Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Approximate Notes for Sunday Message; Exodus 3:1-6; 21 September 2014

Scriptures for this week: Exodus 3:1-6

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV2010 and CEB

Hymns for this Sunday:

UMH 577 – God of Grace and God of Glory

TFWS 2071 – Jesus, Name Above All Names

UMH 436  -The Voice of God is Calling

                      (Use melody UMH 303)

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Today we will continue with the sermon series about commitment. Our personal commitment to God is what keeps us connected to each other. God is the common denominator in our relationship to each other. Our commitment to God is what translates into action: our common Christian mission, evangelism and outreach. Our commitment to God is what translates into what we believe to be right, true and beautiful. Our commitment to God translates into how we work together with our neighbors. Our commitment to God translates into our willingness to step out and try something that we’ve never done before. Our understanding of and our commitment to God translates into our interactions with the world around us, i.e. making disciples, volunteering, voting, recycling, what we do and do not do. That is why, as we try to figure out what our church will become in the future and how we will continue making disciples for Jesus for the transformation of the world, I would like to take time today to talk about the physical space that we worship in.

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Moses, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5). The way I understand this verse is, “Moses, you are standing on holy ground; something special is happening; humble yourself and prepare to receive a message from the Lord your God…”

We tend to use certain words and phrases without thinking. These words and phrases roll off our tongues with ease and their sounds reverberate in the space around us. They become platitudes and lose their meaning.

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I think that the phrase “holy ground” is one such phrase. You have heard me use it in sermons and in conversations many times. The phrase “holy ground” is found twice in the Bible:  

  1. In the Hebrew Scriptures (Exodus 3:5) when God commanded Moses to remove his shoes.

  2. In the Early Christian Writings (Acts 7:33) in the testimony that Stephen gave before being stoned to death by the Sanhedrin.

How do we explain what “holy ground” is? What makes a place “holy ground?” How do we know when we are on “holy ground?”

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{Illustration from personal practice of ministry: Hospital Room / Brimstone Hill}

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In both cases I knew that I was standing on holy ground and something meaningful and important was happening. It was not the physical location or place; what made it meaningful and important was the presence of God at that time and in that place.

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What makes our physical churches holy ground TO US:

  1. At some point of time in the past this space was consecrated to God’s service,

  2. As we worshipped in this space we felt God’s touch and presence.

  3. That presence of God inspired us and challenged us to do something that we ordinarily would not do. Jesus’ life gave us an example of what it means to live abundant lives and we espoused that understanding as our own. The Holy Spirit challenges us to become the best versions of what God created us to be, and we strive to do that.

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I am talking about our relationships, shared memories, traditions, common values, shared ministry and understanding of what is right, true and beautiful.

That is what makes this space “holy ground” (Exodus 3:5). That is what makes this space special, that is why we come together for worship, that is why we roll up our sleeves in mission and outreach, that is why we continue our legacy of Christian presence in this corner of God’s Creation.

Notice, I did not say anything about the physical facilities. I did not say anything about our stained glass windows (which are magnificent by any stretch of imagination), or our carpet, or our fellowship hall, or our sound system, or our organ. All of these things are important, but they are not what make this place holy ground.

These physical objects are important because they help us to remember our immediate history. These objects are sacramental in their nature because they remind us how God moved among Christians who worshipped here in the past and we are here today because of how God was active among them yesterday. These objects also challenge us to think about the future of this church. They are given to us in trust and with a lot of prayer by Christians who worshipped here before us.

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In Hebrew 12:1-3 Paul writes:

12: 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

Our building, our carpet, our fellowship hall, our stained glass windows are outward, visible and tangible signs of the “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) that worshiped in this space before us.

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God’s presence is among us wherever we are. As a community we worship God within these walls. How our building looks sends a message. When our building is taken care of, when it is neat and in good repair, the message is, “God is with us and we care and we are active service God by serving the world around us.” Part of our commitment to God’s mission to make disciples for the transformation of the world is to take care of our physical facilities, to create an inviting and welcoming space where God’s presence is self-evident.

{Illustration from the personal practice of ministry/Conclusion}

What makes a ground “holy?”; Thinking Towards Sunday – Exodus 3:1-6

“Moses, Moses! … Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

~~ God addressing Moses (Exodus 3:4-5)

We tend to use certain words and phrases without thinking. These words and phrases roll off our tongues with ease and their sounds reverberate in the space around us. They become platitudes and lose their meaning.

