Hopeless

I have some not-so-polite things to pray today, God,
starting with:

You suck.

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Also:

You’re falling down on the job.

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Where is your balm to the brokenhearted
when pain is looped publicly on video
for voyeurism and ratings?

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Is there no more freedom
your Spirit can breathe upon those
most strangled, most strained, most encumbered
by centuries of hatred?

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Where is your fulfillment of justice
in heaven or on earth?
Have the stars taken all your attention
in resolving their quarrels with far-flung moons?

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Did you stop helping
after you fulfilled your promise to Jacob?
Were you too tired after the journey across the wilderness?
Was it just too much when they killed Christ?

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Have you kept faith forever
to yourself while we cast around
looking for hope worth holding onto?

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The prisoners are on strike,
the hungry are desperate,
the ignorant feel righteous,
the bowed down are drowning,
the strangers are turned away,
but sure: let’s carry on with loud praises to
the God who teases us across generations.

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on Psalm 146
cross-posted at RevGalBlogPals

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HOPELESS: a sermon on today’s Revised Common Lectionary texts

Tell me who you think will solve this. Tell me who you think can fix our collective state of being, the status quo of our living that includes as a foundational truth the devaluing and criminalizing of Black and brown bodies to the point of death.

Who do you think can fix this?

Who do you hold responsible for fixing this?

I talk with friends, I follow conversations on Facebook and Twitter, and I read books & blogs on racism, and it’s clear that there are many fixes. There are many good and necessary efforts toward uprooting racism, and truthfully we need every tool at our disposal to uproot racism. People I know and read have a variety of opinions about where to start or which efforts to prioritize:

  • The police system needs to be overhauled: not because every police officer is problematic, but because the historic foundations of policing are inherently racist and so the system of law enforcement needs revision if it’s going to be proactively anti-racist.
  • The justice system needs to be exorcised of its demons and redeemed of its biases against Black and brown persons: from public defenders’ offices to the selection of juries to mandatory sentencing laws to the privatization of jails & prisons.
  • It’s also essential for white folks to account for our participation in and our unwillingness to stand against racism. More than that, white folks need to talk to white folks about racism, we need to hold each other accountable for our prejudices, we need to teach each other that the white experience is not the only experience. In particular we Christians who are white need to speak up to other white Christians and testify that Christ’s commandment to love one another is at risk if we do any less than work wholeheartedly against personal & systemic racism.

Those are just a few tools and avenues in the work against racism. Where do you look for solutions?

Where and with whom do you place the responsibility for change?

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals,
in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth
and their plans perish. (Psalm 146:3-4)

In this particular season of American racism, this is what I hear when I read Psalm 146:

Do not put your trust in police systems,
in which there is no help.
Do not put your trust in justice systems,
in which there is no hope.
Do not put your trust in white folks,
in whom there is no hearing.
These are all mortal
and by their mortality, inherently sinful.
When their self-righteous breath departs,
they will return to dust.
Only when they return to dust will their plans perish.

It’s a dismal paraphrase of the psalm, perhaps, but then again several of our scripture readings this morning have a rather hopeless cloud hanging over them – did you notice?

Amos 6 is less than reassuring: “Alas to to you who relax on their couches, who drink a glass of wine, who pause to enjoy a bit of musical harmonization, not minding the suffering outside your doors. You’ll be the first to be punished for the injustices of the world when the LORD finally holds us accountable for failing to love one another.” How bad were their injustices and negligence? Amos wrote that the people’s living was so outrageously contrary to God that it was as if they were trying to plow the sea to reap a harvest. (Amos 6:12)

The thread of biblical misery continues in Luke 16: Jesus tells the parable of a rich man and a poor man who die. In the afterlife, the poor man is waited on by angels while the rich man is tormented by flames. For the first time in his life (and death), the rich man is in need and dependent on someone else for relief. And Abraham, who’s monitoring the whole situation, shrugs and says “Too bad for you.” When the rich man asks if the poor man can be sent with a warning message to the rich man’s brothers, Abraham shrugs again and says, “People don’t really like ghosts.”

Far from a parable of good news, Luke 16 discourages the notion that all will be better if we can just be patient for the sweet by-and-by. To the extent that we look at the pain & suffering, racism & hatred of the world around us and believe that heaven will be the great equalizer, that God’s grace will comfort all who have suffered and cover all who have sinned, Jesus disrupts us in the most strident terms, “Woe to you who have anything to do with the suffering of another. It would be better to throw yourself into the sea. Otherwise, plan to repent and confess at least seven times a day.” (Luke 17:1-4)

Who do we look to to fix this world of ours?

In what or in whom do we hope against the hopelessness of racism?

If we’re waiting for our sins to turn to dust along with our mortal selves, if we’re waiting for God’s grace to make us all one in the afterlife, Luke’s parable of the rich man and the poor man paints a picture of a judgment day that will feel worse before it feels better.

So then, hoping in heaven seems to be less than a guarantee.

Perhaps we hope just to live a little better day by day, to keep our priorities grounded in faith according to the wisdom of 1 Timothy 6: to fight the good fight of faith, to hold fast to God’s commandments, to avoid greed, to pursue righteousness. But faith did not save a Black man who was at the wrong end of a police officer’s gun in Charlotte or in Tulsa. Righteous living didn’t save a Black woman who was arrested in Texas for failing to use her turn signal.

God help us, where and in whom are we to place hope?

