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Sermon Transcript 8.20.23 "Becoming Kin"

Last week I shared story of an epiphany that I had around skinned knees, how we as parents send our kids out to play knowing full well that minor injuries will occur and that most of the time kiss and some Bactine, a Band-Aid the owie will be all better - forgotten almost immediately. I shared the insight I got watching a film that was made for IBM in 1977 called Powers of Ten. It was about computing power and the limits of human knowledge and the relative size of things, a video that starts at a picnic in Lincoln Park in Chicago and zooms out until our Milky Way is just a dot on the screen, the limits of human understanding of the cosmos which has grown exponentially since 1977 but still winds up about the same - beyond our comprehension. The number of stars and galaxies and then zooming back in… inside the skin the cell a white blood cell the nucleus… the limits of our human understanding of the genome in 1977. Which again has grown exponentially but doesn't mean we fully understand ourselves, let alone anyone else… and realizing as I watched that film that God was active and present at all of those levels. Within Me. Beyond me. Within you. Beyond you… and realizing that at a cosmic level, a skinned knee doesn't even register… but at the cellular level a skinned knee is literally the end of life. Complete annihilation… and yet God Is With Us in all of these things. God knows us, loves us, intends us.

Our scripture reading today, Paul is writing very oddly, I think. 14 years ago he knows a person in Christ that had this experience…. in the body or out of the body, Paul doesn't know. God knows. but this person experienced going to what Paul refers to as the third heaven. Now that's not our cosmology anymore, but in the first century, I've said before, human understanding of creation was basically a snow globe. There was a dome over the Earth. The waters had been separated the land the sky, the sea. Below was the place of the dead. Above was the heavens and every now and then if you look at the stars… especially if you're out and western Kansas away from light pollution… and your eyes are maybe a little bit stronger than mine are now… you can see the heavens. Every now and then the thunderstorm will blow up and roll across the Plains…I get why people thought there were houses and levels and places that are… right… there… that we could go, with God’s help.

But this ecstatic experience that Paul or someone Paul knows the pronouns shift in the middle of the story… I'm pretty sure Paul's talking about himself. but he's had this experience that goes beyond words and yet he's also had an experience of some suffering, some thorn in his side, that he understands as keeping him from being too elated.

Paul has definitely had some experiences… going from a zealous enforcer of the law seeking to persecute those who disagreed with him to having a vision of the Risen Christ… maybe he's talking about the same experience… but his world has been transformed. His understanding has been broadened. He still worships the same God. He just understands God more fully. He understands that this Jesus, whose followers he sought to persecute, IS God's self-revelation and he understands that he has been equipped and challenged to get outside his comfort zone and preach forgiveness and inclusion to the very people he used to despise.

Maybe that thorn in his side is just the reaction he gets every time he shows up. For example, in Acts, Ananias, who is charged with baptizing him and bringing him into the community argues with Christ “do you know who this Paul is? he's the one that seeks to persecute us. He's the very one that does US harm!” And now he's the one proclaiming inclusion of the Gentiles? Three times Paul prays for this thorn to be taken from him and he reports that he gets answered in prayer “my grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.” Your power is made perfect in weakness. We are called to humility, we are called to share grace and mercy.

Throughout this series… I've almost used it as the cover image I think three different times… I've been using this painting of the Trail of Tears as one of my reflection points. Bad things happen. That song we sang “God will take care of you” the first time I heard it I didn't particularly like it because I was in a room full of people that I knew were suffering with various maladies, mostly just of extended human life, but I'd gone to visit a parishioner that I knew was not doing well and I found her gathered with another community religious group, having a worship service and they sang that song and I was sitting in the back going “but sometimes things don't go well, what am I going to tell this person that it appears her prayers aren't being answered… that the healing we have been praying for… for months isn't coming?” And the service wrapped up and we got back to my parishioner's room she was in the third heaven. She was happy. She was joyful. She was peaceful. She was absolutely confident… in a way her pastor wasn't on that day… that God was working in her life, healing her and we had a very profound conversation in which it became very clear to this young pastor or fairly new pastor, that she *knew* her days in this life were limited and she was absolutely confident God was with her and was healing her because it wasn't all about what happened here and now… there was more to the story. She taught me a great deal about faith when bad things are happening. My indigenous brothers and sisters have taught me a great deal about faith as well. About finding ways to find your path and share your journey, to be Christ-like even when the church that claims Christ's name hasn't been particularly kind to you. When our way is of tears and difficulty. To know that God, by whatever name you call God is with you walks that journey - that is the core of Christianity after all.

I've been preaching this series on the way of Christ and the will of God and quite honestly this week was rough. I'm learning more and more connections I have to people that lived on Maui.

