Meditation: The Love Commandment

A  Maundy Thursday meditation preached at John Knox Kirk of Kansas City, Missouri, on April 17, 2014.

Psalm 116: 1-2, 12-19
and John 13:1-17, 31-35

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This time of year, people often ask me where the name for this evening comes from.

 

The “Maundy” in Maundy Thursday takes its name from the Latin word Maundatum,

from which get our word “Mandate.”

We sometimes use that word, “mandate” is a political sense these days:

If a candidate wins a vote by a large margin,

we say that they have a mandate to pursue their agenda.

And when we draw the word out of this story before us tonight ,

from the Gospel according to John,

we’re talking about the mandate—or agenda—

that Jesus gave to us the night he was betrayed.

Jesus gave a new commandment or mandate that night, and here it is:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.

                  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

                  By THIS everyone will know that you are my disciples,

                           if you have Love for one another.

And, if you were listening closely, you might have heard that

our passage begins and ends with love.

It’s surrounded by it:

At the beginning we’re told that Jesus,

“having loved his own who were in the world, loved them to the end.”

John begins and ends this self-contained little story with love,

so there’s NO doubt at all that this is what the passage is all about—LOVE.

It’s so easy to say, and so hard to do… [Read more...]

Sermon: Always Go to the Funeral

sermon preached at John Knox Kirk of Kansas City, Missouri, on April 13, 2014.

Isaiah 50:4-9a
and Matthew 27: 11-26, 38-56 

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I’m wondering if there are any of you who—

when I was reading this text – your mind started to wander?

I don’t need a show of hands.

Just ask yourself if your concentration was on this text

the entire time it was being read.

If your answer was no, don’t worry, you’re not alone.

When the HBO series “The Sopranos” ended its run several years ago,

somebody uploaded a “7 years of Sopranos in 7 minutes”

compilation to YouTube.

They tried to cover every major plot point of the entire series

in 500 quick cut scenes—

–all in 7 minutes.

It was a don’t blink, don’t breathe or you’ll miss it kind of experience.

It has felt this way through much of Lent,

with the passages of John we’ve looked at,

and so with this reading today:

There is A LOT in this text, this story of Jesus’ passion;

Its packed like that YouTube video,

and I only read an excerpt this morning.

But…I don’t think that’s why we might have wandered.

It’s hard to keep our focus when the text is the suffering of Jesus.

* * *

The great English poet John Milton once tried to write a poem

about the suffering of Jesus on the cross.

He wrote 7 or 8 stanzas, and then he quit.

He quit because he realized that when he was writing about the suffering of Jesus,

ALL he could really talk about was

how John Milton felt about the suffering of Jesus.

How melancholy he became.

How sad it was to read and hear these words.

So he gave up.[i]

[Read more...]

Sermon: Tears

April 6, 2014 ~ – Tears from John Knox Kirk on Vimeo.

sermon preached at John Knox Kirk of Kansas City, Missouri, on April 6, 2014.

Psalm 130
and John 11:1-45

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Tom Long makes an excellent point about this text:[i]

It’s the END of this story that grabs us.

We move quickly past the BEGINNING of this account of Jesus and Lazarus.

No, It’s what Jesus did right at the END—his most astonishing miracle:

RAISING LAZARUS from the dead!

That’s the headline, isn’t it?

I mean, Jesus had done a number of OTHER miracles, of course:

He had turned water into wine,

healed a paralyzed man,

and restored sight to a man born blind.

But…to RAISE someone from the DEAD?

                  This was breathtaking…

…unheard of…

…a remarkable sign of something ETERNAL

breaking into normal life…

…it was an anticipation of Jesus’ own resurrection.

The END of the story is where the FIREWORKS are!

Sometimes, however, when we have finished our amazed gazing

at the end of Lazarus’ story,

we still have enough energy to shift our sights

to what Jesus did in the MIDDLE of the story—

namely, HE WEPT.

THIS PIECE is fascinating, too.

Jesus wept” is the shortest verse in the Bible—

–but it is NOT the easiest verse to understand.

I’ve always been moved by Jesus’ emotions in this passage.

He is greatly moved and disturbed of spirit. He cries painful tears.

But WHY did Jesus weep?

                  Was he moved with GRIEF over friend Lazarus’ death?

Was he in SORROW over the UNBELIEF around him?

Was he anticipating his OWN DEATH?

…John does NOT say, exactly.

Though the reasons for his tears remain MYSTERIOUS—

–I am drawn to this picture in the middle of the story

an emotional Jesus, weeping.

I think it says something true about Jesus,

his heart hurt at all of this.

He felt pained: for Mary and Martha and Lazarus.

Pained as we all do at the death of a loved one.

So Jesus sheds tears.

BUT, because Lazarus’ raising at the END of this story is so dramatic

and Jesus weeping in the MIDDLE is so MYSTERIOUS—

–It may be EASY to overlook the BEGINNING of the story.

But LOOK anyway:

                  something curious and important is at work here… [Read more...]

