Sermon 2/9 Knotted Together

Scripture Lessons: Matthew 5:38-48 and Psalm 23
Sermon: Knotted Together
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells

Has your stomach ever been in knots? This can be how we describe a situation of
great stress or anxiety or fear. My stomach was in knots before the job interview
or the exam.

In his wonderful book, Peace Is Every Step, Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh
talks about a Buddhist term which implies the image of knots. If someone is
unkind to us and we don’t understand the reason and take the words to heart, we
may become angry or irritated, it is as if a knot is tied within us. We may become
knotted up with anger, hurt, or resentment. He says, “The absence of clear
understanding is the basis for every knot.”

Well, however we may understand the knotting process, I think we can see that
things are pretty knotted up in our world today. Hurtful things are said and done.
There is a lack of understanding and compassion. People get knotted up inside.
Anger, anxiety, stress, and hostility mount. There is lashing out and retribution.
The knots become tighter and more tangled.

We see this happen in personal relationships. There is a lack of understanding.
Pain and hurt are inflicted. Harm is done. The knots are pulled tight.

We see the knotting process in families. Conflicts erupt. Hurtful things are said.
Divisions are created.

This knotting goes on in communities as people who experience life differently
become engaged in conflict.

And we certainly see the knots that are growing and forming an ugly tangle on the
national level in our country. People who are angry, hurt, and afraid lash out. The
lack of desire for understanding, the lack of compassion, the lack of honesty, the

lack of unity which is not the same as uniformity, these forces and more are
creating massive knots in our common life.

In this knotted, charged atmosphere, we listened again to the words of Jesus, yes,
these words were very likely actually spoken by the first century Palestinian Jew:
“Love your enemies.” And these words were not spoken in a setting that was all
peace, love, dove. It wasn’t instruction given to people who were living in a time
of unity and bliss. No. These words were spoken in a context that was highly
charged, divided, and volatile. The Jews and their homeland had been overtaken
by the Roman Empire and Rome was in charge. Jesus and his people were a
subjugated people. Being taken advantage of. Their lives of less value. They
were not treated with dignity and respect. The Romans were definitely the
enemies of the Jews. So this dictate, Love your enemies, was addressed to people
who were negatively impacted by their enemies on a daily basis.

And Jesus, himself, had enemies: Those who were protecting their power and
status. They were intent of getting rid of Jesus and his movement. They had him
killed. They were enemies. And we have the tradition of Jesus from the cross
forgiving those responsible for his death. Doing what he had instructed others to
do: Loving his enemies.

So this teaching, Love your enemies, it was real. It was not some spiritualized
succor. It was not offered in a setting of harmony and unity. No. Jesus spoke
these words in the midst of conflict, struggle, and hostility. There was no
minimizing of the power and influence of evil. With his literal life at stake and the
lives of his people, Jesus declares, Love your enemy. It is one of the core
teachings of Jesus and one of the most distinctive tenets of Christianity.

In a conversation with a clergy colleague this week, there was discussion about our
role in these difficult times. The colleague related a story about a situation in their
congregation. The pastor has been encouraging the church to be welcoming of all
people. The pastor then got a letter from a church member explaining that they
were against the church being inclusive of everyone. The pastor responded saying that love of God and love of neighbor were the foundation of Christianity. The
parishioner disagreed strongly telling the pastor that Christianity was based on love
of God and God alone. Not love of neighbor or anyone else. Just love of God.
And that’s how the church needed to be.

While the parishioner may feel that way that view is not consistent with the
teachings of Jesus or the New Testament. Christianity is about love of a God that
is present in every human being and so love of God includes love of neighbor, and
as we were reminded this morning, even love of enemy. This is fundamental to the
Christian religion. Without love of neighbor and love of enemy, you no longer
have Christianity.

