Immediate Action on Immigration Needed!

From Pinellas County Immigration Justice

Governor DeSantis HB1 Legislation is processing through Committees. Thursday at 9 AM Justice Appropriations Subcommittee members will discuss and vote.


If you want to speak to members, here is a list with their email and phone. The message is to please STOP consideration of this bill which criminalizes free speech and protest.

Please value the groups who have expressed opposition to this dangerous legislation: NAACP, ACLU, LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER, RELIGIOUS SOCIETY OF FRIENDS, INDIVISIBLE FLORIDA NETWORK, DREAM DEFENDERS.


Scott Plakon 850-717-5029 scott.plakon@myfloridahouse.gov
Mike Gottlieb 850-717-5098 mike.gottlieb@myfloridahouse.gov
Michelle Rayner 850-717-5070 michelle.rayner@myfloridahouse.gov
Mike Beltran 850-717-5057 mike.beltran@myfloridahouse.gov
Cord Byrd 850-717-5011 cord.byrd@myfloridahouse.gov
Nick Diceglie 850-717-5066 nick.diceglie@myfloridahouse.gov
Sam Garrison 850-717-5018 sam.garrison@myfloridahouse.gov
Lauren Melo 850-717-5080 lauren.melo@myfloridahouse.gov

League of Women’s Voters opposition statement: https://conta.cc/2M6jTAL

Corona Sabbath 41 THE BIRTH OF JESUS Reflection Text

Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath.  This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19.    We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.

We listen to John 1:1-14 read by Sue Sherwood.  This passage includes the prologue to the gospel of John.  No angels or stars here, but a sweeping statement of the import of the birth of Jesus.  

 
 
             In the beginning
                         there was the Word;
             the Word was in God’s presence,
                         and the Word was God.
             The Word was present to God
                         from the beginning.
             Through the Word
                         all things came into being,
             and apart form the Word
                         nothing came into being
                         that has come into being.
             In the Word was life,
                         and that life was humanity’s light -
             a Light that shines in the darkness,
                         a Light that the darkness has never overtaken. 

Then came one named John, sent as an envoy from God, who came as a witness to testify about the Light, so that through his testimony everyone might believe.  He himself wasn’t the Light; he only came to testify about the Light – the true Light that illumines all humankind.

The Word was coming into the world -
was in the world-
     and though the world was made through the Word,
     the world didn’t recognize it.
Though the Word came to its own realm,
     the Word’s own people didn’t accept it.
Yet any who did accept the Word,
     who believed in that Name,
     were empowered to become children of God-
children born not of natural descent,
     nor urge of flesh
     nor human will -
but born of God.
And the Word became flesh
     and stayed for a little while among us;
we saw the Word’s glory -
     the favor and position a parent gives an only       child -
             filled with grace,
                         filled with truth. 

Reflection from Kim

Christmas Eve is over.  Christmas Day has passed.  Maybe it was different for you this covid year.  Maybe you had to adapt your traditions.  Maybe the holiday involved a Zoom.  Maybe you were on your own for the first time.  Maybe you missed the usual celebrations with food and family and friends.  But we can all take a deep breath.  Sigh.  Relieved.  We made it!  Christmas is over.

So, now there is the putting away of Christmas.  Taking down the lights.  Undecorating the tree.  Putting away the creche scene.  Storing the garland.  Until next year.  When, hopefully things will be back to normal as far as Christmas is concerned. 

But Christmas is the celebration of a birth.  It is a beginning.  It is the start of an adventure.  As with the birth of any baby, there is more.  There is the unfolding of all that is to come.  The stages and changes and transitions and growth and struggles and adventures that mark a life.  So, Christmas is a beginning.

In the beautiful lesson that we heard from the gospel of John, we are told that in the life of Jesus we are shown grace and truth.  The grace and truth of God.  Of Divine Love. 

What if as we put away Christmas for this year we leave out the grace and truth.  What if we don’t box them up for next year but leave them out?  Grace and truth.  What if we try to hang on to the grace and truth that we see in Jesus and let that be our light in the days to come?  What if we really try to fundamentally integrate that grace and truth into our lives? 

Grace is about realizing all that we are given.  It’s about forgiveness of ourselves and others.  Grace enables us to treat others with compassion and understanding instead of judgment and hostility.  Truth is about affirming that the way of Jesus really does work.  Building community, pursuing reconciliation, living with compassion, ending oppression, creating a society that is anti racist and anti violent.  Declaring Good New to the poor.  This as not about a food bank.  This is about a living wage, affordable housing, good public transportation and healthcare. 

