Photo Credit: Bryce Krug
“In 2013, as we prepared to celebrate St. Louis’ 250th birthday, leaders debated whether or not to engage in community-wide planning, in a wide assessment of the region. Increasingly, civic leaders said no, and it didn’t happen. But on August 9th, young people said yes. We have a Commission because our region’s youth, through their actions, demanded that we rethink things. Youth voice brought us to this moment.”
“Mothers and fathers, extended families, faith communities, neighbors and leaders need to be there to support their hopes and dreams. We want to see our children and every citizen living peaceably, protected and safe without harassment. This requires intentional action to build positive relations between community members and police.”
“To be faithful to this moment, we must respond and work together with young people to bring about change for their generation, and the next. Leaders are dealers in hope. The commission’s challenge to the leaders of this region – no matter how, where, or who you lead – is to engage in the hard work of creating real hope.”
Left: Open the gates of righteousness for me
so I can come in and give thanks to the Lord!
Right: This is the Lord’s gate; those who are righteous enter through it.
Left: I thank you because you answered me,
because you were my saving help.
Right: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone!
The Lord has done this and it’s amazing to witness!
Left: This is the day the Lord acted; we will rejoice and celebrate in it!
12 Jesus spoke to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the winepress, and built a tower. Then he rented it to tenant farmers and took a trip. 2 When it was time, he sent a servant to collect from the tenants his share of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 But they grabbed the servant, beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Again the landowner sent another servant to them, but they struck him on the head and treated him disgracefully. 5 He sent another one; that one they killed. The landlord sent many other servants, but the tenants beat some and killed others. 6 Now the landowner had one son whom he loved dearly. He sent him last, thinking, They will respect my son. 7 But those tenant farmers said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 They grabbed him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.
9 “So what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Haven’t you read this scripture, The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. 11 The Lord has done this, and it’s amazing in our eyes?”[a]
12 They wanted to arrest Jesus because they knew that he had told the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd, so they left him and went away.
One: Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.
Many: Thanks be to God.
Pastoral caregivers know that sarcasm is the language of anger, and if we are to believe Mark, Jesus is pissed. After all, Jesus is steeped in han, described by minjung theologians as what you feel when your people have been exploited, brutalized, and killed by colonizers for years. That bitter-hot feeling of rage and resentment that makes your blood boil, twisting your insides into knots, overwhelming you with the need to fight for justice or risk being eaten alive from the inside by han, this inherited sickness that you get when you have been sinned against throughout time and space, across generations and across the diaspora.
Han runs through Jesus’ veins as he tries to organize a liberation movement with the Roman Empire’s COINTELPRO tracking his every move. He’s fighting for the people, but the people get on his nerves. They ask, “Isn’t this the bastard son of a working class man? Where did he go to high school? Nothing good comes from that neighborhood.” Just as Jesus’ temper is really getting out of control—he cursed a fig tree for failing to bear fruit when it was out of season and he flipped a bunch of tables in church—the religious establishment cranks up the heat, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?”
Jesus claps back: “Haven’t you read this scripture, The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The Lord has done this, and it’s amazing to witness?”
The story of oppression says that our world is defined by the builders, those with greater privilege and power, who create and guard our systems and institutions, who decide which stones can remain in the vineyard and which stones are to be rejected. The story of oppression says that God planted our world and went on vacation. You’re born into your position and your story of oppression: whether you are servant/slave, tenant farmer, or landowner’s child. Servants and slaves might be in the best position to be prophets, but are dehumanized and exploited, at risk for being brutalized or killed. They ask, “Why are things this way?” Tenant farmers might be able make a living off the land, but are fearful of being exploited or becoming the lowest rung on the social ladder. They ask, “How can I make sure I am never the slave?” The children of landowners might be able to inherit wealth and status, but are vulnerable to being killed by those who have little to lose and much to gain. They ask, “What can I do to put distance between myself and those people?”