In thinking about love of enemy, Clarence Jordan, who wrote the Cotton Patch
version of the gospels, a colloquial, Southern, black rendering of the texts, sees
love of enemy as the culmination of a progression in human development. He says
that first there is unlimited retaliation. Hit back with no restrictions. Then there is
limited retaliation. An eye for an eye. Something commensurate with the offense.
The next step is limited love. Good will and mercy offered to a limited circle. To
your clan, tribe, kin. And finally, there is unlimited love as we see it in God and in
the ministry of Jesus. Love that is extended to all. Universal in scope. Seeking
the highest good of everyone. [Clarence Jordan, Sermon on the Mount, pp. 63-66]

This unlimited love is the love that Jesus teaches. This is the love that can help to
untie the many knots that are tying us up, binding us, and holding us back. Love of
enemy acknowledges that we have enemies. That there are those who do harm,
those who hate, those who hurt, those who cause pain. There are enemies. We are
all capable of incredible harm, violence, and evil. And sometimes we are doing
harm to ourselves; we are our own enemy. The enemy is within us and we are
harming ourselves. To heal, to become whole, we must seek the highest good of
ourselves, as well as those we like the least, those who harm us, those who are
perpetrating violence. That is what love is. Seeking the well-being, the highest
good, the best, for ourselves and all others. We find our healing and wholeness by loving; expressing the image of God within us, the God of universal love even to
those we name as enemy.

In the first winter after World War 2, a Jewish rabbi donated money to German
relief, saying, “I believe with all my heart that we should rise above hatreds and
prejudices and succor all people who are afflicted and heavy-laden.” [Roger L.
Shinn, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 46] This rabbi was not only helping the
Germans who had mass murdered his people, he was helping himself. He was
tending to his own humanity; he was drawing forth his capacity for love and
mercy. He was expressing the image of God within him and acknowledging that
image within every human being.

Love your enemy. It is difficult. Is it practical? As a strategy for social change?
Maybe. For the civil rights movement, loving your enemy was morally right and
tactically effective. But then use of force wasn’t really an option because the
government had so much more fire power. So love of enemy can be practical.

But what it really does is help us to uncover our deepest humanity, the image of
God within us. It transforms us. It heals us. It nurtures our wholeness and highest
good. It helps us to become our best selves.

I want you to take a moment to think about someone you may consider an enemy.
Maybe it is someone who has caused you pain in some way. Maybe it is someone
with beliefs and values that you find abhorrent. Maybe it is someone who you
vehemently disagree with. Maybe it is someone whose choices have caused harm
to someone you care about. Just take a moment to think of someone you might
consider an enemy. Visualize the person. Now, I invite you to pray for that person
every day for a month. Pray for their wellbeing. Their highest good. Pray for
them to experience peace and wholeness. Maybe put the name on a piece of paper
and tape it to the bathroom mirror or put it on the refrigerator or as the wallpaper
on your phone. Try to commit to praying for that enemy at least once a day for a
month. See what happens. See how you feel. See if it has any effect.

We started out talking about the image of knots. When we don’t understand the
pain of others, their behavior and words can cause us pain. Tie us in knots. When
we don’t understand ourselves and our vulnerabilities and insecurities, we can find
ourselves tied in knots. When we seek understanding, we can have compassion on
others and ourselves and then the knots loosen. This can happen when we love our

But this is difficult. Philosopher Bertrand Russell, who was not a Christian, had
this to say about the Christian ideal of love of enemies: “There is nothing to be
said against [the Christian principle] except that it is too difficult for most of us to
practice sincerely.” [Shinn, p. 45] If we are honest, we can appreciate the truth in
Russell’s observation. The instruction from Jesus to love our enemies is a high and
holy calling. We may think of a Martin Luther King or a Nelson Mandela. Rare
cases. But what about the rest of us?

Here we turn to another image involving knots:
“Who is closer to God,” the seeker asked, “the saint or the sinner?”
“Why, the sinner, of course,” the elder said.
“But how can that be?” the seeker asked.
“Because,” the elder said, “every time a person sins they break the cord that
binds them to God. But every time God forgives them, the cords is knotted again.
“And so, thanks to the mercy of God, the cord gets shorter and the sinner
closer to God.” [Joan Chittister, 25 Windows into the Soul: Praying with the
Psalms, p. 18]

We need not be afraid of our failures. We can learn that to retaliate against an
enemy is to harm ourselves. It comes from anger within, and a lack of
understanding and honest self examination. We can accept our truth and forgive
ourselves and our enemies bringing us closer to God, the God within us and the
God within others. Bound together in love. 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.

