If You Want Peace, Work for Justice

Progressive Christian Social Action

“If You Want Peace, Work for Justice” or

“The Things that Make for Peace”

A sermon preached by the Reverend Sharon Delgado on June 7, 2020, at Nevada City United Methodist Church

Kahlil Gibran once wrote, “And the tears you shed, my grieving one, they are sweeter than the laughing of one seeking to forget, and pleasanter than loud voices in jest. Those tears shall cleanse the heart of hating and teach the one who sheds them to be companion to those of broken heart. They are the tears of the Nazarene.”

There are a lot of tears in our readings this morning, which makes sense.  We are going through a painful time. Jesus knew pain well. According to Luke 19, as he was heading into Jerusalem during that last week of his life, he looked out over the city and wept over it, saying to the people, “Would that you, even you, had known the things that make for peace, but now they are hidden from your eyes.” He also told them why disaster was coming: because… “you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” There is a direct relationship between peace and our recognition of the presence of God.

God is present with us, even in this time conflict, violence, upheaval, and sorrow. God is with us even in our tears. The time of our visitation from God is now.

Our responsive reading this morning was selections from Jeremiah 8:18 though 9:24. Jeremiah was the  Hebrew prophet who also wept over Jerusalem and Judea and what was coming upon his people. The hymn that we sang this morning, “The Balm of Gilead,” is based on Jeremiah’s words. That balm was a medicinal ointment made in the region of Gilead that had curative powers, and it has gone on to mean spiritual as well as physical healing. When we sing that hymn, we can feel that healing power and presence of God.

But in Jeremiah’s lament, he cries out to God: “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?” He goes on: “O, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people.” A heart-rending cry, and we’ve been hearing some heart-rending cries today.

Throughout his long life, this prophet called his people to repentance, especially the leaders.  He told them disaster would come upon them if they didn’t turn around. He did not like this role and he complained to God. He said, “O Lord, everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’ The word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long.” But he can’t stop speaking in God’s name.  He said, “If I say, I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name, then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.”

That fire that spoke through the prophets was the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that hovered over the waters at creation, the same Spirit that animated Jesus’s life, the same Spirit that came upon the disciples at Pentecost. That same Spirit speaks through our prophets even today.

People have called Jeremiah “the Weeping Prophet” and pointed to him as a precursor of Jesus, Jesus wept over Jerusalem, then went into the city and directly into the Temple, where he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and drove out those who were conducting business there. Jesus’s words are straight from Jeremiah, who had challenged the leaders of the Temple in his day, saying that they had turned God’s house into “a den of robbers.”

This has been called The Cleansing of the Temple, but it was really a symbolic nonviolent direct action directed against the idolatrous and unjust economic system. It was through the Temple that taxes were collected and tribute sent to Rome. No wonder tax collectors were so despised. The religious leaders enforced this system. They collaborated with the Roman occupation of Jerusalem to keep stability and peace, a peace built on domination, violence, and oppression. They were afraid that Jesus’ popularity would cause disruption… and it did.

After his action at the Temple, the religious leaders were more convinced than ever that they had to do away with Jesus. But they couldn’t get near him in the Temple to arrest him because he was surrounded by so many people, and “the people were spellbound.” Another version says, “All the people hung on his words.”

I found myself spellbound the other day. Pastor Dave had just called and told me about the death of his cousin, and he asked me if I could preach this Sunday. I love to preach and it’s my calling and if I don’t it’s like there’s a fire shut up in my bones.  That’s why I write.  But I knew I had a full schedule the next few days, so I told him I would pray about it and get back to him within a couple of hours.

Then I saw the news about the police using tear gas to clear the park and the yard of St. John’s Episcopal Church of protestors, including twenty clergy and laity from other churches who had come to support the peaceful protesters and bring them water and snacks.  They all got teargassed and driven out, like a reverse cleansing of the Temple. Then the president stood on the church steps for a photograph holding up the Bible. I was speechless, not a good place to be if I’m thinking about preaching.

Then the screen shifted to the Episcopalian bishop of the area, Bishop Budde, speaking out about this, and I was spellbound. I am tired of hearing the gospel distorted and mis-used. Her words were like balm, not just for challenging what was going on but for speaking a positive word about who we are called to be as followers of Christ.  She spoke truth, and I hung on her words.  It was like a visitation from God, so I called Pastor Dave and told him, “I can do this.  God just gave me a way.”  Here are her words:

“The president just used a Bible and one of the churches in my diocese as a backdrop for a message that is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything that our church stands for.  To do so, he sanctioned the use of tear gas by police to clear the church yard.  I am outraged….

