Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Behold! I'm Doing a New Thing...

In 2007, I was appointed to serve Saint Mark United Methodist Church, and found myself in an environment where I felt the surprising and relentless tug of the creative spirit. 
I found that I loved writing: Facebook posts, sermons, newsletter articles. I couldn’t get enough. But, I needed a safe place to write about my children (rather than blathering on about them from the pulpit), as well as a way to keep a record of the professional things I wrote.
When I created my blog in 2008, I named it Reverend Mama. These were and are the two aspects of my identity that I am most overwhelmed by and grateful for. They are the aspects of who I am that I wrestle with the most, and try my hardest to succeed at doing well. Being a pastor and mother are expressions of my being which I came to concurrently, and both totally rocked my world. They define me, shape me, and each dimension makes me better at the other. The dualism of my identity makes me fully aware of my humanness and more open to the divine in all things. My vocation, most certainly, is to both, without confusion or change. Reverend Mama is my hypostatic union.
For the first few years, I was a prolific writer. I found an outlet for the things that had been rolling around in my head, and thanks to the gift of trustworthy childcare, I had time to get the words out into the world. It was an incredibly rewarding experience, and before long, I had a book mapped out about the stages of a mother’s development, psychologically and spiritually. I talked with friends, I organized the chapters and then…
All of my creative energy was re-routed into the marvelous and overwhelming work of gestating a new person. The book idea vanished. The outlines I’d written might as well have been uncoded hieroglyphics. I tried blogging; but nothing came. All of my written work was channeled into the ordination process, which I was fiercely trying to complete that same year. For months, I felt guilty, as I sat and tried to generate new blog material to no avail. I apologized to my readers for the lack of inspiration.
(In retrospect, I suppose it’s unfair to say I stopped writing. I wrote 100 pages of theological, homiletical and historical work for the Board of Ordained Ministry, but it certainly wasn’t material that would have been enjoyable for the general public to read. So, now that I think about it, apology retracted! In fact, dear readers, you’re very welcome.)
Then, the creative work of making a baby got sucked into the exhausting work of mothering a new baby (and her two brothers). Writing was something I was only able to do in short, sweet bursts, typically during the weeks in which I was preaching. I went from averaging 65 posts a year to 4. My brain wasn’t forming complete thoughts, so no one was really missing out.
In the past 6 years since Sloan was born, lots of things have changed in my life. I became aware that God was calling me to be a senior pastor, and we moved to California. I left my beloved Atlanta behind, and did my best to embrace a new life in Laguna Beach. More things changed, and I’m now in the position of solo pastoring and single mothering. It’s not as if I lack for good content. But somehow, I couldn’t generate the courage or the proper words to contain these experiences. I also had to collect all of my words and save the good stuff for the 48 sermons a year I now preach. (Somehow, I convinced myself that my language was finite and I coudln’t possibly write a blog and a sermon.)
Then, one day, right before Christmas, I had a sudden burst of inspiration. I wrote about the past year, in tender and careful language. I started trying to organize my thoughts and feelings, and I slowly started to crawl out from the cave of silence in which I’d entombed myself.
I’m starting to see the path ahead of me.
The path is not going to look as I imagined. But, hardly anything ever does.
I am open to the idea that it might even look better.
So, today, I’m starting a new blog. With a new name. A new domain. A new direction. I need a place where I can be truthful, doting and prophetic. I need a place to write with honesty about what has happened and what’s to come.
For those of you who read and followed and commented and encouraged throughout the years, thank you. (I’m looking at you, Cheryl.) I have been uplifted by your support, and your sweet reminders that writing is never about the author. Good writing, just like good preaching, names the truth of experience, and in the very act of reading, we all find ourselves a little less alone.
So, here’s to this new thing, in this new place.

