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A Taste of Indonesia

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A Taste of Indonesia

The Presbyterian Women of the Presbytery of Scioto Valley would like to invite everyone to come to an Indonesian worship service (with English translation) to celebrate our Global Exchange with Indonesia.

National Council of Churches Announces April 4th A.C.T. to End Racism Rally on National Mall

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National Council of Churches Announces April 4th A.C.T. to End Racism Rally on National Mall

Alex Goss 203.260.3985 | agoss@fenton.com
Steven D. Martin 202.412.4323 | steven.martin@nationalcouncilofchurches.us

National Council of Churches Announces
April 4th A.C.T. to End Racism Rally on National Mall

Yolanda Adams, Marvin Sapp, Vashti McKenzie, DeRay Mckesson, Y’Anna Crawley, Julian DeShazier, Jennifer Harvey, Jim Wallis, Lou Gossett Jr., Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield Join Thousands from Across the Nation in Washington D.C. to End Racism

Washington, D.C. (March 15, 2018) – Today, the National Council of Churches (NCC) announced plans to hold a rally to end racism on the National Mall on April 4. The A.C.T. to End Racism Rally is the starting point of a multi-year effort, launched by NCC, to remove racism from the nation’s social fabric and bring the country together.

In remembrance of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who inspired and challenged America to confront and put an end to racism, the rally will take place on the day the nation marks 50 years since his assassination. “We have for too long lived under the scourge of racism in our society. To begin the process of healing our nation, we as Christians must join with people of all faiths in holding ourselves accountable for our complicity, and commit to righting the wrongs,” said Jim Winkler, president of NCC.

NCC and its coalition of over 50 partners recognize that the faith community and those of moral conscience have a specific responsibility to address and eliminate racism, but also unique gifts that enable them to do so. “As we look at our society today, it is painfully evident that the soul of our nation needs healing. We must not only pray, but take concrete action to realize and achieve racial and social justice, and we cannot possibly put an end to racism unless we commit to change at all levels — including within the faith community,” said  Bishop W. Darin Moore, chair of the Governing Board for NCC.

“Christian churches, present in every town and community across the country, are both part of the problem and the solution. NCC and our partners are committed to addressing the systemic evil that many Christians and church institutions have yet to fully acknowledge,” said Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, Director of the Truth and Racial Justice Initiative for NCC.

Buses will bring rally-goers from across the country for the three-day event that will see thousands convene on the National Mall. Special guests at the rally include Yolanda Adams, Marvin Sapp, Bishop Vashti McKenzie, DeRay Mckesson, Y’Anna Crawley, Grammy Award-winning artist Rev. Julian DeShazier (J.Kwest), Dr. Jennifer Harvey, Dr. Jim Wallis, Lou Gossett, Jr., Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Dr. Raphael Warnock, Naeem Baig, and Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. Additional names will be announced in the coming weeks.

The schedule of events is as follows:
 
  • April 3: 6:00 p.m. ET: Orthodox Christian Bridegroom Service of Holy Tuesday; 8:00 p.m. ET: Then and Now: An Ecumenical Gathering to End Racism
     
  • April 4: Silent March (starting near the MLK Jr. Memorial), Interfaith Service, and A.C.T. to End Racism Rally on the National Mall, 7:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. ET
     
  • April 5: National Day of Advocacy & Action

The rally is open to all people of faith and moral conscience. To learn more about the rally, visit: www.rally2endracism.org.

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About the National Council of Churches

The National Council of Churches is the nation’s largest ecumenical body and includes more than 45 million members. Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for shared ecumenical witness among Christians in the United States. The NCC’s 38 member communions form a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches.

Keep Hope Alive

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Keep Hope Alive

By Dr. Nahida Gordon

Since 2001 Israel through its military and settlers in the West Bank and Gaza has uprooted and taken, burnt and destroyed hundreds of thousands of olive trees that belong to Palestinian farmers who depend on the olive tree for their livelihood.

As an act of solidarity and support The Synod of the Covenant hopes to join individuals and many other organizations including churches, church related organizations from around the world to help Palestinian farmers keep Hope Alive by distributing and planting olive trees.

The Campaign, though its network of friends and partners brings awareness about Palestine and encourages others to get involved. The Campaign serves both an educational, lobbying, and advocacy tool, which target policies that continue to support the ongoing land confiscation, and also serves to stabilize the Palestinian farmers’ economic situation by allowing them to continue to stay on their land and provide a livelihood.

