The Struggle Is Real

26 September, 2015 Posted by liascholl

sticker,375x360.u3Please do not consider this sermon an endorsement of the Urban Dictionary. But have you ever looked up any words in the urban dictionary? On their homepage, they have daily definitions, just to keep you hip. One day this week, it was the phrase, “more issues than Vogue,” as in this conversation: a young woman says, “Oh! Too much homework and errands,” and a young man answers, “You have more issues than Vogue!” to which the young woman replies, “I know right!”

You know, it takes a lot of determination to be my age and to still try to stay cool, so cut me some slack, yo? Every inch of coolness has left my system…

I did spend some time with the Urban Dictionary this week. I was thinking about the word struggle. The first definition of it is “obvious complications, problems, troubles, or difficulty for a person, place or thing. The example they give is, “Lindsay Lohan had constant struggles with her teeth until she hit up the dentist.” Another definition of the word struggle is “a grouping of segways, usually traveling single file in a touring pattern. This only refers to four or more Segways, often characterized by a goofy smile or two. “It took forever to cross the street because we had to wait for a struggle of Segways to move their grinning, gyroscopic behinds across the intersection.”

Finally, the urbandictionary suggests that struggle aslo referred to as: the struggle bus, the struggle is real, I’m driving the struggle bus, and the struggle box. The struggle box is “During times of pure incompetence, ineffectiveness, or stupidity, this refers to how much a person is struggling with a given situation, or possibly with life in general. The more intense the struggle, the deeper they are in the box.”

The struggle bus is “used to metaphorically describe a difficult situation, as in hard schoolwork. The word struggle can also be used in conjunction with other modes of transport, describing the depth to which one is struggling (i.el, struggle scooter, struggle skateboard, stuggle footwear), and I’ll have to add my own, the struggle Segway.)

But the phrase “The struggle is real?” It is both a recognition of hard times, and an ironic way of saying “first world problems”. It has more urban undertones than “first world problems. And it can denote a situation where the user is encountering some sort of undesirable difficulty, but dealing with it or it can be ironic, dramatizing a non-critical, yet undesirable situation.”

Today, we find Jacob in the struggle box, and driving the struggle bus. And let me tell you, the struggle is real. Let’s be honest about Jacob. He’s not a particularly nice guy. From before his birth, he fought in the womb with his brother Esau. Genesis tells us “The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel. Esau was a hunter, a man of the open country, Jacob was content to be at home in the tent. Father Isaac loved Esau, but Mother Rebekah loved Jacob.

Sibling rivalry. The struggle is real.

Through deceit, Jacob ends up with the portion reserved for the firstborn. But we find him today, years later, returning to the land of his forebears, to the land owned and run by his brother.

Surely he was afraid. Surely he was ashamed. Surely he was concerned for his future. The past was behind him, and he couldn’t go back, but the future was uncertain, and he didn’t know if he could brave it.

Have you ever felt like that?

Surely you have. The struggle is real.

And there he is… fighting. But who is he fighting with? Again, we’re unsure. Jacob could be struggling with himself, with a man, or with God.

What about you? Do you ever find yourself struggling with yourself, with humanity, or with God? Okay, that is a rhetorical question. Of COURSE you find yourself struggling with yourself, with humanity, and with God.

But what is your current stuggle? I’ve talked with a lot of you this week, and I know that your struggles include

Why has God allowed me to be sick?
Why has my friend treated me so badly?
Why are there systemic oppressions?
Who can I trust?
Where can I find acceptance?
How can I pray?
What do I do now that I’m losing the ability to things I once did with ease?
What is my purpose?
What do we teach our children?
The next generation…
The sins of the previous generations.
How can I forgive and still hold people accountable?

Trust and believe, my friends, the struggle is real.

In case you don’t know, my tendency would be to try to fix your struggle.

But that’s not what struggle calls for. It doesn’t call for fixing. In fact, our struggles, in some weird way, may require honoring! Honoring, you say? How do I honor this struggle?

Let’s look back at Jacob. Whether he was struggling with his shadow side, or a man or with God, Jacob did a few things:

1) He didn’t give up.
Even though he was hurt, even though it was a bad struggle, Jacob kept up. You know Winston Churchill’s saying, “When you’re going through hell, keep on going?” That’s precisely what Jacob did.

When you’re going through hell, keep on going.

2) He insisted upon a blessing.
Jacob insisted on a blessing before he let the other go. You, too, can insist upon a blessing. What way has this struggle impacted your life? Has it given you more compassion? Has it made you find a place to shelter from the storm? Has it made you more self-aware? Has it given you more self-love? More understanding? More generosity? More faith?

Do not leave without a blessing.

3) He walked away changed.
You, too, will be changed. You may have a hip that’s out of joint. Or you might have a new way of referring to yourself. You might have new friends, new faces in your life. You might have a new job. Or you may have lost all of these things.

You will not walk away unchanged. But that change can be growth. It can be confrontation with your shadow self. It can be a positive outcome. It can be purpose.

You know, it’s possible that reconciliation wasn’t on Jacob’s mind when he was heading back to

4) You are not alone.
You know you are not alone. You have heard this list of struggles. You know that you are not the only one that is struggling with your particular struggle. You know, one of the things I’ve learned in years of pastoral care is that our struggles are eerily similar to one another. Look around this room—you share your fears with someone else here.

Unlike Jacob, you are not alone.

And there’s something else, too. Everything that you’re dealing with, Jesus has dealt with, too. Look at our gospel lesson…. Jesus, in Gethsemane, struggled, too. He was facing the ultimate loss. And do you know what?

