Saturday, July 8, 2017

Crab Shells In Our Teeth; Sermon for July 9, 2017; UCC General Synod Reflections

Rev. George Miller
July 9, 2017
Psalm 46

“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God…”

When these words were written, it was clear that the city in reference was Jerusalem, where God’s holy temple sat upon the hill, glittering in the sunlight.

“Come behold the works of the Lord…” the psalmist invites us to sing out.

“The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

There is a river…

While it’s true that the author of Psalm 46 was talking about Jerusalem, it’s safe to say that the city of God does not have to be a fixed, physical position.

The city can be any place, because God is everywhere. The city can be for all time, because God is timeless. The city can be inhabited by all kinds of people, because all kinds of people belong to God.

It can be said that anywhere in which there is justice, in which there is kindness, in which folks walk humbly with the Lord, it is a city of God.

Last week the United Church of Christ had our national meeting by the bay in beautiful Baltimore, and it was, without a doubt, a city of God.

Now I’ve never been to Baltimore; knew nothing about Baltimore; had zero expectations about Baltimore.

But let me tell you- it was love the moment the soles of my feet touched the sidewalk.

Baltimore is alive, with music coming from street musicians and passing cars; Baltimore is alive with food and seasonings, and spice.

The first night in Baltimore I went to a sidewalk cafe, enjoying the chance to have crab chowder and oyster po’boy at 10 pm.

At some point during the meal, a piece of crab shell got caught in my throat.

I tried everything I could to dislodge it- gulped down water, sipped more soup. When that didn’t work, I coughed, gagged, tried to burp.

Nothing. The crab shell was there, small and sharp. I thought to myself- “Oh Lord, please don’t let this be the way my life ends!”

After minutes of gulping and coughing, sipping and gagging, I tried a new approach, and took a big ol’ bite of that oyster po’boy, which did the trick.

Crab shell gone, and like Toni Braxton, I was able to breathe again.

The next day I shared my experience with a local. Know what they said?

“That’s how you know you’re eating real crab.”

That comment was what I needed to hear- if you are going to be in Baltimore, eating real seafood, you’re going to get shells.

So from that point on, meals were eaten with intentionality. By the last day, I was a pro, eating crab cakes in little bites, paying attention to what I was doing, so when a little crunch or two or three of shell came along, it was no big deal, and I did what needed to be done.

Baltimore meals are best treated as intentional experiences in which you are to be present, aware, and in the moment.

If you are eating real seafood you will get shells in your teeth…

The same can be said about being a citizen of God’s city.

If you are truly being guided by the Holy Spirit…you are going to get shells in your teeth.

If you are truly following Jesus Christ…you are going to get shells in your teeth.

If you are truly doing what God requires…you are going to get shells in your teeth.

And if you don’t get shells in your teeth, there’s a chance that what you’re doing is fake ministry and you’re being fake church, because when you deal with real people, living in the real world, facing real problems, guess what?

You’re going to get shells in your teeth.

Jesus is the perfect example. Look at all he did, and how it led him to the cross constructed by people who couldn’t handle just how real he was.

If you are truly doing the work of the Lord, you will truly get shells in your teeth.

And folks, let it be known that at General Synod 31 there were many, many shells.

For example, we passed 14 Resolutions.

Resolutions are statements that speak to the local church on how to reflect and act upon issues of theological, moral, and ethical matters.

Resolutions of Witness require a 2/3 vote to pass, with delegates casting votes based on their Christian conviction and witness to Jesus Christ.

Today we’ll discuss 2 of the Resolutions that were passed.

The 1st is for “A More Just Economy: $15 Minimum Wage, Living Wages and Job Creation.”

It speaks to the local church that we should support workers’ efforts for better wages and working conditions, and that we advocate for policymakers to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour ASAP.

There were those who spoke in support of it. There were those who said that $15 in one state does not translate to the same cost of living in another. There were those who said that such a demand can affect small towns and local business owners.

Then there was me.

Nervous as heck, I stood at mic 4 with a shell in my teeth and said-

“I’m in favor of this resolution, but I don’t believe in being hypercritical…How can we tell other businesses what to pay their employees if we do not do the same with our administrative assistants, our cleaning services, and the people who mow our lawn? …Before we tell people what to do in their house, we have to do the same in our house.”

People nodded and showed their agreement; the resolution passed with more than a 2/3 vote.

So now, we as a local church, are asked to consider- are we willing to support efforts for better working conditions and for policymakers to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour ASAP?

Cough, cough. Is that a shell in our teeth?

And if we are going to tell McDonalds and Burger King what to pay their people, are we willing to pay our Office Administrator and cleaning person $15 as well?

Cough, cough, cough- excuse me- I think there’s a whole crab claw in our teeth.

“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God…”

Then there was the “Resolution of Witness in Support of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse and Neglect.”

I sat on that committee and the Resolution was passed overwhelmingly with much compassion and support.

This resolution is important for many reasons- it is the first time in American history that a religious organization has publicly made a statement showing solidarity with, acceptance of, and support of adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse and neglect.

This is a “living with” resolution, one that says it is time for churches to stop being silent about a reality that is full of many, many sharp and painful shells-

1 in 6 boys are sexually abused, as are 1 in 4 girls, meaning there are 40 million adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

The presenter of this resolution called it the “Greatest Secret Rights Movement.”

Half of rape victims are under 12; for those under 12 the largest age group is 4.

4 years old.

The shells in our teeth are so big it’s nearly impossible to stand before you and speak this information.

Studies show how this trauma affects bodies, affects health care system, affects a child’s ability to learn, to trust, to live.

Studies show that because the abuse is often kept a secret, the children grow into adults in which the long lingering effects of the trauma affects relationships, employment, education, institutions, and the legal system.

The shells around this subject are many, but it did not stop our denomination from being present, being aware, and being intentional.

By passing this resolution, the United Church of Christ is saying to each and every adult survivor-

You are not alone. You are not at fault. You do not have to be ashamed. You do not have to keep this a secret. You are welcome here.

The passing of this Resolution encourages the denomination and local congregation to train its members and ministers on how to respond positively to those adults who self-disclose, and to validate their worth.

…“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God…” Thus says the words of Psalm 46.

Beloved members of the Emmanuel Community know that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are many. If we truly embrace these gifts…we are going to get shells in our teeth.

If we truly follow the teachings of Jesus, being the hands, feet, eyes, ears, and heart of Christ…we are going to get shells in our teeth.

If we are truly doing what God requires- justice, kindness, walking humbly with the Lord…we are going to get shells in our teeth.

If we are truly a citizen of the Heavenly City, we will get shells in your teeth.

Because when you share the Good News and be the Good News with real people, living in the real world, facing real problems, guess what?

You’re going to get shells in your teeth.

And that’s Ok- because it means we are being intentional and true, present and aware.

It also means that we are truly doing the work of the Lord, and the Living Waters are running through.

For that we can say Amen and amen.

No comments: