About edsundaywinters

I am Pastor of Greensboro United Church of Christ in Greensboro, Vermont.

Devotional for the Vermont House of Representatives, April 20, 2023

Thank you for the opportunity to share a word with you this afternoon.

A reading from (Genesis 2:4-7).

In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed the human from the dust of the ground, and breathed into their nostrils the breath of life; and the human became a living being.

When I think about a handful of dirt in God’s hands and God breathing into that dirt, I think about my neighbor over on standard mountain Rd. who makes dirt. You may know Tom Gilbert and black dirt farm. They take food waste and table scraps turn it into dirt. To me that seems like holy work.

Every time I drive by that farm, I get a strange, warm feeling, kinda like the feeling I get when the sunset is spectacular, or when I’m standing on a mountaintop or at the edge of a seashore or in a cathedral.

By some estimates, 95% of the world’s food is grown in the uppermost layer we call topsoil. Dirt is a life as it was in the beginning, so it is now. In the hands of God or in the hands of a Vermont farmer, soil gives us life, nurtures us, and sustains us.

We know now more than ever before how all lifeforms are interconnected, forming a complex and beautiful whole. Every part of it matters and every part influences the rest. My faith teaches that the complex and beautiful whole is enough to sustain life and not just enough to sustain it but to sustain it abundantly for all — People, plants, animals, dirt, air, water, All. Abundant life.

Abundant life for all is more than most of us can wrap our minds around, So we give into our fears and  allow ourselves to be governed by scarcity rather than abundance. That choice leaves some of us with more than we can use in a lifetime and some of us with barely enough to live on day by day. As brutal and tragic as that choice has made life for some of our human siblings, it has had a devasting impact on our planet. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports that 33% of the Earth’s soils are already degraded and over 90% could become degraded by 2050.

In 1942, J.I. Rodale said, “Healthy Soil = Healthy Food = Healthy People.” Conversely, In 2023, we know that Degraded soil = less nutritious food=undernourished people.

I think that is why I get that strangely warm feeling when I drive by Tom’s farm. Good Dirt = Good Food = Good life. He is doing holy work. And he is not alone. There are so many Vermont Farmers who strive everyday to farm in a healthy, regenerative way. Doing the stuff that sustains life.

You are a part of that. When you are making decisions here in this house. You are never just making political decisions, or agricultural decisions, or environmental decisions, or educational decisions. Thankfully, you are doing all of those things and more, but you are also making moral decisions and when you make them in a way that keeps in mind that we can’t live without good dirt, you are doing Holy work.

Thank you. Amen.  


The Dangers of Christian Nationalism

(This sermon was delivered at Greensboro United Church of Christ on July 3rd, 2022. If you prefer listening and watching to reading, the video is here.)

In preparing to preach each week, I always begin with a text from scripture. The text provides the theme and title for the sermon. I did not do that this week. This week I started with a title, the dangers of Christian nationalism. For me, that title points first toward the Exodus passage that we just heard, then to two passages in Matthew’s gospel where we see Jesus speaking out of his understanding of our Exodus text.

The Exodus text brings me to an affirmation that there is only one God worthy of my worship, only one God in which my life rests. That God holds me like no other thing in my life. To be sure, I love other things. I love my family. I love my church. I love my country. I love University of Tennessee football. But those things are not God. When I start thinking and living like one of them is God, my life gets out of balance.

I am the Lord your God, have no other gods before me—-and don’t take my name in vain, don’t misuse my name.

That prohibition seems particularly germane when we think about Christian nationalism. I believe that many Americans want to believe that our nation trusts in God. We plaster God’s name all over our money. And we turn around and spend 766 billion of those dollars on weapons of war. I am hard pressed to understand how that is an action of the people who trust in God. It makes me think that we trust in the manufacturers of armaments at least as much as we trust in God.

To be able to say that we trust in God while we are arming ourselves in such an exorbitant fashion makes me think that if we are honest, we want to at least say “In God and armament manufacturers we trust,” if we are honest. If we are not honest, we distort our religion so that it makes it all normal for us to be pious and religious sounding while trusting in lots of other things beside God. Could there be a more insidious way for us to use God’s name in vain?

Two questions we need to answer as we explore these texts. First, what is Christian nationalism? Second, why is it dangerous?

