30 November 2008

The Pride in Christ's Cup of Cold Water

Douglas G. Grace
Broadway Presbyterian Church
Heritage of Pride Sunday 2008
Lectionary Texts: Psalm 13, Romans 6:12-23, Matthew 10:40-42

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? – Psalm 13:1

Whoever welcomes you welcomes me,

and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.

Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet

will receive a prophet’s reward;

and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of righteous person

will receive the reward of the righteous;

and whoever gives even a cup of cold water

to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you,

none of these will lose their reward. – Matthew 10:40-42

How long Oh Lord, how long? How long must we bear pain in our soul and have sorrow in our heart all the day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

The Psalmist’s lament surely does speak to the pain and frustration many of us Presbyterians have felt for a long time. Time after time, our church has not welcomed gay and lesbian prophets, nor received the queer as righteous.

How long oh Lord, how long...

Well, maybe not much longer now!

Praise God for the wisdom of this past week. Our Presbyterian General Assembly has voted to remove the constitutional barrier for out and open, affirmed, and faithfully practicing homosexuals to be openly and honestly ordained in our church. And the Assembly voted to remove the unjust and improperly translated slander against homosexuals in the English version of the Heidelberg Catechism in our Book of Confessions.

So, now it is up to the 173 presbyteries across our country to vote on ratifying these constitutional changes that this General Assembly has initiated.

How long oh Lord?

Not much longer now!

How long oh Lord?

And we answer,

Not much longer now! Amen!

I am honored to be here at Broadway Presbyterian Church where the answer to that question has been an affirmation of love and support for the little ones the church has long denied Christ’s cup of cold water.

The Assembly also passed a new Authoritative Interpretation that overrides a recent Presbyterian Judicial Court decision not to allow individual presbyteries to decide the “essentials” for ordination. So even while we must wait two years for the final outcome of justice for our denomination’s constitution, the Presbytery of New York City will now be legally free to ordain whomever they deem worthy –

“practicing” gay or celibate.

I celebrate with you this morning! And I applaud all of you for your faithfulness to Christ on this Sunday of Pride and hope in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Thank you for your leadership in NYC Presbytery in affirming GLBT people, and for your discipleship in advocating for ordination.

It is places like Broadway Presbyterian Church that are not only the salt of the earth, but cups of cold water for God’s thirsty children.

How long oh Lord?

Not much longer now.

So what is God’s Word saying to us today, in the presence of this potentially historic moment in our denomination and here in a congregation where I am preaching to the choir?

What are we hearing the Spirit say to us this morning?

Jesus said, “Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

There is a lot of Biblical wisdom and holy salvation floating in that cup of cold water.

If we reflect a moment, we remind ourselves that the region of Israel has never had an abundance of water.1 So Matthew’s congregation certainly would understand the significance of a cup of cold, refreshing water on a hot, dry, Sunday morning.

Rain descending from heaven was the primary source of water in ancient Israel since streams and springs often dried up. In this land where thirst was common and plant life was frequently parched, water was viewed as a gift from God in heaven that gives life to humans, animals and plants. Even the psalmists and prophets used water as a symbol for blessings and salvation from God.2

To drink from the fountain of the water of life, says Psalm 36, is to receive the salvation and blessings of God. Psalm 42 compares a longing for God during times of trial to a longing for the water of a flowing stream.

And today’s Psalm cries, “How long oh Lord, how long?”

And we answer,

Not much longer now.

Jeremiah referred to God as “the fountain of living water.”3 And Ezekiel envisioned a river flowing out from “below the threshold of the temple.” Even in the barren wilderness of the lonely desert, “everything will live where the river goes,” says Ezekiel.4

The sparse streams and the uncertainty of water in the land of Israel gave rise to final visions of hope for God’s ultimate reign of a world where water would be in overflowing abundance.5

How long of Lord, how long?

And we answer,

Not much longer now.

The Gospel of John develops this idea of the water of life in Christ6, and in Luke, water was offered in hospitality to guests so that they could wash their feet of the sand from the desert.7

Water was also a means of ritual cleansing in a religious context where people and articles were washed in preparation for a religious ceremony.8 And let’s not forget that rain from heaven cleansed the Earth from unjust human dominion and left a proud rainbow of faithful covenant.

This morning’s Prayer of Confession and Assurance is a reminder of this cleansing; where we “live as forgiven people, free of guilt and resentment; abiding in Christ’s love and freedom; striving for mercy and justice; and living at peace.”