Weekly Update 2/4

This Sunday: Weeks before the impeachment schedule was known, the theme assigned for this Sunday was “love your enemies.”  President Lincoln offers wisdom on this timely topic.  We have more in common than we may think.  

This Sunday the advisors for 2020 will be installed:  Jane Diven, Malcolm Wells, Lucille Ruga, Patti Cooksey, and Olivia Gibson. 

Valentine Cards: The Care Team will have Valentine cards to sign on Sunday to be sent to people in the congregation who are not able to come to church.  Make sure to sign and SHARE THE LOVE!

Donation Needed:  Wally LeBlanc is in need of Full Size Fitted Sheets, new or used is fine, if anyone is able to donate, please bring them to Lakewood United Church of Christ.

Legacy Week Breakfast: On Saturday February 8th at 9 a.m. come out to Maximo Presbyterian Church, 3200 58th Ave S, St. Petersburg, FL 33712, for a Prayer Breakfast during Legacy Week. Rev. Wells will be offering one of the prayers. This event costs $20 per ticket. To RSVP click the link below

Festival of Praise: Please plan to join us for the 34th Annual “Festival of Praise” Concert, as singers from across the state join together to sing the music of internationally-recognized composer Jake Runestad. The concert will feature narration by Jake Runestad, and special guests The Festival Singers of Florida under the baton of conductor and festival clinician Dr. Kevin Fenton, Professor of Conducting and Choral Ensembles at Florida State University. This will be an unforgettable evening of unity through singing that you will not want to miss!

Joyce and Bert Lee and Claire Stiles will be singing in this exciting musical performance.  Come and enjoy some uplifting music with us!

34th Annual “Festival of Praise” concert – Saturday, February 8, 2020  – 7:30 PM  9:00 PM  at the First Presbyterian Church, 701 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg

Ayala Legacy Luncheon: Each year, Legacy Week celebrates the accomplishments, power, strength and courage of black leaders in the community. Join us on February 12, 2020 from 11:30-1:30 p.m., in the Center for Health Equity, 2333 34th St S, St. Petersburg, FL 33711, for a keynote address from State Attorney Aramis Ayala, the first African American State Attorney in Florida’s history. Her powerful insights will address poverty, mass incarceration and other social justice issues. This event is free and open to the public but registration is requested for an accurate lunch count.

RSVP Here:

One City Chorus: Concert Sunday February 16th at 4:00 PM at the Palladium Theater 253 5th Ave North. One City Chorus, St. Pete’s 120-voice community chorus with special guests “The Alumni Singers.” Tickets $25/$20 in advance. Tickets available through Jeff Wells, one of the singers.

Youth Basketball Activity: On February 16 @ 2pm. We will be going to a USF Bulls Women’s Basketball game in Tampa. All of the details are still in progress such as transportation. But most likely a few cars can be taken after church to the game. Friends and families are welcome. Please RSVP to Olivia Gibson at so tickets can be purchased and all of the details can be worked out. 

Environmental Film Festival at Eckerd: Each year, Eckerd College offers an amazing Environmental film Festival, Visions of Nature/Voices of Nature, that is free and open to the public.  The dates are Feb. 21, 25, 26 (Ash Wednesday), 27,28, 29.  The details are at the link below.

This year, LUCC will be providing an opportunity for follow up discussion after the Festival.  Claire Stiles and Kim Wells are preparing a brief summary sheet for you to fill out after each film that you see.  Then we will all get together after the Festival to discuss our responses, learn together, and share our experiences of these important films.  Look for more details soon but get the dates on your calendar!  

If you would like to see the films but need transportation, please contact the church office.  
Here’s the link with more information about the films:

Before I Die. . .  The installation on the chalk boards remains available in the sanctuary.  You are welcome to add to the responses finishing the sentence, Before I die, I am going to. . .   You are also encouraged to look at the boards and see the responses of others.