I spoke with someone recently who belongs to a conservative evangelical church.  I was told that they’re is a lot of upset in those churches right now over the race situation in America.  Many, especially pastors, believe that the church, to be true to the grace and truth of Jesus, must promote anti-racism in America today.  But there are many in the pews who do not share that commitment. 

We can think about Jesus teachings with regard to race, yes.  But there is more.  His teachings about money and wealth.  Seldom adhered to.  His teachings about forgiveness and reconciliation.  Often ignored.  Teachings about equality and justice.  We pick and choose. How about love?  Of neighbor?  Stranger?  Enemy?  Self?  When it suits us?   Here we want to remember the grace and truth.  Keep it at the forefront.  Not box it up.  Put it away.  Store it.

In the book The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History by Michael H. Hart Jesus is number three not because his message isn’t valued but because his followers do not adhere to his teachings.  Others have noted that the teachings of Jesus are wonderful but so seldom lived out.  Taken seriously.  The way of Jesus actually embodied.  Apparently his followers are known for lacking commitment to his grace and truth. 

In recent months in our country there has been much talk about voting rights and redistricting and the census.  We want to see sanity and integrity in government.  Of course!  So, we want to think about the same kind of consistency and integrity when it comes to our faith.  We want to think about living out the grace and truth that we see in Jesus. 

There is a story about a poor young Eskimo girl .  She didn’t have enough to eat or clothes to keep warm.  One day, a newspaper reporter came into the village where the little girl lived.  He saw the girl’s situation and decided to interview her.  In the course of things, he asked her, “Do you believe in God?” 

“Yes, I do,” said the little girl. 

“Do you believe God loves you?” asked the reporter.

Again the girl said, “Yes, I do.”

“If you believe in God and believe that God loves you, then why do you think you don’t have enough food or enough warm clothes to wear?”

The little girl answered, “I think God asked someone to bring me these things.  But someone said no!” [From Advent, Christmas and Epiphany:  Stories and Reflections on the Sunday Readings, by Megan McKenna, p. 237.]

If you are watching this or reading this, you have likely been on your journey of faith for some time.  Maybe you have already committed yourself to the way of Jesus.  It may already be your intention to try to live out Divine Love in your life.  So, for you, Christmas may just be a reminder.  An opportunity to re-commit.  To open yourself once again to birthing Divine Love in your life.  And blessing the world in your own way.  So as we put away the decorations may we remember that the Word, full of grace and truth, is seeking to become flesh in us.  Amen.

(Click HERE if you wish to see the post containing the video of this text.)

Corona Sabbath 40 Fourth Sunday of Advent LOVE Reflection Text

Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath.  This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19.    We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.

We listen to Luke 1:26-45, 56 telling us of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary and Mary’s visit to her kinswoman, Elizabeth.  Mary finds affirmation of the presence of God, Divine Love, in her life.  

Six months later, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a young woman named Mary; she was engaged to a man named Joseph, of the house of David.  Upon arriving, the angel said to Mary, “Rejoice, highly favored one!  God is with you!  Blessed are you among women!”

Mary was deeply troubled by these words and wondered what the angel’s greeting meant.  The angel went on to say to her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary.  You have found favor with God.  You’ll conceive and bear a son, and give him the name Jesus -‘Deliverance.’  His dignity will be great, and he will be called the Only Begotten of God.  God will give Jesus the judgment seat of David, his ancestor, to rule over the house of Jacob forever, and his reign will never end.” 

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have never been with a man?”

The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you – hence the offspring to be born will be called the Holy One of God.  Know too that Elizabeth, your kinswoman, has conceived a child in her old age; she who was thought to be infertile is now in her sixth month.  Nothing is impossible with God.”

Mary said, “I am the servant of God.  Let it be done to me as you say.” 

With that, the angel left her. 

Within a few days Mary set out and hurried to the hill country to a town of Judah, where she entered Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth.

As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  In a loud voice she exclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  But why am I so favored, that the mother of the Messiah should come to me?  The moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leaped for joy.  Blessed is she who believed that what Our God said to her would be accomplished!” . . . Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then returned home. 

Reflection from Kim

The scene between Mary and the angel Gabriel is well known and celebrated.   Do not be afraid.  And Mary’s response – Let it be.  These words and images are familiar from art and music and popular culture.

