Alliance of Baptists Grieving with Orlando

Candles lit in remembrance at congregational partner, Watts Street Baptist Church, Durham, N.C.
Photo: Candles lit in remembrance at congregational partner, Watts Street Baptist Church, Durham, N.C.

The Alliance of Baptists expresses our profound sadness and cries out in lament in response to the tragic shooting in Orlando. We are horrified yet once again by a mass shooting and an act of domestic terror.

We offer our prayers of care and support for all the families and friends of the ones who have been senselessly murdered and traumatically affected by this heinous act. We offer our best sense of God, rooted in our followership of Jesus, and expressed across the world’s enduring religions, that God is love and that God’s love embraces all with great care and compassion. Continue reading Alliance of Baptists Grieving with Orlando

Gun violence: An interview with Lorraine

Gun violence: An interview with Lorraine

Paula_DempseyIt began as a normal day. After finishing breakfast Lorraine placed a peck on the cheek of her husband, uttered a quick “I love you,” before heading out to the grocery story to purchase milk to replenish the jug emptied at breakfast.  Other family members had already left when she picked up her four-year old granddaughter to deliver her to preschool. What she encountered when she returned home turned her normal day into a life-shattering one.

The day was eleven years ago, but the memory was just as fresh as if it were yesterday’s as Lorraine told me of descending the basement steps, approaching the refrigerator, and seeing her husband’s lifeless body. Utterly shocked, she ran screaming into the yard where neighboring business owners and passersby on the busy street flocked to her side.

Read more at Baptist News Global…

Finding hope in the winter of discontent

This is a difficult time. I keep thinking of Shakespeare’s phrase, “Now is the winter of our discontent…” I am aware that Richard III does not stop his opening monologue at this point. In fact, he holds up hope as he lifts his tribute to “this sun [son] of York” who has “made glorious summer.” We’ll come back to this glorious sun/son. In spite of his good mood, Richard must have known a winter of real discontent prior to his proclamation of the coming of a glorious summer.

Truly it is hard to hold hope in this winter of discontent, to see any possibility that that glorious sun/son for which we long will ever be seen cresting the horizon of this world gone mad. The horrors of gun violence, mass shootings (352 in this country in the last 334 days), wars and rumors of war, folks who claim to be Christian building walls and issuing edicts to keep the stranger out, masses huddled in refugee camps, political rhetoric that barely rises to the level of trash talk, people arguing over the status of the planet as the earth itself cries out in agony. It is hard to hold hope in such a context, let alone proclaim it. And yet that is exactly what Advent challenges us to do – hold hope when it seems impossible.

I’ve mentioned before my friend, Harold. He’s the younger son of a seminary classmate of my father (back in Kansas in the mid 1930’s). Our fathers were close friends and I’ve known Harold most of my life. Among other things, Harold is a teacher of English, a fine organist and thoughtful agnostic. In his blog postings, he wrestles with his own deep spirituality and a love-hate relationship with organized religion. My sermon from last Sunday, “Hope Bubbles Up,” elicited a response from Harold. I was initially reluctant to read it because I imagined he might call me out for promoting cheap hope.

You see I know that Harold is very passionate about issues of social justice, especially the plight of the people of Palestine. I know this because I receive a daily blog post from Harold reminding me of the injustice and oppression perpetrated on Palestinians by Israel and its allies, chiefly the USA. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of hope for Palestine and Palestinians right now. I know this because Harold just spent 10 days in that part of world and he has told me all about it in his blog postings.

So I wasn’t disappointed when the last line of Harold’s email read, “I hope all of you hopeful people keep preaching even though, having spent 10 days in Palestine two weeks ago, I hardly see much in the world that is hopeful. At least we don’t (YET!) have 19-year-olds patrolling the streets with M-16s.” I get it. It’s a bleak winter, filled with our discontent. Madmen do roam our streets with assault weapons.