The world is filled with exploitation and violence, greed and fear, death and destruction—Isaiah 5 says that when there is injustice, everyone is trapped in suffering. Privilege doesn’t save the landowner’s child and violence doesn’t save the tenant farmer. So often we think that the solution to all of this is to build apartheid walls, or border walls, or freeways and highways and municipalities and electoral districts and charter schools and suburbs and gated communities and “up-and-coming” neighborhoods that all essentially do the same thing… because gentrification is the new colonialism. We believe that threats always lie outside the fence and outside our borders, when in fact, Mark tells us that threats are on the inside.
With a clapback from Psalm 118, Mark writes a plot twist into the story of oppression: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The Lord has done this, and it’s amazing to witness. In Isaiah 5, the vineyard has been cleared of stones, but in Psalm 118, the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. Psalm 118 is a song for survivors who are chanting at the gates of righteousness, impatiently waiting for the Temple doors to open so they can praise God.
They’ve been distressed, so they praise God. They know that God is on their side, so they praise God. They know that haters gon’ hate, so they praise God. They know it’s better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in mortals, so they praise God. They know it is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in any politician, so they praise God. The military might of entire nations surround them on every side, so they praise God. They push hard and are falling, so they praise God. It feels like God is punishing them, but STILL they survive, so they praise God.
Find a neighbor and say, “Neighbor… praise is political.”
Find another neighbor and say, “So neighbor… praise God.”
The story of oppression says that the world is being cut apart by walls and fences, we are surrounded by death and destruction, and God is on vacation. But the story of resurrection is the plot twist that says, our world is being rebuilt by the survivors, the strong, stubborn stones that stayed in the vineyard, even after the builders of white supremacy, racism, and colonialism tried to cast them out.
The stones that the builders rejected have become the cornerstones. We will not be cut apart by walls and fences, but will be built up into a new kindom of God. We may be buried and left for dead, but in the spring, we rise. God is not on vacation, but God IS ordaining new management. In the stones the builders rejected, God is still speaking, and teaching, and learning, and listening, and building, and resisting, and dreaming, and fighting, and rising, and always arriving. Therefore we are not moving forward in spite of Ferguson, but through it. The Lord is doing this, and it’s amazing to witness! …so can I get a witness?
May you go forward through Ferguson, out into the streets to let the survivors make disciples out of you, remembering that praise is political. The stones the builders rejected have become the cornerstones! The Lord has done this and it is amazing to witness! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Other reflections & acknowledgements forthcoming.
I finally told my mom that I was risking arrest by supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, because I stand with clergy, professors, and people of conscience against white supremacy which murders and harms black folks in US-America. I told her that I didn’t immediately tell her that I got arrested for Moral Monday because I didn’t want to worry her or cause her to lose sleep. I said that I was planning to go to the Clayton inJustice Center (jail) to protest because Brittany and Alexis were snatched off the street for no reason and were being held for over 24 hours, and I was worried that they would experience even more harm. Moreover, being there implied that God does not condone the kidnapping and lying and brutalizing actions of the police. I asked her to pray for them.
I expected her to yell at me, or scold me, or tell me not to go, or ask me why I was worrying her.
Instead, she prayed this prayer in Chinese:
I beg you to send celestial troops and generals (angels) to St. Louis.
It is not sending clergy to jail that needs to happen.
Clergy do not need to be in jail.
Your hand is strong and mighty and long,
And it will reach in and pluck these black women out.
Let these police fear you.
In Jesus’ Name,
Later, I told Dean Deborah Krause about this prayer. She said, “She sounds like someone who frequently talks to God.” “Yes, she has a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ,” I answered, half joking and totally serious. “She did a pray preach,” said Dean Krause. “Like she was trying to say, ‘Dear God, Please help Karen know she doesn’t have to go to jail.'” “Sounds more like a pray lecture. A precture?” I replied. “A precture,” Dean Krause affirmed.
Alexis and Brittany have been released. Thanks be to God. Thanks be to the warring angels. Thanks be to woke mamas.
I preached two sermons for the 2nd Sunday of Easter at St. John’s, Tower Grove ([LINK] http://www.towergrovechurch.org/).
