Fire and Brimstone

On the wicked, God will rain coals of fire and sulfur; a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. For the LORD is righteous. (Psalm 11:6-7, NRSV)

Is God still righteous if the wicked thrive?

Maybe you’ve noticed that there are children weeping in the streets because their parents have been taken from them–by immigration officials, by gun violence, by war.

Maybe you’ve noticed that there are people raging around the world because the systems that should support their lives have undermined them: governments spend money more readily on teargas than on education, corporations prioritize profit over community, religions love orthodoxy more than understanding.

Maybe you’ve noticed your own spirit, listless and wondering “How long?”: how long will hearts bleed, how long will discouragement weigh down souls, how long until hope is realized.

But still wars are waged and walls are built. Still wealth inequality skyrockets and gun sales surge.

Fire and brimstone aren’t raining down to engulf AK-47s.

Coals are not being stoked by the breath of God to incinerate white nationalism.

Is God still righteous?

One of the most essential classes of my seminary years focused on the problem of theodicy–the question of whether God can be good when evil still exists. Our class texts were the novels of Toni Morrison. The answers to theodicy that we found in Morrison’s novels, if they could be called answers, were complicated and sometimes discouraging. Perhaps God’s righteousness can’t be defended in the face of evil. Perhaps God’s goodness can only be found in part and in fleeting moments.

But finding answers wasn’t really the point. The point was to do the work of seeking them: to gaze honestly at trauma and evil, to look hard for hope, and to dig deep for love and life.

I don’t know if God is still good. I suspect God’s righteousness is tarnished, at the very least. But we’re called to keep searching for it–and searching for one another–through the fire and brimstone.

Sweet Jesus, the world is a mess. The wicked thrive, and violence multiplies. Find within us what we long to find within you: goodness, mercy, and love.

Written for the UCC Daily Devotional

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!