“The president did not pray when he came to St. Johns; nor did he acknowledge the agony and sacred worth of people of color in our nation who rightfully demand an end to 400 years of systemic racism and white supremacy in our country….

“We of the Diocese of Washington follow Jesus in his Way of love. We aspire to be people of peace and advocates of justice. In no way do we support the President’s incendiary response to a wounded, grieving nation. In faithfulness to our Savior who lived a life of nonviolence and sacrificial love, we align ourselves with those seeking justice for the death of George Floyd and countless others through the sacred act of peaceful protest.”

In just a few minutes, we will celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion, remembering that final meal that Jesus shared with his disciples. It’s a time to celebrate his continuing presence among us and our reconciliation with God, with each other, all members of our human family, and with the whole community of life. It’s also a reminder that as Jesus’s followers, we are called to be agents of reconciliation, because true peace is not based on domination or violence or oppression, but on relationships restored.

God is with us in our pain as well as in our joy.

God is with us in the upheaval as well as in times of calm.

God is with us when we challenge lies and distortions as well as when we hear and recognize and speak a word of truth.

The time of our visitation from God is now.

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“Poverty Amid Pandemic: The Moral Response to Covid 19”

Progressive Christian Social Action

Poverty Amid Pandemic: The Moral Response to Covid 19

The Rev. Dr. William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign

This post is the transcript of The Moral Response to Covid 19, an address given by The Rev. Dr. William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign on April 9, 2020.  His address begins about 8 minute into this video, but the whole video is well worth watching.

“We’re in a moment where hope for our many holy traditions will return to where they began in the first place. I know of Christianity and Islam and Judaism, that these holy traditions began in the midst of oppression. They began in the midst of times when there were bad, narcissistic leaders sitting on the throne who were implementing all kinds of unholy acts against humanity/ These holy traditions were called into being, I believe, by God, to give us moments to remind us of who we are and whose we are and what responsibility we have because of that.

“This is not just about personal sanctification–that’s why we do these things in community—every one of the traditions, whether it’s the season of Ramadan or Christianity or Judaism–we do these things in community, and they help save us from idolatry, save us from participating in humankind’s inhumanity towards one another, they call us to another place.

“In these White House briefings, we are seeing not just misinformation but public idolatry and political self-worship in the midst of holy seasons. But perhaps these holy seasons prevent us from being bewitched, if you will, and remind us that there is a power greater than the powers that we see on TV, and that power calls us to be about love and justice rather than truth, lies, and injustice.

“[This is true of all of these traditions]: whether it’s Passover, which remind us of those poor Hebrew people who were under oppression and slavery, or whether it’s Ramadan, when through fasting we put ourselves in the position of those who don’t have and don’t eat, or whether it’s the holy season of Easter that reminds us that Jesus during Holy Week was very clear, that when he went into the Temple, he overturned the politics of greed. He healed everybody, gave them universal health care.  He was challenging the hypocracy of claiming to be religious on the one hand but engaged in policy injustice on the other. And in his almost last sermon he talked about how every nation, not just every individual but every nation, is going to be judged and it’s going to be by how you treat the least of these.

“And even in the crucifixion, he wasn’t just crucified for personal salvation, but he was crucified as a revolutionary. He was crucified for loving,  crucified for telling the truth, crucified for caring for the prisoner, crucified for not bowing down to narcissism, But that crucifixion also brought other people alive and pointed to a resurrection, which promises us that even if we have to suffer for right, ultimately that suffering is worth it, so that even in the midst of it, we may be sanctified by the call to revolution.

“War and economic turndown, we still chose not to see, and we chose not to hear the cries of the poor.  But maybe in this moment, when all our lives are at stake to some degree, when one touch can infect a president or a prince or a pauper, a sanitation worker or a  secretary of state–it really doesn’t matter. Maybe in this moment we can hear, maybe in this moment we can see.

“And if everybody can’t see and hear. maybe those of us who have sometimes committed the sin of taking our faith inside our temples or inside our mosques or inside our congregations alone will be in halls of Congress again.

“And we will decide because we are people sanctified by the holy traditions and the Holy God, we will raise holy ruckus until the poor and the least of these are cared for. Maybe this season we will see it is time to repent of any apathy we’ve had. Maybe it’s time to realize that there are things we must fight for–we can never settle for less.”

