Interrupting Power

“When King Ahasuerus was merry with wine, he commanded Queen Vashti to appear before him, in order to show the peoples and the officials her beauty—for she was fair to behold. But Queen Vashti refused.” – Esther 1:10-12

During the 180 days of King Ahasuerus’ big bash, Queen Vashti was throwing her own party. While he wined and dined the officials, ministers, governors, generals, and nobles of the Persian Empire—from India to Ethiopia—Queen Vashti hosted a banquet for their wives, mistresses, baronesses, countesses, and noble women.

For 180 days, the international assembly of women ate and drank, rested and played, and politicked. In the midst of it all, Queen Vashti was the gracious diplomat … until the king interrupted with a command: “Stop what you’re doing, and come look pretty for these drunk men.”

An interruption of her work.

A reduction of her diplomatic authority.

A power play against her bodily autonomy.

This is what power is. This is what power does. It interrupts and asserts its own agenda. “Come entertain us. Come work to make our lives easier. Stay quiet so we won’t feel challenged. Comply with our expectations so we can show you off.”

Queen Vashti assessed the king’s interruption, his power, and used her own: “No.”

It was an interruption like a scream made public 35 years after it was stifled.

Power is interruption: Violence interrupting life. Protest interrupting injustice. Silence interrupting healing. Hashtags interrupting lies. We all interrupt and are interrupted, with assorted and rarely pure agendas, although not with equal systemic power and impact.

But one Power interrupts us all. The holy and eternal Interrupter persists in disruption: asserting breath in the midst of chaos, interjecting promise in the midst of floods, providing welcome in the midst of hostility, interrupting injustice for the cause of life.

God grant me the wisdom to recognize my power and to interrupt for the sake of your reign.

written for the Stillspeaking Daily Devotional

 

Fourfold

David’s anger erupted when he heard the tale, “As the LORD lives,” he swore to Nathan, “the rich man who took his poor neighbor’s only lamb should die; he must restore the lamb fourfold because of what he did.” (2 Samuel 12:5-6)

David sinned against Uriah,
and Bathsheba suffered —
the assault on her body, the
humiliation of their marriage,
the death of a child. Tell me, O Just One:
when will Bathsheba’s loss be restored fourfold?

People sin against one another,
and those at the borders suffer —
the strain of codeswitching to navigate
safe passage, the walls of spirit and nation
that insult wayfarers and refugees, the death
of separation and criminalization. Tell me, O Just One,
when will the border-crossers and the marginalized be restored fourfold?

Fourfold — not forgiveness.
Fourfold — not fragile tears.
Fourfold — not false apologies.
Fourfold — not food that perishes.
Fourfold — not gaslighting reversals.

Fourfold.

Where, O Just One,
is the brick to rebuild the bulldozed home,
the insurance to sustain healing after trauma,
the sacrificed wealth to invest in polluted communities?
Where, O Just One,
is the king who surrenders his throne,
the rich man who gives up his bank account,
the suburb that gives up its segregated school district?

Must those who have been harmed
by the sin and selfishness of others
be content to beg heaven for manna?

Fourfold, O Just One.
Even David in his sin measured justice to be fourfold.
Will you bring about any less?

a prayer on this Sunday’s RCL texts;
cross-posted at RevGalBlogPals

About Goliath

We pray to the LORD,
by whom life’s cornerstone was laid,
for whom the heavens shout, and
in whom justice is promised.

For the overwhelmed to know hope,
for the cowardly to know culpability,
for the threatened to know sanctuary,
we pray to the LORD.

For those deemed weak
to loose the bonds imposed
by those deemed powerful,
we pray to the LORD.

For relief from false defenses
and armor that does not fit love,
for the wisdom not to fear giants,
we pray to the LORD.

For deliverance from evil,
and for the strength to resist
until such deliverance comes,
we pray to the LORD.

For a song of courage
that boasts in God’s faithfulness
and marches in community,
we pray to the LORD.

For wide open hearts
to rebuke the torrential storms
and live at peace with all people,
we pray to the LORD.

We pray to the LORD
by whom the giants fall,
for whom the stars swoon,
in whom the wicked are exposed.

We pray to the LORD, amen.

cross-posted from RevGalBlogPals

Lenten Sermon Series: #solidarity (Narrative)

Sermon series ideas for the upcoming Lenten season continue with a reflection on the Narrative Lectionary’s challenge to our understanding of & willingness to be in solidarity with one another — through life and death, through questions and heartaches. (If you’re a Revised Common Lectionary preacher, check out this sermon series suggestion on the RCL’s Old Testament readings for Lent.)

Sunday, February 18: John 11:1-44

Perhaps we believe that Jesus had a perfectly good reason for not visiting his friend Lazarus while he was sick and dying. Perhaps we have good reasons for not being present in those awful, rending moments after a death has occurred. But when we cannot (or choose not to) show up for one another, we must also bear to face the question, “Why didn’t you come?”

Sunday, February 25: John 13:1-17

In the footwashing, Jesus provides an unnecessary service for his friends. They’re capable of washing their own feet (I’m pretty sure), but Jesus demonstrates his care … and simultaneously turns upside down the social norms of worth and servitude. To stand by one another in solidarity is not only an act of kinship but also an act of humility.

Sunday, March 4: John 18:12-27

One disciple went inside with Jesus to the courtyard of the high priest, because that disciple “was known to the high priest.” Another disciple, Peter, notoriously stayed outside where he refused to be known as one of Jesus’ disciples. Solidarity includes a willingness to be known by the company we keep.