In addition to donating trees, there are two other ways to Keep Hope Alive.  One is planting the trees that have been donated – and this occurs in February.  And the other is the harvesting of the olives, which occurs in early October.  Settlers and the Israeli military frequently interfere with the harvest and the settlers quite often steel the harvest. I had the privilege of joining this campaign several years ago.  It was an extremely meaningful experience.  We had the opportunity to pick olives with 70 other individuals from many counties including the United States. One of my fellow pickers was the daughter of Holocaust survivors and she reached out to me to let me know how important it was for her to help the Palestinians in their steadfastness.

In spite of the destruction of the very foundations of their existence, Palestinian women, men and children are committed to rebuilding their society without the use of violence. They need our support and involvement.

I hope you will donate to this meaningful activity and I encourage you to travel to Palestine and take part in either the planting or the harvesting of the olive tree.  I think you will find it to be a life altering experience.

Keep Hope Alive Campaign — http://jai-pal.org/index.php/en/campaigns/olive-tree-campaign/sponsor-trees

“WOULD THE REAL NINEVITES PLEASE STAND UP?”

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“WOULD THE REAL NINEVITES PLEASE STAND UP?”

First Presbyterian Church, Marietta, Ohio
April 29, 20178
Jonah 3: 1-5, 10

By Rev. Marc van Bulck

Our Scripture reading is one of the most familiar stories in Scripture.  Sunday School curriculums have been made about it.  Veggie Tales made a movie about it.  I’ve met people who have told me that they’ve never heard of Jonah in the Bible, but upon hearing “He’s the guy who got swallowed up in the belly of a fish,” they’ve said, “Oh, yeah.  I know that story.”  It’s also a great story for seminarians and Bible snobs who love to correct people and say, “You know, the Bible doesn’t actually say it was a whale.  It says it was a ‘large fish.’”  Whatever.

Jonah is one of the most beloved Bible stories that we tell to children, but when I read it today, it reads a lot more like a religious, political satire.  The business with the fish only takes up about a fourth of the story, and in my opinion this narrative feels like something much closer to Mark Twain than Mr. Rogers.

God has had it up to here with Nineveh’s shenanigans and warns Jonah that they’re goose is cooked if they don’t get their act together.  Nineveh was the capital of Assyria whom the writers of the Hebrew Bible largely looked down their nose at.  They were foreigners.  Outsiders.  They didn’t exactly believe what we believe.  They didn’t go to our church.  They behaved differently.  They were sinners!

So, God tells Jonah to get his butt over to Nineveh and warn them that a can of you-know-what is about to be opened if they don’t start to straighten up and fly right.  So, naturally, Jonah hops on the first boat for the exact opposite direction instead as you do when you’re a Biblical prophet.

This makes Yahweh very grumpy who sends a storm over the water that threatens to break the boat to pieces out on the open ocean, and in a rare moment of self-awareness Jonah recognizes that maybe the problem is him!  So, he has the crew to toss him overboard.

As Jonah is sinking into the depths of the water, Jonah begins to drown and begins to die.  And so the large fish that God sends to swallow him up is not there to seal his fate; it saves his life.  Jonah is vomited back onto dry land, and our Scripture reading catches up to him:

“The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, ‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.  ’So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across.  Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.”

I relate to Jonah a little bit more than I like to admit.  I used to like this story back in seminary when I thought that relating to him was a good thing.  I’m not so sure I feel that way now.  Jonah is the very definition of privilege.  He’s got all the right religious beliefs.  He’s the good, well-behaved church-going boy.  He can recite the B-sides to the Psalms even when he’s swimming in fish guts.  When his life is in danger, God swings in and saves him and makes sure he’s okay.  When Jonah gets uncomfortable, God plants a nice, shady tree just for him.  Isn’t that nice?

Jonah has everything he could possibly want, and yet throughout this entire story, all he ever does is whine about it.  Jonah whines all the time.  He is spoken to by the very voice of God (a privilege afforded to very few), and the first thing he does is slam the door like a moody teenager and run in the other direction.  God saves the lives of every living person in Nineveh, and Jonah still manages to find a way to make it all about him.  One minute he’s all, “Thank you, O Lord, for saving my life!” and the next minute: “I’d be better off if I was dead!”

And why?  “Because a worm was eating my shady little tree!  Boo, hoo, hoo!”  God says to Jonah, “Is it really right for you to be angry about this?” and Jonah says, “Yes, it is!  Angry enough to die!”