But this year, in this season, I find myself drawn to the story of the visitation between Mary and Elizabeth.  Maybe this is because in this covid year, we are lacking in such visitations.  We are not seeing our kin – our aunts, uncles, cousins, grandchildren, grandparents, and other kin.  So we are struck once again by this beautiful story about Mary and Elizabeth. 

We are told of Mary going to visit Elizabeth.  Mary clearly had some need.  Maybe Mary knew Elizabeth to be wise and discerning.  Someone who could be trusted.  Whatever her need and her reasons, we are told of her journey to visit Elizabeth.  And this visit is prolonged.  And these two pregnant women, both in unusual circumstances, find solidarity with each other.  Elizabeth was stuck at home with her husband, Zechariah, who was struck dumb.  So maybe she was feeling lonely and isolated and appreciated the visit of her relative, Mary.  And maybe Mary was feeling alone and isolated in her pregnancy.  Maybe she needed support and affirmation that she was not getting at home.  So we are told of this visit in which each woman finds support and celebration as they bear love into the world. 

In this beautiful story we see the importance of community and relationships in the journey of faith.  We see how we need others to help sustain us as we seek to live the love we are to share in the world.  We see how we are needed to encourage and support others as they seek to live out their call to love.  We human beings are not meant to be solitary.  We need each other for support and for accountability and celebration.

I remember one year as part of our stewardship initiative here at church we had people talk about how the church is important to them and why they come to church.  One comment has stayed with me:  I come to church because I never know how I might be needed.  Just showing up, we don’t know.  We don’t know what conversation, what encounter, what comment, we may have to offer, is desperately needed by someone.  We come not knowing what support and encouragement we will give.  And we may leave church on Sunday having no idea how we have touched someone’s life.  We also come not knowing how we will be visited:  How we will receive something from someone that will shed light on how we are being called to bear Divine Love in the world.  We don’t know what exactly may happen, but we know that the faith community is a context that is ripe for such interactions and theophanies. 

In the book, All About Love: New Vistas, bell hooks says this:  “Communities sustain life – not nuclear families, or the ‘couple,’ and certainly not the rugged individualist.”   [p. 129]  Communities.  Hooks reminds us that we need each other.  We need each other in the faith community to sustain full, flourishing, abundant life and love.  We are not meant to make the journey alone.  We all need a communal context in which to learn to give and receive love.  As the African proverb reminds us, It takes a village.

But modern society, despite social media, is in some ways more and more isolating.  In some ways, our relationship circles have gotten smaller.  Hooks makes this keen observation about that: 

“Capitalism and patriarchy together, as structures of domination, have worked overtime to undermine and destroy this larger unit of extended kin.  Replacing the family community with a more privatized small autocratic unit helped increase alienation and made abuses of power more possible. . . By encouraging the segregation of nuclear families from the extended family, women were forced to become more dependent on an individual man, and children more dependent on an individual woman.  It is this dependence that became, and is, the breeding ground for abuses of power.”  [p. 130]

This analysis reminds us why the church may be more important in our lives now more than ever.  We need the people with whom we have a shared view of reality and with whom we share fundamental values to help us to be who we are created to be.  We need our faith community to help us listen for the callings in our lives.  We need each other to affirm that we are here to birth love into the world, each in our own way. 

The society around us is going to try to make us into economic components, inputs, in the economic system that drives our country.  But our faith tells us that we are not here to make money, we are here to make love.  To love and be loved.  To be part of the unfolding of universal, unconditional love. 

The scene between Mary and Elizabeth is a powerful image reminding us that we need each other to bear up and carry out our calling to embody Divine Love in the world.  We hear many stories in these covid days of the toll of isolation and lack of social contact.  It is real.  I know many from our church are simply missing each other.  When we finally had a masked, physically distanced outdoor service for Thanksgiving, everyone was simply filled with joy to see each other.  For the interaction: the social contact with this precious faith community that sustains us.  For we know that just being together at church may be the locus for that word, that comment, that conversation, that helps us to see more clearly how we are being called to love.  In this covid time, we are realizing that to be without church, it is almost like feeling starved or thirsty.  Cut off from the sustaining support and encouragement that we need to help us hear our call to bear love into the world.  You may be someone’s angel Gabriel.  Someone may be your Elizabeth.  You may be someone’s Mary.  While it is harder to be physically together at this moment, may we remember that we have our faith community to sustain us and may this time apart remind us of the importance of our being together.  May this covid time be the advent of new life for us and for our faith community.  Amen. 

(Click HERE if you wish to see the post containing the video of this text.)