In the end, he walked away with the blessing. The blessing of eternal life. The blessing of presence with God. The blessing of sharing his love with all of the earth.

Because of this miracle, you, too are not alone.

Sarah Laughed

20 September, 2015 Posted by liascholl

On September 11, 2001, I was serving my first church. It was my home church, Southside Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and I was serving (as women often do just out of seminary) as their secretary. It was my first week of work there. In fact, it was my first Tuesday. I walked into the downstairs entrance into the church, and the receptionist said, “Turn on the radio upstairs. Something has happened.”

Instead we found a television. The first building of the World Trade Center had been hit at 7:46 am, when I was driving to work (Birmingham is on central time). At 8:03, minutes before I turned that television on, the second building had been hit. The tv was already showing the crashes over and over.

At the time, my church was sharing space with a Reform Jewish synagogue and sixteen other congregations and nonprofits. It was only the first weeks of the Jewish congregation being there. I spent much of the morning calling clergy, offering to host a service that evening, rounding up leaders from our respective congregations. We had nine clergy persons praying and sharing words of comfort that evening—five Christian clergy, three Rabbis, and one Imam. We shared a choir made up of Jews, Muslims, and Christians, singing hymns and religious songs.

The senior pastor of my church was hiking in the woods that day, and didn’t hear the news until nearly 3:00 pm, and by then, cell phones weren’t working well.

The Jewish congregation’s director and I spent some time on the stoop that day… She taught me a lot in the 14 months that we shared space, things like “clean the carpets when people visit, but wait until AFTER they leave.” On September 11, she told me that the first response of Jews was always to wonder if someone was trying to kill them.

The service began at 6, I think, and just prior to people coming, the FBI entered our building with bomb sniffing dogs, specialized tools, and their guns. I was jarred by the sight of guns in my church. But as I watched them looking for anything suspicious, I thought, “Doing this service is worth dying for.”

A few short weeks later, my church and the synagogue’s congregation carried Torah scrolls from their shul to our church, and as we rounded the corner, there were new banners on our church that had a quote that was etched into the synagogues historical building, “My house shall be a house of prayer for all people.”

I thought, at that moment, this is a thing worth dying for. Justice and peace and togetherness. It is a thing worth dying for.

It was at later in the DC Metro area where I began to understand the full complexity of justice and peace and togetherness. Because a plane his the Pentagon that same day, the county decided to respond by working on resiliency—built on the idea that justice and peace and togetherness could make our neighborhoods safer, especially when bad things happen to any one of us—and we began having dialogues across the Abrahamic faiths—Jews, Christians and Muslims. But dialogue wasn’t possible without friendship. The clergy members who were participating in the dialogues began by having meetings, but soon, we were sharing meals, learning together, praying together.

Over and over again, I was reminded, Justice and peace and togetherness. Isaiah 56:7 says, “My house shall be a house of prayer for all peoples.” It is a thing worth dying for.

A few weeks ago, Lindsey told the story of The Great Family in the joint Sunday school class.

She opened the desert bag, a canvas bag filled with sand. She said, “The desert is a scary place, hot during the day and cold at night. In fact, it can be a deadly place.” Then she placed to blue strings in the sand, side by side, and said, “This is the Tigris and the Euphrates.” Then she placed two spools in the sand, saying, “This is Haran, and another and said, “This is Ur.” The she placed two wooden people in the sand and walked them from Haran to Ur. Then from Ur, they went to Bethel and Hebron and built altars there. They walked until they found home.

Of course, the story was just a portion of the story of Sarah and Abraham.

There’s also the story that Sarah wanted children, but couldn’t have them. So she offered her maidservant, Hagar, as a surrogate and Hagar gave birth to Ishmael.

There’s the story of the Lord telling Abram that Sarah would have a child.

And then we’re at today’s text.

Abraham and Sarah, being visited by messengers, are told that she will give birth to a baby. Sarah laughs.

Look at Sarah and Abraham in today’s text… As soon as Abraham saw the three visitors, he ran from his tent entrance to greet them and bowed deeply. He said, “Sirs, if you would be so kind, don’t just pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought so you may wash your feet and refresh yourselves under the tree. Let me offer you a little bread so you will feel stronger, and after that you may leave your servant and go on your way—since you have visited your servant.”

They responded, “Fine. Do just as you have said.”

So Abraham hurried to Sarah at his tent and said, “Hurry! Knead three seahs of the finest flour and make some baked goods!” Abraham ran to the cattle, took a healthy young calf, and gave it to a young servant, who prepared it quickly. Then Abraham took butter, milk, and the calf that had been prepared, put the food in front of them, and stood under the tree near them as they ate.

This is radical welcome.

This radical welcome was the basis for hearing this wonderful new about a new baby for Abraham and Sarah. But if you look closely at this text, you see that there’s not a lot of trust in the conversation. Difficult conversations about the world, about its people, about following Jesus into justice work all must take place in relationship. It is only through deep connection that there is movement together. Sarah and Abraham don’t really believe the three strangers. Our lives in justice work are like that. How many times have you changed your mind because of an argument with an enemy? How many times have you changed your mind because of a discussion with a friend?

Sarah laughed. It must have been a nervous laugh. She was frightened of the man offering the news of a child. She was so nervous, that she even lied about having laughed!

