Where You Go, I’ll Go

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ruth 1:1-18.

Following the events in Las Vegas late Sunday evening and early Monday morning, I saw a number of people quoting phrases from Warsan Shire’s poem entitled, What They Did Yesterday Afternoon. Shire is a British poet, activist, writer, and teacher, born to Somali parents, and originally from Kenya. Her poems stem from the tension between suffering and belonging – and in that place – she, from writing, and others, from reading – experience healing.

what they did yesterday afternoon

by warsan shire

they set my aunts house on fire
i cried the way women on tv do
folding at the middle
like a five pound note.
i called the boy who use to love me
tried to ‘okay’ my voice
i said hello
he said warsan, what’s wrong, what’s happened?

i’ve been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like;
dear god
i come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.

Once again – maddeningly, frustratingly, horrifically, crushingly – we as a society, as a species – find ourselves trying to make sense of life after a senseless tragedy. Innocent blood spilled. Questions unanswered. Joy stripped away. Peace voided.

We know too well the environments Shire describes in her poem. We see our places of origin or the places that we spend most of our time “thirsty” and “on fire” – meaning that we see them – we engage them experiencing – great need and crying for help. People are hurting. And unfortunately, hurt people hurt people.

Following a tragedy like the mass shooting in Las Vegas it seems the the hurt compounds further as everyone from family members to neighbors to religious leaders to law makers argue over Second Amendment Rights, gun control, responses to gun violence, and access to quality mental health care. Tempers flare and arguments rage to a boiling point…and then the conversations start to cool…but the hurt remains.

“Where does it hurt?” “Everywhere everywhere everywhere.”

In our Scripture passage this week Ruth covenants to journey on with Naomi, her mother-in-law, though it would make more sense for Ruth to return home to seek better future opportunities. Naomi feels so poorly treated by God that she wishes to change her name to Mara to capture the experience that the Almighty has “dealt bitterly [and] harshly” with her (Ruth 1:20-21). Naomi looks at her life and as her heart bleeds over the losses in her family, she feels abandoned and wants to give up. But she is not alone. Ruth is with her. And I believe Ruth’s presence is the very embodiment of God’s presence – a present gift and promise – of which Naomi needed to be reminded.

In a hurting world we have the opportunity to be the very embodiments of God’s presence – God’s present gift and promise – of which our family members, friends, neighbors, coworkers, acquaintances, and elected officials need to be reminded. We bear with us the message of the cross – that life has the final word, not death – and that our God’s preferred future for us is one shaped by peace rather than violence.

We bear this message in our bodies and it is also our responsibility to communicate this message – to share and advocate this message – through our words, actions, and deeds. A mentor of mine once told me that hope is a beautiful gift, but hope is not a strategy. We cannot “hope away” conflict, no matter the subject of the conflict. We must come to the table, as hard as it may be, to have conversations, to hear points of view different from our own, to accept that all parties – all sides – must give and take to reach a life-giving solution. I believe these are vital, necessary, and immediate steps that must be taken as we journey in life together.

God calls us to be our sisters’ and brothers’ keeper; God calls us to be Ruth for whoever is experiencing a period of Naomi.

Wherever Naomi went, Ruth was with her. In the joy and in the hurt. Everywhere everywhere everywhere.

In our journeying together – in compassion, empathy, and advocacy – I believe we can change the answer of Shire’s atlas.

“Where does it hurt?” “Nowhere, nowhere, nowhere.”

Prayer: “I can hear my Savior calling, I can hear my Savior calling, I can hear my Savior calling, ‘Take thy cross and follow, follow me.’ Where he leads me I will follow, where he leads me I will follow, where he leads me I will follow; I’ll go with him, with him all the way.”* Amen.

*”Where He Leads Me,” The United Methodist Hymnal 338.

 

 

The Gospel According to Showtunes: Defying Gravity

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Chronicles 15:1-12

This week at Reeves we begin a new sermon series – I am so excited!!! – entitled The Gospel According to Showtunes!  Each week we will explore a Scripture passage alongside a showtune and examine where there is harmony and dissonance.  Applying showtunes as an interpretative lens to Scripture will be a challenge, but it will also have its benefits.

Among the benefits is hearing the showtunes in worship.  It’s gonna be awesome!

This week we Defy Gravity in partnership with Wicked and the story of King Asa from II Chronicles.  Asa is of the house of David.  He is a ruler in the Southern Kingdom – a kingdom that is presently pockmarked with idols.  God’s people have strayed once again.  Their praises seek to please static gods in the Ancient Near East rather than the mighty, dynamic, saving God that delivered them through the Sea of Reeds from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.  Asa receives a word from the Lord from God’s messenger Azariah.  Azariah reminds Asa and calls to the people, “The Lord is with you, while you are with him.  If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you abandon him, he will abandon you” (II Chron 15:2).  The people’s idolatry is a sign of their sin and abandonment.  In order to redirect their attention, to redirect their worship, service, and reverence Asa must remove those items that skew the people’s vision.  The idols and Asherah poles – they have got to go.

At this point in the story…it looks like it’s Asa against the world.  What is he going to do?

I’m a huge fan of Harry Potter.  I was a little late to the Harry Potter party – but escaping into JKRowling’s England helped me write my commissioning and ordination papers.  Thank you, Harry.  “Always.”

In the first book of the series, Professor Dumbledore – Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry – is in the midst of awarding house points at the end of term banquet.  Whichever of the four houses of Hogwarts – Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Gryffindor, Slytherin – has the most points (awarded for good deeds and write answers, deducted for misbehavior) at the end of the year wins the coveted House Cup.  At the beginning of the banquet Gryffindor – Harry’s house – was in last place, but because of a series of event (read the books folks) Gryffindor is now tied with Slytherin for first place.  Has their ever been a tie for House Cup Champion?  Students and staff in the Great Hall wait with baited breath…and Dumbledore says, “There are all kinds of courage.  It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to your enemies, but just as much to stand up to your friends” (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone 17.197).  And then Dumbledore awards 10 points to Neville Longbottom – the most unlikely person to ever earn House Cup Points – because he stood up to his friends.  Gryffindor wins!

Asa would be rewarded 10 points…probably more.  He stood up to his friends.  He stood up to his family members.  He removed the idols.  He tore down the Asherah poles.  He sought the Lord.  He did not succumb to peer pressure and leave things the way they were.  He knew what was right and he went after it.  And if you know anything about Wicked – Asa’s acts helped him to Defy Gravity!

Where is God calling you to stand up?  It could be to enemies.  It could be to friends.  What conviction has God given you?  How is God calling you, shaping you, to become an advocate?  Sit with these questions for a while…and then act.  Fly high.  Defy Gravity.

Prayer: “The care the eagle gives her young, safe in her lofty nest, is like the tender love of God for us made manifest.  As when the time to venture comes, she stirs them out to flight, so we are pressed to boldly try, to strive for daring height.  And if we flutter helplessly, as fledgling eagles fall, beneath us lift God’s mighty wings to bear us, one and all.”* Amen.

*”The Care the Eagle Gives Her Young,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 118.