Selected Sermons

6/24/18               Terminal?               I Samuel 15:10-11, 13-19, 24-28, 34-25;      Mark 4:35-41

                    

I’ve been preaching about God’s healing.  This led me to think about the most tragic epidemic in my lifetime.  How many here remember the aids epidemic of the 1980’s and the fear it spawned as the United States saw so many young adults perish?  I wonder if we really remember it.

 

For to recall that time of ignorance, prejudice, and public panic is to invite us all to recall shame.  The shame of asking someone with HIV to be the last patient of the day at their physician’s office, so that no one else would have to sit on the exam table after them.  The shame of refusing to serve people with obvious lesions on their skin.  The shame of family members disowning dying children. The shame of men passing along HIV to their female companions, and the tragedy of mothers giving birth to infants who contract the disease in utero.  The shame that we recall, remembering the fear and ignorance that too easily combined with homophobia to explain that “gay people were to blame.”  The hurtful lies people told themselves:  “our kind” don’t get this disease.  



Thank God we know more about HIV/AIDS today, and that we no longer treat people with this syndrome as pariahs.  Thank God that effective drug therapies have been found to … mostly…. Keep the spread of the virus in check.



But of course, the shame lives on.  Here in the United States we receive good treatment for HIV/AIDS, but the epidemic continues to kill in parts of the world where effective anti-viral medicines are not readily available or affordable to the common person.  The shame lives on when villages continue to shun young children orphaned by aids.  The shame lives on we hear of people in the United States who can’t afford their HIV medicines, even today.



Where is God in all of this?  There is no one, always correct answer, and I hesitate to make pronouncements that trivialize someone’s suffering.  

 

So I will wonder in faith with you as we ponder the scriptures, remembering as we read the hundreds of thousands who have died of aids, the millions who live with infection and fear.

 

The Old Testament lesson tells the story of god’s rejection of Saul as king over the tribes of Israel.  This rejection is announced to Saul through the prophet Samuel, who previously had been Saul’s champion.  Apparently, Saul disobeyed god’s direct command and spared some of the sheep and cattle owned by the Amalekite tribe.  Going against god’s instructions, he brought the choicest sheep and cattle back to sacrifice to Yahweh, the god of Israel.  Samuel the prophet announces with a broken heart that because of this disobedience, “the Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this very day, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you.”



Years pass by, Saul remains king, and then David is brought to the court.  Saul sees the writing on the wall. Saul sends David out to fight Goliath, and then off to fight the legions of the Philistines, thinking he would surely die.  But David is charmed and grows in popularity.  Saul slowly descends into a kind of madness, knowing his destiny is sealed.  Knowing that God is against him.



Why exactly God rejects Saul as king isn’t explained adequately, at least to our minds.  But I want us to ponder the experience of Saul, feeling that god has rejected him, feeling that his fate has been determined.  He is living with a death sentence, not completely understanding why.  It weighs on him until in the later stages of the story with David he does appear to become mentally unstable.  



Some of us, also, will be asked to live with terminal diagnoses … incurable diseases that will eventually overcome our immune systems, cancers that will grow and crowd out our organs, hearts that will sputter and beat and beat and sputter again.  An Aids virus that multiplies, and even with medication, leaves one living with low-lying dread.  How do we ourselves not go mad?  Where is god when we feel rejected by God, rejected and condemned to die?  Please, let’s try not to look at Saul with judgmental eyes.  He’s a lot like us.



Ah, but then there is Jesus.  The answer to the oft-asked question, “where is God in all of this?” Is to point to Jesus on the cross.  God in Christ Jesus is present in our suffering because god experienced suffering first hand. But in mark’s telling of the story, there’s even a bigger claim. 



The waves beat and splash and push the little vessel around till all looks lost to the fearful disciples.  They awaken him with hurt in their voices, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  Isn’t that exactly the same question we ask when we feel god-forsaken:  God, where are you in all of this?  We’re in the same boat as the disciples.