You know what the real irony here is?  The way this story sets up how horrible, evil, sinful, and depraved these Ninevites are, we might expect this kind of behavior from them.  The irony, though, is that when God asks them to do something, the text tells us they wasted no time jumping into action.  Verse five tells us “the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast…everyone, great and small!”

They don’t whine.  They don’t complain.  They don’t ask stupid questions.  They don’t try to argue with God.  Their very first response is, “Holy Moses!  Thanks for letting us know, God!  Quick, come on, gang.  Let’s get it together.  Maybe there’s still a chance we can turn this ship around before it’s too late.”

The supposedly horrible, sinful people who we’re not supposed to like are the ones who come out looking like the heroes in this story, and it is the supposedly good, faithful, religious-type who is portrayed as a selfish, entitled hypocrite who has everything he could possibly need but can’t seem to do anything but complain like he’s being persecuted all the time.  It’s just the saddest commentary on our religious institutions you’re ever going to find in a story like this.  It would be a pretty biting piece of satire even by today’s standards, and this was written over two thousand years ago.

I’ve never been to Nineveh.  I’ve never traveled to that part of the world, but I’ve seen plenty of Ninevites in my own life – or at least people that I was raised being told were Ninevites.  People who were outcasts in my neighborhood but not because they were from some old country from the Old Testament.

They were outcasts because they were gays and lesbians.  They talked about things like “gender identity” that we didn’t understand and rolled our eyes at.  Maybe they were Ninevites because they lived over on the other side of town, or maybe they were atheists and agnostics.  Maybe they were Ninevites because they went to that other school, and heaven forefend one of them actually muster up the courage to wander into our church on Sunday morning.  Most of the time, however, we never really saw them that much.  They lived over in Nineveh.  They kept over there.  We kept over here, and that was just the way we liked it.

I also remember many people I knew who were supposedly good, faithful, church-going Christians who had everything they could possibly want.  People…well, like me!  We grew up in beautiful homes in beautiful, safe neighborhoods.  We knew the lyrics to every single hymn in the hymn book.  We had beautiful families who often had plenty of money to send kids to good schools.

Yet sometimes it seemed like all we were able to do was complain.  “Oh, my God, can you believe what so-and-so is wearing to the Christmas Eve service?”  “Here comes that horrible person from the committee.  Can you believe she wants to change the colors of the drapes in the fellowship hall to chartreuse?”  “He’s an alcoholic, you know.”  “I heard they’re getting a divorce.” “Christianity is under attack!  Why can’t these poor people just get a job?!  It just makes me so angry!  It makes me angry enough to die!”

The truth is that the Ninevites are dying both in our world and in Jonah’s.  Like any good satire, the book of Jonah does not end with a nice little moral that spells out the lesson that we’re supposed to learn.  It ends with a punch line, and in this case, it’s a real zinger.  God says, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow…should I not be concerned about Nineveh…in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons…?” (4:10-11)

The painful irony, though, is that when the original audience first heard this story, Nineveh had been destroyed long ago.  Was that God’s will?  It didn’t sound like it in the story.  Either way, humanity let it happen anyway, and the city was never rebuilt.

Many of the Ninevites in our neighborhoods today are dying, too.  Dying from poverty, from hunger, from suicide, or from occupying forces.  For all its wit, irony, and sarcasm, I believe there is also a vision of possibility embedded deep between the lines.  A commentary from the author that says, “It doesn’t have to be this way.  History doesn’t have to repeat itself.  The cycle can be broken.”

However, like any good satire, it doesn’t let us off the hook either.  It is also a cautionary tale.  That’s the other side of the coin.  The cycle can still continue.  We can choose to just ignore all that stuff and imagine all of the ways that we think we have been persecuted instead and how we are the real victims here.  Not these Ninevites.  The thing about satire is that it doesn’t always wrap everything up in a nice, comforting reassurance that everything is going to be okay.  Rather, the author uses irony and wit to simply tell it like it is.  To show us both choices and say, “It’s up to you.”

Jonah may have a thing or two to learn from these Ninevites.  He might learn something from their example and the way that they respond to God.  It makes me wonder if we could learn a thing or two from the Ninevites in our own midst.  Many of those same Ninevites I told you about that I grew up with were people who acknowledged that our society is guilty of letting things like poverty, hunger, prejudice, misogyny, and addiction become problems in our world and that they were guilty of participating in it!  Even though they were not always necessarily churchgoers, it was often through their example that I learned a thing or two about the practice of repentance.  To come to that realization and to respond with humility by actively taking steps to change it.