Sermon: Quarreling With God

2014 03 23 Quarreling with God from John Knox Kirk on Vimeo.

sermon preached at John Knox Kirk of Kansas City, Missouri, on March 23, 2014.

Exodus 17:1-7
and John 4:3-29, 39-42 

perspectives, not truth

Mark Ramsey warns us about our tendency

to try to keep score with texts such as these:[i]

For those who are tempted to keep score with this text,

         the woman—the unnamed woman at the well

–is NOT Elizabeth Taylor (may she rest in peace)

with a string of marriages to multiple men

living it up in some swirl of indulgence.

This woman is not “living in sin” with a man not her husband.

She is NOT being called out by Jesus for her lack of faith or morality.

Look for it, and those words just aren’t there.

Maybe closer to the truth is the poem that the thirty year old

Emily Dickenson began with the words:

I’m nobody! Who are you?

                           Are you nobody, too?

                           Then there’s a pair of us – don’t tell!

                           They’d banish us, you know.

In first century Middle Eastern culture,

a woman didn’t have a choice when it came to husbands.

This woman – who didn’t even merit a name – a NOBODY –

–had either been widowed or divorced,

and thus passed from man to man to man

probably in the midst of some forced, desperate downward mobility.

* * *

For those wishing to keep score, WHO shows up alone, at noon

in the scorching mid-day heat, at the town well?

Only those who are shunned from “normal” society.

Only those who are NOT welcome in the daily give and take of a village.

…And while we are at it: what’s that despised foreigner, a Jewish man,

                                                                        doing there too?

* * *

While we are keeping score,

there are SO MANY things wrong here:

women didn’t come to the well at noon;

men…didn’t come to the well at all—

–they sent women or slaves to do that;

men and women did NOT speak to each other in public;

Samaritans and Jews didn’t speak to each other PERIOD. [Read more...]

Sermon: So Tempting

March 9, 2014 ~ So Tempting from John Knox Kirk on Vimeo.

sermon preached at John Knox Kirk of Kansas City, Missouri, on March 9, 2014.

Genesis 9:8-17
and Matthew 4:1-11

Seduction

Lori Brandt Hale tells about the time

her gregarious middle son—almost 4 years old—

–encountered this Gospel story in Sunday School.

“The leader that day was a dynamic speaker and storyteller,” Hale says,

“so I was not surprised when my son

pulled me aside later to ask me some questions.”

“Hey Mom,” he started, “what do you know about the devil?”

“My mind immediately jumped to a spectrum of theological views.

Should I start with Augustine?

Should I couch my answer in general terms

of conservative and progressive interpretations of the text?

Is he ready for process theology?

(Am I ready for process theology?)

…Then I looked at him and remembered that he was 3.”

“What do YOU know about the devil?”

I asked him, in the classic mom/professor mode.

“Well,” he began, “the devil talked to Jesus.”

(Good, I thought, he was paying attention.)

“The devil was mean,” he continued.

(Mean…I began to wonder about the relationship

between “mean” and “evil.”

Was the devil really mean?

Is it possible to be mean without being evil?)

Leaning closer to me and dropping his voice to a loud whisper

he said: “If we were at a store,

                                             and you and Dad were in one aisle

                                             and I was in another aisle, and—”

–his hushed tones became downright conspiratorial at this point—

—and there was candy…

                                             …the devil would say, “You should take some.’”

Now, it was striking to Hale that her son, on hearing this Lenten text,

placed so much emphasis on TEMPTATION…

…and on a PERSONAL tempter.

She told her son that she thought this passage

was more about RESPONSES Jesus gives,

than the temptations he was offered.

That to respond to the temptations like Jesus did—

                                    –and to respond in obedience—

                                                               –was the key to this text.

It then occurred to her that maybe her little boy—

–who had already taken in so much—

–that maybe he understood these very points about the story.

So she asked him:

“Honey, if we were at a store,

and Dad and I were in one aisle and you were in another,

and there was candy,

and the Devil said ‘you should take some!’—

What would you say back to the devil?”

His entire face lit up with a beautiful grin

and without a moment’s hesitation he replied:

You taught me I should say thank you![i] [Read more...]

A letter to the Kansas Senate Judiciary Committee

After the Equality Kansas rally last week, I saw that they were planning to offer testimony before the Kansas Senate Judiciary Committee this week. They were particularly seeking examples of discrimination experienced by LGBTQI people, and since I cannot offer that, I asked if my voice might be helpful.  After a bit of communication, I sent them the following letter (inspired in large part and adapted in parts with permission from the testimony of the Rev. Marci Glass).

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Time for Kansas to follow the lead of voices in Idaho…

There seems to be a real push for adding these words to the Kansas Human Rights law, similar to the push in Idaho. Lets pray it happens.

___________

March 3, 2014

State of Kansas
Senate Judiciary Committee

Dear Honorable Senators:

My name is Chad Herring, and I serve as pastor of the John Knox Presbyterian Kirk in Kansas City, Missouri, a position I’ve held since October 2013. My wife and I moved to Overland Park, Kansas, in 2005 when I began my ministry as Associate Pastor of Southminster Presbyterian in Prairie Village (2005-2013). We welcomed our twin daughters to our family in 2006, moved to Prairie Village in 2011, and are all proud to call Kansas our home.