According to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the term “nationalism” is generally used to describe two phenomena: the attitude that the members of a nation have when they care about their national identity, and the actions that the members of a nation take when seeking to achieve (or sustain) self-determination. The Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics defines nationalism as a set of beliefs about the nation: its origins, nature, and value. Of course, more has been said about nationalism, much more.

What happens to nationalism when a particular religious viewpoint is added to it? When we christianize nationalism we adopt “. . .a cultural framework that idealizes and advocates a fusion of Christianity with American civic life. Christian nationalism contends that America has been and should always be distinctively “Christian” from top to bottom – in its self-identity, interpretations of its own history, sacred symbols, cherished values, and public policies – and it aims to keep it that way. But the “Christian” in Christian nationalism is more about identity than religion. It carries with it assumptions about nativism, white supremacy, authoritarianism, patriarchy, and militarism”( WhatIsChristianNationalism.pdf (bjconline.org).

Joseph Williams, professor of religion at Rutgers University, sees “Christian nationalists insist(ing) that the United States was established as an explicitly Christian nation, and believ(ing) that this close relationship between Christianity and the state needs to be protected—and in many respects restored—in order for the U.S. to fulfill its God-given destiny.” Therefore, Christian nationalists go to great effort “to secure a privileged position for Christianity in the public square that often coincides with efforts to preserve the historical status quo on issues of race, gender, and sexuality.”

Therefore, for the purposes of this sermon, we could say that Christian Nationalism seeks to impose a particular understanding of Christianity and a particular version of American history on the policies, laws and practices of our nation so that the two are wedded together in way that gives privilege to the right sort of Americans while harming those not considered American enough or Christian enough by said policies, laws and practices.

Why is Christian nationalism dangerous?

Why were the Crusades dangerous?

Why was the inquisition dangerous?

Why were the Salem witch trials dangerous?

Why was the Holocaust dangerous?

Christian nationalism endangers our life together for all the same reasons.

One of the chief dangers of Christian Nationalism lies in the way it identifies those who are a threat to its idealized vision of America’s past and its insistence on a present that grants it the privileges to which it assumes entitlement. All that matters is what happens to true Americans. Christian nationalism ignores those who have been excluded, persecuted, enslaved, forced to migrate, denied the vote. In doing so, Christian Nationalism, has looked at and treated whole groups of people as something other than human beings created in the image of God and endowed with certain inalienable rights. No Christian Nationalist would justify treating a true Americans or true Christian in that way, but for those who are other than true American and true Christian, there are no such reservations.  Throughout the history of our country, there have always been those who were other, other than true American, true Christian.  The people who were on this land when Europeans arrived, Enslaved Africans and their descendants, the Irish in the 1840s-50s, Chinese in the 1880s, Italians in the early 1900s, Jews in the 1930s, and Muslims in the 2000s. To survive, our LGBTQ+ siblings have had remain invisible for most of the time our country has been in existence. The 2nd class status of women is a core value of Christian Nationalism all the way from a constitution that gave them no right to vote right up to a week ago Friday.

To be clear, the othering of some Americans by the Christian Nationalist mindset is not a practice that is confined to our history, it is ongoing. This week in Ohio after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health case that overturned Roe v. Wade, an Ohio state law went into effect making abortion illegal for anyone who has been pregnant for 6 weeks or longer. A 10-year-old rape victim, 6 weeks and 3 days pregnant, could not access the care she needed and that her parents sought for her in her home state. She nor those responsible for her care were deemed American enough to decide what care she needed nor to access that care in her home state.

The Courts ruling in Kennedy v. Bremerton in favor of Coach Kennedy’s post game prayers leaves the high school athletes of other faiths, of no faith, or who understand Christianity differently than the Coach with little recourse. If they want to play, they are going to have to pray. They are not American enough to have the freedom to exercise their understanding of religion in their own way or to exercise no religion at all.  

Similarly in Maine, the court’s ruling in Carson v. Makin forces Maine taxpayers to pay for religious education without regard for how that religious education agrees or disagrees with their understanding of faith and spirituality. They are not American enough to have the freedom to expect public school dollars be used to pay for a public-school education.

The most frightening example of the danger of Christian Nationalism has been brought to light by the January 6th hearings. On that day, the target of Christian Nationalist was not a law, a practice, or a policy, but the makers of laws and policy. The ones not American enough were elected members of Government.

