Advent Devotion Twenty-One 12.17.16

untitled We live in a time obsessed with scarcity and accumulation. We are constantly vying to get our place, get our due, make sure we have what we need and For, that we are prepared. We are constantly messaged that there isn’t enough, be sure to get yours. . . We are trained to buy and buy and buy things that we may or may not need and that we have been convinced to want. Think about it – have you spent more time in prayer, devotion, and reflection this month, or more time shopping? I’ll confess it straight up: My honest answer is shopping, thank you, Amazon!

The whole idea of scarcity, being worried about supply, running out, and having enough, is at odds with the Christian outlook which values generosity, service, self-giving, and material simplicity. So we are always paddling up stream in our context.

The candle is a great image for the Christians perspective on generosity and service. You light a candle. There is a flame. From that flame, you can light countless other candles. We will do this very thing on Christmas Eve at church. Spreading that light takes nothing away from the original flame. That’s how it is when we shine the light of love that is within us. We are not diminished. If anything, our light increases and shines more brightly. As the children’s song of yesteryear reminds us, “Love is something if you give it away, give it away, give it away. Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more. It’s just like a magic penny: Hold it tight and you won’t have any. But lend it, spend it, and you’ll have so many, they’ll roll all over the floor. For love is something if you give it away. . .” Back in the day, we were taught that song in school (not church). It should be restored to the curriculum, at least in the schools that still have a music program. . .

Prayer: Divine Light is shining. May we look for it and live by it. Amen.

In your journal, remember a time that you have shared your light. How did that feel?

Maybe we can’t directly influence the school curriculum, but we can help the students at The Micah Center succeed in school with our donations. Put some change in your collection box today.


Advent Devotion Twenty 12.16.16

untitled Monday is typically my “day off.” It is often my busiest day of the week! This past Monday, I stayed home all day cleaning and putting things away and dealing with Christmas stuff, etc. While I was suitably occupied with fairly mindless activity, I had the radio on. National Public Radio. I often listen in the morning while I am getting ready for the day. And I often listen while I am making dinner. And sometimes in between briefly while I am in the car. But Monday, I listened the whole day. News from the BBC. The Diane Rehm Show. Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Tom Ashcroft and On Point. And, The World with Marco Werman.

Toward the end of the afternoon, my spouse, Jeff, got home from school. We had a holiday dinner to go to in Tampa which I had been looking forward to. But as I was rushing around getting ready to leave I realized I was in a bad mood. Jeff commented about it. I said, “Of course I am in a bad mood, I was listening to the radio all day.” He said, “Why would you do that? Put on an audio book.” Of course, he is right. Why would I listen to the negative messages about the influence of Russian hacking on the election and the crisis in Aleppo all day? It was dark.

Yes, the light still shines, but we can be consciously or inadvertently shutting it out. It is up to us to make room for the light, to seek it out in ourselves, in others, and in the world. Jesus in story after story finds the light – in unexpected situations, and certainly in unexpected people. He does not let the darkness shut out the light. This is a season to remember that we can have some effect upon keeping the darkness at bay.

Prayer: Divine Light is shining. May we look for it and live by it. Amen.

Maybe in your journal you could comment on how you are letting darkness into your life and how you might change that.

Help dispel the darkness for the students benefitting from The Micah Center. Put a donation in your box today.


Advent Devotion Nineteen

untitled Who would have thought that we would be seeing the rise of fundamentalism in Christianity, Islam, and other religions? In the ’60’s and 70’s when I was growing up we were taught, in school, that a more enlightened future was ahead. People would be more tolerant and accepting of difference. It seems that a backlash has occurred before we get to that more enlightened society that most people want to see.

As far as religion is concerned, more light leads to a more open, accepting, loving and compassionate religious expression. I know that the more I learn about the Bible, about theology and faith, the deeper my understanding of Christianity becomes, the greater my appreciation of other faiths. More light leads me to a more expansive spiritual sensitivity.

Hard, intractable expressions of religion seem, well, smaller somehow; less worthy of the grandeur of a larger reality. Rules, punishment, fixed theological and political ideas seem more primitive and less developed. The mystery of transcendence implies a greater scope to our spiritual understanding. If the Divine is so awesome why not accept that the Divine can shine light not only through my religion but through other religions as well? Why would I want to restrict the workings of God, or why would I think I could restrict the scope of the influence of Divine Love?

In this era of globalization and information, an awful lot of people seem to want to keep their picture small. How sad. Jesus was always expanding his circle outward, to people on the edge, on the fringe, beyond the scope of his religious tradition and ethnicity. That’s how it is in God. Borders, boundaries, differences don’t take on undue significance or limit the scope of our loving.

This is a season to look for light – wherever it may be shining. And to let that light show us more and more and more of this big, wide, amazing reality in which we find ourselves.

Prayer: Divine Light is shining. May we look for it and live by it. Amen.

In your journal, can you write about a time that you had your assumptions or attitudes expanded by the teachings of Jesus? I’ll never forget when we had a prayer service at church on 9/11/01 and someone asked that we pray for those who carried out the attacks. That really expanded the horizons of my compassion and showed me the greater light of God in the teachings of Jesus.

Remember your donation for The Micah Center.


Advent Devotion Eighteen 12.14.16

untitled There is that scene in the movie “The Little Mermaid” in which the mermaid, Ariel, is trying to figure out what a fork is. She finds one under the sea, a metal rod with four sharp, pointed spikes. She runs it through her hair. What is this thing? And what is done with it? We know, of course, but if you haven’t seen western culture on land, how would you know?

This Advent season we are thinking about the theme The Light Still Shines. The light of God helps us know how to interpret, understand, and frame our experience. Things happen. How do we understand the experience? The light of God helps us to know what is loving, just, compassionate, and forgiving. The light shows us what is good and true for us as individuals and as a society. The light of God shows us how to interpret what is going on around us and within us.

There are many things going on around us and it can be difficult to make sense of it. Maybe all the information just seems like random noise. But the light of God which is shown to us through Jesus, helps us to understand what is going on.

When we let the light of God show us what is going on, we can see where we are needed. We can see where change is needed. We can see what is good and just. We can celebrate what is beautiful and generous. Without the light, we lose our way often spiraling into self interest, greed, and fear. At times, we may not like what the light shows us, but it can be trusted.

Prayer: Divine Light is shining. May we look for it and live by it. Amen.

In your journal, you may want to note an example of how your faith has helped you to see something in a new light.

Remember your donation for The Micah Center.


Advent Devotion Seventeen

untitled Fossil fuels are amazing. They have brought humanity far along in its development. They have made a wonderful contribution to the furthering of civilization. Advances in transportation, electricity, and new materials such as plastic are incredible and have made such a difference to humanity. We are so fortunate that fossil fuels were discovered and put to use in so many helpful ways.

