Service Recording: July 5, 2020
After the service, we will have Fellowship Time in a Zoom video conference. Details for joining will be shared via email and at the end of the live stream.
The Building is Closed and the Church is Open
While we have restricted access to the building, Peace Church is very much open to ministry—working to respond to our own congregation, as well as the needs of our neighbors and community. Please consider giving either to Peace Church general fund or the Gabriel Fund – which is used to meet the needs in the community.
We recognize that in this time, people’s financial situations may have changed. We ask you to prayerfully consider what you can give. If you use electronic giving, we thank you for your constancy of support. If you would like to give through our online form, we would be grateful. For all the contributions from our members and friends—whether financial, time, or prayer—we ask God’s blessings on those gifts that Peace Church may be healing balm in this time when we are living in our own Gilead.
July 5, 2020 ⁂ 10:30 am
The People of Peace Church
Nina Preheim, Lay Reader
Karen Sheldon, ASL Interpreter
Jim Pospisil, Music Director
Nathan Holst, Faith Formation Minister
Announcements and the Ringing of the Peace Bells
God is Revealed as We Gather
Responsive Call to Worship
Together this morning, God opens us to the poetry of presence and worship.
We follow the invitation into the heart of God.
We hold fast to the dream of love that beats in our chests.
It is a dream that beats out of the pain and hope at the heart of our country.
God is with us as we become all we might be, a people redeemed.
Praise God for the beauty in the struggle, for the gifts in our fullness.
God transforms our vision as we journey on the way.
Let us worship together, collecting our spirits in this beloved community.
Opening Hymn “How Beautiful, Our Spacious Skies” (#594)
Unison Prayer of Confession
Holy One, we confess that we are often in bondage to what brings out the worst in us, as individuals and as a people. As we open our eyes and see the turmoil in our state and country, we confess that the bone of racism is still stuck in our throats, and that the culture of white supremacy flows through the veins of our society, from the most conservative to the most progressive spaces.
Without you, O God, and without your everyday prophets who help us see, so many of us are lost. Forgive us, lead us, and transform us so that we may be strengthened for the daily work of renewing our minds and hearts.
Assurance of God’s Forgiveness
Story for All Ages Sharon Dawson
God is Revealed in the Word
God’s Word in the Gospel: Matthew 11:16-30
Special Music “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye sung by Ian Connell
God’s Word in the Epistles: Romans 7:13-25
Sermon “Patriots of Peace” Nathan Holst
Sermon “Patriots of Peace”
I first want to give gratitude this morning for the seed of this sermon. Somewhere in the last year or two, as we approached another 4th of July, I heard Jerry Cleveland in a worship and arts meeting express a desire for a sermon that engaged with what it meant to be a patriot, as well as a disciple of Jesus. So when I heard Pastor Kathy’s recent request that I preach on July 5th, I immediately knew this was the time for that sermon. I pray that I do some justice to this topic, and hope it resonates with all those who wrestle with what it means to be a Jesus following, love-grounded patriot in America.
Looking back, I don’t remember if I ever had strong sense of pride in my country, if I ever felt joy in seeing an American flag. Most of the memories I have of the 4th of July is of setting off fireworks with family, sometimes blowing up mounds of sand with firecrackers. But never any sense of values or reasons for me to proud of our country. And later in life when I came to what I would describe as a critical consciousness in college and beyond, when my eyes were opened to the way our country had been founded on the violence of slavery and Indigenous genocide, I felt much more shame and bitterness when I looked on our flag, becoming a symbol for me of power over, arrogance, violence.
And yet, I had a conversation with my dad this last weekend about displaying the American flag. He and my mom have been talking about what it means to reclaim the flag, and they decided to put it out in this year. We have for years flown our Swedish flag, perhaps in pride of our family heritage, and perhaps in some protest to the arrogance that can often accompany flying the American flag.
Yes, we have hesitated to display the flag—and there seems to be something important in unpacking what it means for us to hesitate, if there isn’t a sense of escaping the pain of what we don’t want to be. And to wonder if there might be some parallels with Christianity, of more progressive Christian people not speaking their faith as loudly for fear of embodying the worst of fundamentalist Christians that have caused so much pain for so many of us. What does it mean to be a patriot? To be a follower of Jesus? Of not being afraid of our pain, to take our seat at the table of Christianity, and out of that spiritual foundation that is the ground of our life to take our seat at another table, the table of American democracy, and no longer abdicate our right to our place in the process. Not to embody power over and to scream until another admits they’re wrong; but to hold another way of being, one that our feminists, ecofeminist, and womanists have given us, one of respect for many ways of being and synthesizing our best gifts together.