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Lent and COVID 19

Progressive Christian Social Action

Lent and Covid 19

This Lenten season is unlike any other I have lived through, with the threat of serious illness and death all around, businesses shuttered, people losing their jobs, the stock market crashing, social isolation, and responsibilities that people don’t know how they can meet. So many of us are staying home in order to “flatten the curve” to keep the virus from spreading so quickly that it overwhelms the health care system, while health care workers and others courageously carry on for our well-being, risking exposure every day.

This is the context of Lent this year.  The story of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, his forty days in the wilderness, his betrayal by the Powers that be, and his journey to the cross resonate for those of us who see these events from his life long ago as an ongoing dynamic that continues in the world today. As theologian Dorothee Solle said, “In the midst of reality stands the cross.”

So far, I have it easier than many. I’m staying home. I’m experiencing a sense of spaciousness and appreciating the gift of time—more time for prayer (which we so badly need) and for other spiritual practices that foster a deeper relationship with God. I am also finding ways to contribute to family, community, and world from where I am, via telephone, by becoming more versed in Zoom, by catching up with work on our nonprofit, and by working to create a mutual aid group among our neighbors. There is plenty to keep me occupied.

But as always, this pandemic will disproportionately impact those who are most vulnerable. Yes, elders (like me) are most vulnerable to dying of the virus, but others are seriously impacted even now, and will be as the weeks go on.  I think of the children whose lives have been changed so completely, who are cut off from school and friends; parents who work but have to stay home to care for their children; families who don’t have health insurance, people who are sick, disabled, or without permanent shelter, people who are already confined and socially isolated, elders without support. Surely emergency laws to protect our vulnerable neighbors should be a priority, not just during this pandemic, but always.

Countering these impacts will require us to not only to reach out in compassion to individuals, but also to work for justice. This means advocating for policies that protect the well-being of the most vulnerable and working to transform the current system, which is not designed for people or planet but for multiplying wealth for the people at the top. Although the actors have changed, the Domination System goes on, and the ruling Powers even today are often blind to what compassion and justice require. “None of the rulers of this [or any] age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” 1 Corinthians 2:8.

I will continue to stay home and immerse myself in God, but I will also be available to reach out to others in compassion and to work for justice, prioritizing the most vulnerable. I close with these words that Martin Luther wrote during a plague in 1527, “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague.” After the plague he lived another nineteen years.

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”

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Lent: Going Deeper

Progressive Christian Social Action

Lent:  Going Deeper

This post was published at the beginning of Lent in 2017 as “A Lenten Call to Resist.”  It is the first post of a Lenten series that offers a progressive Christian understanding of Jesus’ life, death, and post-death appearances.   The links to the other posts in the series are below.

We enter the season of Lent at a time of peril in our nation and world.  People are rising up, some emboldened by the presidency of Donald Trump and the ascendancy of the alt-right, and some determined to stand in the way of injustice and oppression in all its forms.  Christians have a particular responsibility, since without the high turnout of white Evangelical voters Trump would probably not be president today.

As Christians, where we stand politically has a lot to do with how we understand the meaning of Jesus’ death.  “The word of the cross” is at the heart of Christian faith.  We might prefer going from the glory of Transfiguration Sunday to the joy of Easter without reflecting on the drama that leads to Jesus’ suffering and death.  But as Dorothee Solle said,

“Naturally one can develop a theology that no longer has the somber cross at its center.  Such an attempt deserves criticism not because it bids farewell to Christianity as it has been, but because it turns aside from reality, in the midst of which stands the cross.”

The execution of Jesus was not a one-time thing.  Christ continues to be crucified as today’s ruling Powers enlist human beings in their service, subject the most vulnerable to abuse and oppression, wreak violence around the world, and plunder the earth for their own gain.  Our goal during Lent is to remember the path Jesus walked and accompany him on his way to the cross, to fully surrender to God as he did, and to act in solidarity with those who are being crucified on the cross of Empire today, as he was so long ago.

My blog postings during this season focus on how people who seek to follow Jesus can throw off despair and complacency, expose disempowering and hate-filled teachings that claim to be Christian, and reclaim the gospel (good news) as a force for peace, justice, and the healing of the earth.  If you follow this blog, please post your comments.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

This series, A Lenten Call to Resist, includes the following posts:

Resisting Cultural Possession

Rejecting Theological Sadism

Jesus Was Not Born to Die

The Subversive Jesus

The Suffering God:  Where Humanity is Crucified

Creation Crucified:  The Passion of the Earth

Conventional Wisdom:  The Wisdom of This Age

God’s Restorative Justice

Good Friday:  Contemplation and Resistance

Holy Saturday:  Following Jesus

Resurrection:  The Mind of Christ

Beale with crosses

Good Friday at Beale, 2015

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Area United Methodist Clergy Speak Out in Support of LGBTQIA People

Progressive Christian Social Action

Area United Methodist Clergy Speak Out in Support of LGBTQIA People

 

(This statement is in the Grass Valley Union newspaper on March 13, 2019:  https://www.theunion.com/opinion/columns/other-voices-western-nevada-countys-united-methodist-clergy-speak-out-in-support-of-lgbtqia/.  It was drafted and signed by 15 Nevada County clergy, including me.)