Now we know, however, how damaging fossil fuels are to the environment and how they are significantly contributing to global climate change. We know that the environment is poised at a tipping point in large measure due to the use of fossil fuels. So we are in the midst of a transformation in the energy sector away from fossil fuels and toward renewable, sustainable, clean energies such as wind and solar.

This is a large scale, global transformation, consequently, it will take time, which is of the essence given recent findings provided about carbon emissions. And, as with any transition, there are challenges and difficulties along the way. Some want to go slowly and others are resisting entirely. Some are oblivious. And for some, it can’t happen fast enough. But in a hundred years, we’ll see how things were and how the transition was accomplished, and everyone will be adjusted to the new paradigm without fossil fuels.

Remember, it wasn’t so long ago that there were no airplanes. Now we fly everywhere. There was a time when there were no cars on the road. My grandfather delivered milk with a horse and wagon in New York City. Now the problem is too many cars and too much traffic. Oh how things can change and sometimes just within a lifetime.

Technology is not the only thing that changes. Religion changes, too. Jesus stepped onto the scene and he called for major changes in religion. He challenged some of the foundational assumptions of his religion. Here are just a few examples. People believed that if someone was sick or disabled it was because they had sinned. Jesus challenged that assumption. If a person was hurt or killed, by accident even, it was assumed that this was a punishment from God. Jesus did not support that position. People believed that if you were materially wealthy it was because you had found favor with God. And they thought the opposite was true: If you were poor, it was because you had not found favor with God. Jesus completely rejected that thinking. Jesus challenged things and changed things that no longer served the deeper intentions of his religion. To some, Jesus’ thinking was scandalous.

In terms of religion, we are also in the midst of a great transition. The thinking and assumptions of times past are being challenged. New ideas and theologies are emerging within Christianity. Some of these new ideas preserve the original intentions of Christianity but shed outdated, antiquated thinking that can no longer be accepted given the advances that humanity has made. Some of the new thinking in Christianity is related to new scholarship about the Bible and the context of the original writers. In a hundred years or so, people will look back and see the old ways and how new versions of Christianity emerged. That does not mean that what came before was bad or wrong. What it means is that new ways of thinking are needed to enable Christianity to continue to have a positive impact on the world, to bless the world, to bring love and joy to the world. And, as with other major transitions, there are challenges and difficulties along the way. As with fossil fuels, some want to go back to older modes of Christianity, some are oblivious, some want to proceed slowly, and some can’t move ahead fast enough!

In this Advent season, we are thinking about how The Light Still Shines. New energy means that lights will still shine, they just will not be powered by fossil fuels. In terms of our faith, The Light Still Shines, but it is being conveyed in new ways.

Prayer: Divine Light is shining. May we look for it and live by it. Amen.

In your journal, you may want to note an example of how your concept of Christianity is growing, changing, and evolving.

And don’t forget to put a donation in your box for The Micah Center. Education is about shining the light!


Advent Devotion Sixteen 12.12.16

untitled Virgin of Guadalupe Day

The Virgin of Guadalupe may be the best known “version” of Mary in the Catholic church. She is the patron saint of Mexico and she is taken very seriously. Practically everywhere you go in Mexico you see Guadalupe: in stores, restaurants, homes, businesses, hotels, banks, offices, and, of course, churches. Devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe is not restricted to Mexico. She is revered by Catholics around the world.

To me the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe is a wonderful example of how the light of Divine Love finds a way to shine and cannot be put out. In the story of Guadalupe, we can see God always somehow finding a way to get through. The light still shines!

When the Spanish came to Mexico, they came to give Christianity and take gold. The first peoples were killed off through war and disease. Their cultures were decimated. The temples of indigenous religions were taken down and the stones were used to build churches on the same sites. Gone were the gods and goddesses related to the seasons, agriculture, and fertility. In came the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and Mary.

The story of the Virgin of Guadalupe is about the Virgin Mary appearing to the poor Indian peasant, Juan Diego, in 1531. She tells Juan Diego, in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec Empire, to instruct the archbishop to build a church on a certain hill in her honor. It happens to be on a hill where the Indians had a temple dedicated to the mother of the gods which had been taken down under Spanish orders. Juan Diego tries to persuade the archbishop to build the church but to no avail. The archbishop wants a sign. The Virgin of Guadalupe shows Juan Diego to a bed of Castilian roses, not native to Mexico, blooming in the middle of winter and instructs him to take the roses back to the archbishop as a sign. Juan Diego gathers the roses in his tunic and takes them to the archbishop. When Juan Diego presents the roses to the archbishop on the fabric of the tunic there is an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. In the middle of all of this, the Virgin also heals Juan Diego’s uncle. She does not relent until the archbishop agrees to build the church. And so there is a huge church on the site on the north side of Mexico City and because the old church was no longer structurally sound, a huge modern church was built in the 1970’s. And this Basilica to Guadalupe in Mexico City is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world.

There are many things to love about this story. The “little guy” wins. The indigenous people essentially get the monolithic, monotheistic Catholic church to give them a goddess. Mary won’t take no for an answer. Guadalupe is essentially the primary figure in the Mexican expression of Christianity virtually preempting the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, thank you very much.

Even if we can’t relate to much of this story – the context in Mexico, Catholicism with its devotion to Mary and to the various versions of Mary – hopefully we can see that Divine light finds a way to get through. Whatever the circumstances and conditions and context, Love finds a way to beam into our darkness.

Prayer: The light of God is shining. May we look for it and live by it. Amen.


Advent Devotion Fourteen

untitledI had dinner with friends recently and we had not seen each other in a long time. In catching up, we got to talking about the election. The friend said he was reticent to discuss it for fear that someone at an adjacent table would overhear the conversation and perhaps threaten us in some way. I said, “I am not giving in to that.” This is a free country and we can say whatever we want to about the election or anything else, for that matter, while we are at dinner. We are entitled to free expression as a human right according to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Today is International Human Rights Day. On 10 December in 1948 the United Nations passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yes, it’s long and comprehensive, but it is worth reading. [It is included below.] It is an expression of light. I hope that in my lifetime I have the opportunity to live in a country that honors all of the human rights enumerated in this glorious declaration.

Prayer: In these dark days, may I look for the light of Christ shining in the world, in others, and in myself. Amen.

Perhaps in your journal you might want to mention how you are helping to ensure basic human rights for all people.

In light of Article 26, consider making a donation to The Micah Center so that all children have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of an education.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction. 

