soil, no bringing their lamp out from under the bushel to show them the way, very much afraid. This storm will undo them!

We want to make friends of what scares us… and how quickly we forget, when we’re afraid, of the good news we’ve been given. We do not see Jesus in the boat.

Our new stated clerk of the General Assembly, Gradye Parsons, this summer, preached on this passage, and he said this:

Get in the boat
Go across the lake.
There will be a storm.
You will not die.

A week later he was having heart surgery. I wonder if he remembered the words he’d preached.

I think I’d express it another way, but the primary sentiment still is:

You are not alone.
Jesus is there in the boat.

Get in the boat
Go across the lake.
There will be a storm
No matter what happens, you are not alone.

God is your friend.

Julian of Norwich said it this way:

Jesus did not say
You will not be caught in storms
Jesus did not say
You will not struggle
Jesus said you will not be afflicted
Jesus said, “You will not be overcome”. *

Friends, having spent much of the last year thinking and praying about this passage about fear, I want to say that I believe this presbytery, this denomination, is awash, and in danger of capsizing, because of its own fear.

Let me say it again, this presbytery, this denomination, is awash, and in danger of capsizing, because of its own fear. How do I know this? Because instead of meeting fear with friendship, we batten down the hatches, armor ourselves with platforms and positions, draw our wagons in a circle with those who agree with us, and we stop listening. We only lift the hatches to aim and fire wildly. We sing words of love one minute and shout words of anger as soon as worship is over. That’s fear.

I do not say that to blame, but to sympathize. I am a part of the problem as we all are. I don’t think I would have stood up in that scary car like Will did. I too have been too often stuck in my own fear, of what would happen if I really said what I thought, if I reached out across some invisible chasm and spoke vulnerable words, if I … I too have blamed others without telling them, have thought ill of people because of my own assumptions and perceptions without checking them out; I too have quit listening when I get afraid.

We are stuck in our own fear, and we do not see Jesus in the boat with us.

 We fear that we do not have all the answers.
 We fear that we will step out in faith and God will not be there.
 We fear that we cannot save our little churches, the churches we love.
 We fear that the church will not be there for our grandchildren and that we somehow have failed them.
 We fear to tell the hurting truth to each other and we cover up the hurt with anger.
 We fear that if we told the truth to each other, we might look ugly in our own eyes, or in theirs
 We fear we are alone.
 We fear we are alone.
 We fear we are alone

We are mired in our own fearfulness, and cannot even see that Jesus is there in the boat with us.

And let me say this about fear: fear freezes. It doesn’t flow. Fear CAN capsize that little boat. I’m a canoeist, and I know: the more afraid I get, the more I tremble and quake, the more the boat is likely to capsize, and the less able I am to trust the oars, the water, the boat, myself, or my partner behind me. I can’t see ahead of me to the other side, to the promised land, all I can see is the deep dark frightening water opening like a chasm right in front of me.

Fear freezes, doesn’t flow, creates distrust, and lack of vision.

We are mired in our own fearfulness, and cannot even see that Jesus is there in the boat with us.. with ALL of us, not with part of us, not with the people we agree with, or the people we’ve been talking to this week, or with just the others. Jesus is there in the boat with all of us, hoping and praying even while he’s asleep that we’ll quite our quarrelling and get about the business of being the church.

The popular saying is that ‘faith conquers fear’ or that God never gives you more than you can handle.

Frankly, I don’t know about you, but I haven’t found that to be the case. I would rather say that ‘faith attends fear’, and that God comes to meet you as you face the storm, sort of like little Will when he stood up to those musketeers. That’s when the unknown becomes your friend. You take a risky step, you waver and hover, you doubt and quake and then faith attends you like Jesus waking in the boat, and slowly the waters don’t seem quite so stormy.

This summer I read t he biographies of some of the early explorers—Vasco de Gama and Christopher Columbus, and Balboa,… who somehow found the courage to overcome their fears of the unknown and venture out into uncharted territory…and what I was looking for was, what gave them that courage? What got them over their fear? It wasn’t always faith, it wasn’t fear, it was courage to try something new. Courage is when faith meets fear, faith attends fear, and becomes its friend. Trying to go south along the coast of Africa to round The Cape of Good Hope, they kept failing when out of fear they kept close to the coast. It was when they took a risky step despite their fear and ventured farther out into the waters of the Atlantic that they found the warm friendly winds to help them go south.

We want to make friends of what scares us… and how quickly we forget, when we’re afraid, of the good news we’ve been given. We do not see Jesus in the boat.


It was a dark day in December, right before Christmas last year, when I got the initial cancer diagnosis, cancelled my plans to go see my grandchildren, and lay in a hospital bed waiting for more tests. It was a difficult three days and several months as the storms and the doubts and fear hovered near.

And I have to say this: my faith didn’t immediately conquer fear. I didn’t immediately see Jesus. I was frozen. I thought I was alone.

But as I cried out internally and tried to face the terror I felt, and as I prayed and heard others praying for me, I heard slowly, in the darkness, over and over again, a loving presence, a loving word, “I will be with you; I have called you by name, You are mine”.

Faith attends fear.

Let me say it again,

Faith attends fear. Jesus is in the boat with us, in the storms, in the dark.

The Spirit of hope, the Spirit of love, the Spirit of God will be there for you in your fear, the Spirit will be there for me in mine. It will be there for us, if we take a risky step together, if we commit ourselves to lift the hatches of suspicion and offer friendship instead.

Our faith grows as we take risks, act with courage, try new things, as w e quakily face the fears and doubts that assail us, and then at some point, we realize Jesus was there all along.

God is our friend, our refuge and our strength, a very present help in times of trouble, even when we cannot see God or think Jesus is asleep at the wheel.

Take risky steps.
Speak the truth in love.
Reach out across the aisle.
Trust a little more.
Trust God a little more.

The promised land is still ahead, and we are not alone.

We can face the future together, if we acknowledge the friends around us. God is with us.

Try this with me:

I have advanced cancer,
but God is my refuge and my strength!
I’m worried about the economy,
but God is my refuge and my strength
We worship in a small church,
but God is our refuge and our strength!!
We’re not sure about the future,
but God is our refuge and our strength!
Sometimes we cover our fear with anger,
but God is our refuge and our strength!
We yearn for a future filled with hope and faith,
God is our refuge and our strength!
I know that I am not alone.
For God is our refuge and our strength.
We know that we are not alone…
for God is our refuge and our strength!

Turn to your neighbor and say: God is our refuge and our strength!

Jesus has been here all along…

Thanks be to God. Amen.

* This quote was given to me by Presbytery Teaching Pastor Steve Shussett, Lehigh Presbytery, right after I was diagnosed with cancer. I have not been able to locate the exact location of the quote.