The man who told Sarah of the birth also said that he would return. And although the Bible doesn’t explicitly say that he returned, I bet he did. I think Abraham and Sarah began a friendship with that man, on that day. And I think Sarah is thinking of that man when she names Isaac, “he laughs.”

Because trust builds over time. The hardest moment of this week was when I was sitting across from a friend and gave him bad news. My biggest fear was that our friendship would be lost, that I was breaking it. I could see the anger and hurt in his eyes, hear it in his voice. And it was deserved.

I can promise you that I laughed during that conversation. But it was more like that first laugh of Sarah’s. Nervous laughter. Not the good kind.

Do you know how to break tension? Do you know how to best restore yourself to you? Sarah did. She named her child, “He laughs.” And she said, ““God has given me laughter. Everyone who hears about it will laugh with me.” I had a moment of grace yesterday sitting on the back porch with old friends. I can’t even remember what we were laughing about, but it was a deep belly laugh, the kind that starts at the top and works its way down through your whole body, and there was a release of tension, a letting go, and a deep conviction that God had given me laughter.

Because we cannot do the hard work of justice and peace and togetherness without laughter. During the break out sessions and speeches this weekend I was reminded that there are things worth dying for—and justice, peace and togetherness for all people is top on that list. Listening to the stories of children denied access to schools, of grown ups denied access to their own lands, of violence, death and destruction. All people, including the Palestinian people, having the right to exist, to self-determine, that’s worth dying for.

But we are not in this work alone. God has given us laughter, but God has also given us this calling.

It is a calling into that justice and peace and togetherness work. It seems impossible. It seems more impossible than a 90 year old woman giving birth to a baby. It seems more impossible than opening up relationships across religious and cultural lines to talk about justice and peace and togetherness.

But you know what? “It’s impossible with human beings but not with God. All things are possible for God.”


Fashioning an Earth Creature

13 September, 2015 Posted by liascholl

Based on Genesis 3:4-24

Most of you know I went to a very conservative seminary. It was Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. I chose it because I friendly support in Birmingham, a church I loved, and a sense of calling to be in the that place. So it was okay. In fact, in some ways it was good.

But it had its days… And this text reminds me of one of those days… It was my second year, and I was in my first semester of Hebrew Bible, and we were talking about the cosmic beginnings. By now, I had gotten my footing, and I was a pretty outspoken proponent of multiple views of the texts, and certainly felt like, if we were going to train women with a Master of Divinity, then we should at least treat them like full humans in our classes.

My Hebrew Bible professor was a geeky, shy guy. He had a naiveté about him that was at once endearing and infuriating. One day he spent an entire three-hour class extolling the books we should be reading for exegetical purposes, and telling us their slang names. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament was called the TDENT. The Hebrew Bible dictionary, written by Brown, Driver and Briggs, was called BDB. When he got to the final book, it was the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. He strung together the letters T-W-O-T and which is an impolite word. And then he repeated it, again and again. The mostly-male students (this was a class of forty students or so, and only three were women) kept asking him questions, “What did you call that one again?” then turning around to me and asking, “Lia, did you buy your impolite word book yet?”

I went to the professor a day later and requested that he not say that word anymore. He asked why… I said it was a slang euphemism for a part of the female anatomy. He asked which one, then quickly shook his head and said “Never mind.”

On the day in question, he taught this morning’s text, and in doing so, spent three hours in class telling us why boys are better than girls. I looked around the room at the three other women in that class, and each of them were crying. As you can imagine, I wasn’t crying. I was, instead, angry.

After a post-class discussion with the other women, and a drawing of straws, it was determined that it was my turn, yet again, to argue with the presentation of Genesis 2 in the professor’s class. I approached him and asked for a word. I expressed my feelings, and the feelings of the other women students in the class. I spoke of his even-handed treatment of the text in other ways, making us do things like research why Isaiah may have been written by three writers, or a school of writers, rather than just one single guy. I suggested that there were a myriad of ways to see this text, and that they least imaginative and easiest interpretation (which were often wrong) was that boys are better than girls.

He refused to tell the other side of the story. He offered to give up space in the class if I could find another scholar to speak of the equality in the text. I approached three professors, and no one was wiling to teach the egalitarian side. Finally, I came to him with three outside reading texts—requesting that the class read them—and be tested on their content.

Like I said, this is one of the easiest texts to approach with a lack of imagination. This text can be approached with black and white thinking and your binary binoculars. You’ve got all the binaries here. Good, evil. Male, female. Solitude, togetherness. Tame and wild. You also get a touch of the domineering and subordinate in here.

But clearly the text wants us to approach it with imagination. What do you do to engage the imagination? You give details. Listen to the description of the rivers:

A river flows through Eden to water the garden, after which it branches into four tributaries. The first stream is named Pison, or “Spreaker.” It circles through Havilah, a land rich in gold, gold of the highest quality. There are gum resins there, and precious onyx stones. The second stream is named Gihon, or “Gusher,” and it flows through the entire land of Cush. The third stream is the Tigris, which borders Assyria on the east. The fourth stream is the Euphrates.

You know these rivers, right? Or at least the Tigris and the Euphrates. The Pison is the Nile. Heard of that one, right? The fourth river is the Gihon, and it’s only a tiny spring in Jerusalem. Why do you think that small river would be co-equal with the Tigris, the Euprates, and the Nile?

And if we see that the rivers are held as co-equal, how does that impact the rest of what we read? The Tigris and the Euphrates think they are grand. The Nile thinks it is grand. The Gihon thinks it is grand.

What if what things think of themselves in creation creates what they are?

Ta-Nahasi Coates does this thing around race. He calls white people, “those who think they are white.” What if we talk about Adam as, “one who thinks they are male,” and the cattle, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals are only “those who think they are wild”? Perhaps then the binaries we talked about earlier aren’t really binaries.

And if we didn’t know binary, what if we also didn’t place more value on one of these groups over the other? It was the garden. Perhaps it is less hierarchical?

Reading it in the inclusive text helps a little bit this those hierarchies and binaries. It’s hard to hear gender in the name of YHWH. it’s difficult to identify gender in the term “earth creature.” You might think that we’re removing gender from the text, but it’s just not true. The name Adam wasn’t a male name, it was a shortened form of the word, adamah, the ground.

And what if, what if, the apex of the story isn’t Adam finding Eve, but is earth creature finding earth creature. Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh! That it is togetherness that is important in this story, not male and female, not marriage, but togetherness.

What would the implication of that be? It would be that love is the most important thing.

What do you think? Is love the most important thing? Can you see it in the way that Adam tends to the garden? Is togetherness what trumps it all?

Of course it is.

Our Gospel Lesson from Mark this morning proves the point. Jesus, at the beginning of his public ministry, calling his disciples What do you think he was looking for? Accompaniment, Togetherness. An end to loneliness. Is it what you’re looking for? Isn’t it what we’re all looking for?

Togetherness is the thing that ends racism. It is the thing that ends heterosexism. It is the thing that ends sexism.

As Paul tells us in Galatians 3:28, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” It is togetherness.

I think back on that professor from seminary. He was a kind man. He was a funny man. And while he professed (for three hours) using this text, that boys are better than girls, and I know he did it because he had a (point of view, posture) to defend. Although by all accounts, his wife could have turned around General Motors… I know that he refused to give the other side of the argument because he had a job to save, too.

That’s the thing with Scripture. You can use it to defend your position. You can support your construct with it. You can live with other people’s understanding of it. You can even walk away from it because you can’t stomach other people’s understandings.

Or you can live into it.

Living into it means reading it for yourself. Asking questions of it. And seeking the mystery of it. Because the beauty of reading it for yourself can open you up to the beauty of the text, and the true message of God—and that is that we’re all seeking love, togetherness, and relationship.

I’m so grateful to be together with you.

I Will Pour Out My Spirit

6 September, 2015 Posted by liascholl

I’m reminded of a time I sat in a room full of people, who were about my age, when we were at a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship meeting in Memphis. One person in the group asked the question, “Our heroes are getting old. Will D. Campbell and James Dunn are late in life. Who will replace them?”

Now, if you don’t know, Will Campbell is the man who said, when asked what the gospel is, “We’re all bastards and God loves us anyway.” And James Dunn said, “Freedom is not absolute. No one is ‘free as a bird.’ Only a bird is free as a bird. We are not free to deny basic freedoms to others. When anyone’s freedom is denied, everyone’s freedom is endangered. We are not free without responsibility. Freedom and responsibility are like two sides of a coin, inseparable. No matter how thin it is sliced, the coin of responsible freedom still has two sides. God made us able to respond, response able, responsible, and if responsible, free.”

Back to that conversation in that hotel room with the dozen and a half young shakers and movers in the moderate church… “Who will replace our prophets?”

A couple of people were nominated, but the one I remember most was already the president of a moderate denomination, a man so milquetoast, so driven by dollars, so scared to take a stand on anything important because of the way it might affect donations, that I nearly spit my drink out.

And I realized, right then, that we have no idea what a prophetic voice is.

In Deuteronomy 18:18, God says, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command.” The Hebrew word here is navi, which comes from the phrase “niv sefatayim” which means, “fruit of the lips,” emphasizing the role of the prophet as the mouthpiece of God.

So, that’s the first thing that prophets do… They are the mouthpiece of God, telling the people in their corner of the world what God wants. But wait… you know that in order to have a word from the Lord, they must’ve been talking to God.

According to Walter Brueggeman, there are three typical genres of prophetic utterances. The first is “lawsuit speech.” These speeches “sought to establish the failure of Israel to keep covenant with Yahweh and to anticipate the disaster to come as just punishment for failure to be faithful to Yahweh.”

The second genre is an appeal for repentance. Bruggemann gives two examples of these appeals, the first two from Hosea:

Sow for yourselves righteousness;
reap steadfast love;
break up your fallow ground;
for it is time to seek the Lord,
that he may come and rain
righteousness upon you (Hos 10:12)


But as for you, return to your God,
hold fast to love and justice,
and wait continually for your God. (Hos 12:6)

and then from Isaiah:

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings
from before my eyes;
ceast to do evil,
learn to do good;
seek justice,
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.

Finally, Brueggemann shows us that the prophets bring an oracle of promise. The opening to this oracle is usually, “in that day,” or “behold the days are coming. Our Jeremiah is particularly good at this one.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah… But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

In an interpretation of that same chapter of Jeremiah, Phyllis Trible points out that prophet Jeremiah talks about the nature of God—which is compassion—using the image of a womb. It’s the sense that the prophet is reminding us, over and over, of God’s mercy and grace.

So, in effect, the prophets do four things:

1) show how we have failed in our part of the covenant with God
2) appeal to people to repent
3) give a promise, and
4) show us the true nature of God’s love.

Which has led me to wonder, who are the prophetic voices in the United States? And what makes them prophets?

I have some names. Bree Newsome. You know her. She’s the person who took down the Confederate flag in South Carolina, who repeated, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” as she came down the pole. Karen Attiah, from the Washington Post says that Newsome’s qoting of scripture says:

By asking “Whom shall I fear?” Newsome is refusing to fear the hatred behind the symbol of the Confederate flag, the longstanding system in America of the forced labor of blacks under the threat of the most unspeakable forms of torture, terror, violence and death.

By asking “Whom shall I fear?” Newsome is refusing to fear police officers in the same state where a white officer gunned down an unarmed black man in the back as he fled.

By asking “Whom shall I fear?” Newsome is refusing to fear the burning churches across the South.

Finally, by asking “Whom shall I fear?” Newsome is refusing to fear Ku Klux Klan which has reportedly been trying to increase its recruitment of members since the Charleston massacre.

Maybe it’s Joe Henry, a Grammy Award-winning producer and singer-songwriter. He wrote, in the liner notes of a 2007 album, “I recognize in his many appearances, though, not the God of my Methodist raising, who sat judging tennis balls in or out from high on a perch. But one among us who stretches like the net itself, wholly visible and there but to frame the attempt.”

Or what about Sandya Jha, a writer and pastor I met at the Wild Goose Festival. She writes, “A prophetic message says, “God is grieving because this world is out of alignment with God’s will.” A prophetic message is saturated in tears and grief because real people are being harmed and God’s community is ignoring that fact. Jeremiah and Amos and Micah were not poltiticians; they were professional mourners.

And our desire to avoid grief—God’s grief, our family grief—is placing us in a dangerous position of also avoiding God’s call.”

Surely there are other prophets today? They show us how we have failed in our part of the covenant with God, appeal to us to repent, give a promise for the future, and show us the true nature of God’s love.

And I have to admit, I’m mostly interested in one prophetic voice. And that is yours, Wake Forest Baptist Church. Throughout our history, we have been a prophetic voice in Baptist life, in North Carolina, in the Triad region, and in Winston-Salem. In 1962, we threw open the doors to all people of color. In the 80s and 90s, we worked against racial injustice in the prison system, working to free Darryl Hunt. In 2000, we performed our first same sex wedding.

Prophetic voice? Absolutely.

But I here God asking, “What have you done for me lately?” Prophetic voice is centered, not in liberal politics, but in our faith in God. It is centered in a deep, abiding relationship with God. And so this is the question I have for you this morning.

Are you centered in a deep, abiding relationship with God? You’re the only one who can answer that question.

Today for communion, we’re going to do something different. We’re all going to come forward to take communion, by intinction, here at the table. I ask you, that rather than lining up, you take a few minutes to say a prayer, to come forward when you are ready, when you think you have made peace with God. Woody is going to play our hymn through once, while we pray individually, then we will sing and pray as we take communion.

Many people tell me that they do not know how to pray, so here’s some ideas for you.

Creator God, I don’t know who you are, but I want to know…

Sustainer God, I want to follow you, to be yours.

Loving God, I trust that you love me, and that you want something for me and from me. I am willing, Lord. Help me get there.

Compassionate God, I’m yours, wholly yours. Mold me. Make me. And use me to make your church.

Meditating on Your Word

30 August, 2015 Posted by liascholl

For those of you who don’t know, I’m 47 years old. That means that I’m nearing 50. Some days I do the math on that, and I’m overwhelmed, just like I heard from someone on Friday at the Men’s Breakfast… He mentioned his shock at turning 80. Those birthdays just keep coming and coming, don’t they?

And I know, y’all who are older are rolling your eyes at my turning 48. But still, every age brings its stuff, right?

I’ve noticed, as I’ve neared 50, that I’m entering into a new phase in my life. At 40, I knew myself really well. I knew my likes and my dislikes, I new my proclivities. I knew my body, what it was capable of, and more importantly, what it was incapable of. I knew my brain, I knew what I was good at, and what I wasn’t so good at. I think I had a pretty decent self-understanding.

But now, entering 50, I have no idea who I am. A few weeks ago at the Wild Goose Festival, I decided that I want to camp next year. CAMP! I am Lia Scholl who does NOT CAMP. I like 5 star hotels, but will put up with 3 star ones. I don’t like bugs. I don’t like nighttime outside. I don’t like heat, or being dirty. And I’m going to camp at Wild Goose next year.

But it’s just not that… I deal with conflict differently than I ever have. I am much more direct, much less interested in going along to get along. I am more decisive. But I am also more tender than I have ever been before. I stop to pet dogs and cats in the wild. Heck, I flipped June bugs over this summer.

It’s disconcerting, you know? Like I have a new identity, and I don’t know how I got here. And in defining myself, I’m less interested in being SURE. I just am resting in being, rather than being a certain way.

I wonder how many times in our lives we have this sort of passage. A passage in our lives where we have to stop and define ourselves again. And even more than that, how do we do it? How do we define ourselves at any moment of time?

There are moments in the Hebrew people’s lives where they, too, have to build a new understanding of who they are… And the way that they do it is in responding to new covenants that God offers.

Think about the major covenants in the Hebrew Bible… There’s the covenant with Noah, the rainbow that allows us to trust that God is not out to destroy us. That’s a pretty big one, right?

And then, with Abram, the covenant of circumcision… That covenant is a sign of a relationship with God—that Abram’s people will be God’s people.