These are just a few examples of how Christian Nationalism endangers our democracy. While these dangers are real and they are grave, I am even more concerned about the danger Christian Nationalism poses to our faith. For us, as followers of Christ, watching the misuse and abuse our sacred scriptures and practices erode the message at the heart of those scriptures and undermine the foundation of those practices is a painful thing through which to live.  

We shall have no other gods before me.

Or text this morning makes it plain that if we are going to order our religious life and our understanding of spiritual matters in accordance with the teaching of scripture, and there’s only room for one God. One recipient of our devotion. One entity in which our lives ultimately rest. I am the Lord your God; you sure have no other gods before me.

In Matthew’s gospel, chapter 6, we see Jesus expressing his understanding of what it means to have no other gods before God.  In verse 24 he says, no one can serve 2 masters, or slavery the hate the one and love the other or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. Remember where and when Jesus is speaking, 1st century Palestine. He is not living in a free and independent country free to make its own decisions. No, it’s an occupied territory under Roman rule. What Jesus is saying in this context is that if you are serving wealth, you cannot be serving God. Presumably you would have to have made some kind of deal with the Romans, a less than ethical deal. A deal that meant you gave a part of yourself to the deal that should only have been given to God. For Jesus, worshipping God was not just something that happened in a religious space like the temple, but it was a matter that touched every aspect of life. Serving God meant in the temple, at home, at rest, at work, and everywhere in between.

The history of our country is full of examples of Christians who were trying to serve two masters. Most notably, the way the church in America used the Bible to defend chattel slavery. Not to mention the Trail of Tears, Jim Crow, new Jim Crow, and the prison industrial complex that disproportionately incarcerates black and brown bodies.

Jesus understood, and he wanted his followers to understand that serving God not only meant saying yes to God, but it also meant saying no to that which was not of God.

In the 22nd chapter of Matthew, Jesus is asked a question about paying taxes to the emperor of Rome by some Pharisees. They likely did not think it was lawful or right for them to be paying taxes to the government that had invaded their country, but if Jesus agreed with them and answered no they might report him to the Roman authorities and get him arrested for starting a rebellion. If he answers yes, then he loses his crowd. None of them think it’s right to be paying taxes to invaders and occupiers. Jesus answers neither yes nor no. Instead, yes record did he ask whose image is on the coin. When he hears their reply, Caesar, he tells them to give to Caesar that which bears Caesars image. Then he tells them to give to God that which bears God’s image. Namely themselves. Give your coins to Caesar, but you, you created in the image of God people, give yourselves to God. You who bear the image of God, give that to God. No one or nothing is worthy of that image other than God. Caesar can have your coins, but your heart and your hopes, your soul and your dreams, your spirit and your aspirations, those belong to God. Give yourself to God and see what happens.

It is in that freedom of choice that we are truly able to experience and discover the mystery and wonder of being connected to God. That is not a choice anyone else can make for us. And it’s certainly not a choice that anyone can push us into or guilt or shame or pressure us into. But if we freely choose to open ourselves to God, we enter the mystery of the Christian life. Henri Nouwen help us see that is not our work to do, but God’s gift to us to be received —  receiving a new life, a new identity, which depends not on what we can achieve, but on what we’re willing to receive.

Our participation in this thing that God is doing in Christ, our participation in Christianity must be voluntary. It cannot be produced by government edict nor social custom. If our participation in it is anything other than voluntary then what we are participating in is something other than the movement that God started in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

God longs for an intimate, loving relationship with each of us, and all of us, but God does not force God’s self on us. God yearns and longs for us, God whispers and prods us, God invites and calls us, again and again. God waits for us…. to realize we’re free. For freedom Christ has set us free.

Free from any religious system, spiritual path, or destructive ideology that would have us to look at ourselves and others as anything other than human beings beloved by God.

Free from being coerced, shamed, guilted, belittled into religious conformity.

Free to love as we have been loved.

When the government acts to impose the practices of our faith on our fellow citizens in an involuntary way, as the US Supreme Court has done in at least three cases during this recent session, The government does harm to the cause of Christ and abuses the heart of our religion. Christianity that is not freely chosen is not Christianity.

Every emperor since Constantine has offered some privilege to the church. And with every acceptance of such privilege, the church became less the company of the faithful called by God and more of an appendage of the empire, a tool to serve the aims and aspirations of the state.

