Report from And

Earlier this month, I preached a sermon somewhat related to the post “The Queen of But.”  I stepped down from my throne and became intentional about living in the uncertain land of And.  On my last Sunday at St Matt’s, a dear lady and her grandchildren gave me this awesome light up ampersAND.   It is delightful!  I can’t wait until it finds a new permanent home after we move.

I have a number of new followers AND think I should again post about what I write and why.   Sometimes there are connections between what I write here AND what I preach.  It is, after all, reflections on the lectionary–more or less.  The frontier of AND connects me more vigorously to the world around me.  That includes politics AND other subjects likely to become uncivil in  mixed company.  I spent most of my career to date tiptoeing around politics because people embroiled in uncivil conversations are unlikely to hear the Gospel through the din of dissent.  I am less guarded, more personal in this blog.  It isn’t a sermon.  I write more freely here.  I take more risks.  That’s what happens when one travels to rugged frontier of AND.  Thanks for taking the risk to follow me!

Dr. Mark Powell, of Trinity Lutheran Seminary, tells a story from the frontier of early baptism mosaicencounters between Christian missionaries and the fierce Celtic warriors on the edge of the crumbling Roman empire.  When baptized , these ferocious men would hold their swords high above the water.   You might think they were protecting their swords from damage.  When asked, they explained that by holding their sword arm and sword out of the baptismal water they were exempting that sword and arm from baptism.  This allowed them to be Christ men AND still carry on their war making.

You might chuckle about this story.  You also might realize that we continue to raise our sword arms out of the water.  We do that with our wallets, Dr  Powell points out.  We don’t want Jesus or the Church in our business.  AND we do it with our politics.  We hold our political positions high out of the water of our baptism.  We don’t want our preachers getting too specific about politics and getting water all over them.  That is life in under the potentate of BUT.  All belongs to God, BUT this.

I have been thinking and praying mightily about the Syrian refugees.  I tremble at some of the things people are saying–good people, kind people, sincere people.   We should register Muslims, put tags on them.  The kingdom under BUT is a dangerous and pervasive threat that allows us to hold our faith high out of the boiling waters of politics and matters of the world.

To do that, I have to take exception to many important scriptures, hold them high over my head.  Maybe so high that no one can actually see me holding them and hold me accountable to them.

Deuteronomy 10:17-1919

For the LORD your God is God of gods and LORD of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, 18who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. 19You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

So, if God loves the strangers, even provides them food and clothing, and executes justice for the orphan and the widow….whose side are we on when we do otherwise?

Jesus says it:  Matthew 25

I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

So, if Jesus claims the naked and the hungry and the thirsty, the imprisoned and the stranger as members of his own family…whose side are we on when we ignore or abuse those same people?


Paul writes:

2Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:12

Overcome evil with good.  I haven’t heard that in anyone’s rhetoric or posts recently.  I have heard a lot of people overcome by evil, seeking greater harm to come to those who have harmed them.   I have heard people making mockery of one another.  Leave room for the wrath of God.  What kind of person does that?  We are like Jonah–angry and spiteful because we knew God would exercise mercy instead of wrath.  We don’t trust God to smite the people we so dearly wish to be smitten.   We come off sounding weak, like sniveling victims ready to be abused and taken advantage of some more.  (For more on that, see a past blog about “Kick Ass Jesus.”  )   In God’s economy and household, it is possible to feed the hungry, even if your enemies are among them.  The weeds grow alongside the wheat, to the advantage of the wheat.  One has to trust that God knows the difference.  That’s how it is in the kingdom of AND.

Deuteronomy 5
When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God, 5you shall make this response before the LORD your God:my father was a wandering aramean
. 8The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; 9and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me.” You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God. 11Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.

Try using that as a prelude to the typically rushed and mumbled family Thanksgiving prayer.  I believe it could start some lively conversation before the pies come out.  We forget that our ancestors were wandering Arameans too, that among our forebears are saints and sinners, immigrants who came without permission, or with tickets in steerage, stow aways or first class.  More  than a few escaped famine and economic hardship, religious persecution,  or even criminal charges. We forget the people who belonged to this land, and how light our own claim upon it really is.

 Moses teaches Israel to observe Passover as the day when God brought them over from slavery into freedom.   All of Israel, past, present, and future, stands on the banks of the sea between desperation and salvation.  It was those relatively few Israelites with a lot of Egypt running in their veins, AND all who have been driven to the shore of their destruction and desparate for salvation in every time and generation.  Maybe God’s mighty arm brought us here too.   Thanksgiving is a good time to figure out what runs in our veins as we once again gather with family familiar and brand new, the interloper, matriarch and patriarch,  maybe remembering when we came across water and why, or came to be wherever we are now.

middle passageAnd what about those who were brought to this land against their will, bought and sold?  What about the millions who died in the Middle Passage?  God stood with the slaves on the banks of the Red Sea when Egypt pressed hard against them.  Where do we stand with those who have been pressed hard together and brought across the sea?  What exception, what “But” is necessary for us to make in order to believe this too is not our  story, to deny that we have ever been slaves to anyone or oppressors of anyone?

We can not hold anything high above the water and live.  It’s all or nothing.  The waters claim us all and claim all of us. And God rescues the drowned. And so?



About Pastor Betsy Williams

I am a mom. And a wife. And a Friend. And a homeowner. And a dog ...uh....owner? Actually make that two dogs. Two kids. One husband. I'm an ELCA Lutheran pastor of a beautiful downtown church. I am the third senior pastor in a century, so my 10-12 years here may feel like an interim to some of the folks here. Recently I have had no spare time. In my spare time in the future, my imagination inhabits a novel I am writing, The Funeral Preacher. My primary blog is a personal reflection on the Revised Common Lectionary...mostly: "Not All Who Wander are Lost." A few years ago I was on a team of writers who produced a little book for Augsburg Fortress in the Washed and Welcome series called "Living the Promises." It's 101 ideas for helping parents and godparents nurture their children in the faith of their baptism. I am developing another blog, more about worship at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Newark, Ohio and including a summary of the past week's preaching. Otherwise, I imagine myself to be a musician, liturgical artist, cook in a five star restaurant where the patrons keep ordering chicken nuggets, but never a bottle washer. I know how to delegate and share.
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