Scriptures referenced: Psalm 133, Acts 4:32-37, Acts 5:1-11, John 20:19-31 ([LINK] http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=87).
Check out Fight for $15: [LINK] http://fightfor15.org/
10:30am Service Video – more performative, more jokes:
5pm Service Podcast – more interactive, more contemplative:
Manuscript (not transcript, closer to the 10:30am sermon than the 5pm):
“How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!”
What a wonderful Psalm for the 2nd Sunday of Easter! And since we’re finally allowed to say it after a long and serious season of Lent, “Alleluia! Praise be to God!”
If I were the Psalmist, I would have written something like this:
How very good and pleasant it is that on Easter, we who are family share in the grand tradition that is The Church Potluck!
Unity is like the
Strings of melty goodness falling from Keith’s famous cheesy grits,
Like the mosaic of recipes that weigh down our paper plates,
Like the discordant screams of little children as they forget to use their indoor voices. Bless their hearts.
For there the Lord ordained God’s blessing, life forevermore.
The Psalmist said that unity is like a precious, expensive oil often used to anoint the heads of priests and important guests. Instead of being lightly dabbed, the oil is lavishly poured out on a priest, drenching the priest’s face and robes. Unity drenches us all as honored guests who are close to God.
The Psalmist also said that unity is like a dew that normally falls on a high mountain, making it rich and fertile. Instead of falling only on the high mountain, the dew also falls on a lower mountain, a mountain where religious people imagine that they might one day gather to eat, drink, and celebrate, even though the lower mountain is usually dry and dusty. Unity drenches our religious spaces, giving life to places where people gather to eat, drink, and celebrate.
Our Easter potluck fed us all as honored guests who are close to God, filling our religious space, giving life to a place where people gather to eat, drink, and celebrate.
If only unity was as simple as sharing an Easter potluck! Today, we heard a passage from Acts, where those who shared their beliefs “were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.” Later, the passage says that those who owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold, giving it to the leaders of their community, who distributed it to those in need. I’m not sure that I would do that. Right now, I am a student, but one day, if I saved enough money to buy a house, I would want to keep it. If I lived on the land, I wouldn’t want to sell it. If Rev. Teresa asked me sell my house or land and give the proceeds to the vestry, I would probably ask if I could maybe invest the proceeds and give the interest to the vestry instead.
In short, my question would be, “How much can I keep for myself and still be okay with the Church?”
To answer that question, it might help if we turn to a passage that’s not often in the lectionary: Acts 5:1-11.
But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property; 2 with his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 “Ananias,” Peter asked, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!” 5 Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it. 6 The young men came and wrapped up his body, then carried him out and buried him.
7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you and your husband sold the land for such and such a price.” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” 9 Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.
Okay… I think we just found out why this passage is not often in the lectionary. Ananias and Sapphira just died on the spot for doing something perfectly understandable. Wasn’t Peter a little too harsh? What kind of God kills people for making a mistake? Acts 4:33 says, “With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” Where is that great grace?
Psalm 133 opens with “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred LIVE together in unity!” and closes by saying that God’s blessing is “LIFE forevermore.” In short, the great and gracious gift of unity is LIFE for people who live together as family. In contrast, Luke’s story about Ananias and Sapphira suggests that the greatest curse of division is DEATH for people who are disconnected from communal life. Ananias and Sapphira disconnected themselves from communal life when they broke the norm of selling their property and giving the proceeds to the leaders of the church to be distributed to those in need. We are shocked by the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira, especially because we know their names. Ananias and Sapphira’s church was seized by great fear because they knew Ananias and Sapphira by name, and probably recognized them as some of the more frequent and generous pledgers to the church.
At the same time, we must remind ourselves that the greatest curse of division is death not just for those like Ananias and Sapphira who are named and recognized by their church, but also for those in greater need, who remain nameless and unrecognized by churches. Unity is a matter of life and death for those who do not know where their next meal comes from and depend upon the Peace Meal. Unity is a matter of life and death for black and brown communities most impacted by Sacred Conversations on Race and Action. Unity is a matter of life and death for those served by Winter Outreach, an effort to reach out to those experiencing homelessness during cold nights. Unity is a matter of life and death for low wage workers who are uniting for a $15 wage to support themselves and their families.