I think that the phrase “holy ground” is one such phrase. It is used quite often in churches and it is found twice in the Bible:

  1. In the Hebrew Scriptures (Exodus 3:5) when God commanded Moses to remove his shoes.

  2. In the Early Christian Writings (Acts 7:33) in the testimony that Stephen gave before being stoned to death by the Sanhedrin.

So what makes ground “holy” and how would we explain what “the holy ground” means to a five year old?

When God told Moses that Moses was standing on “holy ground” (Exodus 3:5) it was not that the ground on which Moses stood that was different from any other ground around it. Today if we were to go to Mount Sinai, find the place where the Burning Bush was and to collect a sample of the soil from there, that soil sample would not be different from any other soil around it. It was the presence of the Holy God at that time and in that space that made that ground “holy.”

Today I want to leave you with a couple of questions:

When was the last time that you stood on holy ground?

What made the ground holy for you?

How were you changed by that experience of the Holy at that time and place?

Open letter from Tom B. to all members and constituents of Christ United Methodist Church, Chestertown, MD.

Please plan to attend a congregational meeting in the church hall following worship service on Sunday, October 5, 2014. At this time members of the Joint Church Steering Committee will present a summary of information discussed during our first two meetings. To date the committee has functioned solely in a fact finding capacity. What ever initiatives evolve from this effort must be the result of consensus of the church body. All members are asked to attend the October 5th meeting and need to understand it is both their right and obligation to speak freely and frankly concerning the future of our church. Decisions made at the meeting will determine guidelines for future committee actions.

Sincerely,

Tom B.

Co-chair, Joint Church Steering Committee

Thinking Towards Sunday; 21 September 2014

Scriptures for this week: Exodus 3:1-6

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV2010 and CEB

Hymns for this Sunday:

UMH 577 – God of Grace and God of Glory

TFWS 2071 – Jesus, Name Above All Names

UMH 436  -The Voice of God is Calling

                      (Use melody UMH 303)

Liturgy of Dedication and Commissioning of the New Carpet; Liturgy of Dedication and Commissioning of an object to God’s Service

Loving and Gracious God!

With gratitude and joy we remember the men and women who served you and gathered for worship in this church in the past. They prayed, studied Scriptures, worshiped, worked, laughed, grieved and fellowshipped together. They walked on this floor covered by the old carpet, and they grew in grace and wisdom. Many of them are a part of the Church Triumphant, some of them are still on this side of eternity. For all of their efforts and for everything that they mean to us we give you glory and honor.

Today we pray for ourselves and for those Christians who will follow us and gather to pray, to study Scriptures, to worship, to work, to laugh, to grieve and to fellowship together in the future. We pray that the use of this carpet will help them to serve you, to further your kingdom, to make disciples and be your church in the world that you created and gifted to humankind.

We thank you for the men and women who worked tirelessly to raise money to pay for this carpet, who worked tirelessly and diligently to make decisions and work out the logistics of installation, and who installed this carpet.

May all their efforts be pleasing in your eyes and like a pleasant aroma in your nostrils.

In the name of the Father who understood and forgave us, in the name of the Son who redeemed us on the Cross and in the name of the Holy Spirit who molds and guides our lives we dedicate this carpet to God’s service and glory.

The community of Christ United Methodist Church accepts this carpet as a sacred trust and will care for it, guard und use it reverently to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ and further God’s Kingdom.

ALL: AMEN

Liturgy of re-commissioning of the Fellowship Hall Bell; liturgy or re-commissioning of an object after repair or restoration to God’s service

Loving and Gracious God!

With gratitude and joy we remember men and women who served you and gathered for worship in this church in the past. They prayed, studied Scriptures, worshiped, worked and fellowshipped together. They heard the sounds of this bell.

Today we pray for ourselves and for those Christians who will gather to pray, to study Scriptures, to worship, to work and to fellowship together in the future. We pray that the sounds of this bell will be a blessing to them as it is for us.

In the name of the Father who understood and forgave us, in the name of the Son who redeemed us on the Cross and in the name of the Holy Spirit who molds and guides our lives, we re-commission this bell to God’s service and glory.

The community of Christ United Methodist Church will continue to hold this bell as a sacred trust and will guard and use it to God’s service.

AMEN

Approximate Notes for Sunday Sermon; 14 September 2014; Ephesians 4:7-8, 11-16

This Sunday (9/14/2014) we will continue with the series about commitment. We will talk about what it means to be an integral part of something that is inherently bigger then the sum of all of us. The local church is bigger then the sum of its members and constituents because of the synergy that builds up when we roll up our sleeves and join each other in mission.