It helps to know that there are mythic elements in this story that everyone hearing it in Mark’s church would have recognized.  In the Hebrew scriptures the forces of evil and chaos are personified by the sea monster and the deep dark threat of the sea roiling uncontrollably.  No one can ride the leviathan, no one can tame the storm.  But time after time in the psalms, God tames the storm.  For example listen to:



“You rule the raging of the sea, when its waves rise, you still them.”  Ps. 89:9

“He reached down from on high, he took me; he drew me out of mighty waters.” Ps. 18:16 and many other places.



Those early followers of Jesus were people like you and me, drawn to the gathering of people of faith.  They knew that when they listened to a story about the waves rising up to swamp the boat and drown the disciples, they were hearing about the forces of evil at work.  And they knew, too, that Jesus wasn’t asleep on the job.  The one who trusts in God’s power to save is typically depicted in the Hebrew scriptures as calm and confident when others panic.  And so, as the early church told this story over and over and asked the question that we ask still today, “God where are you in all of this?” … they thought they knew the answer.  When the final sentence in mark’s story asks “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him,” they wanted to shout out the answer, all together.



Does this shout out about Jesus help you when the boat begins to rock in your life??  I hope and pray it does.  It helped the people in Mark’s time.  It helps people throughout the world today who struggle with injustice, persecution, and above all with disease.  Believing that in Jesus God stills the waves helps many persons cope.  “Who is this that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  In faith I can tell you that with time, eventually, the Aids virus will too.  



But please note, we shouldn’t end with this affirmation of faith, comforting and true as I believe it is.  The Aids epidemic wasn’t only about human suffering amidst the evil of a deadly virus.  Aids also tells the story of ostracism.  Getting infected with HIV is a tragedy.  Ostracizing people with Aids is a sin.



Recall that touching song "Will I?"  from the early 1990's’s musical Rent:  a young man with a full-blown aids infection attends a support group.  Over a few months he sees member after member disappear.  All that’s left are their empty seats.  Finally, desperate, recognizing that he will disappear soon, too, he sings, “Will I lose my dignity… will someone care?  Will I wake tomorrow from this nightmare?”  What do we say to that person?



A friend shared this story with me.  She knew a truck driver, Jimmy, a pretty rough guy who had lived a wild life in the 1970’s.  Suddenly twenty years later he develops symptoms… goes for diagnoses… can’t believe his ears when he’s told he now has Aids.  Apparently the only thing he can think of that could explain his infection is shared needle use back when he was a druggie.  So he goes for treatment, it doesn’t help much, he gets weaker, in shame he hides his sickness from family and friends.  In fear the hospital sticks him in a treatment room in the basement, out of sight, a room filled with reclining chairs for those receiving the slow drip.  The only people around him are gay.  He shrinks back in horror:  “Get me out of this place!” He whispers to his friend.  “I don’t want to be around homosexuals.”



A few weeks passed and he grows weaker.  He was admitted to the hospital and again, stuck in a room out of sight.  His two roommates are gay men.  His friend visited the first day and he ignored his roommates, despite their overtures of friendliness.  She came back three days later.  He was much sicker.  But now he and his roommates have become fast friends, sharing jokes, reminiscences, some songs.  They shared life.  No one else visited him but his one friend.  And his new friends, who knew.  Who knew what it was to walk in his shoes.



Where is God in all this suffering?  Where was God in Jimmy’s death?  There, I think. There in the room with him, in the person of his roommates, who were dying too.  There with a man who needed comfort and who needed to grow in understanding.  There with a man suffering as they suffered, with a man who slowly learned how not to ostracize.



Let’s learn how to be there in the room, too.  Amen.

************



4/29/2018      Aloneness      PS. 4; John 21:1-14


In 2014 then episcopal bishop Heather Cook killed bicyclist Thomas Palermo while driving drunk. It later came out that her diocese had been aware of her previous arrest for driving drunk, and that she’d been drinking heavily at a dinner before she was consecrated as a bishop. It was clear to those present that she didn’t have her alcohol problem under control. The church made her a bishop anyway. Her church enabled her. Why?