The Psalmist’s image of a priest drenched in precious, expensive oil shows that unity is less about its financial cost and more about who it touches, and how. Unity doesn’t just touch the heads of society or those who stand at highest heights of society. It flows down to the beard, down the collar, and drenching the robes. It covers the lower mountain, a sacred space where all people can eat, drink, and celebrate. Unity transforms us into honored guests who share a common table that is close to God.
Luke, the storyteller of the early Church, writes that after what happened to Ananias and Sapphira, “great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.” This is the first time that the word “church” appears in the books of Luke and Acts. It is scary when we learn that being Church means knowing that unity is a matter of life and death. On one hand, we hold the great and gracious power of life when we live in unity. On the other hand, we hold the terrible and killing power of death when we live with division.
Teresa reminded us last week that fear and death are not the final answer. She said that “Love and life are stronger than fear and death. We can expect to see those we’ve loved and lost again. God has a future in store for each and all of us. Anything is possible with God.” We are an Easter people invited to share a resurrecting, reconciling love. Not a ledger love that is about keeping track of who owes how much to whom. But a love that brings people close to each other and to God as honored guests at a shared table. A love that brings those who have been killed by division back to life in kinship community. Alleluia! Praise be to God!
5pm sermon podcast [link]
For a recording of the 10:30am sermon, comment below with your email address.
Valerie Nicolet-Anderson [link] 1 Cor 6:12-20 – Paul’s instructions on sexual ethics for the purpose of strengthening and forming community identity. What does it mean to take on a communal identity that is non-normative? How might taking Paul’s instructions literally outside of his historical-cultural context be problematic?
The King Center [link] Martin Luther King’s Philosophy, including the centrality of agape love & the beloved community, a concept named by Josiah Royce, founder of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, reportedly the oldest & largest interfaith organization working toward peace and justice in the United States
DIGGING DEEPER | books + articles
The Great World House: Martin Luther King, Jr. & Global Ethics by Hak Joon Lee – King observed that increasing globalization, modernization and technological advances meant we need global ethics to ensure communal survival, peace, and well-being. Kingian global ethics can be summarized as “glocal” (local communities within global context) and communal-political (our struggles and liberation are connected in the community of the great world house; political power is important insofar as we need it to resist injustice; the communal and political must be and should be intertwined)
We Will Get to the Promised Land: Martin Luther King Jr’s Communal-Political Spirituality by Hak Joon Lee – The spiritual side/background of King related to the above concepts
Extremist for Love: Martin Luther King Jr., Man of Ideas & Nonviolent Social Action by Rufus Burrow Jr. – Family, theological mentors, friends, black women, Ghandian nonviolence and how they influenced Martin Luther King Jr. I recommend reading the last two chapters about how King kept hope alive, paying special attention to his last “mountaintop” sermon, which came after two attempted bombings of his house and bombings of his friend’s houses, as well as the other struggles of the civil rights movement. I also highly recommend reading chapter 6, about Vernon Napoleon Johns: “God’s Bad Boy,” about a badass prophetic preacher who planted his own produce and sold it after church services (to the embarrassment of his congregants) and called out R.T. Adair, a prominent man of the community during church for shooting and killing Adair’s wife on suspicion of adultery, from the pulpit (after Adair only received a slap on the wrist and no jail time for his crime). “‘There is a murderer in the house,’ he announced to a stunned congregation. ‘God said, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ Dr. Adair, you have committed a sin, and may God have mercy on your soul.’ Johns stared down at Adair in solemn judgment, with one eye in a menacing twitch caused by a childhood kick from a mule. Then he sat down.”
The most pastoral response? Maybe not. Badass? I think yes.