Scriptures for this Sunday are:  Ephesians 4:7-8, 11-16,

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV2010 and CEB

Hymns for this Sunday:

UMH 699  –  Come, and Let us Sweetly Join

UMH 368 – My Hope is Built verses 1 & 4

UMH 555 – Forward Through the Ages

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Today we will continue with the sermon series about commitment. Our personal commitment to God is what keeps us connected to each other. God is the common denominator in this relationship. Our commitment to God is what translates into action: our common Christian mission, evangelism and outreach. Our commitment to God is what translates into what we believe to be right, true and beautiful. Our understanding of and our commitment to God translates into our interactions with the world around us, i.e making disciples, volunteering, voting, recycling, what we do and do not do. That is why, as we try to figure out what our church will become in the future and how we will continue making disciples for Jesus for the transformation of the world, I would like to take time today to talk about membership.

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The word “membership” most often refers to a group of people. We could say that “the membership of a church was invited to vote on something.” Membership is a group of individuals associated by some common bond and regarded as one entity: “the student body” or “administrative body” or “People of Kent County,” or “Worton United Methodist Church.”

The word “membership” also refers to the relationship that individual members have to a larger group of people. We could say that some of us have a membership in Worton United Methodist Church, some of us are graduates from the Kent County High School, and some of us have a membership in a gym.

Having a membership implies having a mutual connection and a relationship between individual members. That being understood, not every membership is created equal. For me personally my emotional investment into my membership in a gym is much-much less than my emotional investment into my membership in the United Methodist Church.

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That being understood, membership implies commitment of some sort. All of you can pinpoint the day when you made a commitment to be a part of this church. It may have been a decision that you made during confirmation, or it may have been a day when you walked into this building and experienced the presence and healing touch of the Holy Spirit.

When we combine all of our stories – the stories of God’s presence in our lives – we weave a beautiful tapestry of our shared Christian experience. This tapestry tells the story of hope, resilience, love, compassion, emotional growth, and community that is bigger than the sum of us. This tapestry tells the story of staying in love with God and living our lives in such a way that our love and commitment to God is self-evident. I do not know how it happened, but somehow our story of God’s love and grace has become the story of “we do not have enough money to meet our expenses.”

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Our neighbors are hungry for meaningful relationships; people satisfy this hunger by having virtual friends on facebook™. On the other hand, when we talk about the necessity of raising money to meet our bills, we do not offer them meaningful relationships. Our task is to recover our stories of God’s grace and presence, our task is to find a way to tell our stories so that our neighbors can imagine themselves among us, and they will find it compelling to turn off their TVs and put down their facebook™, and start discovering and sharing the stories of God in their own lives with people whose presence they can feel.

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Two weeks ago we talked about vision and what our vision for this church is. Vision and commitment go hand in hand because commitment manifests itself in what we do and what we need to do to make sure that our church will continue to be the salt of the earth and the city on a hill that we are called to be.

Journeyman: CUMC and WORTON UMC newsletter

The latest edition of Wesleyan Journeyman is posted on http://wesleyanjourneyman.wordpress.com/.

Reflection for the Back of the Bulletin; September 14, 2014

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I love the Church.

In our popular culture its become commonplace to point a finger of righteous indignation at everything that is wrong with the church. Every organization has problems and the Church Universal (as well as individual church communities) is not an exception. That being understood, there is also much that is right with the Church because the Church is chosen by God to carry out the mission of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

I love the people of the Church and the mission of the Church. I cannot imagine my life without Church.

Being a church community is about serving God by serving the world in which we live. Being a church community is about serving God by demonstrating our faith through our actions, and being a family of God and friends to each other. Being a church means being a community that helps us to stay in love with God and be the best version of what God created us to be.

Being a church is about sharing our lives’ journeys with compassion, in a context of a community while bringing hope to those around us. Being a church community means being consciously aware of how our lives are different because our individual identities are rooted in the relationship with Jesus. Being a church is about recovering our stories and sharing our stories and experiences of God’s grace and love.

Questions to ponder:

  • What is different in your life because you are a Christian?

  • What are the holy moments in your life? What are the times when God touched your soul? How have these holy moments changed the trajectory and direction of your life?

Thinking Towards Sunday; 14 September 2014

This coming Sunday we will continue with the series about commitment. We will talk about what it means to be an integral part of something that is inherently bigger then the sum of all of us. The local church is bigger then the sum of its members and constituents because of the synergy that builds up when we roll up our sleeves and join each other in mission.