I love the way pastor/activist William Sloane Coffin writes about patriots. He says, “there are three kinds of patriots, two bad, one good. The bad ones are the uncritical loves and the loveless critics. Good patriots carry on a lover’s quarrel with their country, a reflection of God’s lover’s quarrel with the world.”
In this light, a true patriot grapples with the history of pain, with Fredrick Douglas’ 4th of July speech on what the holiday means to Black folks, grapples with Jesus naming and confronting apathetic generations, not listening to him or John the Baptist, not listening to Black Lives, Indigenous Lives, all those who have suffered at the hand of systems for too long. We go back, as Sarah reminded us last week through the words of Daniel Oyinloye and James Baldwin, back to tell the truth of what really happened. And that involves getting clear about what Paul names in our text today as sin.
In our text today in Romans, Paul says “For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh.” Let us be clear—Paul is not saying that we as humans have nothing good within us. Here the word flesh in greek is sarks, which is different from the positive word for the body. Sarks refers to a body or life that has been misused, controlled, or contorted by systems. The sin that Paul is connecting us to here is not referring to some simple act of moral wrong doing, but the overall system that tells us to do the very thing we hate, the sarks, the flesh, the sinful system conditioning that doesn’t seem to go away. You can hear Paul’s internal conflict, wrestling out the sinful systems that seem to have gotten into his soul and mind.
Does this sound familiar, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, looking at our current systems of racism that seem to hold on no matter how hard we try to rid our selves and our community of it? This sin that Paul names strikes me as speaking directly to the white supremacy that runs in the veins of our white communities. And it also strikes me as being connected to the pain of knowing our history and the barriers to trying to claim an identity of being a patriot.
The guardians of whiteness, as Mother Ruby Sales calls them, have tried to define a patriot as one who brings a blind faith to the flag, even to say that lifting up symbols of white supremacy, like confederate flags, is patriotic. Mama Ruby goes on to name the sin which plagues our country. She says, “I see whiteness as a culture that seeds and fertilizes spiritual malformation and social perversion everywhere. It malforms us because it calls out the worst in us rather than the best.” Spoken word poet Guante says it another way. “Remember, white supremacy is not a shark–it’s the water.” These modern voices are speaking with Paul about the ways systems keep us from doing “what is good”, what is best for our communities and country.
Jesus also spoke about systems, about trying to move a people to repentance, toward redemption. In the first part of our gospel text, Jesus is speaking to those in power, saying there’s not a message or messenger that seems to get through to you—why won’t you listen? “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Jesus’ vision of love and full community are falling on deaf ears, and he is letting them know the cost of that.
Can you hear the strain of human struggle echo in our times? Perhaps a modern version of Jesus’ words might sound like this:
We knelt peacefully on the football field and you called us a disgrace, kicked us out. We marched in your streets and you called us rioters and looters. You don’t listen when we’re peaceful and you criticize us when we are confrontational and you fear us. When will you listen? What will it take?
We are in a moment where we hear Jesus’ voice of confrontation, not as a sweeping judgement of shame, but as naming hard truths that we as a people have not listened and now we must grapple with the rage and pain that is bursting forth from the Black community in this time, spilling into the collective consciousness of white dominant culture, forcing us to wrestle with who we are as a country and where we go from here. In other words, we are in a patriotic moment when we can choose to live into the lover’s quarrel and engage with what’s difficult in our country. And it’s important to note here that when we look at Matthew text and consider our own engagement, the gospel writer was interested in people’s actions, not simply their words. I believe Matthew would say to us now, I’m less interested in your yard signs or Facebook posts that say Black Lives Matter, good as they may be, and more interested in what your inter-racial relationships look like, how you are being transformed by your justice work, how what you are doing makes a difference in the lives of people of color and Indigenous folks and moves us all toward greater freedom.
Now, some of us may hear Matthew’s call to action and greater work of justice, and feel resistant or overwhelmed. Aren’t we already doing so much in our Peace community? Is this calling us to do more? Life balance is indeed an important personal and communal discernment, and one to take seriously. But what this text invites us to see are the gifts of a life of discipleship, that there is actually rest and renewal in the process of engagement and even struggle, wrestling as Paul did, with Sarks, with systems of racism that speak to the battle within our hearts.