I have seen Ninevites in my own life model that example.  Maybe you have, too.  I have known Ninevites who volunteer in soup kitchens and homeless shelters over the weekends.  I have known Ninevites who have spoken up far louder and at far greater risk to themselves than I ever have about equality, prejudice, and social injustice.  Who have demanded vocally and visibly that the marginalized be treated with dignity and integrity.  I’ve known people who have shared with me that they are in AA who were far more open, honest, and willing to own up to the issues in their own life than I fear I am even on my good days.  These issues were of far more interest to them than the local gossip about so-and-so and what they did about such-and-such.

Not to bring Jesus up when preaching about an Old Testament story, but when we see Jesus treat the wretched, the outcasts, and the sinners as if they were royal guests of honor at his table, we remember that in the Biblical world of Jonah, God saw people like Ninevites as the real heroes in this story.  They are the ones who really, truly get it.  They are the ones who know what time it is.  Maybe we have something to learn from these Ninevites.  Will the testimony of our faith look like theirs, or will our response look more like Jonah’s?  The choice is up to us.  Would the real Ninevites please stand up?

To God be the glory now and forever.  Amen.

“Finally Comes the Poet”

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“Finally Comes the Poet”

Community Worship for the Inauguration of Dr. Susan Hasseler
“Finally Comes the Poet”
John 1:1-5, Matthew 5:14-16, Isaiah 40:25-31
Rev. Anne Weirich, April 2, 2017, 7pm
College Drive Presbyterian Church

The first several times that I drove into New Concord – about four years ago – I always came on on highway 40.  During my interviews, the church had been putting me up at one of the hotels at Airport Road, and it was late April – just as the redbud trees are starting to show their beautiful blossoms.  I think that the search committee wanted me to see the how pretty that drive can be.

When I came to New Concord to move here – later in July – I came all the way to the 83 exit.  My friend was behind me driving the moving van and we thought it might be better to stay on 70 as long as possible.

I’ll never forget my first view of the village from the Interstate.  I hadn’t quite realized just how much the university and parts of town are really quite like a city on the hill.

Most of the time, when I’ve seen cities on hills, the prominent buildings on the ridge are the churches.  And it’s true that it’s easy to catch a glimpse of Westminster Church from the highway.

But it’s really the buildings of the university that stand out.

I remember appreciating the image.   I liked the idea that perhaps there was a great deal of thought that may have gone into placing the first building – right to the north here – on a promontory.

It’s good way to raise up the importance of education I suppose – by putting the buildings high on a hill.

The Presbyterians who helped build places like Muskingum University certainly held education in high esteem.  When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus said, that we were to “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  (Luke 10:27)  Presbyterians and their Congregationalist colleagues took the “with all your mind” seriously and supported all kinds of education for children and adults.

Heart-love for God – soul-love for God – these are gifts I think.  We were made for God and our hearts and souls or spirits are restless and searching for God.  We can strengthen these aspects of our love for God through practices like prayer and worship and reaching out compassion and practicing grace through seeking reconciliation.  This is how we love in strength.  We focus – we increase the strength of our lens – on these practices and connections to bring ourselves closer to God.

When we love God with our minds, I think it’s a bit different.

I think it is this aspect of loving God that calls us out in the world in ways that can be stunning in richness.  When we love God with our minds, we exercise our minds – we discipline our minds to study the world around us.  With eyes of faith, we seek out the secrets God has hidden there for us to discover.  And if we are loving God with our minds, and getting it right – then we use what we find for good and we teach what truth we have learned to the next generation, and we grow in wonder at the “Creator of the ends of the earth.  [Who] does not faint or grow weary;  [whose] understanding is unsearchable.”

It can work the other way, too.  Sometimes the elegance or the mystery that the mind encounters while searching out the way things work in the world, can overcome us with the knowledge that there is something – some power – some force for life – that must be the ground of all being.  So our minds, engaged in the work of academia, can lead us to love God.

I believe we love God with our minds, because God is Mind – a mind that is so immense that it is unsearchable, says Isaiah.