God’s Grace is joyfully bathing in Christ’s cup of cold water. And it is offered this morning to all in the Presbyterian Church USA –especially the deemed “Queer.”

The Gospels declare that Jesus embodied this divine “living water,” and Christ’s love is offered as a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. Those who drink water from a well, Jesus proclaims, will eventually be thirsty again. But those who drink the water that he offers will never thirst. Instead, because you and I drink the water of life, we partake in the promise of “the spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”9

This cup of cold water, it reminds us of our baptism too – probably since a cup of water is about all we use today in the Presbyterian Church to do a baptism! Cold water, well, maybe not so much of the right image for baptism since cold water would certainly make a baby cry!

But that cup of cold water that Jesus challenges to be offered to the little ones is a reminder that all children of God find family in the body of Christ, and deserve the hospitality of love, respect and honor.

The family of Christ aids each other to feel the Holy Pride in who we are as created beings in the image of God; who we are in knowing that God created all life and called it good.

So Christ’s cup of cold water is filled with a spiritual soup that quenches thirst, offers abundance of life, performs ritual cleansing, gives salvation to the little ones, offers hospitality, restores the shamed to righteousness, and gives hope for God’s love to ultimately reign supreme in this unjust world. There is a warm, eternal fountain of flowing and living streams gushing up to heaven from Jesus’ cup of cold water down here on Earth!

And whoever gives even a little bit of this cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.

So it begs the question of us, do we, as disciples of Jesus, offer this healing hospitality of Christ’s love?

And more pointedly today, do we receive that cup of cold water with the same loving grace now that it may be finally offered to us?

Will the little ones respond with the maturity of faith, and the wisdom of Christ?

Paul also speaks to us today by saying, “Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.

“For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace!” May the Presbyterian Book of Order never be used as an instrument of wickedness!

How much longer Oh Lord?

Not much longer now!

Because Holy Pride is at the center of the cup of cold water which is being offered in the name of Christ’s disciples!

We are called now more than ever to discipleship in offering Christ’s cup of cold water, and we are also called to receive it with grace when offered to us. This is the hard work of spiritual discipline which we face now.

We may have won the primary in this victory at last week’s Presbyterian General Assembly. But we still face the general election of presbytery ratification in changing the constitution of our denomination to fully accept the ordination of GLBT people.

So there is yet a mission that we are sent out to complete.

And the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew speaks to Christ’s disciples in this hour of Presbyterian hope. For God’s hour is upon us this morning of Pride as we prepare for the final victory of God’s justice and peace.

It tells us to go to the lost sheep of Israel and proclaim the Good News of Christ’s love and freedom.

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet and move on. Let go of your anger and resentment, and move on.

Jesus says that he is sending us like sheep in the midst of wolfs, so be wise and innocent in our own right.

Have no fear; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered and nothing secret that will not become known:

“Come Lord Jesus, Come!”

Be proud of who you are, in the grace you have received, and how God made each one of us, good.

What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops:

“I am who I am,” and “This is my story!”

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.

Everyone, therefore, who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my God in heaven.

Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.

AND…Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward!

How long Oh Lord, how long?

And we answer,

Not much longer now!

There is hard work before us. And many of us recognize all too well the pain that the church has invoked over the years.

The church has kept many people deep in the closet, far behind the winter coats and down at the bottom of the pile of old and worn-out shoes.

But it is God’s Church that lets us stand here today and affirm

in honesty,

with integrity,

and legally

those who have been long denied ordination to the ministry of Word and Sacrament in The Presbyterian Church (USA).

Here we stand together with Jesus at the thirsty grave shouting,

“Come out Lazarus,

Come out!

You are not dead! Drink from Christ’s cup of cold water and be alive!”

How long of Lord, how long?

Not much longer now!

Nowhere in our Bible does it say that God’s Way will be easy; and for Pride seekers, the parade route hasn’t always been clear. But we know this morning, after the close of our General Assembly last night, of the hope of the pathway that lies before us: For this is our story and this is our song, praising our savior all the day long!

Our thirst will be quenched by the cold water of our Savior’s cup; happy and blest, watching and waiting, looking above for God’s rain/reign and lost in Christ’s love.

How Long Oh Lord, How Long!!

Not much longer now!!!

So will you join me?

