Pastor Jon Hughes
Molalla United Methodist Church
Reflection: June 26, 2022
Scripture for today: Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20; 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62
Reflection: A Letter to My Kids
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, o God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
It has been a troubling weekend. Seems like I’ve arrived at church on Sunday mornings with a troubled mind a lot lately. The news is heavy and seems to get heavier, and I sometimes wonder when I arrive if I can find good news to share. Even our psalm this morning starts on a heavy note – it’s a psalm of lament, of despair – or at least it starts that way. Notice that Lucy didn’t read the whole thing – she skipped seven verses. That’s by design – she didn’t just take it on herself to go rogue, so don’t worry about that. But if we’d included those missing verses you would have heard a cry from the heart; it’s filled with phrases like, “I think of God, and I moan,” and “Has God’s steadfast love ceased forever?” and “Are God’s promises at an end for all time?”
So yeah, with news of shootings and wars and social struggles within our own country and communities it can sure be easier to identify with those missing verses from today’s psalm than the part Lucy read, the reminder that even through our grief God continues to do amazing things for us.
I have a sweatshirt that I wear sometimes during the winter. It says, “Resisting evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” Last week I actually ordered a t-shirt so I can wear that message out loud in the summer as well. Does that message sound familiar? I hope it does – it’s from our United Methodist baptismal vows. We mostly practice infant baptism in this denomination, though it’s not required and certainly not limited to infants – I’ll baptize anyone who wants to seal their hearts to Christ with that amazing symbol of their faith. I’ll admit that I’m sometimes a little skeptical of infant baptism; I know of the beauty of those vows the parents and congregation take to raise children in the Christian faith, to guide them in their spiritual growth, but the times that baptism has most sent shivers down my spine have been when adults have marched out into the water, have said the vows and been immersed in the holy water that washes them fresh and clean, ready to adopt a new outlook on life.
That said, the vows of baptism hold, no matter your age when you got the holy dunking. As we attend church, participate in its outreach programs, and share fellowship together, we do so under the seal of the vows we have made.
So on Friday it was with that in mind that I heard the news of the overturn of Roe V. Wade by the Supreme Court. I have always believed that abortion is a sad thing. I can’t imagine the emotions that accompany that decision. But I also believe that each person has the right to body autonomy – and I believe that right envelops women and their decisions about their bodies. I’m not here to debate that; if anyone here would like to talk about it we can do so outside worship; I’m simply sharing my own belief, one which is aligned with the doctrine of the United Methodist Church.
But our moral handwringing over this latest political action in the USA feels like another instance of aimless wandering, of leaderless distraction. We know that we have a leader in Heaven – every Christian denomination proclaims Jesus as the head of the church, as our guide and master. But ever since Jesus ascended into heaven the church has drifted this way and that. There have been times when the church has probably held more power than any political entity, and there have been times when it has faded to a social footnote. I think we’ve forgotten the message that was given to us at the ascension.
Now, I’m not going to re-preach Pentecost, but I do want to take a look at some related stuff as a reminder of who we are and how we should be moving as a Church – that is, the big C global church. To do that I’m going to go back a good 800+ years before Jesus’s time, to Elijah’s final days. We talked about Elijah last week – he was the number one prophet in the Hebrew Bible, the prophet who stood up to the rulers of Israel and won.
After his defeat of the prophets of Baal and his departure to hide in the wilderness, God told Elijah to head back into society and resume his work. Despite the threat that Jezebel’s henchmen posed to his wellbeing, Elijah went on to anoint new kings for various lands and started to gather a flock of followers, chief among whom was Elisha. Yes, the two prophets have very similar names…it messed me up for a long time.
At the end of his ministry, Elijah was taken up into Heaven on a chariot of flame and Elisha was left holding the bag – or the cloak as it were. He was despondent and honestly, he was kind of ticked with God. As he looked at that spot in the heavens where his leader had disappeared he shouted, “Where is the Lord, Elijah’s God?”