What could be more indicative of that than one of our names for the Lord – the name Word?  “In the beginning was the Word.”  God spoke us – used language – to bring us into the world.  And words – language – is one of the great repositories of our knowledge.   Our minds – and our souls and our hearts – are quenched from the endless well of words that is God still speaking.  God still creates, still uses speech to give strength to our fainting, weary efforts….helping us, lifting us, so that even when we are most exhausted, most dejected, confused, depleted or discouraged, we suddenly find ourselves soaring easily like a kettle of eagles in a morning thermal.  We are renewed – given life – revived by the Word – by the Mind of God.

And when the Word brings life, it brings light, too….

So when we love God with our minds, we are seeking God’s light – which chases away the darkness in all its forms.

As those who love the light – those who love with our minds – we are then called to run that light up the hill – to show how God’s mind works in us and in the world.

We say, “Have you not known?  Have you not heard?”

We say, “Don’t hide, don’t despair.  Lift your eyes on high and see what the Mind of God has brought to light!  Put it high on the lamp stand!”

This is certainly the Word that the second prophet of the great Isaiah prophecy was bringing to Israel.

There had been 160 years of silence between the end of Chapter 39 and these words of comfort to the exiled people of God in Chapter 40.

Conquerors and political infighting and corruption had decimated God’s people and now they wept, the Psalmist tells us, by the rivers of Babylon.  The Temple and the holy city on the hill, Jerusalem, were in ruins.  And Isaiah was sent by God to bring a word of healing and hope and restoration to God’s people.

And this healing and hope was not only spoken to the heart and the soul and spirit of the people of God.  It was spoken in concrete terms.  This was to be a restoration of all things.  The Word of God, the Mind of God spoke and said that everything was going to be reordered.

And this is because God spoke to Israel with a very special kind of word …  the Mind of God was given to the exhausted, weary, fearful, broken and dispersed people as lines of poetry.

Walter Bruggeman writes – with great vocabulary and gusto,

It is an intellectual travesty, such an act of chutz-pah, such a subversive poetic utterance that dumps a poem in the midst of resignation. The poem works a newness, not because it is good poetry, but because the subject of the poem, the God who lives in and through and with and under such outrageous assertions, is at work overriding despair, inviting hope, responding to our waiting and starting the world free again, outside the regimes of weariness… The key religious question among us is whether there is grounds for an alternative rooted not in self-preoccupation or in deadening stability but rooted in a more awesome reality that lives underneath empires, that comes among us as an odd poem, as inscrutable as power, as dangerous as new life, as fragile as waiting.  The poet names the name and imagines new life, like eagles flying, running, walking.
(A Way Other Than Our Own, Westminster/John Knox:Louisville, 2017, p. 58-59.)

So, when we love God with our minds – we are called – I think – to this ‘intellectual travesty’ of poetry.

To quote the preacher Bruggeman again, “poets speak against a prose world.”  (Finally Comes the Poet,” Augsburg Fortress:  Mnpls, 1989, p. 3.)   And a prose world isn’t bad.  But it can be settled into complacency and riddled with disinformation or “alternative facts.”

When we love God with our minds, we are capable of the kind of speech that raises us up.  Not by proclaiming doctrine or parsing morality or solving problems.  But by bringing an alternative word – a poem – about an existence that is formed by the Word and mind and heart and strength of God.

Our poetry – whether it’s preaching from a pulpit or a formula inscribed on a white board in a classroom or scattered in the notes and staff of a musical score or a proposal at the board of trustees meeting,  teamwork on the basketball court or the compassion needed to tend the sick or when we prepare a lesson plan or defend a dissertation or a point of history or politics or philosophy – our poetry is needed.  Poetry is the language of God – prophetic language that has power – “shattering, evocative speech that breaks fixed conclusions and presses us always toward new, [even] dangerous [and] imaginative possibilities.”  (Ibid., p. 6)

The title of this sermon came from the poet Walt Whitman.  He wrote,

After the seas are all cross’d, (as they seem already cross’d,) After the great captains and engineers have accomplish’d all their work, After the noble inventors, after the scientists, the chemist, the geologist, ethnologist, Finally shall come the poet worthy that name, The true son of God shall come singing his songs. (“Passage to India,” 5:1101-5 Leaves of Grass, Mentor Books:  NY, 1954, p. 324.)

In other words, God will have the final word.

And if we be poets in the meantime, we will shine the light of our alternative realities – from this village on the hill – into a future that we cannot quite see.

This is how we show that we cherish the truth – that we are open to the truth – that we are not afraid of the truth that can break the fearful realities that can bind us and divide us and reduce us to a fainthearted and stumbling people.