Labyrinth Available: There is a straw labyrinth on the church grounds adjacent to the memorial garden. All are welcome to walk the labyrinth at any time. There is information about the labyrinth in a mailbox near the installation. The labyrinth is provided for your encouragement, support, and inspiration on your spiritual journey.

Congregational meeting: There will be a congregational meeting following worship on Sunday February 23 to take action on the budget for 2020 and to receive the annual review from the Creation Justice Task Force.

New Office Hours: The Church Office will be open Monday – Thursday mornings from 9:30 until noon. The office will no longer be open on Friday mornings. Thank you!

Operation Attack: Operation Attack is very much in need of clothes for men, boys, and girls as well as diapers and peanut butter and canned fruit. Donations may be placed in the shopping cart in the entryway to the sanctuary. Volunteer dates are February 10, March 9, April 13, and May 11. They also need people to help on the first three Tuesdays of the month from 9:30-noon.

Operation Attack is an ecumenical effort serving families with children located at Lakeview Presbyterian Church, 1310 22nd. Ave. S., St. Petersburg. LUCC was a founding member of Operation Attack in the 1960’s!

Hearing Augmentation: Devices are available from the usher in the sanctuary during worship.

February Birthdays: Jim Andrews 2/6, Sarah Lewis 2/14, Jeff Wells 2/15, Joyce Lee 2/28, Someone missing? Contact the church office with birthday information.

Circle of Concern: Martha Lamar, Tony Rogers, Dana Cosper, Sherry Santana, Jen Degroot, Carolyn Moore, Ann Quinn, Maggie Brizendine, and Ann Rogers.

Recent Posts:

Weekly Update: If you are involved with an activity or event that you would like to share with the LUCC family, please send the information to the church office by Tuesday since the Update usually is sent out on Wednesday.

A Peace Plan That Does Not Bring Peace

A Peace Plan That Does Not Bring Peace

They have treated the wound of my people carelessly,
saying, “Peace, peace,”
when there is no peace.

-Jeremiah 6:14 NRSV

President Trump’s proposed Middle East ‘peace plan,’ titled “Peace to Prosperity,” will not bring peace nor is it a realistic plan. Instead, his proposal — formulated with Israel without Palestinian participation — ensures violence, continued animosity, and further encroachment by Israel on land that belongs to the people of Palestine.  

It is for those reasons that the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) calls upon the international community to take up the mantle of brokering an agreement that brings peace and security to Israelis and Palestinians without trampling upon the rights of either.

For many years, the NCC has joined in supporting a two-state solution, the right of refugees to return to their homes, the dismantlement of the settlements, and the establishment of Jerusalem as a shared international city. This latest plan, developed without input from Palestinians, does not move us toward peace or resolve conflict in the region.

In order to be viable, a nation must have contiguous land with populations secure in their borders and in control of their destiny. The current peace deal does not offer this. The illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory has become normative, both Israeli and Palestinian societies have become restive, and the dream of peaceful coexistence side-by-side has all but extinguished. Nothing about the new Trump peace plan breathes life into the hope for justice and peace.

Instead of bringing both Palestinians and Israelis to the negotiating table, the Administration has worked only with the Israelis. Rather than mapping out an authentic Palestinian state, the architects of the plan have put forth a map recognizing Israeli-imposed “facts on the ground” and granting Palestinians the remaining pockmarked non-contiguous territory, which resembles a block of Swiss cheese more than a nation-state. The plan reinforces the indignity by offering the Palestinians a $50 billion payoff to do what they can to accept this untenable “solution.”