Will you stand up and join me in affirming that the Spirit does justify us by faith through Grace; sets us free to accept ourselves and to love God and neighbor as we watch for a new heaven and a new earth, praying, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

18 November 2008

A Post in Honor of Transgender Day of Rememberance

A Sermon by Shannon T.L. Furness Kearns
For a Chapel service at Union Theological Seminary, 11/19/08

Today marks the first time that Union has had a chapel for the international Transgender Day of Remembrance. There is a history of this memorial on the bulletin you received at the door. Today is a day that is set aside to remember the people that have been murdered in the past year because of their gender identity. Most of the time the ceremonies that mark this day are not religious in nature and I’ve got to admit I struggled with writing this sermon. I struggled with how to balance rage, grief, and celebration.

I don’t want to preach from a place of rage, but I find that I have to start there. I am angry at the fact that sometimes I feel like a one man transsexual menace on Union’s campus, a voice crying in the wilderness asking people to pay attention to our struggle, asking people to treat us with respect, asking people to use the right pronoun for me only to be met with silence, or excuses, or disrespect.

I feel rage at the fact that we even have to hold this event. I am filled with rage over the way that the news media reports on the deaths of transgender people; how they sensationalize our deaths and yet can’t even get our names and pronouns right. I am filled with rage at the silence of the world over the deaths of transgender people, angry at parents and friends that can’t accept our lives, angry at religious institutions and churches that kick us out, silence us, and deny our humanity. I am angry that as we read these names we find they are mainly women of color. Angry that we still live in a racist and misogynistic society. How do we celebrate when there is so much injustice?

And I realize that I can’t stay with the anger, but the anger and the rage quickly fades to a grief that overwhelms me. As I prepared the list of names for today’s service I found myself getting overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the sheer number of names. Overwhelmed because it seemed like every day that I woke up there was another new name on the list. And I felt sick as I looked over this list and saw the brutal ways in which these people were murdered. And I struggle with that. Because how do we celebrate the lives of these people when all we know of them in a lot of cases is how they died? I don’t want to do the same thing the media does and sensationalize only the deaths of transgender people, but at the same time, I look at this list and I am overwhelmed by the brutality. People shot execution style, people stabbed and left to bleed to death, people shot over and over, people strangled, people drowned. I am overwhelmed with the grief I feel. I am overwhelmed with disregard that we have for these bodies, for the humanity of these people. I feel powerless to stop all of the killing. I feel grief over all of these powerful people who were killed so young. The youngest on this list was only 15. 15 years old and someone was so afraid of gender difference that they killed him.

I feel grief over our churches that will still deny us ordination and membership. I heard a song yesterday by Arcade Fire, and there was a line that said “Working for the church while your life falls apart, You are singing hallelujah with the fear in your heart.” How many transgender people sit in our pews singing hallelujah with that fear in their heart? Fear of damnation, fear of rejection.

How do we celebrate in the midst of such grief?

How do we get to the celebration? Where is the hope? Some days I don’t feel it. Some days I can’t get out of the rage. Some days I can’t get past the grief. Some days I can’t get to the celebration.

And I gotta be honest, most of the time the bible or the church aren’t the first places I turn for comfort. Because there are a lot of people hiding their hate behind religious words, and the Bible has been used over and over again to demonize me and my community. It’s heartbreaking for me to be told in not so many words that I can’t possibly be a Christian because I don’t fit someone’s interpretation of the Bible. It’s hard to be robbed of my own tradition, my own faith by the very people I should be in community with. The church doesn’t have a great track record on welcoming my trans brothers and sisters. But on those days when I can manage to get past the rage and the grief and when I find the strength to claim the Bible as my own in spite of the people who use it as a weapon against me. On those days, I find comfort and cause for celebration.

In the book of Isaiah, in the 56th chapter there is this interesting passage: it says: 3Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,

‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people’;

and do not let the eunuch say,

‘I am just a dry tree.’

4For thus says the Lord:

To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,

who choose the things that please me

and hold fast my covenant,

5I will give, in my house and within my walls,

a monument and a name

better than sons and daughters;

I will give them an everlasting name

that shall not be cut off.

Some scholars have said that the eunuch is the closest biblical example we have to modern transpeople. Whatever the case, eunuchs were outcasts from society. They were denied a place in the holy assembly. They were looked down upon and despised. And yet here God is saying that they will be given a name that is better than sons and daughters. Friends, this is good news to transgender people. We know what it means to have names chosen for us that don’t fit, or to be called names that are hurtful. We also know what it means to choose names for ourselves that represent all of who we are. And we honor one another by using those chosen names even when others refuse to.