Why are we so afraid to ask probing questions? Why do we fear rocking the boat there’s a down side to living in the post resurrection time period of Jesus Christ? After the glow of hope fades, everything else seemingly hurts more. Jesus being raised from the grave doesn’t take away all my problems. We should feel wonderful, we should act bravely, we should all love and support one another, but… we must face our fears, not cover them up.

The disciples had to face their fears, too. “Come and have breakfast,” he told them; “come and have brunch” he might say to us this morning. In galilee by the sea Jesus re-established community among those he loves. It’s a mistake to think that the disciples are frolicking like frisky puppies in the gentle light of a spring fishing trip. Resurrection faith sometimes makes us feel that all is new, all is well. But not always. If you read this passage carefully you’ll see that the disciples are feeling lost, and I think, depressed. It’s fine to know that Jesus is risen, but after a while he’s not there anymore. They don’t know what to do with themselves. They feel an absence, a big hole in their lives. In short, they are still grieving. They feel… alone.

Deep in their hearts they are feeling alone, abandoned, afraid.. This is where I find my deepest connection to this scripture. Even though I know and believe that Jesus my lord is risen from the grave and waits for me to join him in his kingdom, I still feel a bit … alone. I suspect you sometimes do, too.

Grief for the absence of a friend or significant loved one, as I suspect the disciples were feeling, is one kind of aloneness. There are many others. We can be living together with a spouse and still feel lonely. Happy or unhappy, no marriage, no one beloved person can meet all our needs.

Sometimes we are lonely for a friend, a true blue companion, a soul-mate. The older we get the harder it becomes to make such a friendship. Will we find a soulmate? Maybe yes, maybe no. The old adage that if you want a friend then be a friend rings true. But there are no guarantees in life.

Many, many people live alone and they have done so for years. Never married, divorced and not-remarried, widowed, even married but essentially living separate lives. Living alone comes in many forms.

This isn’t the main point of my sermon, but it’s important to stop and think about the implications. When people who live alone come to join us at worship, when they come to see if there is a word from the lord and a spark of god’s spirit among us, what do they experience? So often churches are focused on families that are child-centered. So often churches are marriage-centered. Do we unconsciously make single people feel de-valued?

I heard a pastor who prayed after conducting a baptism in the midst of the worship service:

 “And as we pray for all the families of the church, we also pray for those who live alone and for those who are family to them. We pray for parents and their children and for all who, having none to call their own, are welcomed and needed for what and who they can be in the lives of many children around them.”

Hearing this prayer, one woman reflected:

“I have been divorced since it was determined that my former husband and I could not have any children of our won. No one in the congregation knows that I was ever married. Can you imagine what that prayer meant to me?”

Do we forget so quickly that our lord Jesus in his earthly life was a single person living on his own, probably apart from his family? There must have been times when even Jesus felt “alone.” But he found purpose through the depth of his prayerful connection to his father in heaven and his welcoming openness to the others he encountered along his journey. He asks us simply to welcome everyone, and value everyone, and know that we all struggle with feeling “alone.”

Being alone is a huge part of life. In fact, being alone epitomizes the human condition. Increasingly most of us spend more time alone than coupled. And we all die alone. Like the disciples we may trust in our risen lord. But we still fear being left to our own resources to face life’s travails.

So… going back to the beginning of my sermon….why is it that church congregations frequently enable bad behavior?

We’re scared! Congregations fall apart, fight and divide until there’s nothing left. And if that happens then where will we be? How will we talk to one another on Sundays? Who will call us to see if we are still alive? Who will soothe our heart-aching loneliness? I think we know how fragile our life together really is, and we are afraid to do anything that would rock the boat! Who wants to feel even more alone?

Yet this is the human condition, even for disciples of the risen Christ.

“Lads,” he said to them. “You haven’t caught anything to eat, have you?” “Cast your nets over there, to the right, and you’ll find something.” Living with our aloneness is a lot like fishing all night long and not catching a thing. It hurts.