Article 1.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2.
 Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3. 
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4.
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5. 
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6. 
Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7. 
All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8. 
Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9. 
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10. 
Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11. 
(1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.
(2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

Article 12. 
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 13. 
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 14. 
(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
(2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 15. 
(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

Article 16. 
(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 17. 
(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Article 18. 
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19. 
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20. 
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
(2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 21.
(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Article 22. 
Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23. 
(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24. 
Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25. 
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26. 
(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Article 27. 
(1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
(2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Article 28. 
Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

Article 29. 
(1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.
(2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.
(3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 30. 
Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.


Advent Devotion Thirteen

untitled The Light still shines. Yesterday was Bodhi Day. It is the commemoration of the day that the Buddha achieved enlightenment sitting under the bodhi tree. He vowed to sit and meditate under the bodhi tree until he had found the root of suffering and how to be liberated from it. That is a big commitment. He could have been sitting there for who knows how long.

That’s the thing about the light. Yes, there is light and it can be found in differing religious traditions, but to experience the light one must look for it and be open to it. The spiritual quest takes commitment, devotion, time, energy, courage, and perseverance.

I’ve heard people say that they don’t need religion or religion doesn’t do anything for them. To see the light, for religion to impact us, we have to embrace it. We have to invest ourselves in our faith and let it work on us. Time and attention to spiritual practice, service, and the faith community lead us to the light. It is when we go deeper in our faith that we find the light.

If we aren’t seeing the light, maybe it is because we are not really open to it. Maybe we are not looking hard enough. Maybe we need to be more devoted to our religious practice.

This holiday season is a busy time of year. But are we busy with the things that reveal the light? Are we setting aside time for prayer, the reading of scripture and devotional writings? Are we attending worship? Are we making time for silence and reflection? Are we finding ways to serve and give that make a difference?

Yes, the light still shines, but we have to make the effort to see it.

Prayer: In these dark days may I look for the light of Christ shining in the world, in others, and in myself. Amen.

In your Advent journal, you could note how you are investing yourself in your spiritual quest for the light. Some people keep track of an exercise regime. What about keeping track of our spiritual regimen?

Your donations to The Micah Center are a sign of commitment to light. They will help individual children to succeed in school. That is shining the light!


Advent Devotion Twelve 12.8.16

untitled Happy Bodhi Day! Have you put the lights up on the tree yet? Will you light a candle? Bodhi Day is the annual remembrance of the day in 596 BCE that Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, sat under the Bodhi tree and achieved enlightenment. While Bodhi Day is celebrated on different days and in different ways depending on the country and culture, it usually includes chanting and meditation, as well as decorating a Bodhi (fig) tree with colored lights and lighting a candle. The remembrance lasts for 30 days. The lights that are used to decorate the home or the tree are multicolored to represent that there are many paths to enlightenment.

For Christians this is a season for lights on the tree and candles as we remember the light of God coming into the world in Jesus. For us, Jesus is a path to enlightenment or awakening. We remember him with the image of light.

For those who are Jewish, the festival of lights is ahead. Hanukkah begins on Christmas Eve this year. It is an annual celebration of the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in 165 BCE following the successful Jewish revolt against the Seleucid monarchy. Candles are lit for eight nights in observance of Hanukkah.

These holy days in various religious traditions all involve light. These observances remind us that Divine Light comes into the world. In many ways. Through many religious traditions. The Light is so intent on shining that it is not just restricted to one way of entering human experience. Humanity is wildly diverse, so it only makes sense that Divine Light would be made manifest in many ways. We don’t want to limit how the light of Divine love and power comes into the world. It will find a way. And if one way is not effective, there will be another.

This season, we join our sisters and brothers of different religions around the world in celebrating Light. The light has come into the world and the darkness has not put it out.

Prayer: In these dark days, may I look for the light of the Divine shining in the world and in my life. Amen.

Remember to make a donation to The Micah Center. Shine the light in support of increased student achievement!


Sermon 12.4.16 “Brooding Vipers”

Date: Dec. 4, 2016 Second Sunday of Advent
Scripture: Matthew 3:1-12
Sermon: Brooding Vipers
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells

Last week we saw a banner depicting John baptizing people at the Jordan River in the sanctuary of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Burlington, Massachusetts. The image shows a happy scene. People are dressed in bright colors. Women with covered heads looking like Muslims line the banks of the deep blue river kneeling in prayer. John is waving to Jesus off in the distance headed out to the wilderness. It’s a peaceful, serene, joyous scene.

Yet in the scripture we heard this morning, we are told of John the Baptizer ranting and railing. It hardly seems peaceful or serene. Apparently, the people are coming from nearby cities and towns to be baptized by John for the forgiveness of sins. That is going fine. But then the religious authorities arrive from Jerusalem and that’s when the fireworks start. Religion is supposed to be a comfort and a guide. These leaders should be offering light and hope to people. Instead, they are imposing laws and rules that cannot be followed and are very costly. These imposed requirements reinforce the authority and power of the leaders which fuels their tyranny. Their teachings and directives end up generating income and personal prosperity for the leaders. Instead of offering religion that is a comfort and support to people, especially people that are downtrodden, they are taking advantage of the people for personal gain. This ignites John’s fury!

While people may have expected John to rail against Rome, the Roman Empire, and the oppressive occupation being imposed by the Romans, a tirade against the religious leaders was probably quite unexpected. In his excoriating remarks, we hear John malign the leaders for banking on their relationship to Abraham to save them. They are counting on their privilege to work to their advantage. They are not concerned with truly repenting, changing their ways, reforming their religious practices, and showing forth the fruits of generosity, compassion, and mercy. They are children of Abraham. They do not expect to be held accountable for their deeds. They expect a free pass. Privilege then worked the same way that privilege works today.

But in the story we heard, John tells these people of privilege just what they can expect from the God that shines light for all people, not just some people. There is one coming, one who represents God, who is going to clean things up; get religion back on its proper footing. There is light coming that will shine joy, peace and hope upon all people. There will be no more undue privilege in the name of religion. There will be no more taking advantage of everyday people in the name of religion. There will be no more power abuse and manipulation for self gain in the name of religion. Not the religion of the God of the Jews. No. The light will expose these abuses and will shine in a way that is pure, healing, and restorative.

It is interesting to note that later in the gospels, Jesus, too, has a melt down over the power abuse of the religious authorities in the story of the overturning of the tables of the money changers in the Temple. Religion is to be a source of sustenance, hope, and comfort. It is to help people be morally good and compassionate. Religion is meant to feed the human spirit so that it flourishes and bears the fruits of compassion, justice, mercy, and right relationship. Religion is precious to the vitality of the human soul. Misusing religion for personal gain is heinous and we see that conveyed in the vehement condemnation from John and from Jesus.

I think that if John were to show up at the waterfront today, he would find plenty of brooding vipers. Still many abuse religion as an avenue for personal gain and as a way of validating their cultural values and attitudes. Religion is still used today to keep some people down and to privilege other people. And religion is still used to make some people rich and to give some people power over others. So, I think John would find plenty to rail about today.

