Thursday, February 15, 2018

How Long O Lord?

The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.
                                                                                                                                ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

In the wake of yet another mass shooting, I’ve heard many folks of good faith saying that we need to have a “national conversation” concerning the proliferation of guns – specifically the easy availability of assault rifles in our country.  Conversations are all well and good, but we need to know with whom to have these conversations. 

With the help of the Center for Responsive Politics and figures provided by the Federal Election Commission as of May 16, 2017, I’ve put together a list of elected leaders on both sides of the political aisle who received campaign contributions indirectly from the National Rifle Association through PACs, their individual members, or employees or owners, and those individuals’ immediate families.

Perhaps our conversations should start here with phone calls and handwritten letters to those elected to represent us saying we’ve had enough; saying that what we do to the least of these, we do to Christ;  We can have all the conversations we want, but until elected officials hear from us, our conversations are in vain.  How many more children have to die by assault rifles before we take our “thoughts and prayers” and put them into actions and policies?

By the way, the monies listed below do not include the millions of dollars spent by the NRA to defeat those who advocate for background checks and the outlawing of military grade assault weapons.  According to the Center for Responsive Politics, since 1990 Political Action Committees associated with the National Rifle Association have given over $20 million to political campaigns of both parties.  This is madness; and it has to stop.  As people of faith we must take a stand.  How can we do anything less?

Blunt, Roy (R-MO) Senate$11,900
Comstock, Barbara (R-VA) House$10,400
Burr, Richard (R-NC) Senate$9,900
Coffman, Mike (R-CO) House$9,900
Grassley, Chuck (R-IA) Senate$9,900
Guinta, Frank (R-NH) House$9,900
Hardy, Cresent (R-NV) House$9,900
Hurd, Will (R-TX) House $9,900
Katko, John (R-NY) House $9,900
Mills, Stewart (R-MN) House $9,900
Paul, Rand (R-KY) Senate $9,900
Poliquin, Bruce (R-ME) House $9,900
Portman, Rob (R-OH) Senate$9,900
Rubio, Marco (R-FL) Senate$9,900
Zeldin, Lee (R-NY) House$9,900
Heck, Joe (R-NV) House$8,900
Hoeven, John (R-ND) Senate$8,450
Isakson, Johnny (R-GA) Senate$8,450
Blum, Rod (R-IA) House$7,450
Goodlatte, Bob (R-VA) House$7,450
Johnson, Ron (R-WI) Senate$7,450
Young, Don (R-AK) House$6,950
McSally, Martha (R-AZ) House$6,500
Ayotte, Kelly (R-NH) Senate$5,950
Boozman, John (R-AR) Senate$5,950
Culberson, John (R-TX) House$5,950
Faso, John (R-NY) House$5,950
Garrett, Scott (R-NJ) House$5,950
Ryan, Paul (R-WI) House$5,950
Shuster, Bill (R-PA) House $5,950
Smucker, Lloyd (R-PA) House $5,950
Tenney, Claudia (R-NY) House $5,950
Young, Todd (R-IN) House $5,950
Cole, Tom (R-OK) House $5,000
Lankford, James (R-OK) Senate$5,000
Thune, John (R-SD) Senate$5,000
Bacon, Donald John (R-NE) House$4,950
Bergman, John (R-MI) House$4,950
Boehner, John (R-OH) House$4,950
Boustany, Charles Jr (R-LA) House$4,950
Comer, James (R-KY) House$4,950
Crapo, Mike (R-ID) Senate$4,950
Gallagher, Mike (R-WI) House$4,950
Hudson, Richard (R-NC) House$4,950
Kennedy, John (R-LA) Senate$4,950
Mast, Brian (R-FL) House$4,950
Mullin, Markwayne (R-OK) House$4,950
Scalise, Steve (R-LA) House$4,950
Shelby, Richard C (R-AL) Senate$4,950
Smith, Lamar (R-TX) House$4,950
Tarkanian, Danny (R-NV )House$4,950
Vitter, David (R-LA) Senate$4,950
Young, David (R-IA) House$4,950
Calvert, Ken (R-CA) House$4,500
Murkowski, Lisa (R-AK) Senate$4,500
Scott, Tim (R-SC) Senate$4,500
Bishop, Rob (R-UT) House$4,000
Dent, Charlie (R-PA) House$4,000
Loudermilk, Barry (R-GA) House$4,000
McHenry, Patrick (R-NC) House$4,000
Mica, John L (R-FL) House$4,000
Walberg, Tim (R-MI) House$4,000
Yoder, Kevin (R-KS) House$4,000
Zinke, Ryan K (R-MT) House$4,000
Aderholt, Robert B (R-AL) House$3,500
Bishop, Sanford (D-GA) House$3,500
Chabot, Paul (R-CA) House$3,500
Joyce, David P (R-OH) House$3,500
Lewis, Jason (R-MN) House$3,500
McCaul, Michael (R-TX) House$3,500
Nunes, Devin (R-CA) House$3,500
Olson, Pete (R-TX) House$3,500
Taylor, Scott W (R-VA) House$3,500
Tipton, Scott (R-CO) House$3,500
Valadao, David (R-CA) House$3,500
Bishop, Sanford (D-Ga) House $3,500
Budd, Ted (R-NC) House$3,000
Cook, Paul (R-CA) House$3,000
Cuellar, Henry (D-TX) House$3,000
Duncan, Jeff (R-SC) House$3,000
Ferguson, Drew (R-GA) House$3,000
Graves, Tom (R-GA) House$3,000
Hunter, Duncan D (R-CA) House$3,000
Jenkins, Evan (R-WV) House$3,000
Knight, Steve (R-CA) House$3,000
LaHood, Darin (R-IL) House$3,000
Latta, Robert E (R-OH) House$3,000
Love, Mia (R-UT) House$3,000
Newhouse, Dan (R-WA)House$3,000
Paulsen, Erik (R-MN)House$3,000
Reed, Tom (R-NY) House$3,000
Stewart, Chris (R-UT) House$3,000
Tiberi, Pat (R-OH) House$3,000
Black, Diane (R-TN) House$2,500
Blackburn, Marsha (R-TN) House$2,500
Carter, John (R-TX) House$2,500
Collins, Doug (R-GA) House$2,500
Curbelo, Carlos (R-FL) House$2,500
Davis, Rodney (R-IL) House$2,500
Fareed, Justin (R-CA) House$2,500
Granger, Kay (R-TX) House$2,500
Collins, Chris (R-NY) House $2,000
Hanna, Richard (R-NY) House $2,000
Peterson, Collin (D-Mn) House $2,000
Stefanik, Elise (R-NY) House $2,000
Walz, Tim (D-MN) House$2,000
Duckworth, Tammy (D-IL) House$50