And then the Ten Commandments. It’s a covenant that works to tell us how we should act… both in relation to God and to one another. Walter Brueggemann says “if we are to identify what is most characteristic and most distinctive in the life and vocation of this pattern of Yahweh (Israel), it is the remarkable equation of love of God with love of neighbor, which is enacted through the exercise of distributive justice of social goods, social power, and social access to those without leverage; for those without social leverage are entitled to such treatment simply by the fact of their membership in the community.” In other words, God’s covenant with Israel is about the way we act, as Jesus said, “to the least of these.”

You can understand these rules, these 10 Commandments, as boundaries on our behavior—
No other gods.
No images.
No using God’s name in vain
No work on the Sabbath.
No dishonoring parents.
No killing.
No adultery.
No theft.
No lying.
No coveting.

These are the boundaries, but the play between the boundaries is really what God is doing… We focus on the “don’t do’s,” when the “do’s” are so much broader. I’ve been thinking all week as the Ten Commandments being the edge of the dance floor, but the covenant being the dance floor.

And the dance floor doesn’t determine the dance, it just makes it possible. And it’s the dance that defines our identity much more than the boundaries, but it’s easier to talk about the boundaries.

I had lunch with a friend this week that told me of some changes she’s been going through. After a cancer diagnosis, and treatment (she’s doing well), she has noticed some odd changes in her dance… She had always considered herself a wordsmith, a writer, and had always been a stick figure visual artist. She maintains that she had no visual art talent. Suddenly, after her cancer treatments, she cannot put down the sketchpad. This new talent has sprung forth. And it scares her, because it’s not what she’s known, it’s not how she’s related artistically with the world before, and yet, the talent is there.

It’s like the boundary of a cancer diagnosis has opened up possibilities in her life.

That’s what covenant does. By defining our edges, covenant opens up our possibilities.

So how do we understand ourselves individually and collectively as a congregation? What are our boundaries? And even better, what are our possibilities?

We define ourselves by who we love.

We define ourselves by the times we’re living in.
Wouldn’t it be weird if we defined ourselves as carriage riders in an age of cars? Do we define ourselves as flat-earthers in a time of space travel? What are the primary important things that are happening in our world right now?

We define ourselves by the choices we make.
What do you eat on your peanut butter sandwiches? Jelly? Honey? Marshmallow puff? Or potato chips?

We define ourselves by who we are at home. There’s a Chinese proverb that says, “Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.”

We define ourselves again, any time we want to…
Oliver Sacks, redefining himself in December 2014, finally really, truly coming out gay and then as dying…

What is the importance of defining ourselves? It’s not to lock us in, it’s to free us. To allow us to give free expression of who we are and how we are. Our identity opens doors for us, and maybe it closes some doors, too, but knowing our identity broadens our possibilities and allows us to use our limited energy on the right things.

As I was talking about this sermon, a friend pressed me about those changes that I do not understand quite yet. He asked the question, “What brought about the change?”

And when pressed for why there has been this change, I must admit that it’s because I put limitations on myself for years. And I finally realized that it was ME who put these limitations there. I found, through my relationship with God, that my limitations were not God’s limitations. That God had many more expectations and adventures for me than I could ever imagine.

But those limitations I had put there were keeping me from the adventures that God had in store for me.

Our passage from the Psalms this morning says this:

Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope. This is my comfort in my distress, that your promise gives me life.

These covenants? They give life.

And they are not the only covenants that God has made with us. There is another really significant one. Remember when Jesus took the bread? And the wine? And he said, “This is a new covenant which I make with you. I will not be drinking wine with you again until I see you in the Kingdom.” That covenant is one of not only life, but life ongoing… It may not be pearly gates. It may not be streets of gold. But there’s a promise that life does not end. That’s the covenant of the cross. It is “what you see is not what you get.” That ultimately, life wins. Love wins. And you’re a part of that covenant.

You may have never thought that you wanted to be part of a covenant. It’s a life giving covenant that only needs a yes from you. You can make that yes publicly or privately. It’s also a covenant of relationship—with a community of people. You may feel like you want to belong to this covenantal people, finding out who we are in this new phase of our lives. If that’s where you’re at today, I invite you, during our next hymn, to come forward… Join us in being a covenantal group of people who love God and love one another… All are welcome, no exceptions.

No Mud, No Lotus

26 August, 2015 Posted by liascholl

Based on Romans 5:3-5

Most of us have experienced love. You’ve been in love with someone who took your breath away. You’ve been held in your mother’s loving arms. You’ve held a child in your arms. You’ve had a best friend who would hold all your secrets. Or a friend or who you so well that you didn’t have to talk for months, and yet you still know that you’re loved. You have had someone place a cold compress on your head. You’ve had someone hold your hand. You have felt loved and felt loving.

And nearly all of us have failed at love. Paul says in Romans 7:15, “ I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” We’ve run to someone else even though we had someone at home who took our breath away. We’ve crossed our arms when our parents have tried to hug us. We’ve yelled at a child, changing her world forever. We’ve told our friends’ secrets. We have avoided calls, missed illnesses, and dropped people’s hands. We have all failed to love and we have felt the shame of it.

And it doesn’t happen at the END of relationships. It doesn’t even cause relationships to end. It is just part of who we are. In as much as we are the image of God, we are also imperfect. And this, my friends, is the root of suffering.

Thich Nhat Hanh in No Mud, No Lotus says:

The function of mindfulness is, first, to recognize the suffering and then to take care of the suffering. The work of mindfulness is first to recognize the suffering and second to embrace it. A mother taking care of a crying baby naturally will take the child into her arms without suppressing, judging it, or ignoring the crying. Mindfulness is like that mother, recognizing and embracing suffering without judgment.