Corona Sabbath 39 JOY Reflection Text

Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath.  This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19.    We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.

We listen to Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11  reminding us of of God’s good news for all people, good news of healing, wholeness, and justice.  This good news brings joy.  In this Advent season, we seek to rekindle our dreams of joy.  

“The Spirit of Exalted Yahweh is upon me,

for Yahweh has anointed me:

God has sent me to bring good news to those who are poor;

to heal broken hearts;

to proclaim release to those held captive

and liberation to those in prison;

to announce a year of favor from Yahweh,

and the day of God’s vindication;

to comfort all who mourn,

to provide for those who grieve in Zion –

to give them a wreath of flowers instead of ashes,

the oil of gladness instead of tears,

a cloak of praise instead of despair.

They will be known as trees of integrity,

planted by Yahweh to display God’s glory.

They will restore the ancient ruins,

and rebuild sites long devastated;

they will repair the ruined cities,

neglected for generations.

‘For I, Yahweh, love justice;

I hate robbery and sin.

So I will faithfully compensate you,

and I will make an everlasting covenant with you.

Your descendants will be renowned among the nations;

and your offspring among the people;

all who see you will acknowledge

that you are a people blessed by Yahweh.’

I will joyfully exult in Yahweh,

who is the joy of my soul!

My God clothed me with a robe of deliverance

and wrapped me in a mantle of justice,

the way a bridegroom puts on a turban

and a bride bedecks herself with jewels.

For as the earth brings forth its shoots,

and a garden brings its seeds to blossom,

so Exalted Yahweh makes justice sprout,

and praise spring up before all nations.’”  

Reflection from Kim

Maybe you are feeling a little less joy this season than you normally would.  Well, without the usual parties and activities, without the family gatherings and meals with friends, without the usual church goings on, it may be hard to feel the joy that we normally associate with the Christmas season. Maybe you are missing the concerts and plays and arts events that you associate with this season that bring joy.

Then there are the stunning death tolls posted each day due to covid.  That certainly gives pause.  And many of us have friends and relatives suffering from covid.  So much suffering and grief.  And our hearts also go out to those in the healthcare sector who are stressed to their limits responding to this crisis.  

Yes, there are the complications of this covid Christmas.  And there are other things that may dampen the spirits this season.  Maybe you are remembering someone who died at this time of year.  Maybe you are thinking about sad memories associated with past Christmases.  Maybe economic issues are taking the sparkle out of life for you at this moment.  Maybe concern for others who are having difficulties has you down.  The shortened days and long nights can subdue the spirit. 

In this season of lights we simply may not be feeling merry and bright.  But the words of the prophet Isaiah remind us of the deeper significance of this season.  The prophet celebrates one who will embody the commitment of God to justice, right relationship, and healing.  And as Christians we see the embodiment of that commitment in Jesus.  There is a story early in the ministry of Jesus that refers to this very scripture.  We are told of Jesus declaring in the synagogue that he has come to bring good news to the poor, to heal broken hearts, to proclaim release to the captives, and liberation to those in prison, and to announce the year of God’s favor.  That is a clearing of the slate relating to financial debt.  

Jesus comes to bring justice and deliverance and healing.  He comes to put things right.  To free us from the systems that entrap us and comfort our hurt and pain.  

The ministry of Jesus is a witness to the commitment of God to the well-being of humankind.  Jesus shows us how to care for each other and the Earth.  He shows us how to forgive each other and ourselves.  He invites us to relationships that are life giving.  Jesus invites us to a world where people are truly valued and not abused or taken for granted or seen as economic inputs that are expendable.  

The birth of Jesus is about the birth of a new reality in which everyone and all of Creation is cherished and has the opportunity and resources to flourish.

So, no matter what is dampening our spirits this covid Christmas, may we find joy in the coming of Jesus.  May we rejoice in the justice he brings.  May we celebrate the new reality that he calls forth and that is continuing to emerge today.  

This is a season to remember that God is with us.  The God who cares that people are made poor, that people are grieving, that people are in pain.  The God who offers comfort, solace, and new life.  The birth of Jesus and the holy day of Christmas are to remind us of God’s intention that all lives be filled with joy.  May your joy be rekindled this season.  

Amen.

(Click HERE if you wish to see the post containing the video of this text.)

Corona Sabbath 38 Second Sunday of Advent PEACE Reflection Text

These weeks when we cannot gather in person for Sunday worship, Lakewood United Church of Christ is providing brief weekly sabbath programs for you to listen to on your own or with others in your social isolation group. They will be posted on Friday so that you can schedule your sabbath time to suit your schedule and your spiritual inclinations. We hope these programs are of spiritual support to you in these difficult times.