We still need to be reminded that there is no room in the intentions of God for some people to benefit from privilege at the expense of others. There is no provision for gender bias in the reality of God. There is no place for racism in God’s domain. There is no tolerance of homophobia in the dreams of God. There is no space for discrimination against “foreigners” for there are no foreigners with God. Everyone is family in the reality of God. And there is no room for hatred of neo Nazis, white supremacists, or fundamentalists. Later, Jesus will tell his followers, Love your enemy. Maybe today it would sound something like, Love the deplorables – whoever they are for you.

In the stories of Jesus, we are told that the first word he utters when he begins his ministry echoes John: Repent. Turn around. Change direction. Reorient your life toward God. Chart a course in the direction of love. Accept grace. Like plants and trees that naturally grow toward the sun, be led by the Light.

Even brooding vipers are welcomed by the open arms of God. No matter what we may have done, all are offered grace. Everyone has a place in God’s realm of love and light. We can all make a new start. No one is doomed to perpetually living at the expense of others. Even well-ingrained habits of abusing power can be broken. The Gospel is good news for all people, including those who have been caught up in systems that abuse and oppress.

There is no one that is beyond the scope of Divine grace. We all, each and every one of us, have the capacity to bear the fruits of repentance – generosity, forgiveness, compassion, and justice. The Light of the world offers joy and peace to all, all upon whom the sun shines.

Brooding vipers. It’s quite an image. Distasteful, gross, scary. Yet the snake is really a quite fascinating creature. The color patterns and markings are quite remarkable. The mobility of snakes is astounding. They are incredibly flexible even able to defy gravity and climb trees! Snakes are also strong and very efficiently designed. When a snake grows, it must shed its skin to accommodate its expanding body. To do this, it rubs its nose against something rough to break the skin. Then through a long, slow, tedious process, the snake maneuvers its way out of the old skin and leaves that behind. Underneath is reveled a new skin. One that will stretch until it is time for other new skin. The old skin is dull and flat in finish. The new skin usually has a glossy shine.

Given their unique traits, snakes have long been a cross cultural religious symbol. In Christianity, the snake, with its shedding of skin, is seen as is a symbol of resurrection – leaving behind an old life and embracing a new life. In the reality of God, everyone is always welcome, even brooding vipers, because in God new life always awaits. Amen.

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.


Advent Devotion Eleven 12.7.16

untitledDecember 7th. If you are of an age, that date is etched in your mind. You can’t see it or write it on a check or a form without a flash of memory. December 7, 1941. Pearl Harbor. The surprise attack on a Sunday morning by the Empire of Japan that launched the US into World War 2. Then-President Franklin Roosevelt declared it “a date which will Iive in infamy.” And it should be remembered: 5 out of 8 battleships, 3 destroyers, and 7 other ships were sunk or severely damaged at . Over 200 aircraft were destroyed. Twenty-four hundred Americans were killed and 1200 wounded. In one attack.

There is more to remember. President Roosevelt asked Congress for a declaration of war. The Senate voted 82-0 in support of the declaration. The House voted 388-1 in favor of war. What about the one? The one “no” vote was cast by Jeannette Rankin from Montana. She was the first woman elected to Congress; an advocate for women’s suffrage and a strong supporter of social welfare initiatives. And she was a Republican. Rankin, a pacifist, also voted against entering of World War 1. Her rationale: “As a woman I can’t go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else.”

While December 7 was a dark day even in that darkness a light was shining. Jeannette Rankin was shining the light for peace, for standing by your principles whatever the consequences, and for maintaining your integrity and incorruptibility. In her subsequent comments, she made it clear that she loved and supported her country but also felt compelled to remain true to her convictions. She exercised the precious freedom that we hold so dear here in these United States. On the whole, Rankin was respected for her position. I’m not sure that would be the case today. Pacifism, principles, integrity, and respect seem to be in short supply.

May the darkness of December 7 remind us not to be afraid to shine our light. It is needed today just as much as it was in 1941 and maybe even more.

Prayer: In these dark days, may I look for the light of Christ shining in the world. Amen.

In your journal, maybe you want to remember a time that you were true to your convictions even when that was very unpopular or had significant negative consequences for you.


Advent Devotion Ten 12.6.16

untitledAdvent is a time for reflection. It was once called “Little Lent.” There is a somber dimension to this season of short, dark days. It is an invitation to reflect on our need for the coming of the Christ Child.

Some years ago, I heard columnist Connie Schulz speak and she mentioned that we often think about religion in terms of helping ourselves and fixing others. Instead, she suggested that the true aim of Christianity is fixing ourselves and helping others. This is a season to consider what kind of fixing we need and what kind of help others need.

Many of the scripture texts for Advent talk about transformation. Valleys lifted up; mountains brought low; the desert blooming; swords turned into plowshares. This invites our consideration of what kind of fixing we need. How do we need to change to be more fully who we were created to be? Can we open our hardened hearts to let the love, forgiveness, and mercy in? Will we let the light shine on our lives with all their grime and glory and let ourselves really see what is there?

It’s easy to criticize others. The faults in others can be so glaring. Surely there are people that annoy you. There must be those whose outlook you find despicable. There’s that co-worker that you dread. And the kid you never want to sit next to in the lunch room. Advent is a time to look for the faults in ourselves. How can we be annoying? Who finds us despicable and why? Is there any validity in that? Are there those who avoid us and maybe for good reason?

When we let the light reveal who we really are, we can work on the fixing that is needed and move toward the healing offered by the light.

Prayer: In these dark days, may I look for the light of Christ shining in the world and on my life. Amen.

Thinking about fixing yourself and helping others, remember The Micah Center today and put a donation in your box. Your gift will be a great help to the students who are served by the Center.


Advent Devotion Nine

untitled This is a season of giving. People are not only thinking about giving gifts to friends and loved ones but are also making donations to charitable causes in the name of someone as a gift, and simply giving to organizations and movements that are making a difference. Year end charitable giving is encouraged for some as a tax advantage. [Please know that LUCC would be happy to receive additional charitable gifts as the year ends.]

Giving is important. Giving of money. Giving of time. Giving of forgiveness. Giving of knowledge. Giving of love. Giving a listening ear. Giving encouragement and support. Giving helps us to know how fortunate we are and how much we have to be grateful for. And it makes a true difference in the lives of others.

But giving is more than that. I got an email recently from a Christian group promoting “Live to Serve.” I think what we see from Jesus might better be described as “Serve to Live.” We think of the teaching that unless a seed falls to the ground and dies it remains just a seed. And to save your life you must lose it. The implication here is that serving gives life; the abundant life that Jesus is offering to all people. Serving makes that kind of true life possible. It is the path to joy, community, and wholeness.