Prayers for all of us as we wait and see what is to come…

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Rationale for the Resolution on a Call for Non-Conformity With the Book of Discipline in the Cal-Pac Annual Conference

Today, the California-Pacific Annual Conference voted overwhelmingly to approve A Call For Non-Conformity With the Book of Discipline:

WHEREAS, according to The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, "all persons are of sacred worth" and "The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching" (161.F); and

WHEREAS, United Methodist Church doctrine calls for inclusiveness in which “all persons are open, welcoming, fully accepting, and supporting of all other persons, enabling them to participate fully in the life of the Church, the community, and the world” (140); and

WHEREAS, a candidate's sexual orientation and gender identity should not be considered as criteria for fitness or effectiveness in ministry; and

WHEREAS, the Book of Discipline encourages “a respectful dialogue with those with whom we disagree, to explore the sources of our differences, to honor the sacred worth of all persons,” and acknowledges that “we do not see the ‘Discipline’ as sacrosanct or infallible” (Episcopal Greetings, p. v); and

WHEREAS, ordained clergy seeking to navigate the inconsistencies within United Methodist Church doctrine face extraordinary penalties by ministering fully to the LGBTQIA children of God, and charges have been made and trials held against ordained clergy for conducting marriage ceremonies; and

WHEREAS, Bishops have publicly and privately opposed recommendations for such charges, and spoken out against trials and penalties for ministers officiating at these marriages; and

WHEREAS, by scripture, God’s covenant extends to all persons, as made living by the Christ whose command was to love God and neighbor, teaching radical inclusion, and through our Church mandate to gather all persons of faith into the community of the body of Christ;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED the California-Pacific Annual Conference urges the Bishop and Cabinet to state publicly they will not deny appointments based on sexual orientation or gender identity; urges the Board of Ordained Ministry to declare its intention not to consider sexual orientation and gender identity in making decisions in regard to commissioning and ordination; urges trial boards not to convict for chargeable offenses pertaining to being "a self-avowed, practicing homosexual," as well as for those clergy who officiate at weddings for couples regardless of the gender of the partners, and that these matters would be addressed through "Just Resolution."

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED the California-Pacific Annual Conference and its members are urged to not participate in or conduct judicial procedures related to The Book of Discipline's prohibitions against LGBTQIA persons.

**Because I was one of the authors of this piece of legislation, I was able to take the opportunity to speak in favor of it. Below is what I shared on the floor of Annual Conference: 

Bishop Carcaño, my name is Rev. Mandy Sloan McDow, clergy from the North GA Annual Conference, appointed to serve the faithful congregation at Laguna Beach United Methodist Church.

This resolution borrows language from our sisters and brothers in the New England Annual Conference who, yesterday, affirmed a similar piece of legislation. It uses strong language – the language of non-compliance – because this is the time in which all eyes are upon us, to see how this Conference will respond as we wait and hope for the work of the Bishops’ Commission to begin.

As one who watched from afar for many years, I am keenly aware of the gift of this Annual Conference’s continual work for justice and inclusion. But, I will tell you that people are hurting. In the days following General Conference, I heard from my LGBTQIA congregants a great wail of “How long, O Lord?”

I stand here as the pastor with a broken heart. I have loved and cared for, ministered to and provided the sacraments for my LGBTQIA siblings as best I can. But my best isn’t good enough, because I serve a denomination that is so entrenched in bureaucracy that it cannot move forward fast enough. So, I am left with the awful truth that my beloved congregants and friends – my family in the body of Christ – may leave. I am heartbroken that I have come to a time in which I cannot be the pastor to those whom I’ve been serving, because they cannot stay in an abusive relationship with our denomination any longer.

This title of this legislation is strongly worded, because the actions needed to restore the trust of our LGBTQIA siblings in Christ are strong. But, this piece of legislation doesn’t ask any more of this Annual Conference than what you’ve already done, for you have stood on the right side of history. Bishop Carcaño, you have demonstrated radical hospitality to those who have been rejected based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, and you have acted with grace to those clergy who have risked their credentials to officiate the weddings of same-sex couples. You have always done what was right.

This legislation is necessary because people are looking to us to make a strong stand. People are desperate for us to do more than wait. People are watching for us to model grace, rather than judgment. It is our call, as the beloved children of God, to embody Christ’s love in the most radical and life-giving ways we can, and to put our faith, not in the law (which is not sacrosanct or infallible) but in the Gospel. For it is our call, to continue the push, with grace, compassion and mercy, for a church that errs not on the side of judgment, but on the side of love, just as you have modeled for us, Bishop Carcaño.

This resolution speaks to Christ’s life-giving love, and the desperate plea the world has uttered for the church to live into its baptismal promise and to accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves (including the Book of Discipline). I humbly offer this resolution as my prayer for this power to be used wisely and courageously, urging this Annual Conference and the Board of Ordained Ministry to act with the same prophetic witness you have always shown.