The post this week focuses on the theme for the second Sunday of Advent – peace.

This post includes a scripture reading from Sue Sherwood, a reflection from Rev. Kim Wells and a music video by Hilton Jones. We hope this post helps to feed your spirit in these difficult times as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

You are invited to find a quiet space, inside or outside. Light a candle. Take a look around you. Breathe. Life-giving breath. Be present.

You may begin with this reading:

Bright God of Advent:
Blaze in our darkness.
Incinerate our iniquity.
Light up our road.

Riddle the ashes
of our desires.
Rekindle in us
your justice and love.
Ruth Burgess

When you are ready, start the video/audio below.

END TEXT

Here is what I will say on the video-

Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath. This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19. We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.

We listen to verses from Psalm 85 that remind us of God’s dreams for peace. In this Advent season, we seek to rekindle our dreams of peace.

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

Yahweh, favor your land once again
and restore the fortunes of Israel;
forgive the guilt of your people
and cover all their sins.

I will listen to what you have to say, Yahweh –
a voice that speaks of peace,
peace for your people and your friends
so long as they don’t return to their folly.
Your salvation is near for those who revere you
and your glory will dwell in our land.
Love and faithfulness have met;
justice and peace have embraced.
Fidelity will sprout from the earth
and justice will lean down from heaven.
Yahweh will give us what is good,
and our land will yield its harvest.
Justice will march before you, Yahweh,
and peace will prepare the way for your steps.

Reflection from Kim

Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet: righteousness and peace will kiss each other. What a beautiful verse. It points to the future with hope. What a beautiful dream for the future.

But there is another translation of this verse: “Love and faithfulness have met; justice and peace have embraced.” The verbs are in the past tense. It is a reference to something that God has done in the past.

In one version, the verbs are translated in the in the future tense: Will meet. Will kiss. And in another translation, the verbs are translated in the past tense: Have met. Have embraced. Which is right? Given the ancient documents involved, we may not know exactly. Both may have validity. And I believe in this Advent season, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, both versions speak to us.

This is a season to look back. To look back to the life and ministry and teachings of Jesus. To look back to how his life has impacted the human history. To look back to the stories surrounding the birth of Jesus. It is a time to look back and feel grounded in the words and traditions that mark this season. The translation of the Psalm in the past tense invites us to look back and see what God has done. To think about when love and faithfulness have met and justice and peace have embraced. Certainly in the life of Jesus. And, in more recent years, I see this meeting in the ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. among others.

The translation in the future tense is also important this season because Advent is by nature oriented to the future. We are anticipating the advent of something. We are getting ready for something. We are expectant about what will happen. We think about what the ministry and life of Jesus mean for today and for the future. And as we prepare to celebrate Christmas, and the birth of the Prince of Peace, we do so with hope for the peace that Jesus will bring. As we look around us, we long for the time when love and faithfulness will meet, and righteous and peace will kiss. Oh how beautiful that will be! We ache for the peace that we see promised in Jesus to be manifest among us today.

Peace always has a past and a future dimension. If you try to pursue peace without looking back, much is missed. There are things to learn from the past. There are often things in the past that need to be examined and acknowledged with honesty. Our country is in that process dealing with the legacy of racism. Peace involves the healing of the past.

But peace also has a future orientation. Peace invites us to see new visions and dream new dreams about how things can be. We don’t have to stay stuck where we are. We don’t have to let ourselves be controlled by the past. We can be looking to a different future.

Love and faithfulness meeting, justice and peace embracing. These images are stirring. They are comprehensive in scope. They are energizing. They are soaring. They are alluring. They are soothing. They reflect back and they shine forward. And isn’t that what this season is really all about? A time to dream again. To inject the mundane with some magic? To embrace the lengthening darkness which gives the stars more time to shine?

This is a season to rekindle our dreams of peace. To imagine a world where another young black man does not get killed at the Food Max on 18th Avenue South. To imagine a world where no child goes hungry. To imagine a world with more equitable economic systems and fewer guns. To imagine a world in which people resolve their differences with words not weapons. To imagine a world that is sustainable and healthy?

What are your visions of peace? What does the meeting of love and faithfulness look like to you? What does justice and peace embracing look like to you?

In this precious holy season, let us look back seeking peace and let us look forward dreaming peace. Amen.

(Click HERE if you wish to see the post containing the video of this text.)