In this season at LUCC we are celebrating that The Light Still Shines. This season of giving is a time to remember the light of Jesus’ teaching about giving and serving. It is not just a feel good add on to life when it is convenient. When we follow the light of serving and giving, we find the gifts of joy and peace.

Prayer: In these dark days, may I look for the light of Christ shining in the world. Amen.

In your journal, maybe you want to note something that you did for someone else today and how that felt. You were letting someone know that The Light Still Shines!

And don’t forget your donations to The Micah Center. Jim Andrews mentioned in church today that the need is great. This highly successful program is in dire need of funds.


Advent Devotion Eight 12.4.16

untitledThe Water Protectors at Standing Rock have been shining a light for all of us to see. They are shining a light on fossil fuels. Yes, fossil fuels have been great and have made a huge contribution to the progress of humanity but it is time to turn to other sources of power. Fossil fuels are no longer feasible to be used as a power source. Standing Rock is shining a light on a new future powered by renewable and sustainable power.

Standing Rock is shining a light on water issues and the importance of protecting the water supply for sustaining human life. This is close to our hearts here in Florida where we have lots of water issues – sewage dumping, Mosaic fouling the water supply, rising sea level, the Sabal Point pipe line, etc. It’s easy to take water for granted as we just turn on the tap and the water flows. Standing Rock is reminding us that water is sacred, it is part of creation, and it is necessary to our survival. We must honor its importance and value.

Standing Rock is also shining a light on respect for First Peoples. After hundreds of years we still do not have a healthy relationship based on mutuality, respect, and dignity between indigenous peoples and Euro Americans in the US. The people gathered at Standing Rock are shining a light on this woeful situation. We need to see what is being exposed by that light.

The Water Protectors at Standing Rock are shining a light of the importance of taking action. It’s easy to sit at home and complain about what is going on in the world. It’s easy to sign an online petition. The people at Standing Rock are reminding us to get involved, stand up and be heard even when it is not convenient or we don’t have the time. The people at Standing Rock have left home, family, jobs, and livelihoods to be part of the encampment. Now they are facing extremely cold temperatures and the discomforts and dangers of winter weather. They are making a huge personal sacrifice for what they care about; for what truly matters. They are shining a light on the need to be directly, personally involved in creating the future we want to see. Someone else is not going to do it for us.

As the days darken this month of December, we give thanks for all the light coming from Standing Rock.

Prayer: In these dark days, may I look for the light of Christ shining in the world. Amen.

NOTE: In the coming weeks, LUCC will be creating a banner for the Water Protectors at Standing Rock. This is one of the things that they have asked for on their donation list. They find great encouragement in banners of support and solidarity.


Advent Devotion Seven 12.3.16

untitled Even though the election was almost a month ago, I still have people telling me that they are “recovering” from the election. They are still “getting over” the election. Instead of it being over and done with and feeling relief, many are still enmeshed in the election and its aftermath.

In this Advent season in thinking about the images of darkness and light there was a lot of darkness that was exposed during the election season. There was plenty of bias and intolerance on all sides. The election exposed a dark underbelly that some hoped wasn’t really there and that others were ignoring and that still others are glorying in.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, a house in our area was “egged.” The home owner thought he might have been targeted because he still had his Trump sign up. Evidently, he thinks there are deplorables in the Clinton camp, too. Plenty of ill will and bitterness to go around – on all sides.

In some ways, the election was like turning a light on. We saw a lot of things that were hidden in the darkness. We could choose our information streams to see what we wanted to see and not see what we didn’t want to see. The election broadened our view – like it or not.

What we see at Christmas is Jesus, the light of the world, shining the light on the world as it is. He shows us the truth of our reality. He exposes what is truly there. But he does not leave it at that. Jesus then shows us how the world could be, how the world is meant to be, and what the Divine intentions are for the world.

The election might have shown us more about how the world really is but as Christians we look to Jesus to show us how the world should be and how we are called to work with God to create that world.

Prayer: In these dark days, may I trust that the light of Christ still shines. Amen.

Is there something you would like to write in your Advent journal today about seeing light in dark times? Maybe there is something you want to note that is lingering with you about the election, something you need to let go of.

And don’t forget your donation to The Micah Center to help shine the light for a student in need of support.


Advent Devotion Six 12.2.16

untitledThis week several people from the church participated in the annual Cities of Light observance shining light on the death penalty and the moral and religious imperative to end capital punishment. The death penalty is certainly a place of darkness in our society. And since this policy is implemented by the government, and “we the people” are the government, this terrible practice implicates all of us.

This past summer when I was in Wisconsin visiting family at their cabin on a lake, we enjoyed catching up on past issues of the New York Times Magazine. There was one issue with an article about the death penalty. The article focussed on the five counties in the US with the worst records relating to the capital punishment. With trepidation, I opened the magazine, and sure enough, out of this whole big country of ours, our county, Pinellas County, was one of the five countries featured in the article. I was afraid of that. So, we here in Pinellas have even more work to do on this.

Will we just turn away from this darkness and ignore it? Is it someone else’s problem? Since we may not have direct involvement with anyone on death row, do we think we can just bury our heads?

A few weeks ago, I was speaking with our 21 year old son, Malcolm, and I told him that when I was young we didn’t have the death penalty. There was a moratorium. It was not being implemented anywhere in the United States. He did not believe me. He actually thought I was lying or mistaken or something. He couldn’t believe that this terrible practice had been abolished in the relatively recent past.

That memory, that knowledge, is our hope. It is our light shining in the darkness. Our society put this practice to an end once and we can do it again. It is possible. We must make sure that the light still shines on the horrors of capital punishment and on the realistic hopes of its abolition once again.

Prayer: In these dark days, may I trust that the light of Christ still shines. May that light shine especially for those on death row and those involved with implementing capital punishment. Amen.

Is there something you would like to write in your Advent journal today about seeing light in dark times? Or maybe you want to note something related to capital punishment.

And don’t forget your donation to The Micah Center to help shine the light for a student in need of support. People who end up on death row tend to be poorly educated. By supporting the students at The Micah Center we may be helping to keep them out of the criminal justice system.


Advent Devotion Five 12.1.16

untitled World AIDS Day

36.7 million people were living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2015. That’s close to the entire population of California.

Of those 36.7 million people, 25.6 million are living in Sub Saharan Africa. There is no way to fully calculate the devastation that this is causing in that area.

Of the 36.7 million people living with HIV/AIDS, 1.8 million are children. Most contracted the virus from their mothers.

In 2015, Cuba became the first country to eliminate mother to child transmission of HIV and syphilis. In 2016, Armenia, Belarus, and Thailand also received this designation.

Only 60% of the people with HIV know their status.

2.1 million people were newly infected in 2015.

1.1 million people died of HIV/AIDS in 2015.