Our resistance to any movement or ideology that tries to make the Christian religion about something other than loving God and loving others is vital to our growth and development as followers of Christ both as individuals and as a congregation.

When people call themselves Christians and use the Jesus story to exclude, we have to say no.

When people call themselves Christians and use the Jesus story to deny the human dignity of some of us, we have to say no.

When people call themselves Christians and use the Jesus story to threaten the lives of those who do not meet their criteria for being American enough, we have to say no.

We have to say no to all of that because with Jesus there’s really only one thing, people to be loved. neighbors to be loved, enemies to be loved.

Stand Up, Raise Your Heads!

If you ever find yourself in a group of preachers, and you’re not sure want to talk about, you can always ask, “what are you preaching on this Sunday?” You see Sunday comes every week so a preacher either knows what she is preaching about or he is wondering why he hasn’t yet decided on a topic. I was in a meeting with the preachers this week. They answered the question by decidedly saying they were not preaching on Luke chapter 21 versus 25 and following. The basic reasoning for steering away from Luke’s gospel reading this morning went something like we’ve been living every day in an apocalypse for the last two or so years we don’t need more of that on Sunday morning. Especially on the first Sunday of advent.

I listened attentively to their reasoning, but I still felt that there were a couple of words in our text today and we needed to hear, words that would serve us well as we seek to navigate these troubling times. Preacher friends did make a good point. The times in which we live seem extraordinary on a historic level. Green dark text this morning is apocalyptic in nature. just a little apocalypse. Not a full blown book like Daniel or the Book of Revelation, but enough. enough to frighten us a little. Enough to make us wonder what will become of us.

I thought for a little while about putting current headlines on strips of paper, putting them all into a basket let you draw them out one at a time. In that way we could catalog the forces that would have us faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming up on the world and make clear to ourselves what it is that is shaking the powers of heaven. The disjointed, randomness of our justice system, the acres upon acres of rainforest it seemed to be disappearing at speed of light, workers who were considered radical and revolutionary simply because they desire a wage on which they can live, and now news of a new variant it may be worse and all the ones that have gone before. Signs of the time indeed.

no, these are the times in which we live. Whether we realize it or not they are text for this morning. Our lesson for the day. They provide the context through which and in which we hear God speaking.

Two phrases, both of them found in verse 28. Stand up and raise your head. Your redemption is drawing near

second phrase first, redemption is the question that does not get asked in our text this morning. Rather redemption is assumed to be the good thing that we are waiting for

. If so, what is it? What does it mean? It is big, large, cosmic. Bigger than most Christian thinkers have thought of it over the last 2000 years. For the most part Christian theologians have left the door open for a far too individualized, far too self centered faith. This is allowed for the Christ event to be understood as primarily a personal affair easily compartmentalized and kept separate from day to day duties at the office or easily augmented to allow for actions and attitudes that Christ himself would never sanction. At its best, this emphasis on Christian individualism as left too many with a faith that matters most when life on this earth has ended and the arrangements one has made for eternity finally become top priority. At its worst, this emphasis on Christian individualism leaves some with the notion that because they claim to be Christian that they can off down of acting on behalf of the common good by refusing to get vaccinated.

Yet, the redemption drawing near on for one of us, it is for all of us. But not just for us but for the whole of creation.

At the same time, this redemption is as small and as easily unnoticed it is large and cosmic. That visit to see a dying friend, Redemption drawing near. Making sure that things are in order at the church is the advent season begins, redemption drawing near. Checking to see if there’s food in the little food pantry out by the fellowship hall door, redemption join near. That act of kindness, that demonstration of mercy, that expression of love, redemption drawing near.

Stand up and raise your heads Is the other phrase that we need to hear in our text this morning. It is a good word for us for several reasons. Not the least of which is that it gives us something to do. How many times have you been with a friend who is experiencing some kind of challenge or trial. You wanted to help you wanted to do something, but there just didn’t seem to be much that you could do to help. You are already listening and praying, but that didn’t seem like enough. You wanted to do something more.

Jesus’ admonition to stand up and raise our heads gives us something to do. We’re not powerless. We’re not helpless. We have options. We have a choice.

The second truth that Jesus’ command to stand up and raise our heads communicates to us is that we are part of this thing that God is doing. This is not something that takes place in a sidebar. This is not something that’s going on on some other realm is away from us but we can’t touch or taste or experience. This is happening here and now and we are part of it.