That’s where we stand so often, isn’t it? We have those moments when we stand there feeling helpless and we ask, “Where is God?”
Well, we’ve been given the answer to that, haven’t we? Just as Elijah told his disciple to go and start his own ministry because he, Elijah, would be taken up into Heaven, just as the disciples were told many times that Jesus would leave them and it would be their job to carry on his work, we know that we have work to do in their physical absence.
(Know too, by the way, that the story of Elijah is foreshadowing and affirmation of the life and ministry of Jesus. Jesus’s credibility in the very earliest days of the Christian church came from the similarity of his story to Elijah’s. Jewish tradition was that Elijah would come again; Christian tradition is that John the Baptist played the role of the return of the prophet who heralded the coming of Christ…)
Knowing the answer to the question “where is God” doesn’t necessarily make us feel empowered to embrace our mission to take the word of Christ out to the ends of the earth, though, does it? It’s so much easier to wallow in uncertainty than it is to march into the world with Good News of Jesus when it seems like there are others sharing messages in Christ’s name that feel like doom and gloom.
I spent most of yesterday afternoon sitting in the family room composing a letter in my head. I tried a couple of times to put it on paper and wasn’t quite successful, but I’ll try again this morning and see how it goes. It’s a letter to my three kids – here it is:
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I expected a world way different than this for you to grow up in. It feels like my generation and the ones before mine had some promising starts, only to falter and mess up. I’m sorry for the uncertainty that lies ahead of you. I expected a world in which Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words, “children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” would not only apply to race but to gender, to sexual identity, to physical and mental ability equally. I expected a world where people are honored for their differences, not hated for them.
I expected that you would live in a world where you could proudly proclaim to be followers of Jesus not because it was expected of you or because peer pressure said you were, but because the Christian church was a stronghold of justice and love. Instead it seems the word “Christian” has often come to be associated more with those who shower their judgement on others instead of their compassion.
It seems you will have to be the ones to carry the message of love into the world, since the generations before yours haven’t finished the job. When you do, please remember a few things. Remember the people like Dr. King and his colleagues who brought civil rights as far as they have come so far. There’s a long way to go – the world isn’t as enlightened as I though it would be at this point, but there are people out there who will march with you. Remember the women who marched for their rights and made huge strides. Last Friday feels like a setback, but there are millions of women and men out there who will march with you again. Remember the people who advocated for the care of our environment; there is still a way to go, but because of them the air is cleaner and the water clearer than it was 50 years ago – there are still people who will march for you to care for our planet.
And remember your parents who shared with you the good news of Christ. Remember that even when the world seemed bleak we tried to share the message of a loving God – one who loves all people as made in God’s own image; remember that every face you see is the face of God looking back at you; whatever you do to work for a better world, remember that God is with you.
Let me close with a brief reflection on our message from Galatians. In it Paul gives a long list of things that would exclude someone from Heaven. It seems like a litany of all the things we expect to see in our favorite TV shows. Sexual immorality, moral corruption, fighting, obsession, drunkenness, partying…the list goes on and we’ve already heard it. The thing that strikes me about this stuff isn’t that it’s a specific list of things we need to avoid to get to Heaven. It’s examples of the things that separate us from God. It’s selfishness. Every act on the list is a matter of selfish choices that put the desires of self above the needs of others. Look at Paul’s other list – love, joy, peace, kindness…
Paul is telling us what we need to do to lead. He’s giving guidelines for us to get out there into the world and take the lead for Christ again. Whenever the church has forgotten the fruits of the spirit that he outlines it has faltered. That’s when denominations waver and split and get in the news for their division and their accusations against each other. When we instead focus on the good we do Christ’s work. We pick up the cloak like Elisha did and march forward with the good news. So let’s do that – let’s pick up the cloak, take on the fruits of the spirit, and become the leaders. Let’s be the examples our children will strive toward, not the mess they have to clean up.