35 million people total have died of HIV/AIDS.

While 46% of those with HIV/AIDS are receiving antiretroviral treatment, neither a cure nor a vaccine is available largely due to underfunding of research and development.

And before you glaze over from all of these remote statistics, remember that each and every one of these numbers represents people. With families and friends. Individual human beings. Created in the image of God. Many of whom feel forgotten or stigmatized because of their disease. And several of whom are part of the LUCC church family.

Prayer: In these dark days, may I trust that the light of Christ still shines. May the light of comfort and compassion shine brightly for those living with HIV/AIDS. Amen.

Note: Statistics cited in this post are from the World Health Organization.


Advent Devotion Four 11.30.16

untitledApparently yesterday was “Giving Tuesday.” I got many emails from wonderful organizations and causes encouraging me to donate. From what I can gather, Giving Tuesday has now become part of the Thanksgiving aftermath: Black Friday shopping at malls and big box stores, Local Saturday shopping at local one of a kind stores, Cyber Monday shopping on line, and finally Giving Tuesday. It’s a kind of wave. Only, I think the wave is going backwards.

On Thursday, we eat a feast and express our thanks. And what should come after thanks? Giving! Thanks and giving go together. We are grateful so we share. We celebrate our bounty so we are generous. We remember what we care about so we offer our support. It’s a perfect link.

Instead, after three days of shopping, with much gratuitous spending, there’s Giving Tuesday. An afterthought to salve a remorseful conscience? And how generous are people really likely to be after they have just spent three days running up their credit cards?

Advent shines the light on our culturally ingrained consumerism and materialism which in addition to rotting our souls is ruining our planet.

A professor studying environmental issues in China went to one of the largest malls there. There was a waterfront beach inside the mall! It was over the top. He talked with shoppers randomly. One young woman told him, “They have everything you could want and even things you never realized you wanted.” Another young shopper said, “We all want the same thing – a beautiful life.” The implication was that this was to be found at the mall. While the professor was dismayed at the responses, he quickly realized that he would probably hear much the same thing if he spoke with shoppers at a fancy mall in the US.

Our faith teaches us that a beautiful life comes from giving everyday, not just the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. And it comes from giving of ourselves and our core resources, not just our leftovers. Everyday. All day.

This would be a good time to put a donation in that container for The Micah Center and then go on from there!

Prayer: In these dark days, may I trust that the light of Christ still shines. Amen.

Consider for your journal, what have you been given today? What have you given? Where do you see light or darkness in this?


Advent Devotion Three 11.29.16

untitledLast year about this time my husband and I were visiting some friends when the wife brought out a small lighting device with a cord. She was very excited about this new Christmas light decoration that she had just gotten. She explained it to us with great enthusiasm. Then she plugged in the fixture and turned it on and there were some colored spots to be seen but it really wasn’t very impressive. Well, we were sitting outside on the patio in broad daylight after all.

But evidently this wouldn’t do. We had to get the full effect. So, we were ushered into the house, and after a bit of discussion between the husband and wife, the four of us squeezed into a small closet and the door was closed. It’s good none of us suffers from claustrophobia! Then, inside the dark closet, the light was turned on. Well, wasn’t that a show! The countless spots and the changing color of this laser light device was truly impressive. It was very much worth being crammed into a closet to see! I could see why our friend was so excited about this new addition to their Christmas decor.

The lights of Christmas do truly bring joy, at least to some of us! And, of course, they are most impressive at night, when it is dark.

In this season of Advent, we are preparing ourselves to receive Divine light. We are getting ready to celebrate and give thanks for that light. Spiritual guides throughout the ages and across traditions remind us that sometimes we see the light most boldly in the darkness. In the dark times of our lives, we may feel the healing presence of the Divine in a direct and powerful way. In a time of great discouragement or grief, we may look back and see Love’s hand working all things together for good. In a time of deep desperation a door may open, and we see the light ahead and can proceed onward.

Life brings much darkness and heartache. But that must not stop us from looking for the light. That may be when we see it shining most brightly.

Prayer: In these dark days, may I trust that the light of Christ still shines. Amen.

Is there something you would like to write in your Advent journal today about seeing light in dark times?

And don’t forget your donation to The Micah Center to help shine the light for a student in need of support.


Advent Devotion Two 11.28.16

untitled $110,000. What can you do with $110,000? If you want to build a hospital or start a company in the US, it’s not much to go on. In many cities in the US that amount of money won’t even buy you a small starter home.

I recently heard a post election interview on National Public Radio in which the person being interviewed said that their family income, for a family of four, was about $110,000. She went on to say that each year it was becoming more and more of a struggle to “get by.” And she was really worried about that. Get by? Really? $110,000 is about four times the poverty line for a family of four in this country. For millions of people in America, $110,000 looks like an unimaginable sum. And to the millions of people around the world living on less that a dollar a day, $110,000 looks like winning the lottery.

This Advent season is a time to examine the darkness that surrounds us. Often that darkness is of our own making. Our attitudes and assumptions and perspectives may be leading us to see a bleak picture. And that view may be distorted, skewed, and in need of refocus.

Advent is a time to step back and try to see afresh our context, our circumstances, and our assumptions. It’s a time to recalibrate our reality and get our perspective realigned. Or at least start to admit that we may not be seeing as clearly as we thought we were.

It is also a time to let the light in that may show us what we would rather not see. What does the light of Christ reveal about our incomes and our economic arrangements? While we may not be able to verify many facts about what is in the Bible, we can be sure that Jesus was poor. It seems by choice. And that he never saw the equivalent of $110,000 in the denarii of his day in his entire 33 years.

Examining the darkness and letting the light in may help us to see that we are far more blessed than we realized! And we may have thought we were just “getting by”!

Prayer: In these dark days, may I trust that the light of Christ still shines. Amen.

Remember to add an entry to your Advent journal about where you have seen darkness and light today. And consider putting a donation in your container for The Micah Center.


Advent Devotion One 11.27.16

untitledWith all the craziness that is going on in the world where can we turn? So many things have happened that have left us reeling. Wracked by the Pulse shooting earlier this year and what St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman referred to as the “crazy and disgusting” election of this fall where can we turn? For grounding? For sanity? For another way? For a new vision? How do we access a future that is anti-violent? Can we imagine a reality that includes respect for all people regardless of identity? Where do we look for economic arrangements that are equitable and fair? How can we envision a sustainable relationship with Earth? What can heal the alienation, violence, ignorance, greed, and self-centered myopia that pervades society?

Basically good, well-intentioned, caring people seem at a loss about how to make a difference and how to respond.

Although he was born over 2,000 years ago, and his time and culture seem distant, remote, and foreign, Jesus still speaks to today’s passionate desire for a different world. Jesus challenged the assumptions, power arrangements, ingrained habits, religious authority, and cultural mores of his day and his message is still challenging today. He is a light for the path to peace, justice, healing, and reconciliation.