This is so because God has made us God’s sons and daughters. We are children of God. We have a stake in the redemption of the whole of creation. We have a stake in our redemption. She’s not someone elses to do. This is ours, what’s the gift we receive and the legacy we leave.

Stand up and raise your heads, even though the world tells us to keep our heads down and ignore the injustice then others endure.

stand up and raise your heads, see a way where there is no way.

Stand up and raise your heads, offer mercy where the world offers only cruelty.

Stand up and raise your heads, give love when the world spews hate.

stand up and raise your heads, hold on the hope when all else seems to be drowning in despair.

Stand up and raise your heads, see redemption drawing near you children of God. Step toward it, reach for it embrace it, let it embrace you.

listen to the voices everyone else ignores. notice the lives of others, especially those whose lives are different from yours. Nurture, in your heart and in your head and your soul an openness to how and to when you will take your part in drawing this redemption nearer to God’s creation. It begins with standing up and raising your hands.

In each of our lives, there is plenty about which to be concerned. To be stressed, to be weighed down can mean all of our attention and energy is focused on the situation that is weighing us down. These kinds of things have a way of consuming us our creativity our imagination, our strength both physical and mental and spiritual. Our lives begin to orbit around the axis of whatever challenge it is we’re facing. We can see or think of little else. This phrase, stand up and raise your head, Gives us a chance to see the ways, big and small, then I’ll redemption is drawing near. It gives us a chance to see the ways, big and small, that we can join in.

Advent 1934, Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached these words:  “But we are only making excuses with that kind of talk. If we really wanted to, if it were not an evasion, we would finally begin to pray that this Advent would make a stop in our hearts. Let us make no mistake about it. Redemption is drawing near. Only the question is: Will we let it come to us as well or will we resist it? Will we let ourselves be pulled into this movement coming down from heaven to earth or will we refuse to have anything to do with it?”

At that first Christmas, God was with us, Immanuel, a baby lying in a manger. As vulnerable and as helpless as any human being could be. What an absurd way for God to come into the world much less to redeem the world. Yet, Jesus was born.

The redemption that is drawing near likely will not look like we think it ought to look. When we stand up and raise our heads, do not be surprised if there is no knight in shining armor riding to our rescue. Remember, God, in Christ, chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; what is weak in the world to shame the strong; what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are.

Stand up, raise your heads, your redemption is drawing near if you have eyes to see and ears to hear. 

The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman

On the occasion of the inauguration of the 46th President of the United States of America

When day comes we ask ourselves,
where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade.
We’ve braved the belly of the beast,
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace,
and the norms and notions
of what just is
isn’t always just-ice.
And yet the dawn is ours
before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn’t broken,
but simply unfinished.
We the successors of a country and a time
where a skinny Black girl
descended from slaves and raised by a single mother
can dream of becoming president
only to find herself reciting for one.
And yes we are far from polished.
Far from pristine.
But that doesn’t mean we are
striving to form a union that is perfect.
We are striving to forge a union with purpose,
to compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and
conditions of man.
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us,
but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms
so we can reach out our arms
to one another.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true,
that even as we grieved, we grew,
that even as we hurt, we hoped,
that even as we tired, we tried,
that we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.
Not because we will never again know defeat,
but because we will never again sow division.
Scripture tells us to envision
that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
and no one shall make them afraid.
If we’re to live up to our own time,
then victory won’t lie in the blade.
But in all the bridges we’ve made,
that is the promise to glade,
the hill we climb.
If only we dare.
It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit,
it’s the past we step into
and how we repair it.
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation
rather than share it.
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
it can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth,
in this faith we trust.
For while we have our eyes on the future,
history has its eyes on us.
This is the era of just redemption
we feared at its inception.
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs
of such a terrifying hour
but within it we found the power
to author a new chapter.
To offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
So while once we asked,
how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?
Now we assert,
How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was,
but move to what shall be.
A country that is bruised but whole,
benevolent but bold,
fierce and free.
We will not be turned around
or interrupted by intimidation,
because we know our inaction and inertia
will be the inheritance of the next generation.
Our blunders become their burdens.
But one thing is certain,
If we merge mercy with might,
and might with right,
then love becomes our legacy,
and change our children’s birthright.
So let us leave behind a country
better than the one we were left with.
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest,
we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the west.
We will rise from the windswept northeast,
where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states.
We will rise from the sunbaked south.
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover.
And every known nook of our nation and
every corner called our country,
our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,
battered and beautiful.
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid,
the new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.