They were hurting. We can place ourselves into this story. We, too, can be sitting in the boat. We too can hear the strangely familiar man call to us from the shore. We can cast our nets and we can catch a haul and we can cook and eat, all the while staring at the one who can’t be there, but is. And we too can eat together, each of us aware of our aloneness, yet each of us strangely comforted. As we eat together, he blesses us, too. Wouldn’t we like to hold onto this feeling forever? But instead he tells us to go spread the gospel, and then he disappears.

Perhaps there’s a part of being a human being that will just be lonely, even a bit fearful. Perhaps loneliness is even woven into the way we were created, placed there to make us know that this world, for all its splendor and goodness, is not our final home. Perhaps our aloneness is even a part of god’s grace. Saint Augustine wrote in his confessions, “you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you,” o god. The disciples, briefly, rested their aching hearts beside the risen Christ by that campfire on the shore.

That is why we gather for worship, too. To find a way to rest our hearts in god. It happens, sometimes, but briefly. The truth is, you aren’t going to solve my feelings of loneliness and neither I nor anyone else here will solve yours. Only god can do that. So don’t mistake the vessel for the living water. Don’t protect your church at any cost! Always hold us up to a high standard!

Rather let us be spurred on in those moments when we do find true rest in god… spurred on to do the right thing.

Welcome the stranger. Care for god’s world and speak up for those trampled by injustice. Encourage one another. And remember…

Above all remember and remind one other… of the fish we caught that dawn after the long lonely night. And how he fed us. Taste that roasted fish. Savor it. That’s what keeps us going. That’s what keeps us faithful. Amen.


10/8/17   WICKED TENANTS      IS. 5:1-7; MT. 21:33-44

Friday morning I entered the elevator going up to our apartment from the laundry room, and chatted with another tenant with whom I’m friendly. “You see I’m finishing my wifely duties,” I said, pointing to the pile of laundry I was holding. “Don’t make me feel guilty… that’s on my list but I haven’t gotten to it.” “Well, I’m doing laundry as a way to postpone writing my sermon… this week is hard… what do you say to people after Sunday nights mass shooting in Las Vegas?” “Oh, wow, I can’t even imagine. I didn’t even know people could do such things. Really, never imagined it, it’s so ghastly. My daughter came home from school Monday and had heard about it and wanted to talk to me. Good luck in your talk Sunday.”


That ended our conversation, but here’s how I imagine it might continue. “Yes, I think it’s time for a really frank sermon about gun control.” “I agree with gun control, God knows I don’t want a gun around my daughter. But how do you make the scriptures raise that issue?”


Or I could tell say, “My sermon’s now half-done and I am exploring the nature of human evil. What makes someone like Stephen Paddock purchase $20,000 worth of weapons and scout for months for the perfect site to shoot down on a concert site so as to kill the maximum number of people?” She replies, “Sure. I get it. His childhood traumas and his social aloofness aren’t enough to explain this atrocity. Somewhere in him there must have been a spark of evil. Is it in all of us, I wonder?”


My imaginary conversation generated two possibly interesting sermons, but today’s scriptures got in the way. They don’t easily take us to Los Vegas. Let’s see where they do lead.


This parable of Jesus is called the parable of the wicked tenants. It’s found in all three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke, and also… curiously… in the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas. Most scholars agree that the ending verses where Jesus asks his adversaries about the stone the builders rejected, quoting Psalm 118, is a later Christian addition alluding to his resurrection. One pretty good argument that these verses were written later is that they quote the Greek translation of the Old Testament, not the Hebrew.


But the basic story of the vineyard, the tenants, and the owner’s attempt to collect seem original to the earthly Jesus.

All the gospels agree that Jesus told the parable either in or near the temple, after his authority was challenged. He spoke it to his adversaries. They would have followed his allegory. The vineyard represented all of Israel. They would know the Song of the Vineyard from Isaiah 5:1-7, our OT lesson, perhaps by heart. “And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem, and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard.” Isaiah asks what more could God have done for his vineyard, yet the people yielded wild grapes.