I've had a relatively minor personal experience, but the transmission went out on my truck I had to make a choice do I look at the joy of how well things went or do I mire in the frustration of yet more money on car repairs… That same day my mom texted me asking for prayers for a child in Wichita that had run between two cars and been hit by a bus on the first day of school. My transmission problems got very small, very quickly! We then learned that the child had passed that and was the granddaughter of United Methodist Bishop Blake, who comes from the Wichita area and that there are multiple families at my home church that have connections to this family… and it got personal. This eight-year-old I'd never met. This tragedy… things happen and yet God is with us even when our trail is one of tears or the minor frustrations that we often focus on. God is with us. God knows what it is to suffer. For Injustice to be done and God is with us. God provides for us rituals of remembrance and participation, of strengthening, of assurance that God will take care of you maybe even especially when it doesn't seem like it.

That the picture is both much bigger and much smaller than we can comprehend and God is with us at every stage. That this life matters to God and that this life is not all there is. Last week we shared one of Jesus’ better known parables: the Good Samaritan. How often we read that and we read that with an assurance that WE are the Good Samaritan. We are not like the callous priest or Levite and we certainly don't want to be the one left half dead on the side of the road. I don't want to identify with that character. So we see ourselves as the Good Samaritan and that's not… hopefully that's not wrong… hopefully that is the lesson we're taking that we are going beyond our comfort zone, that we are seeking others in their pain. seeking to alleviate it

One reading of the powers of ten lesson I got is that it doesn't matter. The worst suffering is just a skinned knee. it doesn't ultimately matter - but that's not what Jesus tells us. The suffering of this man, left half-dead, matters to Jesus. How we respond matters to Jesus and it's not that Jesus is trying to make us think that the priest or the Levite are evil people. They're playing by the rules. They have important work to do. If they become unclean, they can't do their work and yet Jesus is pushing at his audience, pushing at us, to make sure that the good we think we are doing is actually having good outcomes and who is included in those outcomes and who is excluded or overlooked. Whose story doesn't matter to us because we're so full of our own importance. How can we shape our systems of purity and ritual and faith in a way that doesn't indirectly cause harm? Or when are we using our faith is a shield to not actually do what Jesus does. These are the stories we are called to wrestle with in Scripture. I've said before and I will say again, it strikes me as incredibly meaningful that both are Hebrew ancestors and our early Christian ancestors don't clean up their stories. Oh sometimes they do. they tell the story in a way that makes them look righteous and faithful, but they also tell that story right next to one where they deny three times, where they run away, where they fail to understand…where they do that which God despises and yet God is with them, calling them back into healed, full relationship. It's important that we tell the stories even of our failure, if only to keep ourselves from becoming too elated, making our path seem too simple.

One of the trials of our time is social media so often makes us feel like everybody else's life is perfect. I really admire a clergy parenting couple, friends of mine that are very intentional about posting both those joyful family moments and the absolute disaster of getting the kids out the door that morning… and the time when they lost their patience… She actually uses a hashtag #keepingitreal as she sees part of her ministry as encouraging other young mothers that it's not all sunshine and roses. Well maybe it is roses but roses do have thorns…

The Bible keeps it real. The Bible tells us of the mountaintop and the valley. Of our successes and our failures. Jesus challenges his audiences. Jesus teaches in parable that invites us to see ourselves in more than one of the characters.

Very often he'll start a story… a man had two sons. If you read the Old Testament that's the story. Very often a man has two sons and very often it's the younger that is more successful inverting the cultural expectations of the time. Today's story Jesus starts again… a man had two sons. The younger demands his inheritance now. He basically tells his father “I wish you were dead.” I want what's mine now! and he gets it and he goes and he wastes it.

This incredibly detailed artwork from the 15th century in Germany tells the story of when the younger son comes to himself. He's gone. He's wasted his inheritance. He's now working for a foreign master, feeding the pigs. He has nothing to his name. The pigs are eating better than he is and if you're a Jewish audience in the first century listening to Jesus tell this you know pigs themselves are unclean. This man has fallen as far as he can fall. He's envying the pigs but he comes to himself. A slave in my father's household has it better than I do. I no longer deserve to be a son, but I know where there is abundance. I'll go home. I'll repent. I'll ask to be hired on as a servant, as a slave.