“Let Us Make Humankind In Our Image. . .” (Genesis 1:26)

The following quotes arrived in my inbox overnight:

“Like humility, generosity comes from seeing that everything we have and everything we accomplish comes from God’s grace and God’s love for us… Certainly it is from experiencing this generosity of God and the generosity of those in our life that we learn gratitude and to be generous to others.”

―Desmond Tutu, God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time, p. 86

You have to keep unmasking the world about you for what it is: manipulative, controlling, power-hungry, and, in the long run, destructive. The world tells you many lies about who you are, and you simply have to be realistic enough to remind yourself of this. Every time you feel hurt, offended, or rejected, you have to dare to say to yourself: “These feelings, strong as they may be, are not telling me the truth about myself. The truth, even though I cannot feel it right now, is that I am the chosen child of God, precious in God’s eyes, called the Beloved from all eternity, and held safe in an everlasting embrace.”

-Henri Nouwen

White Christians should be leery of our own judgments; we are primed by culture to oppress and primed by religion to think God is on our side. 

– Caroline McTeer

Genesis 1:26 is the passage of scripture through which I heard these quotes this morning. It underscores God’s emphatic decision not only to create humankind, but to create humankind in God’s own image. The idea is that we are all created in God’s image and that whatever it may mean that we are created in God’s image remains with us and in us as we live the life God has given to us. God has left a mark on us. We are bearers of God’s image.

At times, I struggle to see that image in the words and actions of some human beings these days. Much of our public discourse these day moves quickly to blur, deny, or obliterate the reality of God’s image in us all. We seem to find it easier to oppose someone that we are able to think of us as less than human. Yet, every time i see what I thought I would never see in our country, and every time I see what I never wanted to see again in our country, I try to remember what I believe. I try to remember that I believe all of us humans are created in God’s image even when what I am seeing and hearing makes me wonder if what I believe can possibly be true.

Obviously, being created in the image of God does not prevent us from making mistakes. Neither does it free us from doing ugly, awful, and criminal things to one another nor the necessity of being held accountable when we do such things.

Yet, at a minimum, what I think that it means that we are all created in God’s image is that there is something of God in each of us and that we are all loved and cherished by God. Those of us who voted for Trump are loved by God. Those of us who voted for Biden are cherished by God. Those of us who voted for a third party candidate or who did not vote at all are loved and cherished by God.

What remains to be seen is what difference it will make that we are all created in the image of God? What would it look like in this nation that many want to characterize as a Christian nation for the human beings living here to treat one another as they want to be treated by others?

White Privilege: Now You Know What It Looks Like

In recent years, I have heard some people question the existence of white privilege. They have been quick to deny that their white skin gives them any privilege in our country. Rarely have they been willing to acknowledge in any way that white skin grants anyone privilege.

I suspect a portion of the people I know who deny the existence of white privilege have their minds so made up that they will never be prodded to think beyond their wrongful conclusions. However, I believe most of the people I know retain a capacity for learning and growth.

Yesterday, we saw white privilege on full display in our nation’s capitol for all the world to see. When you can attack the Capitol of the United States of America and then spend the night sleeping in a local hotel or Airbnb, you are experiencing the privilege of being white.

There is little doubt in my mind that if the mob that assaulted the Capitol yesterday had been made up of people of color, today, many of them would dead and the rest of them would be in jail.

I say this because I have seen what we have all seen. If the shooting of a child of color holding a toy gun can be justified because the shooter felt threatened, or a child of color wearing a hoodie and eating skittles can be shot because the shooter felt threatened, or the killing of a woman of color asleep in her own bed can be justified because the shooter felt threatened, but a mob of white folks overwhelming the sanctuary of our democracy can walk away after documenting their treason with selfies, only the most obstinate among us can deny the existence of our privilege.

For those who are inclined to think that praying prayers of repentance is the way forward for our country, the white supremacist foundation of our country is the necessary starting point for such prayers. The fact that we as white folks are able to ignore or be unaware of so many of the ways that white supremacy remains embedded in our society and culture is itself an indication of our privilege.