And, Dr. Susan Hassler… even though I’ve known you for just a little while…  I think you can receive the mantle of inauguration as a poet.  Already, we’ve seen your grace and openness and energy and imagination.  I think we’ve even seen a little chutz-pah. You seem to know already about loving God and others with your mind.

And I believe I can speak for us all to say that we look forward to your inauguration into this calling as President at Muskingum University.

I think the time is right for your poetry here.

And, I can’t help but smile and be struck by what I consider an act of poetry in the word “inauguration.”

The word itself is rooted in the French term for install or consecrate.  But in the deeper meaning – the Latin root – it infers that these installations need to take place when the time is right.  The root word is “augury.”  Augury is the practice of searching in creation for the signs of the right time for moving forward.

The Latin word inaugurare means to “take omens from the flight of birds before consecrating or installing.” (http://www.dictionary.com/browse/inauguration?s=t)

Seems like the one true poet is bringing us right back to the promised flight of eagles…

Sounds poetic in the deepest sense of that word…

Poetic, meaning we may we all take heart that as we move toward to your inauguration on Friday, as we move into the whole future beyond where we can see, we can be sure that we are carried along on the wings of eagles – with our way illuminated by the light of the Holy One – the Word – the Poet – the Everlasting God.

Amen

Rev. Anne Weirich

Currently the pastor at College Drive Presbyterian Church in New Concord, OH – home of Muskingum University and John Glenn – Anne is a graduate of Princeton Seminary (MDiv. 1998.) Prior to this, she has served a UCC church on Cape Cod, Claremont Presbyterian Church in CA, and Westminster, Grand Rapids, MI and First Presbyterian in Lansing, MI. She travels annually to the Holy Land, leading pilgrimages and has also worked with many PCUSA mission activities and partners including PDA in New Orleans, the Border Ministry and the World Communion of Reformed Churches. Currently Anne serves on the executive committee of the General Assembly Committee for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations.

Learn about Rev. Weirich’s latest trip to Israel/Palestine.

Download Pilgrimage 2018 Registration form.

A Hopeful Cry for Peace

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A Hopeful Cry for Peace

In light of recent events of these past several weeks, and the ongoing six-year crisis in Syria, we of the Syria-Lebanon Partnership Network (SLPN) feel compelled to issue a response regarding the current state of affairs. The continuing loss of life and displacement of innocent people speak to the dark and destructive evil behind the use of chemical weapons and any military responses, whether by accident or by intention.

Such responses must be deemed as unacceptable going forward in the Syrian crisis. Prior to these events, negotiations were going on near Homs to begin working toward some shared resolution. After these attacks, negotiations between local parties inside Syria have ceased and a wider polarization has resulted. It appears to us that military responses such as these will always bring even more violence and quash efforts at resolution through discussion and negotiation.

The military response taken by the Trump administration has been called by some a “measured” action. This has been said even though it was one that was unilateral and immediate and took lives on the airstrip in Al Shayrat. The repercussions of that action are now emerging and show the likelihood of an escalation of hostilities and yet more carnage to be inflicted on the Syrian people.

The question of responsibility for the chemical attack remains but, as more time passes, it becomes harder and harder to find the truth. In the “fog of war” it is frequently said that “the first casualty of war is the truth.” Yet we must always be committed to understand as much of the truth as we can identify in order to help us respond truthfully going forward. Responses devoid of such truth in the end will show no effect at bringing about lasting resolution. To achieve this kind of understanding requires time and a fuller understanding of the far-reaching implications of what our actions may be.

It has seemed to us irresponsible and unjust to follow the bandwagon created by government officials and the western news media in immediately casting blame on one side or the other for such deplorable behavior. It seems any rush to judgment allows guilty parties to take refuge in the “fog” and make plans for other such uses of chemical weapons. Therefore, as the Steering Committee of the SLPN, and having spoken with our partners on the ground in the region and those who are part of our network here in the United States, we call on all parties to view and portray this crisis not as a “civil war” amongst the Syrian people, but much more a “proxy war” that admittedly involves many forces within the country, and one that has been seized upon and escalated by the outside influence of warriors from more than 90 countries. These outside combatants have been allowed open access through bordering countries in the region who have a stake in the outcome and who clearly desire a government change in Syria.