But to have an everlasting name; one that will not be cut off; this is hope for those of us who feel like outcasts. This monument is hope to those who have been killed and to those who worry they will be forgotten. This passage brings me great comfort: to know that I am a beloved son of God and that God gives me an everlasting name, even if my family rejects me, even if the church doesn’t want me, there is a place for me in God’s eyes. This isn’t just some cheap hope. I don’t offer it as a placebo, to say that we should stop fighting for our place at the table, our place in society and the church. Instead I offer it as a raft in the ocean for when the fight gets too hard. I offer it in response to the fearful hallelujah. I offer it because it’s the best I have to offer. We are beloved children of the Universe and no one can take that away from us. We are beloved children. We are beloved.

And I pray that one day our churches will become true places of community. I pray that our society will welcome the outcast. That we will take to heart the words of the song sung earlier, that we need one another to survive. I pray that one day we will really believe that and live it out. Until that day, we celebrate knowing that the change will come. That we will cling to the oft-quoted Martin Luther King Jr. quote, “The arc of time is long, but it bends towards justice.” That we will believe in that justice for ALL of us. That we realize the community involves ALL of us.

In the center of our circle is a dried up tree. Today we will place names upon this tree, making our own monument, remembering those who have been killed, celebrating their lives, calling them by name. We will bring this tree to life with color and with memory. Today we feel rage. Today we feel grief. Today we celebrate. We allow all of these things to permeate us, allowing these things to motivate it. And we cannot separate the one thing from the other. We celebrate not in spite of rage or grief but because of it. We celebrate the lives of these men and women. We hold them in our community and offer them love.

Today we know that we are not cut off. Today we remember.

10 November 2008

Imago Dei, Imago Dust

Jenny Howard

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Gen.1:27

Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. Gen.2:7

Genesis wastes no time: right there in the first chapter, it tells us what it means to be human. We are the very image of the Holy One, the Creator’s ultimate creation. Surprisingly, though, in the very next chapter Genesis apparently tells us just the opposite: we are dirt. Which is it?

“In the beginning” and “Adam and Eve” are both part of the popular imagination, but it’s when one first gets serious and starts actually reading the Bible for oneself that one finds that these are not the same story, but two different stories of Creation. This experience can lead to an ever-hardening attitude of willful ignorance (“It’s a mystery, it’s not for me to think about it”), or it can be the beginning of a long journey away from a literal understanding of the Bible.

We can thank 19th-century German theologians for rigorously examining, then proclaiming, what many had suspected for a long time: there are two stories because there are two authors. We don’t know their names, so they’re usually called just J and P.

P’s view of human nature soars to the heavens: we are holy, almost divine, the image of God; the Creator’s final and highest accomplishment; so filled with goodness that God entrusts to us the caretaking responsibility of everything that God has just created. In contrast, J has a very earthy view of human nature: we’re made of dust; we eat things that aren’t good for us; we are so evil that we blame our wives for our own misbehavior, and even kill our brothers when we feel unloved.

Whether we believe that being human means being high and holy, or that being human means being low and dirty, we have a Bible story to support our conviction. We can argue endlessly over which is the “true” or “correct” understanding of human nature. And many of us do, because many of us hold to one belief or the other when it comes to essential human nature.

But it doesn’t have to be a dichotomy, a choice, an “either-or”. Perhaps the final editors of Genesis intentionally included both stories, believing that sometimes one is true, and sometimes the other. In this view, to be human is to see our nature as dual, a blend, a “both-and”. Sometimes we’re the image of God; sometimes we’re just dust that has learned to breathe. Part of each of us is good; part of each of us is evil. While this approach allows us to account for both Biblical stories, it is ultimately unsatisfying as an answer to, “What does it mean to be human?” because it is not an answer; it is two separate answers, connected by a decision not to choose either.

I would propose taking yet another step beyond “both-and”: our nature lies in the tension between “image of God” and “image of dust”. Both Creation stories – both images – are necessary to understanding our essential nature. But, instead of elements of a mixture, the two stand as separate, independent poles, and we exist in the space between them. A physical analogy: if the two are weights, we exist in the balance between them. A balance is not either weight, nor is it both one weight and the other. And it is certainly not neither weight. The balance’s existence derives from the weights, yet it is not itself composed of the weights.

In other words, we need both Creation stories to understand what it means to be human, because we need the space between them. We were made, and we live, in the dynamic equilibrium that exists between sacred and profane, good and evil, God and dust.