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Doug

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Pastor Doug's Ash Wednesday Sermon 2018

Isaiah 58:1-12

One of my “beefs” about the season of Lent, is how often we get it wrong.   Without fail I hear the same Lenten conversations year after year.  Maybe you’ve heard them too.

this year for Lent, I’m giving up…

Or, “this year for Lent, I’m taking on…

For years, we have gotten Lent wrong because of this emphasis on “me”.  Certainly, each of us are personally invited to enter into the season of Lent and into its disciplines: “Self-Examination, repentance, prayer, fasting, sacrificial giving and works of love.”  And that is all good and that is how it should be.

Truly each of us in this season of Lent are exhorted to enter more deeply into the promise of Christ’s embrace as he passes over from death to life with each of us.
But all too often, “self-examination” ends there in the personal space called “me.”  All too often, our Lenten story becomes an autobiography about Jesus and me neglecting the public reality of Jesus and community.

Now don’t get me wrong:  I admire each and every one of you for being here this evening when clearly you could be home reading a good book, watching the Olympics, or binge watching on Netflix.  But here you are in this place beginning yet again on a journey, marked not by ease and self-fulfillment, but by a cross and selfless servanthood.

Here you are tonight standing face to face with the harsh reality that each of us is broken – publicly confessing our sin – confessing that we have not loved God with our whole heart or our neighbor as ourselves.

Here you are tonight standing face to face with the harsh reality that each of us “are dust and to dust we shall return” as dirty, dusty ashes anoint our foreheads; acknowledging the fragility of life.  If we don’t believe we are dust, just look at the latest mass shooting that claimed at least 17 victims in a South Florida high school today.