One of the most powerful lines in scripture for me Luke 15 20. The father is scanning the horizon waiting for the son, praying, hoping. Before the son can make his repentance, his speech that he's practiced so often, the father is embracing him and calling on the slaves to equip him with rings and robes. To kill the fatted calf. To have a party. What was lost is now found and this story is not subtle. It's on the heels in Luke 15 of two other lost and found stories the one sheep is lost the shepherd leaves the 99 to find the one that is lost. A woman loses a single coin and hunts until she finds it. When she finds the coin she throws a party “celebrate with me what was lost is found.” What seems unimportant is the most valuable thing.

Now very often we read this as a story of repentance and that is an appropriate way to read this story we could do far worse than identifying with the younger son realizing… and maybe I'm projecting my own journey here but we're realizing we had it good and we've squandered it and we need to repent. I never gotten much trouble, but I certainly had motive and opportunity. In some in some ways I'm thankful that God made me as cheap as I often am, because I wasn't willing to spend the money to get into the trouble I could have. And yet I know in my heart that I sinned, that I ran away, that I demanded my inheritance. I know in my heart I was furious at my father with some legitimate reasons - frankly in my life there's a bit of a story of a prodigal father, which is another way of reading this story - but that moment when the father who not so subtly in this story represents God in the relationship - is scanning the horizon, looking for the one that was lost. Yes, repentance is important. So is that grace and that mercy.

Sometimes we're the son. Sometimes Jesus is saying we're called to be the father to forgive others trespasses ….that line we say every week …the one I stumbled over this morning. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others …. another one of my epiphanies: one time I was saying the prayer and that hit me… wait a minute! What exactly am I asking God to do? Treat me like I treat…. oh boy. Because there's some folks I don't want to forgive. There's some grudges I hold on to very, very tightly… as we forgive… what grudges do I want God to hold against me?

I really want God to be like this father in this parable and bring out the ring and the robe….

Maye I’m called to do so…

And the parable doesn't end there. Tt goes on back into the house. The party is underway but the older brother won't come in. The older brother is resentful. I am an older brother we flat told my younger son Aaron that we knew that the younger brother got away with it all. Robin's an older sister. I'm an older brother…. we know younger brothers get away with everything!

The brother won't participate in the party because he wants what's his - and he has a point - his father apparently has never even given him a goat that he can have fun with his friends…

Now apparently he's never asked either… hmmm. but he's built up these layers of resentment He even sees himself as one of his father's slaves…

Which raises another question about this parable that Jesus is telling. Is Jesus endorsing slavery? The parable takes it for granted that this wealthy man has a number of slaves…

What does that look like when we're talking about grace and mercy and forgiveness?

and I love this painting by Rembrandt of the scene because we really can't see it but there is, back in the shadows, a sixth figure in this painting and it's a woman the parable never mentions: mom. The science tells me that there is a mom in this story. There must have been because there's two sons and Dad sure didn't give birth to them… so where's Mom? Quite reasonably she may have died earlier. She's not in the story because she's no longer in this in the picture… but it's also very likely that her story just isn't told. So many women in the Bible are nameless, their experiences rendered silent. What's her experience of this? of the younger son's demands and squandering? of the father's generosity? of the older brother's resentments? Plenty of mothers in the Old Testament take one son's side or the other… we don't know here. What if we were to examine this Parable from the mother's perspective? To put ourselves in her shoes. What do we see? what do we experience? The parable isn't a straightforward story with a single point - it's designed to make us think about our own stories, about how they're told, about who tells them, about whose stories we're overlooking or taking for granted.

Jesus’ stories and parables are usually about justice. We talked about justice from the Old Testament Prophet Amos last week, the beautiful phrase “let Justice roll down like Waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” and we nod our head along to the speeches Martin Luther King and Howard Thurman that quote this line and we yearn for reconciliation and peace… as long as it doesn't… you know take us off the way of our path./.. or make us get out of our comfort zone…. or change anything…. or risk our hard-earned coins for that fool that got himself beat up on the road… that he should have known…. Oops…. which character am I now? What does this justice of God look like?

I've been reading a very, very challenging book over the last few weeks. It was suggested by a colleague about the same time the Osage ballet was here. It's called “Becoming Kin.” and it is a an indigenous author who has a really interesting family background. Mine, for example we know our genealogy. My family is German on both sides. And when we tell the family stories, we always pick the interesting good guys. We have a Mayflower story - most Americans seem to at least white Americans but I've never run into anybody else that tells the story of a crew member - not one of the pilgrims but somebody that was hired to bring them over and stayed. I honestly don't know if it's true, but it's a story my family has told for generations.