A man of color has his life taken from him for selling cigarettes on a street corner. A white man unlawfully enters a congressional office and takes a picture of himself smiling at what he has done. Perhaps he will show it to his grandchildren and regale them with stories of how he was a part of assaulting the seat of our government. White privilege, at least in part, is the difference in the way these two men were treated when they broke the law.

The events of yesterday should put the question as to the existence of white privilege to rest once and for all. We all saw what we saw. What remains uncertain now is whether we have heart and head enough to address what we saw.

2021: Another opportunity to do the good God calls us to do — or not.

This is what I am afraid the church in America will be known for in 2021: Christian nationalism’s Covid vaccine doubt threatens America’s herd immunity (nbcnews.com)

This is what I hope the church in America will be known for in 2021:https://sojo.net/articles/poor-people-s-campaign-progressive-caucus-outline-people-s-agenda

Greensboro United Church of Christ: Remembering our Open and Affirming Covenant

In 2015, the members of Greensboro United Church of Christ entered an Open and Affirming Covenant. They did so two years before I came to serve as their pastor. That they had done it was one of the reasons that made me want to be their pastor.  After much prayer, discussion, and believing that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is good news, they spoke these words together:

Because we the people of the Greensboro United Church of Christ believe that all persons are loved and valued by God, all are invited and welcomed into our church family.  We are committed to following the teachings of Jesus to love all people, and we seek to be an expression of God’s love in the world.

We invite and welcome into our community persons of every sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, ability, age, race, nationality, ethnicity, economic and social status, faith background and family structure.

All persons are encouraged to participate in the life, leadership, ministry and mission of this church as we seek to grow together in a safe, nurturing community of faith.

What is made clear in the second paragraph of this covenant is that “. . .persons of every sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression” are welcome in our congregation.  What that means is that “. . .persons of every sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression” are welcome to be who God created them to be in our congregation. It means that we love you the way God made you. Yes, if you have found another with whom you want to spend the rest of your life, we will gladly witness your vows, celebrate your love and bless your journey.

We feel this way and seek to live out this covenant not because of a law that was passed by Congress or a decision that was made by a court, but because this is who we understand God calling us to be.

To our LGBTQ+ siblings, we know that these words will not undo the hurt you have endured nor prevent the hardships that may be in front of you. However, we want you to know that we see you and we love you. More than that, we want you to know that you are not alone. Holler if you need anything, 802.533.2223.

Why is there a Black Lives Matter banner in front of the church?

After our church put up a banner in front of our building with the words “black lives matter” on it, I received an email from someone whose identity remains a mystery to me. The message was short and to the point, “ALL lives matter. The truly Christian message is ALL.”

I appreciated the note. Though email is not my favorite way to communicate, in these times of social distancing, I am happy for human interaction in any form. Thinking that others might also be interested in understanding why our Missions & Outreach Committee decided the banner would be a good way to respond to current events in our country, I am sharing my response below.

First, allow me to thank you for your note. Your point is well taken. All lives do matter. As you probably know, both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament make your point abundantly clear in many ways. One of those ways is that we are all created in the image of God. This reality is woven in and out of pages of scripture from Genesis to Revelation. It is exactly for this reason then we are compelled to say black lives matter. We say black lives matter because we believe all lives matter, black ones included.
The reason we feel the need to say expressly that black lives matter is because there is so much evidence that they do not matter in our current state of affairs. We know that black Americans are nearly three times more likely to be killed by police officers than white Americans and nearly one and half times more likely to be unarmed when they are killed by police. We know that in the sixteen states where the black resident’s share of the population exceeds the national percentage, the prevalence of death from COVID-19 exceeded their population share by as much as twenty-five percent in some states. No, I am not suggesting that COVID-19 targets black people. I am saying that the structural inequities in our current way of doing life make black communities particularly vulnerable to this or any pandemic.

Saying black lives matter is not saying that only black lives matter, but saying all lives matter while so many black lives vanish each day turns a deaf ear and a blind eye to the very real, every day experience on the part of our sisters and brothers created in the image of God with black and brown skin of black lives not mattering. In the church, we cannot do this any longer. If you know the history of the church in the United States, you know that too often the church has been silent in the face of injustice and discrimination against black lives. There have been many times when the church has aided in the perpetuation of that injustice and benefited from it. Therefore, we are especially concerned in these days to stand with and be a source of encouragement for those who are working for equity, fairness, and justice.