Scriptures for this Sunday are:  Ephesians 4:7-8, 11-16, 17-32

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV2010 and CEB

Hymns for this Sunday:

UMH 699  –  Come, and Let us Sweetly Join

UMH 368 – My Hope is Built verses 1 & 4

UMH 555 – Forward Through the Ages

Zacchaeus: the repentant “everyman”

In 1st century Palestine, Romans recruited locals to be tax collectors and gave them a percentage of what was collected. The more money tax collectors extorted from their neighbors, the more they could keep. The tax collectors profited from their neighbors’ misfortune. In so doing, they also helped to raise the funds necessary to finance the brutal repression of the Jews by the Romans. What I am trying to say is that in 1st century Palestine, tax collectors were about as popular as occupying Nazis were in Russia in WWII.

Zacchaeus was a “chief tax collector” and a “wealthy man” (Luke 19:1). When Jesus came to Jericho, Zacchaeus felt a tug to go see Jesus. Chances are that God tugged on others to come out and see Jesus as well. But many probably were just too busy. For them it was a “business as usual” day.

Zacchaeus, on the other hand, not only dropped what he was doing, but went to great lengths to respond to this inner prompting of God’s grace. Ultimately he climbed a sycamore tree to get a good view of Jesus.

Because of his political and economic role as a chief tax Collector, Zacchaeus was considered to be a pariah among the people of God. In fact, some would say that his profession has made him the equivalent of a Gentile. When he sought Jesus, Zacchaeus’ standing and membership among the Jews was reinstated. It was reinstated not because he gave alms and righted the wrongs. His reinstatement was a pure act of God’s Grace. Zacchaeus’ response (to give half of his fortune away and to right all the wrongs[Luke19:8]) was the outward and visible sign of the inward transformation and grace after meeting Jesus.

Questions to ponder:

  • When was the last time that you went out of your way to see Jesus?

  • How were you blessed by that experience?

Approximate Notes and Outline for the Sunday Message; Luke 19:1-10; 7 September 2014

Scripture for this week is Luke 19:1-10

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV2010 and CEB

Hymns for this Sunday:

UMH 617 – I Come With Joy (use melody UMH 57)
UMH 393 – Spirit of the Living Lord
UMH 399 –Take My Life, and Let it Be

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Today we will continue with the sermon series about commitment. Commitment to God is what keeps us connected to each other through our individual commitment to God. God is the common denominator in this relationship. Our commitment to God is what translates into action: our common Christian mission, evangelism and outreach. Our commitment to God is what translates into what we believe to be right, true and beautiful. Our understanding of and our commitment to God translates into our interactions with the world around us, i.e. making disciples. That is why, As we continually try to reinvent ourselves, as we try to figure out what our churches (CUMC, FUMC and WUMC) will become in the future and how we will continue making disciples for Jesus for the transformation of the world, we need to look at examples of commitment in the Holy Scriptures.

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Today I want to talk about Zacchaeus and how his commitment to God helped him to reinvent himself.

Zacchaeus intrigues me. He was a tax collector, an office that he had to purchase from the Romans. The way he made his living was to collect taxes from his neighbors, and whatever extra he could collect above and beyond what the Romans demanded he could keep for himself. But that is not all. The Bible explicitly states that Zacchaeus “was a chief tax collector and was wealthy” (Luke 19:2). Zacchaeus was good at “shaking” his neighbors for money and he had other tax collectors working for him as well. In a way he was the head of a pyramid scheme and in the center of a crime ring. Think about what his life was like.

{Illustration}

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When I think of Zacchaeus, I think of a modern day “Tony Soprano”: a man who knew that there was a different way to make a living but he was so stuck and mired in his environment that he could not even begin to imagine how to get there.

I suspect that when Zacchaeus heard of the rabbi who taught all around Galilee, and heard some of his teachings reiterated by others, Jesus came to represent that other way of life that Zacchaeus wanted but did not know how to attain.

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Albert Einstein said once that “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” I think that Jesus came to represent that new way of thinking for Zacchaeus. That is why Zacchaeus had to climb that tree; to get a glimpse of what his life could be, the life that he was dreaming about but did not know how to attain. Through the years he had built a certain kind of life, and he could not imagine the steps that needed to be taken to change his life.

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Jesus recognized that earnestness and hunger. Jesus recognized that tug-of-war going in Zacchaeus’ heart. Jesus recognized that honesty in Zacchaeus. Jesus recognized that willingness to be vulnerable and honest, if only inside Zacchaeus’ heart. Jesus reached out to Zacchaeus, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today”.