I never set out to be a campaigner for equal rights for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). It is not my personal experience or struggle.

Yet I feel compelled to write you today. Because until all of us are free, none of us are.

Those of us who are Christian read in the Bible that all of us are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), that nothing on heaven or on earth can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). We hear echoes of this in our founding documents, holding it to be self-evident truth that all men and women are created equal.

Accordingly, I am compelled to write in vocal support for equal civil rights for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, as a pastoral response to the pain I have seen inflicted on members of my congregation and on people in the community:

  • As a youth pastor, I witnessed a young woman harassed and bullied because she was a young lesbian woman.
  • I know people who could not get jobs or were denied advancement because of their gender identity.
  • I pastor to couples of deep faith who want to be joined in marriage, but who cannot because of their sexual orientation

In addition to the exclusion from the foundational way our culture has created families (i.e. marriage), LGBT people also lose out from essential benefits the rest of us take for granted. Tax breaks. Access to hospital beds and decision-making rights normally afforded to family members when their loved one is hospitalized. Certainty that we can rent a hotel room or see a movie or keep our job regardless of whom we love and want to spend our life with.

I counsel many people who have been deeply wounded because of exclusion from family, faith communities, and schools.

My call, as a minister of the Good News of Jesus Christ, is to proclaim justice for the oppressed, to stand with people as Christ would. Jesus offered radical hospitality, inviting all people, no exceptions, to participate in the work of God’s mercy and love.

So it is because of my deep commitment to the God revealed in Scripture and to the teachings of Jesus that I write you today in favor of public non-discrimination statutes. While Scripture says very little about sexual orientation, it says quite a bit about justice, about hospitality, about welcoming the stranger.

My stance for non-discrimination is deeply rooted in the word of God, a God who created each of us, all of us, in the very image of God and declared that creation good. A God who became human and lived among us, full of grace and truth, eating with outcasts, touching the unclean, and inviting all to join in the work of grace, mercy, and peace.

My beliefs about this are consonant with my commitment to freedom of religion as protected by the United States and Kansan Constitutions. There is no conflict between freedom of religion, properly understood, and non-discrimination.

Let us be clear: freedom of religion is my inalienable right to believe what I want about God, to assemble in religious communities unencumbered by the state, and to practice my religion with others at my church. It is an inalienable right for others, too, who hold fundamentally different views than my own: such as an interpretation of their holy texts that prohibits women access to the priesthood or a view that the earth was created a few thousand years ago. This includes the right to believe that people who are gay or lesbian should not be full participants in their own faith community. Any church should be free, and in fact is free, within the walls of their buildings, so long as no one is harmed, to practice their faith as they feel called. This is religious freedom.

But non-discrimination statutes do not inhibit religious freedom. In fact, they are essential for religious freedom. The equal opportunity to worship God—or to not worship God—is essential in our democracy.

Similarly essential is that in public accommodation, no particular religious perspective prevails so that anyone has unequal access to public services, goods, or rights. Equal rights for all means just that. Freedom of religion is not my right to exempt myself from state laws that all other citizens have to obey. My freedom of religion does not include my ability to impose my faith on others.  It is not religious liberty to allow one group of people to cause pain in another group of people in the workplace, in public schools, or in the civic square because of how they interpret scripture. When in public, people of all faiths, or no faith, ought to be required to treat all law abiding, tax paying citizens exactly the same.

But today, it is legal to discriminate against LGBT people in the public sphere. They can be fired for being gay; denied access to a hotel room for appearing to be lesbian; denied service at a restaurant for holding hands with someone of the same gender. I believe this is wrong, and no way to treat someone created equally in the image of God, who has the same self-evident inalienable rights that I do as a straight, white, male Christian pastor.

It is time to add the words “Sexual Orientation” and “Gender Identity” to Kansas Human Rights Law (Chapter 44, Article 10, Section 1). These words would not curtail religious liberty, any more than the other prohibitions against civil discrimination based on race or sex or disability or religion itself. Churches currently can deny leadership to women, can choose not to sanction same-sex unions, and can decide to only hire adherents of their particular faith, even with our current Human Rights Law in place.  In places of worship, or in my own private thoughts, I can believe whatever I want to about God and about LGBT people and their relationships. But in the public sphere, regardless of one’s religious or personal beliefs, one cannot deny equal access due to race or gender or religion.

Adding these words to Kansas Human Rights law would simply guarantee that this group of people, historically discriminated against, will have similar legal protections for equality in the public realm. The God I believe in wouldn’t condone public discrimination in any form, and our nation’s highest ideals wouldn’t either.

I urge you to do all you can to fight discrimination against LGBT people and to promote equal protection for all under the law, including the addition of these words to Kansas Human Rights Law.

Peace to you in Christ,

The Rev. Chad Andrew Herring
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)