We urge all parties to get back to the hard work of creating a real plan for justice and peace. This land and all the people who live there deserve no less.
Read the statement online here.
See also:

Settlements Contrary to International Law, Immoral
Group Pilgrimage Statement on Israel and Palestine
NCC Laments Opening of US Embassy in Jerusalem
NCC Opposes U.S. Decision to Declare Jerusalem as Capital of Israel
A Message Following the National Council of Churches’ Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, September, 2017
Statement by General Secretaries Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit and Jim Winkler given at the NCC/WCC Consultation on the Holy Land
Reaffirmation of Our Commitments to Peace in the Middle East In Light of the 1980 Middle East Policy Statement
Serving as a leading voice of witness to the living Christ in the public square since 1950, the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) brings together 38 member communions and more than 40 million Christians in a common commitment to God’s love and promise of unity.
NCC News contact: Steven D. Martin: 202.412.4323 or

Sermon 2/2 Blessed Are the Poor

Scripture Lesson: Matthew 5:1-12
Sermon: Blessed Are the Poor
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells

I want to start with a disclaimer. I am not poor. I am not financially poor. I never
have been. I have never worried about where I am going to live or how to pay for
it. I have never worried about what I’m going to eat. And how I’m going to pay
for it. I don’t feel poor in terms of family or relationships. I have always had a life
filled with love. I’m not poor in terms of spiritual nurture. I’ve always been part
of the church which has sustained and fed my spirit.

So, I don’t have a lot of personal experience with poverty. My knowledge is
second hand; what I have seen and heard from people who are considered poor,
poor in terms of money and poor in terms of spirit. But I have never been what I
consider poor.

Now, at this point, in a typical sermon, I might ask if anyone here has been poor.
And I might invite those who raise their hands to say something about that. But
you know that I won’t do that this morning. I won’t ask who here is poor. Or who
has experienced poverty. Because in our societal context to be poor is looked
down on. Poverty is associated with being lazy or deficient in some way. Poverty
is considered shameful. It’s embarrassing. Humiliating. Poverty is indicative of
failure. If you’re poor, there must be something wrong with you. Especially now
when the economy is supposedly so great. There’s no excuse for being poor.

You want to see the reality of this attitude toward poverty? Go to a place like the
Social Security office. Someone like me is treated in a polite manner. The staff is
friendly and helpful. But you can hear the very same staff people treating others in
a rude and demeaning manner. Because they are poor. I doubt if the staff people
even realize they are doing this.

There is so much negative stigma attached to being poor today. That’s why I
wouldn’t ask here this morning about who has experience with poverty.

Well, if you can believe it, in Jesus’ day it might have been worse. Because
poverty was not just seen as a personal failing, it was seen as punishment from God. If you were poor, it was because you did something so bad that God was
punishing you for it. The Divine Ruler of the Universe had seen fit to look down
upon this planet and single you out for punishment. That’s what people saw when
they saw poverty. Divine punishment. Talk about stigma!

While poverty was seen as a curse from the Almighty, All Powerful God, material
wealth was seen as the opposite. Wealth was seen as a sign of blessing from God.
If you were wealthy it was obvious that you were good, you were a delight to God,
you were pleasing in God’s sight, so God was rewarding you. Wealth was seen as
a direct blessing from God.

Into this context comes Jesus. And he is remembered for proclaiming, Blessed are
the poor, in the gospel of Luke, and Blessed are the poor in spirit, in Matthew.
These two phrases are not really that far apart because in that culture, the material
and the spiritual were seen as one. So here is Jesus, in a context where wealth is
seen as blessing from God and poverty is seen as Divine punishment, declaring
Blessed are the poor. Favored by God. Worthy of congratulations. Of highest
happiness. Privileged. Fortunate. Well off. Blessed! It’s raucous affirmation.
Right here. And right now. Not in some future reality.

The poor are favored by God. WooHoo! This proclamation from Jesus is a
complete turn around from socially accepted thinking. It’s a one-eighty. Jesus is
reversing commonly held assumptions. He is presenting a completely new
orientation toward society, economics, theology, and relationships.

Blessed are the poor. If the poor/poor in spirit, are favored by God, then they are
deserving of respect and dignity. They are fully human. They are beloved children
of God. They can’t be cast off as lazy and expendable and less than.

And we are going to expose the deeper truth of that reality.

‘Why are there poor people? The convenient answers: They’ve made bad choices.
Had bad luck. There isn’t enough to go around.