If Israel is the vineyard, then the tenants in the vineyard must refer to the people’s leaders. When the tenants, the leaders, do not fulfill their obligation, they must be replaced.


The slaves sent by the owner refer allegorically to the great Hebrew prophets. The OT is full of stories about the prophets being mistreated and their message calling for reform being rejected by Jewish leaders.


The son certainly refers to Jesus. While Jesus didn’t usually refer to himself objectively as God’s Son, he did talk often about God as his Father and lifted up the filial nature of his relationship to God. Clearly he saw his vocation as that of continuing the preaching and work of the prophets before him, and just as clearly, he saw that his preaching and teaching would get him killed once he went to Jerusalem.


The basic details of the parable accurately reflect the realities of first-century Palestine. That a landowner might plant a vineyard, leave it in the care of tenants, and head off abroad wouldn’t have been unusual. First emissaries are sent, then the landowner’s son himself is dispatched as one with authority to clear up the dispute. The longer the landowner stayed away, the greater the presumption of ownership by the tenants. It happens today, too. I have a friend who owns land in Peru. He is involved in a very long legal process trying to evict squatters from land he and his brother own there. The tenants in the parable seem to be acting hastily in killing the owner’s son, but not necessarily irrationally.


The parable as Jesus told it ends with him asking a rhetorical question. “Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” The leaders can’t help but jump in and answer, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at harvest time.” Their words condemn their own actions, of course. Jesus saw that, they saw it themselves and hated him all the more for it. And we see it, too.


Is this only a Jewish question? Who are the new tenants of the vineyard to be? Later Christians to be sure thought of the new tenants as the apostles who spread out throughout the world and preached the risen Christ. Centuries later, the interpretation came to be that the Gentile church superseded all of Israel as God’s beloved vineyard. But we’ve seen where this interpretation has led us: misunderstanding and prejudice, enmity and ghettoizing, hatred, pogrom, expulsion and exploitation, culminating in holocaust.


Simply put, we cannot as Christians maintain that we are the new tenants of God’s vineyard without seeing oh so clearly that we too should be thrown out and given a miserable death for our treatment of the Jews.


No, the new tenants Jesus envisioned for God’s vineyard, the people of Israel, must surely have been better Jewish leaders. Leaders who will one day return to God a good harvest. Leaders who will stamp out the wild grapes and render to the Lord a sweet and rich vintage of love and justice, faithfulness, and respect for all. Israel has yet to really do this very completely.

But that’s Israel’s problem, and it’s for Jews to settle. I must admit to you that I find it repugnant when Christian churches gather and make pronouncements about what Israel should do, as if our hands are clean and we are in a neutral position to comment on Israel’s morality. What hypocrisy! Let the Jews settle for themselves who will run God’s vineyard.


Meanwhile what are we Christians to do?


There has been a tendency in interpretation through the centuries to say “God has given us a vineyard, too. The church.” But I think Jesus in this parable was only speaking about the fate of his people, the Jews. The church is not God’s vineyard, never was and never will be. The church is important, but it’s in a different relationship to God through the Son Jesus, than are the Jewish people.


As Christians, we are special to God, we do stand in a unique relationship, but not because of the church. We stand in a unique relationship to God because of the gift of the Holy Spirit which Christ left to us when we trust and believe with faith. God doesn’t ask us to run his vineyard.


But does God ask us to tend our garden, the garden that is each of our hearts.


The garden we are asked to tend is the gift of our salvation, the implanting of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, the gifts of faith. Come, tend God’s garden. It begins first inside you. Then it grows as we come together and share. Our coming together is called the church. Finally it can grow even beyond our coming together… we can plant and grow a garden together that begins to include and change other people. We can create a garden that people will want to be a part of. Then we will be good workers… in God’s garden.