Sunday, March 11: John 18:28-40

As Pilate abdicates his authority for judgment — first to those who bring Jesus to him and then to the crowds — we see the difference between solidarity and crowd-think. Solidarity is a choice of heart & mind & action, while crowd-think (or “following the crowd”) is the abandonment of choice in favor of accepting others’ direction without critique.

Sunday, March 18: John 19:1-16a

As Jesus refuses to persuade Pilate of his innocence (although he’s not really innocent, is he?), I find myself wondering whether it would’ve even made a difference if Jesus responded to Pilate’s questions. The systems of political power were already set against him: one man, one prisoner, one ethnic minority, one soldier, one woman, one loudmouth is always expendable for the normalcy and preservation of the powers that be. Solidarity may strengthen us & keep us company, but it does not save us from the crush of powers.

Sunday, March 25: John 12:12-27 & 19:16b-22

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Our lives are not our own — this is foundational to discipleship and to solidarity. We belong to God. We belong to one another. We live our lives for the sake of Another, for the sake of each other. To do otherwise is to choose death.

As with the sermon series idea for the RCL’s Old Testament passages, this sermon series suggestion for the Narrative Lectionary does not specifically include Ash Wednesday (February 14) or Easter Sunday (April 1). The themes for those two holy-days are prescribed and can stand alone … yet are also so basic to Christian faith that they can fit into most any sermon series.

More ideas to come as the week continues!

Lenten Sermon Series: Lamenting Injustice (RCL OT)

With the arrival of Epiphany Sunday — Theophany, Three Kings Day, Orthodox Christmas — the liturgical season of wondering and wandering begins. We follow stars, we listen for wisdom, we watch for prophets, we get lost about as fast as we lose our New Year’s resolutions, we wonder over God’s call on our lives, we marvel at Jesus’ baptism and (just before Ash Wednesday) we awe at his transfiguration.

For many pastors, the arrival of Epiphany Sunday also marks the wondering and wandering of rushed Lenten planning as we suddenly notice on our calendars that Ash Wednesday is only one month away. For such as these, I offer brainstorms for Lenten sermon series, which also suggest worship themes for the upcoming season. Ash Wednesday and Easter are not included in these sermon series, as their themes are prescribed and can stand alone … yet are also so foundational that they can fit into most any sermon series.

First is a suggested sermon series centered on the Old Testament readings of the Revised Common Lectionary — an intentional & confessional Lenten call to examine the injustices within our world and within our hearts.

First Sunday in Lent (Feb 18): Broken Promises

Consider the decades & centuries of broken promises between colonizing governments and indigenous nations/First Peoples, and/or the broken promises between today’s governments and immigrant & refugee populations. In contrast, consider the promises of God (Genesis 9:8-17), made not only to people but also to creatures and the earth herself. Pray & preach this Sunday for the ways in which we have broken promises to one another and the ways in which our governments broken promises to communities.

Second Sunday in Lent (Feb 25): Sinful Tongues

God gives new names to Abram and Sarai (Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16), but too often we reject or ignore people’s names and thereby their personhood. We call each other names to categorize & dehumanize. We don’t bother to learn people’s names; some of us say Tchaikovsky with ease but believe we don’t need to correctly pronounce actress Uzo Aduba’s name. Some of us feign burden when asked to use a trans person’s new name or to use plural pronouns (they/them) for a genderqueer person. Pray & preach this Sunday about the ways we speak of & to one another, recalling that God knows our names & claims us as beloved.

Third Sunday in Lent (Mar 4): Chasing Capitalism

Pastors often wait until stewardship season to preach about money, but Exodus 20:1-17 invites a frank examination of our idolization of money & labor at the expense of worship & compassion. What influences our desire for personal gain? How do our choices about income & employment reflect the Ten Commandments … or the values of capitalism? How do we recognize when our pursuit of (or anxiety over) money & labor overtakes our passion for the worship of God? Pray & preach this Sunday against our idolization of money & work as measures of worth — not only of ourselves but of people around the world and in our own towns.

Fourth Sunday in Lent (Mar 11): Healthcare Crisis

In Numbers 21:4-9 and throughout the Bible, God is understood as both the cause of illness and the cause of healing. Today with modern medicine, we outline the causes of illness and health differently, and healing is not only a matter of faith but also a matter of access: especially financial and geographic access. Health insurance and health care are expensive. Medical facilities are limited in some regions, highly concentrated in others. Race & gender & class impact our well-being and treatment too. Pray & preach this Sunday about the disparities in our healthcare systems.

Fifth Sunday in Lent (Mar 18): Biased Hearts

“Sin” by Anneke Kaai

Can we say honestly that God’s law is inscribed on our hearts so long as bias has its home there? Bigotry and racism are learned not only at a young age but all throughout our lives, carved into our hearts daily by the words & gestures & people & social systems all around us … and inscribed as our hearts’ laws when we do not challenge them, practice living contrary to them, and welcome accountability for change. Preach & pray this Sunday for the conversion of our individual & collective biased hearts and actions, that God’s law might become foremost within us (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

Sixth Sunday in Lent – Palm/Passion Sunday (Mar 25): Turning Our Cheeks

I used to imagine “turning the cheek” as a choice of non-resistance. Perhaps it can be, but I also know that turning the cheek is an unavoidable movement caused by the impact of a smack or hit. Sometimes we turn our cheeks and our backs not because we are so righteous but because we are so injured & shamed — whether by acts of random violence or domestic violence or hurtful words or moral injury. Pray & teach this Palm/Passion Sunday with an awareness of the violence experienced not only by Jesus but by your congregants & your community, believing that goodness comes not from suffering but from solidarity (Isaiah 50:4-9a).

Blessings to those preparing to preach this Lent — and more sermon series ideas to come!