We also call for any influence of “super powers” to be used in a just manner for the cause of peace in this troubled country. Such influence clearly means the cessation of providing military resources and actual hardware that bring a continuance of this deadly conflict. The vast expansion of military force in the region provides an economic boon for countries around the world. No civilized country should be complicit in advancing the spread of this war. Violence only creates more violence and not lasting peace. All parties must use their power to help rebuild this country in the post-war period and to create an incentive for those who have fled to return to a peaceful homeland.

Today is the open window to do something new, something prophetic in the cause of peace. It must be done thoughtfully and prayerfully. In this season as we continue to celebrate the great sacrifice and resurrection of the Prince of Peace, we are committed to peace in real terms. May we too give our lives for the cause of peace in the world. To that end we offer a prayer given to us by our PCUSA General Assembly co-moderator Jan Edmiston.

“God of hope and peace, we pray for your healing of our world. We mourn for the children, women and men who have been killed by today’s swords and spears. We give thanks for those who seek to heal rather than harm. We pray for peace that seems so far away, yet that through you, we know is possible. We pray that the communities of nations will practice wisdom and restraint in this vulnerable and broken part of your creation. May we be part of a resurrection to life and peace in Syria and embrace a future where no one will learn war anymore. Amen.”
Looking Ahead with Hope,

The Syria Lebanon Partnership Network
Tim McCalmont, moderator

A sermon delivered to the Presbytery of Lake Michigan on March 11, 2017

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A sermon delivered to the Presbytery of Lake Michigan on March 11, 2017

by the Rev. Sarah Schmidt-Lee Scripture: John 3:1-17 Good morning all! It’s good to be with you today.

I’ve had a friend from college visiting with me this week, and it’s been delightful to catch up with her–to find out what has been going on in her life, and share what’s been happening in mine, and also to reminisce about our college days, which were nearly 20 years ago, now.

As I’ve been preparing for this sermon, I’ve been thinking a lot about a particular experience I had in college. It was at a worship service I attended most weeks. This was a student-led service, not affiliated with any church or campus organization–just a couple kids with a guitar and a violin and a drum who started getting together to pray. It started with about 10 friends and quickly blossomed to over 100 students, so they asked to use the sanctuary of a church on campus so that this large group of students could continue to meet to worship at 10pm every Thursday night.

On this particular night I was in a sanctuary with all these fellow students singing a song called “Days of Elijah.” It’s a praise song that makes numerous references to the Hebrew Scriptures–Elijah, David, Ezekiel–and anticipates the second coming of Christ, using some of the language of the Hebrew prophets.

It’s an upbeat song, and the drummer and guitar player leading worship had people dancing in the aisles, like we were wont to for these songs of celebration. Usually I would have been dancing along with everyone else, but on this occasion I was frozen in my pew, because one line in the chorus had jumped out at me—“Lift your voice; it’s the year of Jubilee, and out of Zion’s hill salvation comes.”

Jubilee. I had just read about the year of Jubilee in Sunday School–we were studying a book called “The Biblical Jubilee and the Struggle for Life” by Russ and Gloria Kinsler, and in it I learned that the Jubilee law was about forgiveness of debts and redistribution of resources.

And right in that pew, I found myself putting together pieces of a puzzle–a puzzle I didn’t even know I had been carrying around for months or even years. I started thinking about what I had learned of Jubilee, and about a book on my parents’ shelf called “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger”–a book that makes the case that if every Evangelical Christian in North America tithed, we could resolve world hunger and still have enough money to keep our churches running smoothly. I thought about my experiences on mission trips to the Philippines in high school, and about students at my college who had just returned from a trip to Nicaragua; I thought about what I was learning about fair trade and human trafficking, and all kinds of pieces started clicking together. As I began to step back and look at all these pieces as a whole, I had an image–a vision of an African mother, bound in poverty, rejoicing at the coming of salvation because Jesus was going to spread out the wealth of the world so that she would have enough. Enough to feed her children and live life without fear.

And I was on the other side of the globe, with less so that this mother could have enough.

Now, I’m not here this morning to make a case for reinstating the biblical Jubilee–most scholars of ancient history will tell you that there is no evidence that the nation of Israel ever actually followed that law. And I’m not here to make the case that redistribution of wealth is God’s plan for the coming kingdom. What I am here to talk about is the struggle inside of myself when confronted with the reality that in a just world, I might be called to have less so that others can have enough.

That struggle which I first felt at about 10:30 pm on a Thursday night while a room full of college students danced to “Days of Elijah”–that struggle was my first experience of confronting my own privilege. I didn’t have that language, yet, but I could feel the tension.