If you’ve ever had a garden you know that beautiful moment in the early summer… the plants are all in and growing well. The rains have been just enough but not too much. You can see growth happening week by week, even day by day. You look forward to the first harvesting. You sigh. But your job isn’t done yet, because weeds grow too. If you aren’t vigilant they will grow faster than the vegetables and choke their pathway. So it is, my friends, in us. We are made in God’s image. When we respond with faith to the call of Jesus the Christ God’s Holy Spirit does amazing things within us. We grow our inner garden and we learn to share. But weeds can still grow inside. Christians can still do bad things. We can do evil.


I wonder if that’s what happened to Stephen Paddock. It doesn’t sound as if he ever was given much of an introduction to Jesus Christ, or even God. But he was born… made in the image of God. There was goodness inside him. As you read about accounts of his life from people who knew him, there were l oving things he did. But the weeds took over. They clogged the way to the light and his good gifts withered. He gradually failed to take care for himself. The weeds consumed his life and heart and in that darkness a desire to do the evil thing was the only thing that grew. And grew. And grew. What are we to do?


All of us have some weeds growing. Don’t let them take over. Help one another weed. Proclaim the victory of Christ over our desire to do evil. Make it his Garden. Dedicate it to him. Invite him into your garden over and over again.


Gun control might be a very good secular policy. Israel should find a way to live in peace with Palestinian Arabs, and of course they with Israel. But the first thing we need to do, as Christians, is to make sure we don’t allow ourselves to become Stephen Paddocks. Or the kind of Christians who spewed hate in Charlottesville. Tend God’s garden. That’s what we, as Christians, can do. Amen.


10/1/17   Take a Knee      Gen. 1:26-28; Ex. 20:4-6; Col. 3:9-14

Why should we care about the second commandment? I think it shows many of us in a pretty bad light.


The second commandment prohibits making for yourself an idol, or as it was often translated in older English versions, a graven image. The truth is, most of us don’t think very much about worshipping idols, little statues that pretend to be gods. In fact, most people in every faith throughout the globe don’t worship idols. Ask any Buddhist or Hindu practitioner and they will tell you that the statues of gods in their temples aren’t really gods. They just point to the one god behind the many gods. They would say a statue of a god is a worship aid, but not to be taken literally. This sophistication of course wasn’t so common when Moses received the commandments from God. People did worship idols. Even the Israelites were sorely tempted, as witness the infamous golden calf incident, when Moses was called away for too long and the people grew anxious and made a golden calf to worship. But that’s not who we are today.


Still, the great tradition of the scriptures as they think about the Ten Commandments points to the many little ways people continue to err toward idolatry. The early idols were all made of silver and gold in a time when silver and gold were rare, enticing, and represented a wealth far above what the average person could ever touch, let alone possess. Making worship images in silver and gold are expressly prohibited because they represent excessive wealth. Do not covet the silver or the gold that is on them and take them for yourself, ancient Torah interpreters warned. No one is meant by God to have so much wealth that they literally become godlike themselves. 


Becoming godlike themselves was the particular temptation of ancient kings. Monarchs liked to put their face on a coin, like James Madison but on gold rather than a five thousand dollar bill. In most ancient societies the king was regarded as an earthly representative of the gods, and so it also seemed natural to put the image of the god on the coin the king minted. The gods were backing up the king’s authority. And this of course was anathema to the ancient biblical ethicists. No human being could claim to represent God or have God’s power. No human being should claim people’s unquestioned allegiance like the allegiance we owe to the God we come to discover in the Bible.


As time went on and people thought more about what was included in the prohibition against idolatry, scripture interpreters said that the reason we cannot allow a depiction of God is because God should remain a mystery. God approached Moses out of the dark and never let Moses see the Divine face. The great tradition says that God is shrouded in mystery for a reason: so that humanity wouldn’t think it understood the Holy One… so that we wouldn’t try to label and dissect and explain God and make God an object of our learning. The ancient interpreters especially warned the clergy against the pride of creating theological systems which sought to explain and make visible the mysterious workings of the Almighty. The danger is in thinking that somehow our images which we create for God, images that can be made from words as well as gold, can somehow “capture” God.


