Wednesday, January 18, 2017


         This week marks another transition of power in these United States.  We come to this event with  in the shadow of a disruptive election cycle and an emphasis on how divided we are as a people. 

            We begin this week remembering the work and words of Martin Luther King, Jr. during another time of deep divisions within our nations.  The fault lines then, and even now, colored in black and white.

            How interesting that the suggested scripture reading from the Epistles for Sunday, January 22, 2017 happens to be the passage from 1 Corinthians 1:10-18:
            Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose…….

            The church in Corinth was certainly a textbook case of rivalries and jealousies and disagreement.  Oftentimes when this text is used it is framed within a local church conflict (a phenomena that is far too prevalent).  However we know that divisions go well beyond our institutions of faith.  We know that the language of division has been the common vocabulary in our civil discourse.  We also know that the level of anger has been escalating in such a way that our divisions seem insurmountable.  

            There are those who are saying basically “Get over it.  The election is decided and things will be done our way.  Stop complaining and get on board.” 

            There are those who say equally boldly and loudly “Never!  We will be the resistance.”

            Another cycle will begin.  Another round of stop government will unfold.  The gap between one another will continue to widen.  We know that the words spoken by Abraham Lincoln on June 16, 1858 are as true now as they were in those years just before the Civil War.  In it he quoted the words from the Gospel of Mark: “a house divided against itself cannot stand”.

            As we consider the words of the Apostle Paul to the church in Corinth we can begin to get a template for a way to move forward, particularly for those of us of the Christian faith.

            Paul is very clear that the “I belong” statements dividing the church at Corinth were unacceptable.  Yet it must be human nature, for we continue to engage in this practice.  “I am a conservative Christian, my values are the correct ones.  The Bible tells me so.”  “I am a Progressive Christian, my values are the correct ones.  The Bible tells me so.”  How long are we going to yell at each other and fail to look to Christ.  I don’t mean the Jesus we have “created”.  I mean the Jesus that makes us uncomfortable. 
·      The Jesus that was not all about our belief systems but was all about meeting people face to face in their deepest needs.
·       The Jesus that didn’t worry about popularity contests or acquiring power and glory but who touched the untouchable and talked to the enemy. 
·      The Jesus that was publically humiliated and executed.  For to talk about Jesus without the cross as a consequence of his compassionate loving existence on earth is to miss the point.

            Jesus never “AGREED” with the oppression Rome placed on the people in his nation.  Jesus never “AGREED” with the bias and hate the Judeans and Galileans placed on those who lived in the land mass between them – the Samaritans.  Jesus never “AGREED” with a social system that debased women and the sick.  Jesus never “AGREED” with the Temple authorities that abused their power and made concessions to the Roman Protectorate.

            When you read the words of Paul it is important to go beyond those first words:  that all of you be in agreement  and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose”.   The unity of mind and spirit is to be the mind and spirit of our Lord and Savior.  We have his example about how to live.  It is a costly example.  It will not be popular.  The task before us is to BE Christ in our nation and our communities, by our actions not our words.  And in a time when we really do not hear one another we MUST show by the lives we live the words we mean.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

What is in a dream?

         Every January as the nation remembers the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. the “I Have a Dream” speech is invoked.  This image I captured at the MLK Memorial two years ago at cherry blossom time reminds me of that speech and of my life as a youth in a changing South.  The Civil Rights Movement was a time of breaking out of old paradigms and boldly entering new possibilities.


            My family moved from western Pennsylvania to central Florida in 1955.  For me it was a significant change in ways beyond the dislocation from family and friends.  I literally saw a different world.

            That is not to say that Greenville, Pennsylvania was a mecca of diversity.  It may have been, but I was not aware of it.  I am now much more aware of the fact that there were probably plenty of people from Eastern Europe, especially Poland, who lived and worked in the factories and mills that supported railroading.  Because they were my own racial identity I really never gave them any thought.  I am not aware that these folks were “segregated” to one side of the town or the other.  I do not think they were.  One could not tell by European sounding names because my ancestors were all German with names that defied spelling.  And there was only one “downtown”.

