I had the honor and privilege to have been invited to speak at a candlelight vigil last night on behalf of the Stratford Interfaith Clergy Association. The vigil, organized by the First Baptist Church in Stratford and the First Church Congregational in Fairfield, was to remember the victims of violence in the last couple weeks, specifically for Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the five slain police officers in Dallas – Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, and Lorne Ahrens; and for all victims of the violence that plagues this nation. It was a beautiful vigil, with powerful prayers, moving music, great speakers, and over 100 people in attendance.
We had some good press coverage too. You can find a photo gallery here – http://www.ctpost.com/news/slideshow/Stratford-hosts-Candlelight-Vigil-132333.php
and a story on the local news here – http://connecticut.news12.com/news/ct-residents-hold-vigils-for-shooting-victims-in-la-mn-tx-1.12046313
Edit: Adding an article from the Stratford Star: http://www.stratfordstar.com/54501/vigil-promotes-unity-in-aftermath-of-killings/
Here are my remarks:
I bring you greetings on behalf of the Stratford Interfaith Clergy Association, of which I serve as the Vice-President, and the more than forty-five houses of worship located in our town. We represent clergy and religious leaders from many faiths, and we stand in solidarity with you in prayer and grief for the violence and divisiveness gripping our nation.
The plagues of violence and racism and divisiveness are not new to this world. The prophet Isaiah wrote about the struggles the Israelites had with these sins – he writes:
Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in. – Isaiah 58, selected verses
We gather tonight with prayer and prophetic voice to call for an end to this vicious cycle of violence. We are calling for people of faith to do the hard work of examining our own privileges and confront the sins of our nation. We are calling on our faith communities to lead the fight for justice.
There is just too much violence in this country. Violence against people of color, violence against police officers, violence against the LGBTQ community, violence against anyone who is deemed different. Where does it end?
This violence is only a symptom of the deeper issues we have as a nation, one of which is the sin of racism that has left a stain on this country.
Another is the pride we have in our individualism. As a whole we spend more time looking out for ourselves and our own self-interests, rather than for all of humanity. We pray, give me my daily bread rather than give us our daily bread. And so we create silos that we live in and anything or anyone that challenges our little bubbles becomes a threat. And then we return violence with violence. And violence begets violence begets violence begets violence begets violence begets violence begets violence…
Violence solves nothing. As Dr. King said, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding a deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
As Isaiah reminds us, we cannot leave this vigil and consider our work done, having prayed for change. If we only do that we will be choosing the wrong kind of fast – we need to do the work necessary if we are to become Repairers of the Breach, Restorers of Livable Streets.
So when we leave this place today, it is my prayer that God will have softened our hearts, and we will take up the cause of justice and work to eradicate the sins of racism, violence, and divisiveness plaguing our nation.
How many of you remember when you learned the Lord’s Prayer?
I remember I was in probably second or third grade. My dad had typed up the prayer and given me a copy of it. For a month or so we prayed it along with our other bedtime prayers. In no time I had it memorized.
Now, I don’t recall why I was so old when I learned it. Maybe at that time the church didn’t say it in worship before I left for Sunday School, like we do here now. That’s partly why I like to pray it before the kids leave for Sunday school, so they can learn it. Charlotte cannot read, but she knows the prayer because we say it every week. And often, she wants to pray it at home too. Faith is contagious.
Most Sundays, the Lord’s Prayer can be heard echoing from churches around the world, as the faithful recite the well-known words in unison. Many of us feel comforted or peaceful when we recite the words to Jesus’ most famous prayer. But I wonder – do you ever feel challenged by the Lord’s Prayer? Read more…
Today we are concluding our series on “Why?” A quick recap of where we have been. We began by asking the question, “why are you here?” and looked at the message that is communicated by the church as to why people should come. We saw that most churches and most organizations focus on the wrong questions, answering what they do not why they do it. Simon Sinek suggested that inspiring and inspired organizations and people think, act, and communicate by first answering the question “why?” and then talking about how and what they do. We then explored how this miscommunication created the image of a watered down and domesticated faith.
Next we explored the question, “why Jesus?” and took a look at the reason Jesus came. I suggested that it was much more than being a ticket to heaven that has become the message communicated by common Christianity. Jesus is about bringing the kingdom of God here and now. The kingdom of God Jesus describes is backwards and upside down from what we know. The first will be last and the last will be first. Whatever empire does, the kingdom does the opposite. And the Kingdom of God requires a twofold transformation – a transformation of ourselves and a transformation of this world.
Last week we asked, “Why does Christianity matter?” and looked way back in history to the Westminster Catechism to ask what the point of a Christian life was. According to the catechism it is to glorify God and enjoy God forever. We talked about how bringing God glory means that we do things that show how we honor God, that show our commitment to God. And it is more than words – we are called to glorify God with our whole lives. Not because God needs our glory. But because that is what we were made to do. Because that is point of Christianity.