To your assertion that the truly Christian message is all, I would agree that it is a message for us all. Yes, God made us all. Yes, God loves us all. Yes, Christ died for us all. Yes, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us all. We all find our best selves when we come to see ourselves and each other as beloved children of God. There is much about the Christian message that includes us all.

At the same time, the Christian message is also specific. Jesus makes it plain, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” The Bible makes clear that God is especially concerned about us when we are in trouble. In fact, nothing seems to bother God so much as people who are cut off and denied the good and abundant life that God intends for all of God’s creation. This idea is made clear by three stories that Jesus tells in chapter fifteen of the Gospel of Luke. In these stories, one about a lost sheep, one about a lost coin and one about a lost son, we get a glimpse of just how focused God’s love can be when part of God’s creation is cut off from the goodness and mercy that God intended for us all. In telling the story about the lost sheep, Jesus does not say that the shepherd stops caring about the ninety-nine that are safe. But he does say that the shepherd leaves them to go and find the one who has the great need. In telling the story about the lost coin, Jesus does not say that the nine coins that are in the woman’s possession do not matter. He does say that she lights a lamp and searches carefully until she finds the coin that is lost. In telling the story of the lost son, Jesus never suggests that the son who remains at home does not matter. He does say that while the lost son was still far off, the waiting father ran to him, embraced him and kissed him.

Similarly, saying that black lives matter does not diminish the truth that all lives matter. It is because all lives matter that we must say black lives matter. It is necessary because from 1619 to 2020, from Jamestown to Minneapolis and all the days and places in between, from slavery to Jim Crow to standing in line this week to vote in the Georgia primary for four or more hours the message has been that black lives do not matter. When someone in our family is sick, we take care of them. That does not mean that we care less for the rest of our family. When a member of the church is going through a hard time, we do what we can to help them get through it. That does not mean that we care less for the other members of the church. Our black and brown brothers and sisters have been going through a rough time for the last 400 years. Saying black lives matter acknowledges that reality. It recognizes the pain and anguish of being black in America, pain and anguish that has too often been overlooked or ignored by those of us in the church.

For those of us who pray as Jesus taught, not that God’s will would be done in heaven as it is on earth, but that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven, saying black lives matter can be both a prayer of confession and a commission to service. It allows us to acknowledge a history of wrongs and it challenges us to make our world a place where the life we share together is just for all.

A Creation Justice Covenant

This summer we read Jim Antal’s, Climate Church, Climate World: How People of Faith Must Work for Change, at Greensboro United Church of Christ. We gathered for five weeks to discuss our planet and our responsibility to care for it. The experience was rich and sobering. We took account of the ways we have already accepted the task identified by Thomas Berry “. . .to be a more benign presence” on our planet. We also concluded that there was more for us to do. The statement below is a work in progress. If you have feedback that would make it more useful, please share. We came out of our summer study with a deep sense of urgency. Yes, we could have and should have done more sooner. We have not done many of those things. Therefore, what we want for this document to help us do is, in the words of Wendall Berry, to “make the world a better piece of ground?”
We are calling it a creation justice covenant. Creation, because we believe that life is God’s gift to us all. Justice, because we know harm done to our planet impacts the most those least able to cope with such harm. Covenant, because this crisis is serious enough for us to solemnly and intentionally promise to do something about it.

A working document
Greensboro United Church of Christ
Creation Justice Covenant

Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?  Ezekiel 34:18-19

Because creation is a gift from God entrusted to our care and we want to safeguard that gift for future generations,

Because we have begun to see the value of living and acting in ways that improve the health of our planet and are ready to exercise vision instead of convenience,

Because we know that the burden of a degraded planet falls heaviest on those who are least able to respond to such changes,

Because we know that we only have one planet on which to live,

And Because the UCC General Synod, Vermont Conference, and other faith communities have acknowledged the crisis of climate change,

We, the Greensboro United Church of Christ, recognizing that the world is in a moral and environmental crisis, commit ourselves to learning and discovering new ways to improve the health of our planet, acting with hopeful perseverance in order to stop the destruction and foster rejuvenation in our hearts and in our world. Acting as disciples of social justice, we commit to applying what we learn in the life we share together as a congregation. This commitment is both a testimony to our trust in God and a witness to how we hear God calling us to be together as a community of faith.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. Revelation 21:3