Did you pick up on what happened next? The Bible tells us, ‘All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”’ Zacchaeus was the last man anyone expected Jesus would visit.

I suspect that Jesus stayed at the House of Zacchaeus for a couple of days.

{Illustration}

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Zacchaeus: “Journey from thug to saint

The result of that visit and time with Jesus was drastic. Zacchaeus was a changed man. Here is the change as described by Zacchaeus himself, “Look, [Jesus]! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” That statement was the outward sign of internal grace, change, and emotional growth in Zacchaeus’ life. Compare that to the story of a Rich Young Ruler found in Luke 18:18-30. Zacchaeus was willing to right the wrongs that he caused, and he was willing to turn his life around. The Young Rich Ruler on the other hand “became very sad, because he was very wealthy” (Luke 18:23). The Young Rich Ruler did not see the possibilities, he was not open to God’s guiding presence, he was not willing to experience the internal grace, change and emotional growth that Zacchaeus welcomed. The Young Rich Ruler could not imagine himself living a different life; Zacchaeus could. Zaccaheus had the vision, what he did not know was how to get “there”; how to change what he had to change, adjust what he had to adjust and adapt where he had to adapt…

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That is why Jesus gave us each other to be a church. As a community we can help each other tend the flames and energy of the Holy Spirit that help us to grow in grace and understanding of God. We do that by making disciples. We do that by helping each other grow emotionally and spiritually. We do that by helping each other to stay in love with Jesus and what Jesus represents in our lives. It is so easy to find ourselves in the shoes of the Young Rich Ruler who could not even imagine what life could be. It is also easy to find ourselves in Zacchaeus’ shoes, able to imagine what life could be but not knowing how to get there. Who among us has not said at one time or another, “I wish I could…” or “I wish I had…” or “I wish I was somewhere else…” and stopped there. That is the Rich Young Ruler and Zacchaeus.

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Zacchaeus took that first step. Zacchaeus climbed the Sycamore tree, and as a result his life was changed. We come to the communion table.

{Transition to the Sacrament of the Holy Communion.}

Zacchaeus: the repentant “everyman”

In 1st century Palestine, Romans recruited locals and gave them a percentage of what was collected. The more they extorted out of their neighbors, the more they could keep. The tax collectors profited off their neighbors’ misfortune. In so doing, they also helped raised the funds necessary to finance the brutal repression of the Jews by the Romans. What I am trying to say is that in 1st century Palestine, tax collectors were about as popular as occupying Nazis were in Russia in WWII.

Zacchaeus was a “chief tax collector” and a “wealthy man” (Luke 19:1). When Jesus came to Jericho, Zacchaeus felt a tug to go see Jesus. Chances are that God tugged on others to come out and see Jesus as well. But many probably were just too busy. For them it was a “business as usual” day.

Zacchaeus, on the other hand, not only dropped what he was doing, but went to great lengths to respond to this inner prompting of God’s grace. Ultimately he climbed a sycamore tree to get a good view of Jesus.

Because of his political and economic role as a chief tax Collector, Zacchaeus was considered to be a pariah among the people of God. In fact, some would say that his profession has made him the equivalent of a Gentile. When he sought Jesus, Zacchaeus’ standing and membership among the Jews was reinstated. It was reinstated not because he gave alms and righted the wrongs. His reinstatement was a pure act of God’s Grace. Zacchaeus’ response (to give half of his fortune away and to right all the wrongs[Luke19:8]) was the outward and visible sign of the inward transformation and grace after meeting Jesus.

Questions to Ponder: When was the last time that you went out of your way to see Jesus? How were you blessed by that experience?

Prayer:

Loving and Gracious God!

Give me the strength and courage to climb “sycamore trees” and do whatever I have to in order to come closer to you with every day of my life.

Amen.

Thinking Towards Sunday; 7 September 2014

Scripture for this week is Luke 19:1-10

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV2010 and CEB

Hymns for this Sunday:

UMH 617 – I Come With Joy (use melody UMH 57)

UMH 393 – Spirit of the Living Lord

UMH 399 –Take My Life, and Let it Be

Re-post from Bishop Johnson’s Blog: “Standing our ground: ‘We are all accountable’”

I am reposting an entry from Bishop Johnson’s Blog. The original is posted here: Click ME

On August 9 18-year-old Michael Brown, an unarmed African American youth in Ferguson, Mo., was fatally shot multiple times by police officer Darren Wilson. Bishop Minerva Carcaño, president of our General Commission on Race and Religion, responded in a public statement that, “We are all accountable for his death and accountable to the African American young people in our communities everywhere.”