“The Light Still Shines” is the theme that was selected for the Advent Season at Lakewood United Church of Christ. The season will be an exploration of how Jesus is still light for the world. These daily devotions will reflect that theme.

As part of your Advent journey, you are invited to journal or jot down a few notes each day on the themes of light and darkness. For this first week, you are invited to think about where you see darkness in the world and where you see light piercing the darkness.

You are also invited to set aside an offering each day for the Micah Center which offers an after school program with homework help, literacy, math development and mentoring free of charge for children on the free/reduced lunch program in Pinellas County schools. If you don’t live in the St. Pete area, perhaps you will want to find a program or movement close to your heart that is shining the light and set aside a donation each day during the Advent season. Then on Christmas, you will have a gift for the baby Jesus that reflects his light into the world.

Prayer: In these dark days, may I trust that the light of Christ still shines. Amen.


The Day After

Posted by Rev. Kim Wells

As I woke up this morning, I asked myself, “How does our faith speak to us in the aftermath of the election?”

The story that immediately came to mind was the story of the Good Samaritan. The Good Samaritan? Yes.

In the story of the Good Samaritan, it is the most unlikely person who does what is compassionate. For anyone originally hearing the story, the Samaritan was the absolute last person who would be expected to help the victim beaten and lying by the side of the road. For us, it might be like someone from ISIS stopping to help. Yet in the story, something good comes from an extremely unlikely source. But, the Bible is like that.

Also in the story of the Good Samaritan, the responsible people of status and authority do not stop to help the person suffering in the ditch. And that person who was beaten had to accept help from one who was abhorrent. Evidently, today, too, there are many people who feel they are being passed by.

This day after the election many feel ignored, devalued, and alienated. As citizens of one country, sharing this our common home, may we be open to reaching out to one another with compassion and understanding.


Standing Rock and Baseball

by Rev. Kim Wells

Images matter. Yesterday in my daily news feed, I saw a stunning picture of a Native American man at Standing Rock. Tall. Upright. Principled. Visionary. Strong. Determined. Peaceful. These impressions were emanating from the image.

Later in the day, I was exposed to another image. My husband’s family is from Cleveland. This motivated us to take in interest in the World Series Baseball Championship between Cleveland and Chicago. As we watched the ending of the series, I felt continually assaulted by the Cleveland logo of Chief Wahoo, an offensive caricature of a Native American. The red color and the insulting cartoonish grin disgusted me.

The United Church of Christ along with other groups have been advocating for decades for the Cleveland Indians to change this horrific logo to no avail. The UCC headquarters are in Cleveland which gives the church added interest in this matter.

Seeing the juxtaposition of the person at Standing Rock and the crude Cleveland Indians logo helped me to see how truly awful the logo is. To me, it is not just entertainment, historic, and well-intentioned. Seeing the Chief Wahoo image flashed across the screen again and again and again last night gave me a feeling of revulsion. It is so disrespectful and demeaning and not just to those of Native American heritage. It is an insult to humanity in all its rich and beautiful diversity.

Today clergy from around the continent gather at Standing Rock in solidarity, respect and reverence for Native Peoples and for the Earth. This is recognition of the image of God in all people and the sacredness of Earth. It is also a reminder that Native Peoples are not treated equally in this supposed land of “liberty and justice for all.” This needs to change along with the logo of the Cleveland baseball team.


Who She Is

Near the end of his speech to the Democratic National Convention in July of 2016, Bill Clinton had this to say about his spouse, Hillary: “You could drop her into any trouble spot, pick one, come back in a month and somehow, some way she will have made it better. That is just who she is.” As I heard this, I found myself thinking about my mother. You could drop her down and come back a month later and, yes, things would be better. Much better, probably. Then I started thinking about the women at Lakewood UCC Church. One by one.  And as I thought about each one, I thought, yes, leave her for a month and things would be better.  And if you are a regular attender at the church, yes, I thought about you.

Now, this is NOT to say that if you dropped a man down in a trouble spot and came back in a month it would not be better. Sure, men are capable, too.

Is this statement of Bill Clinton’s an apt description of Hillary Clinton? Well, it pretty much describes every other woman I know, which just makes me wonder why the US has never had a woman president.


Who Would Jesus Vote For?

Who could have foreseen what a bizarre, nasty, and divided election season this would be? Not only are we bombarded with constant trash about the candidates, here in Florida  there are also persistent lies about the amendments to the Florida State Constitution especially Amendment One relating to solar energy. And even if you try to avoid it all by ignoring the paper, the radio, and the newsfeed on the internet, they are dishing it up to you on your phone with incessant robo calls.

As Christians, much as this election season may disgust us, we know that it is an opportunity to vote our values and to express our faith in a way that matters and can make a difference. And so we suppress the urge to stay home and not even bother voting.

Let’s take a moment to examine how Jesus might vote if he were an American citizen today. Jesus was devoted to a God of love for all of Creation. He showed people a God of love and care for all with no prejudice based on religion, ethnicity, or sexual identity. With that God at his center, Jesus took action on a day to day basis. He showed us how to embody the universal love of God for all by acting with compassion and mercy for individual people. This exposed the injustices of the society of his day. Jesus disrupted the social, political, religious, and economic arrangements of his time because all of those systems were set up to protect some at the expense of others. It’s no wonder he was killed.

In thinking about how to make our voting decisions, we can think about Jesus taking into consideration the big picture: All of Creation is beloved by God. So, how will our vote affect all of Creation? How will our vote impact the besieged people of Aleppo? How will our vote make a difference to the melting polar ice caps and glaciers? How will our vote influence the child who is sent on to Middle School but still cannot read? What will our vote do for the people of all the nations of the world who are all made in God’s image and beloved? I think this is how Jesus would think about who to vote for.

In the Tampa Bay Times, there was a letter to the editor this morning in which the writer shares how he will decide who to vote for: “Both presidential candidates are flawed human beings. But we must vote for one. So, which might benefit us and our families the best?” That is how Leonard Mead of Apollo Beach will decide who to vote for. To me, this perspective is not consistent with the universal vision of Jesus. To limit our concern to “us and our families” in voting is not in keeping with Jesus’ concern for all of Creation. This is far too limited a perspective for someone committed to the way of Jesus.

In another letter to the editor today, R. B. Johnson of Indian Rocks Beach gives this advice for selecting who to vote for: “Instead of obsequiously marching in lockstep to the siren blandishments of party solidarity, we should be considering ourselves human beings first, Americans second, and members of political parties a distant third.” This perspective is much closer to the vision of Jesus. The writer is encouraging us to broader horizons, to consider the well-being of the whole human family, not just our own family. This is much more in keeping with the way of Jesus.