I found myself asking, could I really sing this song authentically? Could I sing it with joy? This song was about good news for the poor. If I am not poor, but am among the wealthiest 10% of the planet is it still good news for me? If it is good news for me, can I believe that it is good news, even if it might mean changes in my life that feel like sacrifice or loss?

This is a tension I want to invite us to occupy today. It is deeply uncomfortable, but in our society more than ever, we need to ask these questions and sit with them for a time. It is too easy for us to assume that we are playing a zero-sum game. That everyone either shakes out as a winner or a loser. We see this assumption when people get defensive at the women’s movement, as if saying that women matter implies that men do not matter. We see this zero-sum assumption when people get upset at the Black Lives Matter movement as if it implies that white lives do not matter.

Can I believe in a world where I do not have an unfair advantage over my sisters and brothers of color, but in which I am not oppressed by them? Can I imagine that? Can we imagine God’s kingdom as one in which we have less privilege, but enough justice?

When I ask these questions, I find myself much like Nicodemus, coming to Jesus in the cover of night. I’ve been pondering these questions for two decades, and for most of that time I’ve been pondering in solitude–or maybe with one or two other friends over dinner, but far out of the pulpit and public eye. It is frightening to ask questions about my own privilege; it exposes my own ignorance and limitations.

And so I come to Jesus saying, “I’ve heard stories of what you do, and I believe you are amazing. I look at the problems in our world, and I know you can change everything,” but I do it in private, in secret. And then Jesus pushes my comfort zone. “Sarah, honey, it’s not about what you know. It’s about a whole new life. Bottom to top, inside out, everything transformed as the Spirit of God births you into a new way of being in the world.” And as I stammer and stare, wondering what on earth that means, Jesus puts a hand on my shoulder. “You say you’re a pastor, huh? And you haven’t gotten this part, yet?”

And I want to get defensive because I really like being competent, but I see the love, I know the love, I trust the love in Jesus’ face, so I shrug.

Jesus tells Nicodemus that “we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen, yet you do not receive our testimony.”

And I think of Martin Luther King Jr. sitting in a Birmingham jail, writing a letter to all the white pastors in town who are telling him to slow down and stop being so disruptive. “We speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen, yet you do not receive our testimony.”

Or the Black Lives Matter protestors who are told by white media and plenty of white pastors and Christians to stop antagonizing the police. “We speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen, yet you do not receive our testimony.”

“If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?”

Does that cut your heart the way it does mine? Sisters and brothers, this is where we live. We live in this space between our impulse to get defensive when our neighbors testify about their own experiences of racism and the possibility of believing. Believing the reality of their experiences; believing the truth of our nation; believing the truth about our own hearts.

And oh, is it painful! It is heart-wrenching and soul-crushing and tears your body open, like childbirth. It is so painful to see the truth when the truth is that our nation that we love has a legacy of white supremacy that we cannot erase or ignore. It is so painful to see the truth when the truth is that the police officers we know and love, often in our own families, are caught up in systemic racism that targets African Americans and threatens their lives. It is so painful to see the truth when the truth is that the mother across the street from me raises her brown-skinned boys to be polite, not so they can make a good impression, like I do with my son, but so that they can survive to adulthood.

And it is painful to see the truth when the truth is that I only feel this pain when I choose to. Part of my privilege as a white American woman is the luxury of looking away.

But here is what I have come to believe.

I believe that seeing and naming and working to dismantle white privilege is good news. I believe it is good news for me.

I believe it is good news for me, because of John 3:17–that oft neglected verse that follows its much more famous counterpart. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Seeing and naming our privilege is not about shame. Admitting that I am racist is not about personal guilt and wallowing in remorse. Jesus has come to liberate the captives, and sisters and brothers, we are captive to racism–we are bound up in a system that we did not create or choose, but which infects our ways of seeing and thinking and speaking and behaving in the world, and we need salvation. We need to be born again.

And praise God, who did not send Jesus into the world to look at our sin and shame us or condemn us, but to liberate us from its hold.

Do we believe that this is good news?

I am coming to believe that it is, and that is why, today I am not seeking Jesus out in the cover of night, but standing before you in the light of day to proclaim: Yes. This is good news. In the just and righteous kingdom of God, we who are white will not be privileged over others. We will have less so that others can have enough, and this will be our salvation. May we proclaim the kingdom of God and work out our salvation with fear and trembling each and every day.

Amen?

Amen.

Study for Nicodemus Visiting Jesus, Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1899