On the other side, my favorite ancestor story is of a Hessian mercenary - hired and brought to these shores to fight on what was clearly the wrong side and he deserted and found a good German farm girl and settled down in South Carolina and became American – now one of the good guys! We don't tend to tell the stories of the ones that fought on the side of the South in the Civil War but we've got plenty of those tombstones…

The story author Patty Krawec is fascinating. She is indigenous but she was raised away from her father's people and her mother is the daughter of Ukrainian refugees that came to this country to escape religious persecution. She was born, the relationship didn't work out. Mom took her away from that place and remarried. She was adopted by her Anglo father and so while she was never taken from her people like so many people of her age in the 50s and 60s and 70s when boarding schools were a thing and we were working to cure the Indian Problem by taking the kids and making them culturally White - but she has that same kind of experience. Of being raised away from her people. She reconnected with her father and this this story is really about her sorting out her story and what stories get told and what stories don't get told and what it means as so many indigenous languages have, to say “we are all related.” The Lakota and the Osage, the Pueblo, the Iroquois almost every indigenous language has a word or a phrase that means “we are all related” and there was a point in my journey where I wanted to seize that and get to the reconciliation without doing the hard work of learning stories. Of recognizing how my people had harmed other people, even as there are stories of my people being harmed. Becoming Kin is a deep look at those kinds of stories. What does it mean to tell the stories of World War II especially for someone whose ancestors are German on both sides. I didn't do any of the wrongdoing, in fact you can make a case that my ancestors fled from some of that, more recent branches of the family that came here escaping, refusing to do harm… and yet where do I hear those stories? Am I silent in the face of white nationalism, of racism? Do I allow the same patterns that affected my ancestors home country, that took over the German Lutheran Church to justify the rise of the Nazi regime… do I stay silent when I see those patterns emerging in my own nation? Do I overlook my family's participation in slavery? Do I assert that “oh my family was one of the good ones… they didn't do that sort of thing.” Yes they did ,,,because it was such a cultural norm. Plantation owners that didn't participate in the violence of slavery were often turned on themselves because they would put “notions” in the slave's heads…

My ancestors didn't directly cause the Trail of Tears. At least I don't know a direct story and when I was first becoming United Methodist, I ran across a story of a Methodist Episcopal priest who went along on the journey. He saw the wrong that was being done and he chose to take that march with them. I took his story as inspiration and I told that story a lot and I didn't pay attention to the Methodist Episcopal pastors that were part of the Johnson Administration that helped make the policy and put a religious veneer of justification because these Indians clearly were sinful people… these were not part of the children of Israel these were the slaves even the creatures. The land was empty after all. It was intended for us… in my opinion misusing the Bible to justify horrific Injustice. What stories do we tell?

The first treaty that was ever signed between Europeans and Native Americans is known as the Two-row wampum. Dutch and Iroquois, Mohawk representatives developed a treaty that basically said we won't interfere with each other. We will share the land. We will share on the river in our canoe or our ship, together as brothers. The Dutch had proposed a relationship where it would be father and child and the Iroquois said no - we will we will act as brothers and they made a belt. This is a replica of it, with two purple lines to represent the two people journeying together in different ways and the white indicated peace and freedom and mutual respect. The descendants of the Iroquois to this day considered this a living treaty. They say we have not violated it. We have been done Injustice and yet the solution is not to do Injustice back, the solution is to return to the original agreement where we will journey together as brothers. That's what Becoming Kin is about. It's about the author learning her family's stories the good and the bad and seeking to become kin to all of them. The mountaintop and the valley the good and the bad the right and the wrong.

And again that's why I appreciate the stories of the Bible. We have, intentionally, multiple stories that make different points, that don't all have to fit together. We tell them alongside each other - of God's good creation - of human sin. Of Exodus and of Exile. What we're called to do when we tell those stories is not always put ourselves on the side of the good guys. Very often those of us who are gathered here at First UMC in Fort Scott are more like the Babylonians than the Israelites and we need to reckon with that, to recognize that, to seek to reconcile it

Oh we didn't do the these things directly - we didn't cause the Trail of Tears - but we have for generations - benefited from it. Here in this place that was founded as the guard of the permanent Indian Frontier… The Fort is doing a tremendous job of telling all the stories in all their complexity, of inviting different voices in, that we might learn more about this place where we are now planted. One of the stories I'll be very interested to see how the Fort tells - we are very appropriately beginning to celebrate the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry -the mural and the stories of African-American soldiers that were gathered at this Fort, in this place. Their courage and their part of our great American and Fort Scott story… yet, you know part of what they were gathered here to do… to put down the “Indian uprisings” to take the land from the indigenous people for the white settlers. Now freed, they were placed In harm's way to do the bidding of empire… our stories are complex and one of the things the author of Becoming Kin points out is that - for the non-whites in our country - very often we treat them as these separate categories when in fact their own stories are deeply intertwined. All of our stories are deeply intertwined. Our challenge is to become kin. It is to tell and hear all the stories and to react by becoming ever more Christ-like. Christ who is the Word become flesh, 2nd person of the Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Spirit - beyond our comprehension - living a fully human life, that we might understand, telling us Parables that we might place ourselves in different points in the story, at different points in our lives, that we might hear the message - like Paul did - that God's grace is sufficient for us, that power is made perfect in weakness. That we might dare to follow Jesus, even if the path leads to a cross. That we might repent. That we might let go of our resentments. That we might be forgiving. That we might be forgiven. That we might hear the stories, especially of those who are left out of the normal tellings. That we might follow Christ wherever he leads!