All of Creation is the self disclosure of God. All of life is sacred. Every person is created in God’s image. Judaism, Jesus, and Christianity are about a grand vision of the common good. And that is what should guide our voting as followers of Jesus.


Devotion – Easter Sunday

Helen Nims, a 100 year old member of the congregation, died in her sleep on Holy Saturday morning about 3:00 a.m. He son in Connecticut spoke with her by phone at about 2:00 a.m. Helen has been ready to die for years. She has said many times, “I don’t know why the Lord is keeping me here.” She was not afraid to die. She did not know what was to come, but she was ready for it.

For Helen, her death is the fulfillment of her hopes and dreams. How beautiful for her to have that gift at Easter.

May Easter bring us all new life!


Devotion 46 – Holy Saturday

Silence. You may have noticed that the devotion posted for Good Friday had no content. It was silent. Maybe on Good Friday, Jesus, in some way experienced the silence of God. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Today, Holy Saturday, there is a tradition that Jesus went down into hell and brought back with him the souls that were in hell. There are paintings of Jesus emerging from the fires of hell with streams of people following him. Thus even in his time of abandonment to the grave, he still found a way to do good, to help others, to defeat evil. Even if God was silent for him.

In recent days we have had a glaring portrayal of the way of Jesus and the way of the world, the contrast, brought home to us. Prominent politicians talk about building a wall to protect the United States. That’s one image. A worldly, fearful, self protecting image. This week, we have heard of Pope Francis washing the feet of immigrants at a center outside of Rome. He is ministering to the very people the wall is meant to keep out. That is an opposite image.

The Pope is following Jesus. Doing the good. Helping those most in need. Reaching out to those who feel marginalized. We think of Jesus, perhaps at his lowest moment, dead, choosing to visit hell to save the souls there. Is it so much to do that here on Earth?

Even when God seems silent, we can still choose to do the good and to follow the way of Jesus. And wait. For the silence will come to an end.

We pray for hearts open to the way of love, even when we ourselves face challenge and hardship. May we meet God in the faces of those who need us. Maybe it is we who need them. Amen.


Devotion 44 – Viva la paz!

This week we heard of President Obama’s visit to Cuba. It was amazing for me to hear about it. An American president in Cuba. My whole life, Cuba has been an enemy of the US though just 90 miles from Florida. In high school we read 13 Days about the Cuban missile crisis. I couldn’t put the book down. Many of you may actually remember the conflict. The world was poised, at the edge, on the brink, of nuclear war. Now, the US president has visited Cuba. On one hand, I never thought I would see it happen. On the other, I wonder why things haven’t thawed sooner. Really? Cuba? We have relations with other communist countries and other countries with human rights records we condemn. Maybe it has taken so long because there are many Cuban exiles in the US and they exert a lot of political power.

I appreciated listening to the President’s speech to the Cuban people. He didn’t portray the US as paradise. He didn’t extol democracy as nirvana. He admitted that the US has many challenges. But the President explained that our open, participatory system allows the people to work for improvement and change. And he affirmed that changes and progress are needed in the US and in Cuba.

This week we are remembering Jesus’ life and ministry. This week, we remember his last teachings and his last days. We remember his crucifixion. Jesus’ unjust death stems from his life and teaching. He pointed people to God with no self interest involved. He encouraged God’s vision of community, inclusion, and justice, for no personal, individual gain. The gain was to be collective.

Before we get swept away by the glories of Easter, we want to remember that Jesus did not say that God’s way would be easy. A seed must die. Give up your life for your friends. Many of Jesus teachings show the cost of discipleship. They convey a path of sacrifice. Jesus died for being true to God. Others were killed for their faith. But the way of justice and peace is the very way to abundant life. Joyful life. Not simply going through the motions, in bondage to self interest, but living the good life for others, for humankind, for Creation.

I found President Obama’s trip to Cuba hopeful. I was moved to tears at his speech. Now, finally, we are beginning to act in mutuality with this small, poor neighboring nation. There are issues to be resolved. The countries have their differences and ever will. But we should be talking, visiting, playing music and baseball together, in a spirit of good will and mutual respect.

It was refreshing to see a US leader pursue peace with a former enemy without using a gun, or a bomb. And it stood in stark contrast to the bombings in Brussels. It was a bright spot, a moment of sanity, in a world that too often seems insane and inane.

Pilate let Jesus off. Herod let Jesus off. They didn’t think he deserved to be killed. It was the crowds that called for crucifixion. There are those who still call for severed relations with Cuba. May we be the crowds, the people, who cry out for peace.

This Holy Week, remembering the death of Jesus, we pray for all the things that make for peace. Amen.


Devotion 43 – Living by the sword

Today the world has been sent into shock again at the terrorist bombings in Brussels, at the airport and a metro station. People were going about their every day lives, lives taken by complete strangers who have no direct connection with the many who were injured and killed. This is so reminiscent of the 9/11 attacks and other attacks around the world. Strangers perpetrating violence against strangers, civilians in their every day lives, who have personally done them no harm, all done in the cause of an ideology.

In the story of Jesus’ arrest in the gospel of Matthew, when the guards restrain Jesus, one of his followers cuts off the ear of a slave. He is trying to protect his master. Defend him. But we are given these words of Jesus: “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” [Matthew 26:52] Some verses later, we are told that the disciples deserted Jesus and fled.

Undoubtedly the disciples were afraid. Would they be arrested? Would they be detained? Would they be attacked? Were their lives on the line? Fear gave them a good reason to flee. But there may be more here. Jesus tells them not to respond with violence. We can imagine that their first impulse would have been to fight back. Take on the guards. Try to set Jesus free. That may very well have been the approach that they wanted to take: That they knew how to take. That they would have been comfortable taking. But Jesus tells them to suppress that impulse and quell that response. He has shown them another way. To take up violence would be to betray everything he has lived for and everything he will die for. The disciples don’t have an immediate Plan B, so they flee. They don’t know what to do if they don’t react with violence.

It seems that Jesus’ message is still having a hard time getting through today. The first reaction, even among Christians, is still to react with violence. We see many Christians idolizing the second amendment though it is very clear that Jesus would never support taking up arms. The sabers rattle in the face of terrorism. Presidential candidates threaten to bomb the terrorists into oblivion. And they are heartily supported with the votes of many Christians.

We can well imagine Jesus weeping in disappointment and despair for we still have not grasped his transformational message. Violence begets violence begets violence begets violence. The only thing that ends violence is love.

We pray for all those suffering the effects of violence in Brussels and around the world. We give thanks for Jesus, who has shown us how to put an end to the spiral of violence. May we continue to try to learn the way of peace from Jesus so that his death is not in vain. Amen.