The Biblical God will not be captured, explained, or made to fit a theological system. God is always free, and always bigger and beyond that which we can show or say.


A final application of the 2nd commandment asks us to reflect on our modern desire to turn celebrities into objects of worship. If we were prohibited from worshipping the ancient king as a god, then think of how much more this commandment demands that we refrain from idolizing the pop star or the sports star of today. Especially as society grows more secular and fewer and fewer people are brought up in any kind of religion, the appeal of throwing all one’s love and attention toward someone beautiful and powerful and famous can be overwhelming.

We look at tv and we want to be like that person, we want to dress like them, and we try to act like them. But no human being should be such a strong role model. I would say especially not most movie stars or pop singers or professional sports starts. Taking them too seriously is just not healthy for society. It distracts us from paying our full allegiance to the God who created and redeemed us.


Think about the alternative way of translating the second commandment: Thou shalt not make a graven image. No image we craft with human hands should be worshipped. And the truth is, some people are all about image. They will do anything to be seen as popular, successful, beautiful, trend-setters. A graven image doesn’t even have to be a thing. It can be how we present ourselves, asking others to worship us.


This is what disappoints me about our President. Not his policies, not the company he keeps, not any conniving to get elected. But the obvious fact that he feels he is a celebrity and celebrities must always be admired. This whole sorry back and forth drama with the Mayor of San Juan in Puerto Rico is so sad. Elderly and ill people are dying from lack of water and exposure to extreme heat, and all he can do is say “we’re doing a good job” and try to blame Puerto Rico. There’s no compassion, no hint of being able to say “maybe the Federal government could have done more in advance to lay aside emergency supplies on the island.” No humility.


It’s funny, though. President Trump has taken on one group that expects to be admired and idolized just as much as he does, and that’s our professional football players. What began as a sincere protest by 2nd string quarterback Colin Kapernack has morphed into a tug of war between the president and the whole NFL. He’s not going to win this one.


There is, however, one human image that we can gladly give homage to … not worship, never worship, but surely treat with respect… and that’s the human image when it allows the divine image to peek through. The scriptures say each one of us is the reflection of the divine image. Genesis makes clear that you and I, we, all humanity, are made in the powerful and frightening image of the God who creates us … the God who is love but cannot be seen him or herself. The God who relies on us to show forth the Divine character.


By this Genesis reminds us that the one reliable way God can begin to be understood is when human beings behave divinely. When we love one another God is made just a little bit more visible. When we stand up to protect the innocent and the unjustly treated… and here I’ll say thank you Colin Kapernick for your courage… when we do what is right and pure for the sake of the other, then our Holy Almighty and Mysterious God tips his cap. Christian Baptism, at its best, is the claiming for ourselves the Divine Image. And through our baptism we ask the Holy Spirit to help us lead lives that help others to see our Divine Parent.


So, the whole point is, don’t turn others into stars. It’s bad for you, it’s worse for the persons being idolized.


But do pay attention to the divine image stamped in us all.


Another way of saying this is be sure to wear the right clothes.


Now if you’re a star, you have a dresser and a wardrobe specialist and a publicist and a deal with a sports shoe company and a dress line and anti-aging cream endorsements and what not, of course. Those things go with celebrity. If you’re a star you have to dress like a star, and then you like as not feel impelled to do all sorts of outrageous things just so that we, your fans, pay attention to you. But that’s veering toward making an idol out of yourself, and that’s not good.


No, when I say wear the right clothes I’m thinking of the Apostle Paul’s analogy. As God’s chosen representatives bearing the image of Christ within you, put on compassion. Clothe yourselves with humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another, forgive one another, and above all, wear love. Like that little black dress, love goes well at all occasions. It looks good first thing in the morning and even late at night.


Wear the right clothes. Let God’s image shine brightly through you.


And if you decide to take a knee in protest… and God knows there are lots of things to protest… be more like the guy who just scored a touchdown. He bends his knee and says a little prayer of thank you. It’s corny but it works every time. Give God the glory and you won’t go wrong. Amen.