Pope Francis chides us for the frivolous festivities of the season that ignore the deep need of a hurting world, a world Christ comes to redeem, to reconcile with its Creator. I read again Thomas Merton’s powerful poem of Advent that begins:

Into this world, this demented inn
in which there is absolutely no room for him at all,
Christ comes uninvited.

This chaotic world flush with fear and anxiety, full of pain and destruction, this demented in, this bleak winter of discontent is precisely the setting into which Christ enters – uninvited yet determined to bring…hope? peace? joy? love? Merton continues:

But because he cannot be at home in it,
because he is out of place in it,
and yet he must be in it,
His place is with the others for whom
there is no room.

His place is with those who do not belong,
who are rejected by power,
because they are regarded as weak,
those who are discredited
who are denied status of persons,
who are tortured, bombed and exterminated.

With those for whom there is no room,
Christ is present in this world.”

Oddly, these word give me hope. When questioning Harold’s tag under his signature is, “I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me…” (Matthew 25:25-36), I see a flicker of light. There are constant small reminders and occasional larger ones that a better day is possible, that the summer sun might break forth, that the arc of the moral universe, though long, bends inevitably toward justice, that the Love that made us is determined to reclaim us. If we didn’t hold some flicker of hope, how could we continue at all?

An Advent devotional I read this week, puts it this way, “… often hope comes in small doses and flickering images. Signs that are fleeting and brief, and usually seem insignificant. Advent is a season in which we can cultivate a posture of waiting and watching with hope. It is hope that anchors us – it nourishes us, it sustains us, it keeps our eyes up” (d365.org).

One thing that came to me almost immediately in reading Harold’s post is that he helps me hold hope. His insistent reminders of Palestinian pain keep that awful reality before me, along with his other concerns for injustice in this world. He won’t let me forget and for that I am grateful. There are other of you whom I could cite for your faithful witness as well. The more I think about you, the clearer I am that this reflection could run on for a long, long time. Now, in this winter of my own discontent and distress, I give thanks for every one of you who helps me hold hope, even when it’s by my finger-tips. “The Christ in thee meets the Christ in me” and a glimmer of light appears on the horizon.

“O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thine advent here; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s deep shadows put to flight.” Amen.

Peacelovers and Peacemakers

Advent CandlesA big thank you to everyone who stayed Sunday to help decorate the church for the Advent/Christmas/Epiphany season. Many hands made light work and the result is beautiful. As the mind is fed by words and the ear by music, so is the eye fed by art and decoration. May all our efforts be blessed in this sacred season.

In this week in which the focus theme is peace, it is hard to face another horrible act of gun violence. One friend said she is tired of thoughts and prayers and looking for action to end the madness. She has a point. Prayers for peace are important; sometimes that’s all we can do. But prayer without some involvement in being the change we want seems like an exercise in futility. Passivity is not peace. What can we do as peacelovers to be peacemakers as well? Surely one thing is to continue to press our legislators for reasonable gun control laws. Speaking up, loudly and clearly, for justice (without which there can never be real peace) and compassion is crucial. It is not enough to sing our songs and pray our prayers of peace. We must find ways to follow actively the Prince of Peace.

The ancient word for Sunday is Zechariah’s song at the birth of his son, John. As he exults in the improbable child of his old age, he also holds hope that the “dawn from on high” will “guide our feet into the way of peace.” It’s not just our hearts or our minds that need to know the transforming way of peace. It’s also our feet that need to put us physically on the path that leads to God’s Beloved Community.

In Adult Spiritual Formation, we will continue with the video series, “Saving Jesus Redux.” This week we will consider “The World into which Jesus Was Born.” Was it so different from our own time? If so, what can we learn from his context about Jesus’ ministry and our own?

See you Sunday at 10:00 AM ready to worship, learn and share. Bring someone with you to experience the beauty, the wonder, the challenges of life lived in hope and peace.

May we continue to grow together as God’s people.

Pastor Rick 

Communion Service