Here Jesus’ hopeful invitation of “come unto me and I will give you rest unto your souls” comes alive. He speaks of a light burden, a pathway into liberation, an opening out of the burdens of systems that keep us from life. Theologian John Petty changes this translation slightly and says “…and you will find rest for your lives…” He says that “following the Way of Jesus…will set you on a path of true life…Living in light of the freedom and dignity of every person, and especially the poor, is not a “burden” but is, in fact, the way of true rest and true refreshment.”
There is no place I find more hope and renewal, where Jesus’ words of finding rest speak to me more deeply than in Brother Vincent Harding’s book, Hope and History, which lifts up the gems and wisdom of what most of us call the Civil Rights Movement. As he shares, “the Black-led freedom movement…searches diligently for the best possibilities—rather than the worst tendencies—within us all.”
Now we start to build a greater definition of a patriot, from one with blind faith in a country, to one that engages more deeply in the lover’s quarrel. As we look into the stories of those people in the Black-led freedom movement in this country, we start to see as Brother Vincent names “[people] who were not satisfied with the transformation of their own lives, the breaking of their own fears, but saw their own renewal as a call to participate in the rebuilding of their people and their nation—and in that process they found even more powerful sources of personal renewal than they dreamed.”
What if we dedicated ourselves more often to the strain of discipleship that these freedom patriots showed us? What if we heard more often the definition of a patriot as one who “sees their own renewal as a call to participate in the rebuilding of their people and nation?” When I start to realize the amazing richness of depth and power that is the legacy of this particular movement in our country, I begin to want to call myself a patriot and proudly fly the American flag. It makes me want to be a patriot of peace, to apprentice myself to this kind of democracy that is a part of our history, where the Jesus way intersects with and opens up one more path to a more perfect union.
Perhaps one last example from this weekend might illuminate one way this understanding of hope and history informs how scripture opens us into the work of our lives. Yesterday, as I was finishing up my sermon, I got a message from someone I know through my work with SURJ, showing up for racial justice. The message said that someone let us know there are about 20-30 cars with confederate flags following Skyline Parkway in Duluth and are headed to the mall, asking what we should do. We also got another message saying that someone in Lakeside is flying a confederate flag at their house, and wondering if we should act in some way. I couldn’t ignore the fact that I was writing a sermon on confronting white supremacy and needed to then grapple with what that meant for me in terms of action, listening to Matthew’s statement that “wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” Because I was out of town, I had a long conversation with my family about it, offered other SURJ folks some thoughts on ways we could respond, including checking in with leaders of color, and started additional conversations about how we can mobilize in times like this in the future, offering public statements that name the damage confederate flags do in our community, as well as calling in the best possibilities of those who fly them, inviting them to repent from the systems that keep harming us all. Because as we remember, these folks are not the sharks. They are a manifestation of the water, that system of sin that is in all of our veins, and they are simply displaying the wound for all of us to see. What is that path that opens us to our collective healing? What is the yoke that leads us toward the healing of our souls, the healing of our community, our country?
Ours is a rich history of patriots—the gift of the Black-led freedom movement, the invitation for white communities and all other communities to bring their gifts and join the movement toward freedom and democracy. Will we join in the patriot’s life and follow in their footsteps? For indeed, so many of their footsteps are grounded in that one we claim to follow—Jesus, the great humanizer, the breaker of boundaries, the inviter of our best possibilities. Jesus a patriot of love, freedom, and peace.
So let us continue to consider today the work of the patriot, if that isn’t the work of humankind in our nation and around the world, to yoke with Jesus by learning to become more human, to contribute whatever gifts, big or small, to the work of democracy, to beloved community, to that vision of the kin-dom of God. Let us heed the call from Brother Vincent, where he harmonizes his words with the words of Aime’ Cesaire, the great teacher, artist, and political leader: “The work of humankind has just begin.” (Cesaire) “Let us go on together.” (Harding) Amen.
Hymn “This is My Song” (#591)
We Respond to God’s Presence
Sharing Our Prayer Concerns, Silent Prayer, Pastoral Prayer, the Lord’s Prayer and Choral Amen
Sharing Our Offerings
Offertory “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2
The Thanksgiving “Doxology”
Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise God, all creatures here below;
Praise God for all that love has done;
Creator, Christ and Spirit, One.
Prayer of Dedication
Closing Hymn “Peace Will Surely Come” (#13 P&W Songbook)
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