And yet, for all that we do here tonight, this evening’s Ash Wednesday liturgy is not simply about us.  It is not simply about Jesus with us.  It is more than that:  Much, much more than that.  If the prophet Isaiah has anything to say about our service this evening, he would tell us that unless love and care for the poor and vulnerable emerges from tonight’s service, then our time together this night has simply been a waste of time.
Tonight, we catch Isaiah at his prophetic best, as he confronts a society that is content with not only neglecting the poor and needy, but literally oppressing them, living by the mantra of “make Jerusalem great again.” 

Who after all has time to loose the bonds of injustice, to let the oppressed go free, or to share their bread with the hungry?  Not us, we’re too busy building walls to protect us from change and to preserve the way things used to be in the good old days.
But if scripture is clear on nothing else:  It is that God’s very heart is with the widow and the orphan.  God’s very heart is poured out in love for all on the hardwood of a cross.

In this season of Lent as we journey from this night to the cross of Good Friday and the empty tomb of Easter morning, may we do so not alone isolated from the world around us.  But with Christ – God’s heart.  And on this life changing journey may we walk with God’s heart; may we be God’s heart in this place and in all the world.


Thursday, February 8, 2018

Mark 9:2-9 (Transfiguration of Our Lord)

Daily I find myself wandering through our beautiful sanctuary, marveling at the stained-glass windows that depict God’s handiwork in the universe.  My favorite window is the one I call the “NASA window” in which a Gemini spacecraft is depicted alongside orbiting electrons, protons, and neutrons bearing witness to the reality of God’s presence not only in the heavens, but specifically in science.  Whether it be God the scientist or God the Word made flesh, each window reveals a bit of God’s identity.  And yet as beautiful and as inspiring as each of these windows are, they do not tell the whole story.  It’s hard to imagine, but God’s amazing love story with humanity and all of creation goes far beyond the images contained in these windows.

As these windows cannot begin to tell the entirety of God’s story, neither does the transformative event in the gospel reading for this coming Sunday.  I can only imagine how beautiful it must have felt atop that mountain where in God’s presence, Jesus was bathed in glorious light, hanging out with the greats: Moses and Elijah, being affirmed as God’s beloved son.  Had I been there with Peter, James, and John, I too would have wanted to capture the glorious moment; I too would have wanted to build the biggest damn booth possible.    Who wouldn’t want to remain in such a holy place commemorating such a holy event?  It’s not everyday that Moses, Elijah, and Jesus show up to the party.

But Jesus doesn’t stay there in that glorious place. Instead he goes back down the mountain; back down into the darkest of valleys; into the broken lives of those below – healing, teaching, and feeding.  – calling us to follow.  And so we follow; not remaining in our glorious sanctuary, but down we come and out we go into the streets of our city; into the lives of those who feel hopeless, broken and disconnected; proclaiming in word and deed that God’s love story with all creation is alive and well.

The windows in our sanctuary cannot tell the whole story of God because they do not contain an image of you reaching out in love to family, friends, or maybe even strangers.  There’s no window showing the homeless being fed at Mustard Seed Kitchen, or being housed four weeks out of the year in our Sunday School space.  There’s no window depicting you feeding the hungry at REACH House or speaking out on behalf of the most vulnerable among us at City Hall or at the County Legislature.  There’s no window of you helping the chronically homeless find permanent housing through the Homeless Initiative.  It is only when the windows of our sanctuary combine with the windows of your life in Christ that we begin to catch a glimpse of God’s entire love story for humanity.

Fed and nourished each week at the foot of the cross, you and I are God’s windows in the world, revealing and proclaiming a God whose love knows no boundaries; revealing and proclaiming a God who will not be limited by the walls of this world and the hatred that builds them.

We have a different story to tell than the power brokers of our world.  For our story is God’s story; a story of love that is limitless, reckless, and above all, abundant.  Join us on Sunday as we are once again fed on the mountaintop -  to feed the world.

Peace and Love,
Pastor Doug

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Follow me, and I will make you fish for people (Mark 1:17).

Follow me.”  One of the very first directives uttered by Jesus in Mark’s gospel.  Though I love a good Christmas birth story, adorned with angels, shepherds, and a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, Mark doesn’t give us that.  For Mark, there’s no time for those details.  The babe wrapped in swaddling cloths has a job to do.  To proclaim the arrival of God’s Kingdom, and to duke it out with the powers-that-be; the institutions that would stand in God’s way.