But if we go deeper, we see that there are poor people because poor people are
needed to make other people excessively rich. Excessive wealth usually comes
from taking advantage of people, abusing labor, making others poor. The rich exist largely because of the poor. Poor people make other people rich. Oppression,
from slavery to the farm workers, to the abuse of labor in Asia and in our very city
and country, makes some people rich. That is why oppression exists. It is
economically incentivized; motivated by greed. If there was no economic
advantage, there would be little to no racism and maybe even no sexism.

Basil the Great, a bishop in the early church, understood this and exposed the truth
of Jesus’ teaching. He shared these harsh words with his congregation in the 4th

“When someone steals another’s clothes, we call them a thief. Should we not give
the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your
cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one
who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes;
the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.”

So when Jesus says, Blessed are the poor, he is disturbing the peace. He is
fomenting radical revolution. Blessed are the poor, it’s not the glorification of
poverty. It is not the idealization of homelessness. It’s a dissolving of the glue that
binds our social and economic reality together so that something new can emerge.
It’s no wonder they killed Jesus.

The truth is that systems that create poverty diminish all people. Poverty
diminishes those made poor and it diminishes those who accrue excessive wealth.
Our spiritual teachings tell us a lot about the relationship between material status
and the well-being of the spirit. Money, the power that goes with it, and the desire
for a materially rich life, can undermine our basic spiritual needs to love and to be
generous. It can separate us from other people. It can separate us from what we
need to be doing with our lives, our calling. And it can separate us from the values
and ethics that we hold dear and that we see embodied in the life and ministry of
Jesus. Money can prevent us from experiencing our highest good. Economics
based on the amassing of wealth by creating poverty is damaging to all.

The church is called to reflect the reality of Jesus, the commonwealth of God.
Blessed are the poor/poor in spirit. The church must be against taking advantage
of people in any form. We cannot support the demeaning and degrading of other human beings beloved by God. Everyone is deserving of dignity and respect. It
means we cannot support economic arrangements that abuse and devalue others.
Where were our clothes made? Where does our food come from? Where do we
work? It’s that close to home.

Blessed are the poor/poor in spirit. This reminds us that we are all dependent on
God; on what we have been given. Air. Water. Earth. Life. Love. Beauty. The
accomplishments and knowledge of those who have come before us. All given to
us, all of us. For our mutual upbuilding and flourishing. Blessed are the poor/poor
in spirit reminds us to be aware of our need no matter how much money we have.
There is no room for an inflated sense self-importance. We are all dependent and
interdependent. That is our blessing. That is what we have to rejoice about. That
is what we are to celebrate.

In thinking about our current economic circumstances, Paul Krugman, Nobel
laureate in economics, professor at the City University of New York, and columnist
for the New York Times, describes what he sees as America’s economic divide:

“One side of American politics considers the modern welfare state a private-
enterprise economy, but one in which society’s winners are taxed to pay for a
social safety net morally superior to the capitalism . . . we had before the New
Deal. It’s only right, this side believes, for the affluent to help the less fortunate.

“The other side believes that people have a right to keep what they earn, and that
taxing them to support others, no matter how needy, amounts to theft. That’s what
lies behind the modern right’s fondness for violent rhetoric: many activists on the
right really do see taxes and regulation as tyrannical impositions on their liberty.”
[ ]

While Krugman may describe a fundamental divide in America today neither of
these views is consistent with the teachings of Jesus. They don’t acknowledge that
the creation of wealth is usually achieved by making people poor. And to make
people poor involves demeaning and degrading and devaluing them. And doing
that demeans and devalues the humanity of the people who are amassing the
wealth. It diminishes them, too. Everybody loses.

The teaching of Jesus challenges the position of the left and the right in America
today. Jesus celebrates the personhood of everyone, poor and poor in spirit
included. After all, Jesus himself was poor. With Jesus, all are beloved. All are
worthy of dignity and respect.

Jesus invites us to live in the commonwealth of God. He invites us to live, full and
free, with no complicity in injustice or oppression. Unencumbered and no longer
enmeshed in systems of degradation. Released from bondage to the buck.

Blessed! Enthusiastically joyful. Experiencing our highest good. Beloved! As
Nobel laureate Martin Luther King, Jr. said when he accepted his prize: “I have
the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their
bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for
their spirits.” [
]. Amen to that!

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