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD:

the One who made heaven and earth,
the sea and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever,
who executes justice for the oppressed,
who gives food to the hungry;
the One who sets the prisoner free
and opens the eyes of the blind,
the One who lifts up those who are
weighed down and weighted down,
and watches over the stranger;

the One and only LORD
who upholds the orphan and the widow
but ruins the ways of the wicked.
This is the LORD to whom we sing praises
for generations. (Psalm 146)

It is neither easy nor simplistic to say to one another, “Hope in the LORD,” at a time when hope feels so foolish.

But it is all and everything we have.

“Hope in the LORD” is the beginning of our efforts against racism. It is the foundation and motivation for living with love. “Hope in the LORD” compels us to look upward and outward when fear and stress would otherwise draw our shoulders and our spirits inward in self-protection.

“Hope in the LORD” is the rock we cling to at the end of each day, when racism remains even though we are tired. “Hope in the LORD” is the courage we have to sleep, believing that God has dreams still to give us that are more compelling than our nightmares.

“Hope in the LORD” is not a free pass from doing the work. It is not a dismissal of systems from being held accountable. It is the impatience that we will not wait for the princes of Psalm 146 or the rich man of Luke 16 to understand their dust & their sin before we demand the fullness of life. It is the conviction that our own dust & sin must not deplete another’s fullness of life, must not deplete our own full living in unlimited love.

“Hope in the LORD” is not easy but it is a yoke worth bearing — worth sharing and carrying together.

“Hope in the LORD” is a song worth singing through eternity.

Friends, let us hope when hope seems hopeless.

It is all we have.

Sunday Prayer: Faithful

Is it true, God, that you are faithful
even when life is a gauntlet of troubles
and each day seems longer than the next?

Is it true that your inheritance is plentiful
even though we squander and fight and steal
in jealous fear that we must secure ours?

Is it true, O God Eternal, that the sun
knows your name and the mountains too,
that you are more beautiful than the night sky?

Is it true that you find us where we are in the dust,
lift us up and kiss us and love us like royalty?
I wonder because I’m feeling particularly dusty.

Is it true that all our gods are for naught?
The money, security, prestige, and certainty that shape
our daily pursuits: will they fade before they exhaust us?

Is it true then that there is only one God, O God,
and — lest the question go unanswered —
are you still and finally faithful?

Because the world ends catastrophically every day
right before our eyes and we wonder when
it will stop starting over. We wonder

when we should bail on love and hope and fairness
and balms that seem never to heal the unjust
while innocent blood flows in the streets.

We wonder if you have been the dishonest manager,
charging us far less than we owe, and to what end?
What lesson learned, what grace extended in response?

Have you been faithful or have you been irresponsible
with our debts? For love of love, you risk fairness for grace.
For love of love, you weep over us from your holy heap of ashes.

We rage at you in trust that the world matters to you.
We yell in trust that our prayers will echo
through the mountains to your throne.

Bless our prayers along their wandering way
and bless our lives to faithful response.
We praise your name forever. Amen.

on today’s Revised Common Lectionary texts;
cross-posted at RevGalBlogPals

Sunday Prayer

How grateful we are, O God, to call on your name.
Morning and evening, noon and night,
you are our comfort and our confidence.

We reach out to you when days are hard.
We lean on you when memories break our hearts.
We smile at you when life is amazingly good.

We are fools for you, O Christ: giddy at your grace,
restless for your love — and you too are the fool,
seeking us relentlessly and at any cost.

Through cities and across mountains, you pursue us.
In our seasons of birth and death, you greet us.
In your seasons of anger and impatience, still you stay with us.

Truth be told: you confound us, Holy Spirit, but perhaps
we would not have it any other way. Surprise us
with beauty amidst devastation, joy amidst challenge.

cemetery-flowersTake us beyond ourselves to the grace of community,
where work and dreams are shared, where no one
is alone in their sorrow or hidden by their delight.

By God’s name we are called,
by Christ’s name we are known,
by the Spirit’s name we continue. Amen.

cross-posted at RevGalBlogPals

Lo! (Scenes from a Coffee Shop)

Lo! Look:
the sun bathes the parking lot in red,
easing us into the night with its best colors.

Lo! Look:
a father laughs with his toddler
while a nurse caffeinates for the night shift.

Lo! Look:
a lover on the phone discreetly wipes a tear
trying to keep her world in order.

Lo! Look:
barstools and tables stand in disarray
from a full day of conversations, meetings, solitudes.

Lo! Look:
the coffee grinder drowns out the silence
of a student writing against a deadline.

Lo! Look:
the ordinariness of the space
does not disguise the beauty of Your daily blessings.

coffee-computer

on Jeremiah 4:24, “I looked and lo!”

Sunday Prayer: Seeking Signs

Glorious God, Merciful God:
we humble ourselves before you,
grateful for your brilliance … lamenting our failings,
glad in your goodness … longing for our redemption.

Each day, we look to you and we watch the world
for symbols of your grace and love:
the potter who makes and molds and creates (1)
reminding us of renewal;
the mother who senses our secrets and bleeds with life (2)
pointing us toward love;
the tree that yields fruit and thrives by a stream of water (3)
encouraging us through seasons;
the paths before us and the ways of our ancestors (4)
guiding our steps.

Signs surround us,
and we are grateful.

We pray for signs & symbols
to bring hope in a cynical world,
to bring comfort to hurting people,
to highlight beauty even in the shadows.
Let those signs & symbols illuminate our lives
and let them also be us in everything we say and do.

We pray in the name of
the One who reveals the God of Ages.

glory-at-night

referencing texts from the Revised Common Lectionary:
(1) Jeremiah 18:1-11
(2) Psalm 139
(3) Psalm 1
(4) Deuteronomy 30:15-20

cross-posted at RevGalBlogPals