What strikes me in this Sunday’s gospel reading is the urgency of Jesus’ message.  Without even taking a breath, Jesus’ call to repentance is followed by the call to follow.  In the six verses found in this Sunday’s gospel, Jesus has seditiously announced the presence of God’s Kingdom over and against that of Caesar, and called four lowly, off-the-radar, fishermen to follow him.
Jesus’ message and actions are urgent; there’s no time to create lists; no time for committees to be formed; no time for mission statements to be drafted; no time to give 2 weeks’ notice to the boss. The Kingdom of God train has pulled into the station and it’s time to climb aboard.

Now more than ever we need to hear this sense of God’s urgency and be challenged by its implications. It is this Kingdom of God urgency that challenges us to take on Caesar; to speak out in the face of injustice; to not be moderate or neutral on issues of inequity or the dehumanization of those less powerful; to not be silent when families are torn apart by cruel and unjust immigration policies; to not turn the other way when women are routinely harassed by powerful men who are nothing more than disgusting sexual predators; to not turn a blind eye when the President of the most powerful nation on the planet blatantly reveals his racist bias by degrading with vulgar language black and brown people and their countries of origin.

In all of this, where is the church’s Kingdom of God voice?  Where is our Kingdom of God urgency to right what is clearly wrong?  Now more than ever, Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail is calling out to us.  These urgent words penned 54 years ago to an inactive church are as applicable to us now as they were then.  

With prophetic courage and urgency, Dr. King wrote,

So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo.  Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent – and often even vocal – sanction of things as they are.”

He goes on to write, “If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club…”

As your pastor, I can assure you of this:  I will not be an activities director of a social club.  I am a pastor; I am your pastor and as such I will continue to seek ways in which we as a community of faith – a Kingdom of God community – can discern God’s will, witness God’s love, while following his Son to a Jerusalem Cross and beyond.  If that means calling out powerful abusers then so be it.  If it means protecting the powerless, Harriet Tubman style, then so be it.  

We follow Christ, and no one else, therefore we cannot keep silent.  Following Christ, with voices raised and hands outstretched we will change the world.

Peace and Love,

Pastor Doug

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

A Different Christmas Story

Just a few days ago we gathered in worship around the glorious story of shepherds and angels; “a poor lowly stable ”; and a young couple with their newborn baby “wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”  Our joy could hardly be contained as we loudly sang “O Come All Ye Faithful” or in hushed tones with candles in hand sang of a “Silent night”, where all is “calm” and “bright.”  As the days of Christmas have progressed, the three magi figurines have been making their way across our sanctuary chancel to take their place at the Nativity scene on Epiphany.  As they do, we will hear a very different Christmas story. 

This coming Sunday we will hear that God’s good news of great joy is not good news to everyone; especially by those in positions of power.  We will hear of an earthly king who in his narcissistic paranoia is so threatened by the birth announcement of another king, that he desperately seeks out this newborn in order to kill him.  This is certainly not a story told in any Christmas pageants I’ve ever seen.  And yet it is a critical part of our story.  We know that for his whole life, this newborn king will be a marked man, one day being tortured and killed on a cross for bearing witness to God’s Kingdom over and against those of Herod and Caesar; what the biblical scholar Raymond Brown refers to as “An Adult Christ at Christmas.”

I’m not completely sure where my sermon is going on Sunday.  I’m intrigued by the juxtaposition of outsider magi, who get what God is doing, to insider religious folk who do not.

I also can’t help but wonder who the Herods and Caesars of this world are and what the church’s voice could and should be in the midst of it all.  Am I a religious insider who thinks I’ve got God all figured out and am therefore closed to God’s new revelations?   Am I one who craves my own power, desiring that my will be done over and against that of God?  It’s way too easy for me to point to powerful world leaders and assign Herod’s name to them; though there may be some wisdom in that.  But am I just as capable of seeking to eliminate anything or anyone that I perceive is a threat to my White, male power?

Toward the end of Matthew’s gospel, the adult Jesus tells us that what we do to the least among us, we do to him.  What are the implications of that when put in the light of this Sunday’s gospel reading?  Are tax laws that remove 13 million people from health care coverage akin to Herod seeking to kill the infant Jesus?

These are all valid questions with which people of faith must wrestle and I invite you into this holy struggle of which I don’t pretend to have easy answers.  There is nothing simple about this Christmas story.  For it is far more than just an account of a birth, It is the story of God dwelling with us and our response to that new reality.
On the journey with you,
Pastor Doug

Monday, November 27, 2017

Slaughter of the Innocents...