Then we talked about how that we need to become disciples to be able to accomplish this. And we cannot be disciples alone. Read more…
We are halfway through our sermon series on Why? today. A quick recap of where we have been. Two weeks ago we began by asking the question, “why are you here?” and looked at the message that is communicated by the church as to why people should come. We saw that most churches and most organizations focus on the wrong questions, answering what they do not why they do it. Simon Sinek suggested that inspiring and inspired organizations and people think, act, and communicate by first answering the question “why?” and then talking about how and what they do. We then explored how this miscommunication created the image of a watered down and domesticated faith.
Last week we explored the question, “why Jesus?” and took a look at the reason Jesus came. I suggested that it was much more than being a ticket to heaven that has become the message communicated by common Christianity. Jesus is about bringing the kingdom of God here and now. The kingdom of God Jesus describes is backwards and upside down from what we know. The first will be last and the last will be first. Whatever empire does, the kingdom does the opposite. It’s good news for the poor. It’s freedom for the prisoners. It’s healing for the sick. Liberation for the enslaved. And the year of Jubilee – a Jewish tradition found in the Torah that calls for the forgiveness of all debts and returning land to the original owners. And the Kingdom of God requires a twofold transformation – a transformation of ourselves and a transformation of this world.
Which brings us to this week – “Why Christian?”
So, why do you call yourself a Christian? Read more…
Today we continue our sermon series on “Why?” And before we get to this week’s installment, let me share a quick 2 minute recap of where we are.
Last week we began by asking “why are we here?” and took a look at why we need to ask the question and “know our why.” The inspiration for this series came from Simon Sinek’s theory of the Golden Circle. He suggests that most organizations focus on the wrong questions when talking about their mission and their organization. As a result, most people and organizations think, act, and communicate from the outside in – addressing the what and how first, and maybe answering why. Sinek goes on to say that inspired and inspiring people and organizations think, act, and communicate from the inside out, starting with the “why.”
People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. And as a whole, the church universal is pretty bad about communicating why we choose to be a part of it. The message that gets communicated by American Christianity has been domesticated and made so bland over the last century so that it looks like what Princeton Professor, Kenda Creasy Dean, calls Moral Therapeutic Deism:
Moral Therapeutic Deism is a way of thinking that fits well into a therapeutic, individualistic consumer culture popular in America, but shoving Christianity into that mold is like forcing your foot into a glass slipper six sizes too small. It just doesn’t fit.
Thankfully, there is so much more to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This weekend we started a 4-week series on “Why?” in hopes that we can begin to answer for ourselves why we follow Jesus, why we are Christians, and why we go to church.
We have been following the Narrative Lectionary since September. The Narrative Lectionary takes us through the whole arc of the biblical story from creation through the early church each year, and over the course of the 4 year cycle we will hit almost all the major stories in the bible, as well as spending time in each of the gospels. Each summer, the lectionary takes a break, which allows churches to get creative and preach some sermon series. This year, we are going to take a look at two sermon series – in July we will spend some time looking at the Lord’s prayer, and beginning today we will be looking at the question “Why?”
The inspiration for this series came out of a session with my leadership coaching cohort. One of our assignments was to watch a TEDx talk by Simon Sinek. Sinek suggests that most organizations focus on the wrong questions when talking about their mission and their organization. Usually organizations, including churches, talk about *what* they do and *how* they do it. But, Sinek says that we should focus on *why* we do what we do. Let me summarize his theory for you.
Sinek starts with this simple chart he calls the “Golden Circle.” The outer ring is the “what.” Every organization knows what it is they do. In the middle is the “how,” and some organizations know this, it’s the how they do things, what differentiates them from others. And the inner ring is the “why,” and very few organizations can answer this – this is an organization’s purpose, their belief, the why they do what they do.
As a result, most people and organizations think, act, and communicate from the outside in. Sinek explains this through the lens of Apple computer. For example, if Apple were to communicate this way they might say, “we make great computers, they’re easy to use, beautifully designed, and user friendly. Wanna buy one?” Read more…
A sermon for Year 2, Week 35 of the Narrative Lectionary.
Today we continue to take a look at Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Paul is writing from Ephesus to this group of new believers in Corinth – a community made up for both Jews and Gentiles who were, for that reason, “breaking down like fractions,” as Lin-Manuel Miranda might say. Paul is hoping to help them understand how to live in community with one another, how to treat each other, how to embrace those with different theological, social, and political worldviews as fellow siblings in Christ.
The Corinthian community was divided over many issues – which leader to follow, how to act in worship, how to celebrate communion, what happens when we die, and which one of them had the best spiritual gifts.
Our passage today is part of Paul’s response to this conflict over spiritual gifts. He begins his argument for unity by talking about the body of Christ and how each part is important, and each gift is important. Then he tells them that there is an even better way to live, than to worry about who has the best gifts – Love.
One thing we need to understand before I read our text today is that, even though we hear it at countless weddings, this text is not a celebration of romantic, human love. It is not part of some ancient wedding celebration. These words are first written to a community that is having an extremely hard time just living together. And to help place it in this context, I am including the pieces just before and just after the 13th chapter.
(As a side note, chapter and verse numbers were added by monks well after the scriptures were canonized in the 4th century, and sometimes they seem arbitrary)
When I read this, I can imagine Paul being frustrated. “Come on guys! I taught you better than this. Do I need to spell it out for you?” Read more…