We, the undersigned, are ordained clergy members of the United Methodist Church.  We are either currently appointed as pastors in Nevada County churches or are retired clergy now residing here. The official legislative body governing our global church is the General Conference, comprised of officially elected clergy and lay persons from around the world.

The issue of homosexuality has long been a matter of conflict within the United Methodist Church, particularly as to whether persons who openly identify themselves as LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual) can be ordained as clergy and whether United Methodist clergy can preside at wedding services for persons so identified. Given this division, a special General Conference was convened from February 23-26 in St. Louis to address this controversy and determine “a way forward” for the denomination.  More than two-thirds of delegates from the United States voted for a more inclusive plan, but the United Methodist Church is a global church, made up of people from varied cultures, and is diverse theologically. After much debate, a plan was adopted by a slim margin to strengthen prohibitions on ordination and marriage ceremonies as mentioned above and to add severe penalties for any violations.

We deplore this decision, which toughens prohibitions against LGBTQIA clergy and all clergy who officiate at same-sex weddings.  We are concerned on many levels:

  • This decision is heartbreaking and painful to our LGBTQIA sisters and brothers. This is contrary to Wesleyan theology as we know and practice it, especially to do no harm.  It gives support to those who would bully, reject or harm these beloved children of God.
  • This decision damages the church, both laity and clergy, by setting up retributive sanctions without due process. It also increases the forces of division among members of the same congregations, members of the same regional areas, and members of the Body of Christ.
  • This decision is based on a position that has already been ruled unconstitutional by the United Methodist Judicial Council. It will set in motion continued acrimony rather than offer an opportunity to celebrate diversity.  It does not resolve the conflicts among us, nor move us forward toward reconciliation.
  • This decision throws the entire denomination into upheaval as Annual Conferences (regional bodies), local churches, and individuals are forced to face the unhealthy prospects of schism. Attention and energy that could be put to the pressing issues of our day will be spent on institutional preservation and/or separation.

For these reasons we pledge the following:

  • We will continue to support and serve as allies to our LGBTQIA sisters and brothers, to affirm the sacred worth of every individual as a beloved child of God.
  • We will continue to baptize all who come seeking to live in the grace of Jesus Christ.
  • We will continue to perform wedding ceremonies for all who seek a service of Christian marriage.
  • We will pursue a path within the institution that ensures full equality of participation and leadership for our LGBTQIA sisters and brothers at every level of church life.
  • We will lead our congregations, with God’s grace, toward a whole and just world.

We affirm the leadership of the bishops of our Western Jurisdiction, comprised of Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, Wyoming, Washington, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Hawaii and Alaska, who articulate and defend our traditional Wesleyan values in support of a diverse and inclusive church.***

With sadness, yet in hope of a church made new, we sign below in affirmation that what God creates and calls good cannot be denied or voted away.  We shall not back down but will stand for what is right and good in God’s embracing love through Jesus Christ.  We do not stand alone, but with people around the world who desire to be part of an inclusive Christian fellowship that honors and loves them as does God. We will work for an outcome that includes justice, mercy and inclusion for all.

Rev. Don Baldwin (retired)

Rev. George Carter (retired)

Rev. Terry Deland (retired)

Rev. Sharon Delgado (retired)

Rev. Ron Dunn (retired)

Rev. Judson Gears (retired)

Rev. Rebecca Goodwin (active)

Rev. Susan Kemper (retired)

Rev. Don Lee (retired)

Rev. David Leeper-Moss (retired)

Rev. Tana McDonald (retired)

Rev. Joan Pell (active)

Rev. Kristin Sachen (active)

Rev. Barbara Smith (retired)

Rev. Jerry Smith (retired)

Rev. Patricia Spooner-Walther (retired)

Rev. Harold “Bud” Tillinghast (retired)

***See the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops’ statement here:

http://westernjurisdictionumc.org/western-jurisdiction-umc-bishops-video-statement-script/