I had the privilege in 2016 of going to the Holy Land, of walking in places where Jesus and his disciples and his early followers walked. Of hearing and telling the stories in those places.

There is huge debate now among scholars and archaeologists and different faith traditions as to where in Israel certain stories happened. Where was the feeding in the 5000 whether it's this traditional spot but that doesn't line up with that gospel real well - maybe it was over there…

interestingly the Roman Catholic and Orthodox control a lot of those sites, but so do Lutherans and Anglicans and those denominations didn't show up for 1500 years…. so how did they know where any of this happened? and yet tradition and our western concepts of ownership and control come together to make a really complicated situation before you ever get to Jews and Arabs. In fact one of the most meaningful places on my trip wasn't far from here It's the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is the traditional spot of both the burial tomb of Christ and the crucifixion. Both sites are within this massive Cathedral that was first built in the 300s by Constantine's mother… but some people don't think that could possibly be where the burial was because the Scripture says it's outside the walls and the walls are clearly beyond that point… but we didn't realize, when that argument was made in the 11th century, that the walls had moved in the 5th and 8th century… so maybe it was there… Anyway. That is controlled by seven different denominations - all Christian - telling the story of the one who suffered and died for us and rose again and the 7 denominations are so often at each other's throats and fighting there is so often violence at this place that the Israeli police have to come in and break up. This is so common and has been for centuries that you know who holds the key to that church and has since the 1400s? A Muslim family. Because they can be trusted to let everybody in while the Christians are fighting over this holy space. The key passes from father to son. I got to meet the current father and the son that will next inherit the sacred duty. Every morning at 5 a.m they go and meet three representatives from the seven Christian denominations and there is a ceremony where they open the church up and every night they go and they meet a different set of Representatives – there’s a rotation schedule! and they close it back up.

we rely on this Muslim family to give us access to this most Holy Christian place because we, as Christians cannot get along…. our stories are complex but I show this particular section of of stone because it moved me this is part of a Roman Road that was laid hundreds of years before Christ and if you line up all the different places that the different denominations and traditions say the crucifixion was and the burial was and the trial was it …. doesn't matter what order you go in or which way you'd walk, this intersection is one that Jesus would have walked through. Jesus walked on these stones.

It doesn't really matter to me which direction he was going at the time… I got to walk in those places and it gave me a new appreciation for the stories that we tell and while we were there I had a colleague that was getting more and more upset because he wanted right answers. He thought he was going to go and get clarity, instead he had all of these questions and…. my God a Muslim family has a key? And he was just really upset and we had one of those incredible all-night conversations where it was so Spirit-filled that we're not sure who said what but one of the things we realized is that we needed each other. We needed somebody who was worried about where the boundaries were and we needed somebody who was willing to just go play among the different understandings – both are necessary. I've shared many times one of my passions is Labyrinth building and they are a great example of why we need boundaries a labyrinth doesn't work without good solid boundaries if you move the lines the pattern breaks down and yet there's not one way to build a labyrinth. There's not one way to make a true path to a center - there are many experiences and one of the most recent additions here in Fort Scott is this new short Labyrinth at Riverfront Park. When I was building the one at the old Whiteside’s lot, I pitched to the park board over at Riverfront that we might build a couple of labyrinths out there as well and Jerry Witt took the idea and ran with it. It is just being finished – and one of the benefits is that this one is fully wheelchair accessible. It's just off the Walking path at Riverfront and it's a square design. it's three circuits instead of 11th and it's a very different experience - and it's more open to people who are different than I am that have different limitations and boundaries it meets needs in a way the one I built can't because of where it is and what it's made out of. These two labyrinths tell the same story differently. They welcome different people with different abilities. We need each other. We need these different stories and tellings, not to prove which of us is right but that we might get closer to the mystery that transcends all of our understanding. That we might live as a people that truly say, in word and deed, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. That we might see paradise and be changed by it and come back and do justice and mercy. That's what I believe thanks be to God. Amen!



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