So the practice is not to fight or suppress the feeling, but rather to cradle it with a lot of tenderness. When a mother embraces her child, that energy of tenderness begins to penetrate into the body of the child. Even if the mother doesn’t understand at first why the child is suffering and she needs some time to find out what the difficulty is, just her act of taking the child into her arms with tenderness can already bring relief.

You know, we all start out learning to love, failing at loving, doing better, doing worse, and doing better again. We learn people better. We learn ourselves better. And ideally, we learn to love better. But it takes practice.

Listen now to our text this morning:

And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Our suffering produces endurance which produces character, which produces hope, with, coupled with God’s love in our hearts gets fulfilled in being better lovers.

It takes practice.

Throughout all of Eastertide, we’ve been talking about practice.

Thich Nhat Hanh, in his book No Mud, No Lotus gives five practices:

Release the cows…

Nhat Hanh tells the story of a farmer…
One day the Buddha was sitting with some of his monks in the woods. They were eating breakfast, when a farmer passed by, looking distraught.

He asked the Buddha, “Monks, have you seen some cows going by here?

“What cows?” the Buddha responded.

“Well,” the man said. “I have four cows and I don’t know why, but this morning they all ran away. I also have two acres of sesame. This year the insects ate the entire crop. I have lost everything: my harvest and my cows. I feel like killing myself.” The Buddha said, “Dear friend, we have been sitting here almost an hour and we have not seen any cows passing by. Maybe you should go and look in the other direction.” When the farmer was gone, the Buddha looked at his friends and smiled knowingly. “Dear friends, you are very lucky,” he said. “You don’t have any cows to lose.”

Water the right seed…

Everything bad thing in our lives has a good thing, too. Joan Chittister says:

The truth is that we spend our lives in the centrifuge of paradox. What seems certainly true on the one hand seems just as false on the other. Life is made up of incongruities. Life ends in death; what brings us joy will surely bring us an equal and equivalent amount of sorrow; perfection is a very imperfect concept; fidelities of every ilk promise support but also often end.

Imagine that those paradoxes are seeds—and for every dark seed, there is a light seed. For every sorrow, there is a joy. For every down emotion, there’s an up emotion. Make sure that you feed the good seed.

Become a lake…

An aging master grew tired of his apprentice’s complaints. One morning, he sent him to get some salt. When the apprentice returned, the master told him to mix a handful of salt in a glass of water and then drink it.

“How does it taste?” the master asked.

“Bitter,” said the apprentice.

The master chuckled and then asked the young man to take the same handful of salt and put it in the lake. The two walked in silence to the nearby lake and once the apprentice swirled his handful of salt in the water, the old man said, “Now drink from the lake.”

As the water dripped down the young man’s chin, the master asked, “How does it taste?”

“Fresh,” remarked the apprentice.

“Do you taste the salt?” asked the master.

“No,” said the young man. At this the master sat beside this serious young man, and explained softly,

“The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains exactly the same. However, the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in. So when you are in pain, the only thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of things. Stop being a glass. Become a lake.”

Lather, Rinse, Repeat…
What works is to keep practicing being in the moment, all the time. Don’t dredge up bad things, but focus on the now. Don’t worry about the future. Focus on the now. Concentrate.

Remember the pollen…
In the springtime, like now, we may have trouble breathing. So in winter, when there’s not pollen, instead of complaining about the cold, we can remember April or May when we couldn’t breathe.

Our suffering produces endurance which produces character, which produces hope, with, coupled with God’s love in our hearts gets fulfilled in being better lovers.

And here’s the thing… All that justice stuff? What is justice? It is love made manifest in community.

May it ever be.

Original Sin or Sour Grapes

22 August, 2015 Posted by liascholl

Two weeks ago, I did a sermon about WHY we should read the Bible. Then last week, I preached an overview of the Hebrew Bible so that you can put people in the stories, understanding the context. This week, we’ll study a terrific (or terror-rific, depending on your point of view) piece of theology, considering what the old white guys say about the meaning of the text, and ideally, some younger, more diverse voices say.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer.

Theology can be defined, as one of my beloved professors in seminary called it, as thinking about God. When considering the theology of the Hebrew Bible there are big themes… and today we’ll consider one of the biggest.

Walter Brueggemann names it like this, “At the center of reality is a deep, radical, painful, costly fissure, that will, soon or late, break every self-arranged pattern of well-being.”

The Hebrew Bible bears witness to this fissure at the center of reality in many different ways. One way is in the Garden of Eden—when Eve and Adam eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The psalms bear witness through the Psalms of complaint. We see it in our cycle of exile, exodus and entry, then exile again.

Many theologians have said that the cause of this is original sin. Augustine said, in about 400 CE, “… before the fall angels and men possessed the ability not to sin as well as the ability to sin but that after the fall they possessed only the latter. Adam’s sin, then, has corrupted the entire human race and it is a mass sin and justly subject to damnation.” Original sin, to Augustine, dooms us all to sin, and all to damnation, to only be saved by the loving intention of God.

This damnation comes from eating the apple according to Augustine, but Susan Niditch says “All too often readers come to Genesis weighed down by Augustine’s interpretation of the story…”

What if eating the apple is not the origin of sin, but is, instead, the origin of life? The garden was a “well-provisioned, closely controlled world lacking discernment, social roles and sexual status” which was transformed into a world with birth and death, where people work hard, and where they know the difference between good and evil. Remember that it is only after the “fall” that Eve comes to “house new life within her.”