03 November 2008

Jeremiah 31:27-34

The Rev. Mieke Vandersall
St. James Presbyterian Church
Sunday, November 2, 2008

Let’s consider the text we have this morning an improvement. But first, to see what I am talking about, we have to start at the beginning. You see, when we began this journey with God, way back in Genesis, it seemed like all was going to be ok, more than ok really. God was pretty happy with what God did, pretty pleased with himself really, as the heavens and the earth came into being, the light and the dark the day and the night. The sky and the land, the sea and all the vegetation. Then came the sun and the moon, the stars and the fish and the birds, sea monsters of ever kind. God saw that they were all good. God blessed them. Then came the cattle and creeping things and wild animals. And then came the people, the human creatures. And God blessed us too.

I wouldn’t say God was say clueless then, but God hadn’t had much experience with this human thing that God had made. And so when God had given humans our own hearts and our own heads and our own souls it was a complicated mater. For humans had their own minds and wanted to do their own thing and God seemed to be shocked by this, or it seems to me that our Scriptures tell us this, God was shocked by the ramifications of us having our own ideas, not God’s ideas so clearly on our sleeves.

And so the story began pretty quickly, by chapter 3 even of the first book of our Story, the story began of the human creature doing what it darn well pleased. By chapter 4 the human creature was murdering, by chapter 6 God had had it and sent a great flood to the earth, convinced at this point that humankind was wicked, that all of our thoughts evil. God was so disillusioned by us that he was “sorry that he had made humankind on the earth.” But this sorrow was so great and God felt so deeply that it grieved God’s heart.

But not so fast, that isn’t the end of the story, that isn’t even the story for today. There was one human creature, Noah, who pleased God, and Noah gave us a second chance. Noah was given a chance and God told him to get an ark and he took a few people with him and a few animals. And Noah was remembered. Because of Noah God realized that God had made a mistake. God made a mistake again, but this time God’s mistake was wanting to blot us all out, wanting us destroyed because of our humanity. And so, essentially, God apologized, and promised to never “curse the ground because of humankind” again. God realized that humans had evil inclinations from young and so God would not stoop to our level and try and destroy us, for we have done a good enough job ourselves that we don’t need any assistance in that arena.

This relationship between God and humanity develops and grows through the Hebrew Scriptures of God learning how to live with God’s creation, with us and all of our fantastically manipulative and far-out behaviors. The relationship develops as we learn that maybe, just maybe we should trust God with our whole hearts and minds, despite our inclinations to try and go it on our own.

By the time we get to Jeremiah this struggle of relationship had been going on for a very long time. By now, since we are well into the prophets, and the major prophets at that, we have God speaking to people, through people, God had been in relationship with people for some time now, not just frustrated and disappointed with us, responding by creating floods, but by this time communicating directly with us, us human creatures could address God and God could address us. Even though we continue to do our best to avoid the nurturance of this relationship, God has done God’s best at developing it.

At this point, when we come to Jeremiah, we were all still fighting with each other, murder hadn’t subsided, the questions of who was on the in crowd and who was on the out crowd persisted, we were well on our way walking over a Real Live Bridge to Nowhere. After a long time had passed, after many years of fighting and confusion and misunderstanding and preconceived notions were set in stone, destruction was becoming imminent. The entire nation of Israel was on the brink of destruction, by its Babylonian neighbors. Babylon was encroaching, debates were flying…do we give in or do we fight back? How do we save ourselves? If we collapse has God forgotten us? How can God allow our devastation? Has God turned away from the covenant made at Sinai? Is our God powerless compared to Babylonian Gods? (The New Interpreter’s Bible Intro to Jeremiah p. 1051)

This idea of human sin certainly had not gone away, not one bit really. In these days, but not in the days to come, but in these days it was clear to the prophet Jeremiah talks about it this way: that “the parents have eaten sour grapes, and their children’s teeth had been set on edge.” But God knew what God had gotten into and, so let’s consider it an improvement: here we have God speaking to and through human creatures, in this particular instance to and through Jeremiah. God was done with floods and threatening sacrifice. God was sticking in there with us.

Not only that but in the midst of it all, in the midst of some of the greatest conflict the world had ever seen, we have a God who, through Jeremiah, is pretty darn hopeful. The world isn’t going to hell in a handbasket as fast as we thought it was. Despite it all we have the promise that a new covenant will be made, not one we will thrash against the rocks as we already had a few times before, but a new covenant, one with us, one between Israel and Judah. It will be a covenant that God will put on our hearts and the covenant is simple, it levels the playing field, that God will be ours and we will belong to God. It is a covenant that is not based upon our sinfulness, it is not based upon our abilities or our lack thereof, it is not based on our obedience or disobedience, it is not based on our manipulations or our human desires, it has no escape clauses or conditions. It is not given with strings attached. Despite it all God believes so deeply in humanity that thinks we could pull a covenant like that off.