I honestly don't know what to say anymore.  All I have in response to the mass slaughter of innocents at the Sufi Mosque in Egypt is the following prayer I offered in worship yesterday. I wish I had more.  Maybe in the end, prayer is all we have.

Heavenly Father,
You are the source of life and light. You are our refuge and our strength, a very present help in times of trouble. Amid the turmoil and strife in our world, your love is steadfast and your strength never fails. Be with all victims of violence and bloodshed, especially this day with the victims and families of the horrific attack on the Sufi Mosque in Egypt. Make us quick to reach out in love and healing to these our sisters and brothers, that there may be woven the fabric of a common good too strong to be torn by the evil hands of war. Amen.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Another Mass Shooting...

Another mass shooting has occurred; this time in a church during worship.  26 people are dead, ranging in age from 18 months to 77 years.  Oh sure, you and I probably don’t know any of the victims and more than likely would never have met them.  They lived in a different region of the country and belonged to a denomination much different from ours. But I can imagine that many of them came to church like you and me, wondering how long the service would be; hoping the sermon wouldn’t be too much of a “snoozer”; looking forward to connecting with friends; hoping they would get home in time to see the opening kickoff of a Sunday afternoon football game.  But that didn’t happen.  This past Sunday morning the hallowed ground of a church became a killing field and still there can be no meaningful conversations on guns and those who must not have them. 

I’m tired of politicians and their hollow rhetoric of “thoughts and prayers”.  Sorry but that no longer cuts it.  Leave the prayers to those who lead worship in our churches, synagogues, and mosques.  Leave the prayers to those who gather in those communities or at prayer vigils or who pray as Jesus puts it, “in secret”.   The term “thoughts and prayers” has become a cliché.  “Thoughts and prayers” are code for: “I lack the courage and conviction to stand up to special interests who fund my election campaigns.”  “Thoughts and prayers” are the priest and the Levite crossing to the other side of the road when faced with the reality of a man lying in a ditch, robbed and beaten. (Luke 10:30-32).

Polls show that a vast majority of Americans support the idea of background checks before guns can be purchased and yet lawmakers continue to blow smoke by claiming that this is no time to talk about such things; that to speak of gun control in the face of mass shootings is to politicize tragedy.  The only ones politicizing tragedy are those whose jobs depend upon funding from special interest groups intent on selling more guns.

My outrage and tears have little to do with the gun industry and those who support it.  My heart breaks because each and every victim was fashioned in the image of God and Jesus told us that what we do to each other, we do to God.  My heart breaks because this past Sunday families were forever scarred and irreparably torn apart.   My heart breaks because mass shootings like this don’t have to happen and yet they do with chilling regularity.

Gun deaths are at epidemic levels, and yet those whom we’ve entrusted with the responsibility of governing and protecting us are not doing their jobs, instead they feed us nutrition-less platitudes of “thoughts and prayers”.  They claim to be protecting our 2nd Amendment Rights to bear arms, all the while neglecting that uniquely American creed; “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness;”  A creed that no longer applies to Sunday’s victims, as well as those in Las Vegas, Orlando, Washington, Charleston, Newtown and countless other places where military-grade weapons are readily available and easily attainable.

Where do we go from here?  Perhaps our Episcopal sisters and brothers can shed some light for us.  In response to the epidemic of gun violence, a group of more than 70 Episcopal Bishops offers the following statement calling for prayer and action:

In prayer, Christians commend the souls of the faithful departed to the mercy and love of God.  We beseech our Creator to comfort the grieving and shield the vulnerable.  Prayer is not an offering of vague good wishes…in prayer we examine our own hearts and our own deeds to determine whether we are complicit in the evils we deplore.  And if we are, we resolve to take action; we resolve to amend our lives...

As a nation, we must acknowledge that we idolize gun violence, and we must make amends.  Violence of all kinds denigrates humankind; it stands against the will of God and the way of Jesus the Christ… Each of us has a role to play in our repentance.  Elected representatives bear the responsibility of passing legislation that protects our citizenry.  If our representatives are not up to this responsibility, we must replace them… one does not offer prayers in lieu of demonstrating political courage but rather in preparation.    (Bishops United Against Gun Violence).


Pastor Doug