What if, instead, the original sin happens later in Genesis. What if, instead, the original sin happens in chapter 6, when Cain kills Abel. Remember the story? Cain is a tiller of the ground and Abel is a keeper of sheep. They bring their offering, and Cain’s offering is spurned by God. The verses say, “So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.’”

So Cain kills Abel. “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!”

The original sin? Is it acting in anger? Is it the killing of Abel? The taking of life? Or is it, instead, not being our brother’s and sister’s keepers? That word, ha-sho-mer, is used in the Bible like this: tending a garden, guarding (as in the tree of life), keeping the covenant, and even in the sense of beware, or take care, , and in Genesis 28:15, in God’s promise that God is with the Hebrew people, “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go and bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have I done what I have promised you.”

We are to tend to our brothers and our sisters, to guard them from danger, to take care of their needs. In The Long Loneliness, Dorothy Day says:

The scandal of businesslike priests, of collective wealth, the lack of a sense of responsibility for the poor, the worker, the Negro, the Mexican, the Filipino, and even the oppression of these, and the consenting to the oppression of them by our industrial-capitalist order—these make me feel often that priests were more like Cain than Abel. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” they seemed to say in respect to the social order. There was plenty of charity but too little justice.”


Did you know that one person’s life experience can affect subsequent generations? There is evidence that genetic changes stemming from the trauma suffered by Holocaust survivors are capable of being passed on to their children. And a new study, that of epigenetics.

The conclusion came from a research team at New York’s Mount Sinai hospital led by Rachel Yehuda studying 32 Jewish men and women who had either been interned in a Nazi concentration camp, witnessed or experienced torture or who had had to hide during the second world war.

Their children’s genes were also studied, and were found to have increased likelihood of stress disorders, and compared the results with Jewish families who were living outside of Europe during the war. “The gene changes in the children could only be attributed to Holocaust exposure in the parents,” said Yehuda.

In other words, trauma is passed down through generations. Something bad happens to you, and it shows up generations later.

“The parents have eaten sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”

Your teeth are set on edge from the trauma of your parents and their parents before them, and their parents before them.

So what about the generations of Adam and Eve? What was the epigenetic make up of the children of Shem that we read about today? How did the trauma of Abel’s death affect the generations? Of those before Noah, the Bible reads, “And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” They knew more of the evil from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

And we read the names of the generations. Have you any question why? The list of names, they tell us who people are.

So I ask you… How is this text like today? Can you see the connection between our genealogy and the saying of the names from the #Blacklivesmatter movement?

The names are important. Surely you’ve heard of the new protest song by Janelle Monáe, called Hell You Talmbout. The song chants the names of African Americans killed by white supremacy: Walter Scott, Jerame Reid, Philip White, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, Freddy Gray, Aiyana Jones, “Sandra Bland, say her name, Sandra Bland, say her name, Sandra Bland, won’t you say her name,” Kimani Grey, John Crawford, Michael Brown, Miriam Carey, Sharonda Singleton, Emmet Till, Tommy Yancy, Jordan Baker, “Amadou Diallo, say his name, Amadou Diallo, say his name, won’t you say his name?”,

There are theologians who believe that slavery is the original sin in the United States.
These are the generations living with our original sin… Ta-Nahisi Coates reminds us that we’ve had 250 years of slavery. 90 years of Jim Crow. 60 years of separate but equal. 35 years of state-sanctioned redlining.

But let’s look at our Jeremiah passage again…

In those days they shall no longer say:

“The parents have eaten sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”

But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge.

“Everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge.”

Jeremiah promises that generational curses will be over. It is the promise of the new Messiah. For the life of me, I know that God does change things. I know that God does make all things new. I know that life in Christ is DIFFERENT. And I know that it hinges on repentance and forgiveness for those who have wronged. I know that generational curses are changed by doing things differently.

But I don’t know how…

But I know people who know how.

I spoke this week with a young Wake Divinity graduate, named Mamie. Mamie reminded me that Jesus on the cross did not forgive those who put him on the cross. Instead, he asked God to forgive them.

The act of forgiveness that the cross represents is not an act by the one who is sinned against. The original sin is forgiven, but not by the people who have been sinned against. But instead, by God, when God sees that we have sinned out of ignorance and out of our own brokenness. By that thing that Brueggemann reminds us, the “center of reality is a deep, radical, painful, costly fissure, that will, soon or late, break every self-arranged pattern of well-being.”

And that original sin can only be broken by generations of NOT sinning against our brother. By going back and answering “Am I my brother’s keeper?” by the affirmative, “Shomer achi anochi,” I AM my brother’s keeper. I am entrusted with my brother’s well-being.

And generational sins are broken by saying, “I’m not going to be like the generations before me.” They are broken by planting and building—relationships, affordable neighborhoods, good schools, food oases, not charity, but justice.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

Love is creative and redemptive. Love builds up and unites; hate tears down and destroys. The aftermath of the ‘fight with fire’ method which you suggest is bitterness and chaos, the aftermath of the love method is reconciliation and creation of the beloved community. Physical force can repress, restrain, coerce, destroy, but it cannot create and organize anything permanent; only love can do that. Yes, love—which means understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill, even for one’s enemies—is the solution to the race problem.

The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men and women.

It is love that breaks the hold of generational, original sin. May it ever be.

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    Lia practices radical acceptance for those who the church has vilified and shamed. It's not just something she preaches, but something that she really tries to reflect in her life.

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