Toward the Beloved Community: Martin Luther King Jr. & South Africa by Lewis V. Baldwin – Recommended for those wanting to explore what it looks like to believe that “injustice anywhere is a threat everywhere” and to understand how King collaborated with interfaith/global partners to be in solidarity fighting for liberation not just in the U.S. but also in South Africa, against apartheid.
p. 27 – “I think we have to honestly admit that the problems in the world today, as they relate to the question of race, must be blamed on the whole doctrine of white supremacy, the whole doctrine of racism, and these doctrines came into being through the white race and the exploitation of the colored peoples of the world.” c.f. “Doubts and Certainties Link: A Transcript of an Interview with Martin Luther King Jr.,” London, England (winter 1968): 1, King Center Archives.
p. 31 Differences of South African & United States situation due to idea of suffering community (less resonant with oppressed South Africans than African Americans) and racial composition (higher ratio of people of color in S. African than in US, leading to greater fear of blacks). These differences led King to believe that justice would be hindered so long as tribal loyalties took precedent over larger communal identity.
p. 73 King’s influence on Desmond Tutu & Allan Boesak
Outline (not transcript):
One day, I will teach my children Taiwanese theologies.
They will know Shoki Coe and C. S. Song and all the Taiwanese women feminist theologians who do not have enough pages in the reference books and all the saints who I never met until I turned 24, and they will be invited to become one of them. We will lift Christianity from the dust of debates over sin, salvation, and justification, and breathe into it stories about Creation, about aborigine experiences, about a postcolonial world, where no one tells us what our names should be or what languages we ought to speak. Because God was not piggybacked to Korea by Western missionaries (Hyun Younghak), and neither was God piggybacked to Taiwan. Incarnate divinity and sacredness was, is, and always will be everywhere. I will invite my children to imagine how these theologies might create hope in this sometimes difficult world, and to meld these theologies with other theologies, and not be afraid of those who insist on having their views of the divine be upheld everywhere. They will learn that holiness can be whispered, and the loudest voices do not have the last word. One day, I will teach my children to know themselves, more than I have known myself.
Wilderness is a beautiful metaphor in the Hebrew Bible.
It’s not so beautiful when you’re going through it, but it’s a beautiful image for the times in your life where you’re in-between. Theologians call it “liminal space,” a space of not-yet, a space of transition. It’s a time where you’re headed somewhere and you’re figuring things out. It’s a time of struggle. It’s a time of figuring out, What in the world am I doing here? What does this all mean?
The way I see it, there’s three types of wilderness. There’s the wilderness you must go through, in order to get where you need to go. There’s the wilderness others put you through, and it’s tough times that really didn’t need to happen and there aren’t really any answers for why you’re there in the first place. And there’s wilderness that happens when you get lost along the way. Maybe you forgot who you were or where you were going. And then, there you are.
Moses asks God a question that is a very human question for the wilderness: “How shall I know I have found favor in your sight unless you go with us?”
Or, how do I know I’m doing okay if I feel like I’m going it alone?
God’s answer is kind of weird. God says, okay, you hide in that rock over there, I’m going to blindfold you, and then I’m going to moon you. Yeah, I’m going to show you MY BUTT.
In a way, it kind of makes sense. If God is really God, like a super incomprehensible divine being of creation, and power, and love, and community, and beauty, and light, then yeah, we’d be pretty blinded by looking at God. Looking at God’s butt might be a little less overwhelming.
I think of Faith Aloud as an organization that travels with people through the wilderness, and helps them through. If it’s the type of wilderness that others are putting people through, the kind that makes them question whether life is really worth it, or whether they’ll ever get home, we help people avoid that.
Our mission statement is: “Guided by faith and rooted in community, Faith Aloud engages people to create a just society in which healthy sexual, reproductive, and parenting choices are freely made.” Locally, and nationwide, we work with people across faith traditions and denominations to accomplish this mission. We provide the only nationwide all-options clergy counseling service for people making reproductive decisions, we advocate for medically-accurate sexual health education, for healthcare access including Medicaid expansion, for racial equality and an end to police brutality through the Don’t Shoot Coalition, and we stand in solidarity for economic justice through the Jobs with Justice coalition.
God’s answer to Moses is: “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
It helps when someone is willing to travel through the wilderness with you. No one should have to travel alone.