            My compass was the teaching in the Sunday School and from the pulpit of Zions’ Evangelical and Reformed Church.  Those teachings plus the attitude and teachings of my parents and my grandparents defined my outlook.  The usual Bible verses had priority:   “God so loved the world….”; “Do unto others as you would….”, “But the greatest of these is love”. 

            In 1955 my family made the move to Florida in order to escape the harsh winters of northwest Pennsylvania.  I still had my parents as a moral guidepost.  I still heard the same Bible verses in the Methodist Church where we made our spiritual home. 

            Yet the visual reality of my life was startling different.  In those days, Plant City (about 25 miles east of Tampa and  about 60 miles from what is now Disney World) was very much a southern town in Jim Crow America.  Yes, we stood up to sing Dixie as well as the National Anthem at football games.  All my schools were segregated.  In fact I never knew exactly where Marshall High School was located except that it was on the other side of the tracks.  I did not know the names of the black elementary schools or their junior high.  The black community lived a parallel life beyond the railroad lines that defined the history of this town.  In 1955 that is just how it was.

            And that is largely the way I grew to think about it – that is just how it was.  At the same time I had serious misgivings about that status quo.  My most vivid memory shortly after arriving in town was going to the five and dime store (McCrory’s) and wanting to get a drink of cold water.  And there, to my amazement, were two water coolers.  One had a sign on it that said “white” and the other “colored”.  I was one confused little girl.  What was this all about?  Why would there be separate drinking fountains?

            I learned quickly the many ways “separate” was enforced.  There were two entrances to the train station.  A black man would cross the street in order not to get in the way of a white person.  There is no doubt in my mind that I was the beneficiary of better equipped schools.  We sang our praises to God in separate churches.

            That last sentence became one of the truths that caused me to listen to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. with  new understanding and with a deepening conviction that all I had absorbed in my early years was at stake because my blinders had shielded me from the realities of people’s lives. 


Among the many things Dr. King said during his work around civil rights was:  "it is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o'clock on Sunday morning."  That was a “light bulb” statement for me.

            I knew then that the church could not and should not be complacent when persons are made to feel less than human.  At that time I longed for our churches to be places were blacks and whites worshipped together.  Now our churches remain largely segregated but an appreciation of the many varied ways we all experience God and find meaning in our worship makes that less a burden on my soul.  (Unless of course any of us fall under the illusion that our style of worship is the only acceptable or valid way to pray and praise.) 

            We continue with the dynamics formed through the tyranny of Jim Crow Laws.  But we also  now have the abuse and oppression and discrimination placed on people who faith is Muslim.  We have barriers being imagined along the Mexican-American Border to separate one part of our hemispheric land mass from another and to make our sisters and brothers “Other”.  We have categorizing of people because of the color of their skin or the sound of their names.  We are on the precipice of  glorifying a separate society.  That was not healthy years ago and it is not healthy now.

            To all those Bible stories  we internalized as children (the ones mentioned earlier) I would add a verse from the very first chapter of the very first book of the Bible – the book of Genesis:

So God created humankind in his image,
            in the image of God he created them;….
God saw everything he had made, and indeed, it was very good.

            What is in a dream?  Each of us can answer that in our own ways.  For Martin Luther King, Jr., in his speech the dream included justice and equality in these United States. 

            My dream is that we can finally and at long last realize each of us (every one of us) is made in the very image of God and that God considers that to be a good thing!  My dream is that we can begin to see and appreciate our differences yet not let our differences define us.  My dream is that we can finally and at long last join our God’s image together for the good of all God’s beloved sons and daughters.

Grace and Peace
Rev. C.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Rachel Weeping      

            The scripture passage of Matthew 2:16-18 often gets lost between the sounds of angels singing and camel hooves moving over desert sands.  This story is found in the gospel of Matthew right after the wise men leave the stable and return to their own countries by another way.  With only twelve days separating Christmas morning and Epiphany (when we traditionally hear the story of the wise men’s visitation and remember the Light being shared with the whole world, not just the Jewish community of Bethlehem) there is little time for the unpleasant story.  This coming Sunday is the first Sunday after Epiphany and we will have already moved on to when Jesus was baptized in Jordan’s water.