But let us remember who we are talking about here, let us remember who God is speaking through. Jeremiah isn’t exactly the most sensible prophet. He for some insane reason believed that we could all listen to each other. He for some reason held out hope even though his life had no physical signs of hope in it, for he suffered mightily and lost everything. He for some insane reason, just in the next chapter, right in the middle of a literal battleground, he made a tremendously unsound financial decision: to buy a plot, a field, property, real estate right here right in the middle of the war. This was not the best way to invest in his future in the midst of a financial crises more than anything we have ever seen in the United States. Jeremiah took stands. His was a proponent of the: let Babylon have its way with us and still, yet, God won’t leave us and we will learn somehow or another how we will survive and how we will even thrive. And so, the people not so fond of him, they tried to kill him. He was one of those kinds of people that got to the heart of the matter a bit too quickly, a bit too bluntly, a bit too honestly. He spoke his mind even though his mind called into question the status quo, even though his heart made his people very uncomfortable, to say the least. He took radical action that made no, absolutely no sense in the world when everyone around him thought the world was falling apart faster than it could be put back together.

Maybe this is why I like Jeremiah. He helps me loosen up when I am getting too nervous about my job security, when I can feel the belts tightening around my spending simply cause I am nervous about the future, not knowing how much worse it is going to get, knowing I am putting too much stock in the results of our upcoming election. I like him because he is a little off his rocker, because he doesn’t think too hard about what is supposed to be done and I am not sure he knows the ramifications of his actions so clearly, for he if did he wouldn’t have ever taken them, he does what he thinks is right and good and just because that is what you are supposed to do. He is kind of blunt and I can relate to that, I have never been good at subtlety, it is a Midwestern skill that this Midwesterner was just never given.

Despite all the corruption and greed around Jeremiah, despite the fact that the sinfulness of the world was too overwhelming for much of the world to really handle, to take in, God comes to Jeremiah to tell him that God will watch over to build and to plant, God comes with a covenant based upon nothing more than God’s love for us. In the midst of the deepest of sin, in the middle of the most pain and fear God comes to tell us that God will match our desire to break down, to overthrow, to destroy, to bring evil with God’s own desire to build and to plant, to make a covenant with us, no matter how regularly and insistently we try and break it. It is an improvement, no? No more floods on this earth with the purpose of destroying us, for we can destroy ourselves well enough. No more of that, but instead the covenant with us that God will be for us and claim us as God’s people, building and planting and planting and building.

Perhaps I am too idealistic—you all have heard me preach long enough to know for whom I will be voting for on Tuesday as we all go to the polls to make history together. Perhaps I am putting too much stock into what happens on Tuesday, for I know it isn’t going to be easy. I am not at all convinced that our votes really all count or that continued insane attempts at assassination will not continue.

Perhaps I am too idealistic—but for the first time in many years I have felt relatively hopeful about our country and where it may be going. It’s a long time coming, an awful long time—but perhaps, just maybe I am seeing a little glimmer of hope that Jeremiah had seen so many years ago in the midst of extreme destruction all around us that we have worked hard to create, establish and maintain. God speaks through Jeremiah and God speaks through all of us as well to proclaim hope in the middle of hopelessness, health in the middle of sickness, justice in the middle of oppression, understanding in the middle of confusion.

It isn’t such a crazy thing, you know, to believe that life could be better, and to act and live out of that conviction. It isn’t such a crazy thing, you know, to live and work and be church out of the knowledge that God cares for us in the midst of it all, in the middle of life enough that God will write that care on our hearts, that God claims us as God’s own precious creation. It isn’t such a crazy thing.

We have a long way to go before we deeply understand the covenant made so long before us between God and the human creatures that we are. We have a long way to go before we really live out of the knowledge that we have the option of not acting out of the sins of our ancestors but, instead remembering our past and living out of the actions of us today and now. We have a long way to go before we internalize that all of us, no matter how we may feel today or felt yesterday, no matter how hard we are on ourselves or our neighbors, God still writes God’s care and liberation on our hearts, in the most precarious and precious part of our bodies possible, God gives us freedom. God chooses us, not based on our past sins but based on our present possibility and in that choosing we are charged with the hope and action of Jeremiah, as we enter this most important week in the history of our nation and world and every week that we are graced with life. Thanks be to God.