That is so true. Michael was our child. So were Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, two other teenagers killed by gun shots in 2012, their assailants acquitted of their deaths by Florida’s notorious Stand Your Ground law. 

Nine-year-old Antonio Davis of Chicago was slain just last Wednesday, August 21, by gun shots that tore through his young, innocent body as he likely sought to escape gang violence. He too was our child. And so were too many others taken from us in recent years in Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore and other cities and towns across our nation.

The quaking ground on which we must stand is our accountability to children and yes, adults, of African American and other races, who are victims of violence-random and senseless or premeditated and prejudicial, by law-breakers and law-keepers. We must assert clearly, loudly that every life has value and promise, especially every young life, even in the most unpromising circumstances. 

And the loss of each life, no matter how distant or disparate from us, diminishes us nonetheless. In the course of our prayers and anxious discourse, or even in our bewildered silence, that undeniable truth must strike a deep, solemn, reverberating chord in each of us.

We live in a society that is full of terrible violence, racism and socio-economic inequities. We as individuals and as members of our churches and communities need to do all we can to squarely face and address these daunting tragedies in and beyond our churches, in our families, communities, schools, workplaces and our personal lives. 

We are all vulnerable when any one of us is vulnerable. There is no us and them. There is only us. We claim to be followers of Jesus Christ, who crosses boundaries and “has broken down the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14) Well, he not only teaches us to do likewise; he demands it.

Hip-hop singer Lauryn Hill recently reprised her song “Black Rage” in response to the racism, poverty, disrespect and disregard faced by many in Ferguson and similar communities around our nation. She cites “blatant denial, squeezed economics, subsistent survival” as some of the reasons for this continued cycle of violence and distrust that too often erupt in upheaval. The pain felt there must be our pain too, wherever we are. We must see it, hear it, feel it and speak it from our hearts. And the dire need for serious, creative remedies must be our common quest.

How can you help? Well, where do you see or hear about these same struggles happening around you, in your community or other communities near or far? Poor schools and substandard education, rampant unemployment and poverty, growing hunger, dilapidated homes, unsafe streets, inadequate municipal services, distrust and conflicts between residents and police, high rates of incarceration, racial bias and mistreatment.

How can you help? Through joining local and state advocacy efforts; providing  tutoring and higher education assistance; offering preparatory employment training and job search help; supporting community gardens and healthy food stores; getting involved in sweat equity ministries like Habitat for Humanity to provide affordable housing; starting recreation, arts and crafts and other activities for youth after school; holding community forums and gatherings for relationship building and dialogue; and generating citizen education, research, documentation, legal help, negotiation and advocacy to reduce and respond to mistreatment by police. 

That’s just a start. Some churches can do more; but every church can do something, especially through church and community partnerships.

Actually, the way we start is to look and listen to our communities and get to know residents, schools, businesses, organizations and other participants from all walks of life. And then we must demonstrate the outreaching, redemptive love of Christ, as John Wesley reminds us, in all the ways we can, to all the people we can, in all the places we can, at all the times we can.

“This past week I’ve watched an American city become something akin to a war zone,” says popular actor Orlando Jones in a recent online video. He then borrows from the also popular ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, where people are accepting the challenge to pour ice or cold water over their heads and make contributions to help find a cure for ALS, also known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” 

Jones, a lifetime member of the NRA, pours instead a bucket of bullets over his head. He then tells viewers, “I’m challenging myself to listen without prejudice, to love without limits and to reverse the hate. That’s my challenge to me and hopefully you will accept this challenge too.”

I accept Jones’ challenge wholeheartedly, and I urge each of you to do the same: Listen without prejudice, love without limits and reverse the hate.”

Dear members and churches of our two conferences in the Philadelphia Episcopal Area, I ask you to seek ways to help balance the scales of justice in this world so that everyone gets what they need, everyone is treated with respect and no one is seen as “less than” or undeserving of the blessings of life.

Christ tells us to “watch and pray always.” So let us watch keenly and not be blind or deaf to what is happening in our midst. Let us not be mute or immobile and thus fail in our calling to be active witnesses to God’s transforming love, mercy and justice in our world.

Please join me in watching, praying and working for a nation–and indeed, a world–that is free from using violence as a misguided, tragic solution to life’s struggles. Together we must see it, hear it, feel it, speak it and then do it “until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an overflowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)

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