            It is not surprising that we skip over this story in the Bible.  It is painful.  It is unimaginable, or so we say.  It is unthinkable, or so we say.   Maybe we skip over it because there is an element of us in it that we don’t want to admit.  We would rather blame Herod.

            When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.  Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
            “A voice was heard in Ramah,
                        wailing and loud lamentation,
            Rachel weeping for her children;
                        she refused to be consoled,
                                    because they were no more.

            What does that have to do with us, you may ask.  Isn’t this just a page filler so we can get Jesus out of Bethlehem and back to Nazareth where he can grow into adulthood?

            The Bible is nothing if not sparse on “page fillers”.  It is filled with short passages that carry profound messages.  This is one of those passages.

            On the surface it is a story of a petulant ruler who, when he didn’t get his own way, he had a tantrum and took it out on the general population.  His hold on power was far from secure.  He was indebted to his position because of connections and concessions to Rome.  He wanted to be the “big man on campus”.  That would never be with Rome in power.  When he heard about the possibility of God’s Anointed One being born and even existing, he knew that was a threat to his power.  If his scheme had worked the baby Jesus would have been quietly executed and the threat to Herod would disappear.

            It did not work out that way and Herod took out his anger on the children.

            That story, by itself, is horrific enough.

            Yet we dismiss it as past history to our own peril.  History has shown us that whenever someone feels threatened (or a group of “someones”), there is a tendency to want to dehumanize those that are presumed to be the cause. 

            Herod has shown his ugly face in the instances of:
·      the beating and lynching of  black Americans because of the color of their skin and their supposed threat to a white way of life
·      the gas chambers and the concentration camps that were designed to eliminate all Jewish people from Europe
·      the death march on the Bataan Peninsula
·      the Internment Camps in the United States
·      the Killing Fields of Cambodia where more than a million people were killed by the Khmer Rouge Regime
·      the Gulags of Stalin’s Russia
·      the Rwandan genocide of Tutsi by the Hutu government
·      the Bosnian genocide committed by Bosnian Serbs
“Herod” has sometimes been a ruthless ruler.  “Herod” has also been the “average person” who has been complicit as these obscenities keep going on.

            There were signs that something horrific would happen in each in every case.  The Gospel writer known as Matthew records that when King Herod heard that the “king of the Jews” had been born he set about asking questions and getting information.  The chief priests and the scribes provided Herod with the probable location, Bethlehem (from the book of Micah).  That bit of information was the source of a great deal of grief.  People knew when black men were in danger of a rope.  The crowds helped round people us and cheered the assassins as the deed was done.  People in Germany, and throughout Europe, knew what was being carried in those long box car trains.  Some courageously tried to shield their Jewish neighbors at the risk of  their own lives.  The world saw the swastika emblazoned everywhere and heard the hateful speech.  There was no disguising the intent of that symbol or that hate language.


            We honor the Veterans who fought in World War II at county fairs and in parades.  Many of them saw the horrors of the swastika and hate language.  We join with Israel in the words “Never Again”.

            And yet – here we are in 2017 – and the hate language continues.  The swastika has taken a prominent place as a symbol of hate painted on the side of a schoolhouse that once was the setting for teaching black children or on the outside of the Jewish Reform Seminary in Cincinnati. 

            We need to read and reread this small scriptural passage and remember that we are in the position of complying with the horrific desire of those who spew this hate and fly this symbol.  We help spread this disease of hate by our silence.  And, make no mistake about it, our silence has deadly consequences.

            Herod’s desire was to kill the Christ Child.  He wanted to snuff out the Light of the World.  He wanted the world to be centered in him personally.  He wanted to thwart God’s Own Plan.

            Thanks be to God, Herod did not win this one.  But the “Herods – powerful and ordinary” have won far to many times.  Too many lights have been snuffed out.  Too many Rachels have wept at the loss of their loved ones.  Too many people have been without consolation.

            We cannot be silent.  We cannot let the “Herods” win. 

            Love came down at Christmas – a Love beyond our comprehension – a Love for you and for every single person in the entire world yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  Let us let the Light of Love shine so strongly that it overcomes those who fear so much they are filled with hate.  Let us not be silent in the face of hate.

Grace and peace,

Rev. Clara