Rev. Mandy Sloan McDow
Senior Minister
Laguna Beach United Methodist Church

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Pulse: Massacre in the City Beautiful

Weeks ago, I planned a sermon series on the marginalized people in scripture. Today was the day I planned to preach on Jephthah's Daughter, one of the most notable "texts of terror." I've been dreading it. 

Then we awoke to the news that the deadliest shooting in US history occurred at The Pulse, a popular gay bar in Orlando. 

Today at Laguna Beach United Methodist Church, we rang 51 chimes for each of the deceased. We prayed for the victims, the shooter and their families. And, we listened to this dreadful text, which suddenly made sense in the wake of this terrible act. 

Jephthah's Daughter was sacrificed on the altar of her father's insecurities and fear. Fear is what cripples us. Fear is the way we limit God. 

No longer can the church be afraid to stand up for the rights of LGBTQIA people. We can no longer pretend that this community isn't the subject of great harm. We are no better than Jephthah if we continue to use our privilege to permit the destruction of the lives of others. 

This was a targeted act of hate against the LGBTQ community. This isn't an issue of religion or even a matter of lax gun control laws. This is a matter of homophobia, and it's beyond time for the church to do more, shout more, advocate more. Love more. 

We have work to do, because the Body of Christ is broken, and only love can heal it.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter Sermon: Anything Less than Everything

Rev. Mandy Sloan Flemming
Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016

Anything Less than Everything

Luke 24:1-12
24But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8Then they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

Every preacher longs for this day, and dreads this day. Because it is the day we are to have the best words crafted together for the sake of all who have ears to hear them. And, this text, quite simply, is the beginning of our narrative as Christians. But, it’s not a recollection of Christianity’s first sermon. It’s the story about the people who preached it. Which means that what the women, Christianity’s first preachers, said… wasn’t what mattered. It’s not what they said, it’s what they expressed.

They expressed to the apostles something they believed to be “an idle tale,” and the apostles did not believe the women who preached it to them.

Except for Peter. Loving Peter. Peter, the rock. Simon Peter. The disciple, the denier, the saint. He didn’t preach a sermon about the resurrection. He went home, amazed, and told no one. Because sometimes that's all you can do with your amazement, is tuck it in your heart and let it sit for a while. 

Because what Mary, Joanna, Mary-mother-of-James, and Mary Magdalene said maybe the truest sermon ever preached. Mary, in John’s Gospel, doesn’t say, “Christ is risen, he is risen indeed,” but “I have seen the Lord.” Upon these five words hang all of our theology. "Resurrection is not a third person confession but a first person testimony. We don’t want to hear that the resurrection is a creed of the church -- we need to hear that the resurrection is a truth we might witness and to which we might give witness on a daily basis.”[1]

The problem with that is that the resurrection isn’t something that can be easily explained or paralleled, or even witnessed. It’s not a myth or a metaphor. Resurrection is, as we say, the great mystery of our faith. This is why Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:51) There is no explaining it. We must live into it. But how?

I think we need to approach the story of the resurrection with a healthy dose of gumption and willingness to lean into our faith. Because, as Paul states, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (I Corinthians 15:17)   Perhaps it’s not the cross that’s salvific, but the resurrection. Maybe the cross was a means for God to enter into our suffering, but not what was necessary for salvation.

Maybe I’m a heretic.

But, what Paul is really asking, and what the women are telling the apostles is quite simply this: “What’s the point of anything less than everything?”

This is the reason for Christ’s resurrection.

It’s because, God knows, we crave a whole and complete relationship with our creator, with the one who loves us first and best.

This is what God is trying to tell us, through the intention of the incarnation and through every sliver of revelation we receive.

God is trying to tell us that God is in it – literally putting on flesh. "God has skin in the game because we have skin in the game."[2] And because God does, we can. We can look at death, which is going to do terrible, horrible things to our lives. Death will chase us, mock us, pursue us. Death will tell us we are unworthy or unlovable, but death will never EVER define us. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” The angels said. This is the question for us all.

That's because we are not people who worship a God of absence. When the stone is rolled away, and Mary proclaims, “he is not here, for he has risen,” she isn’t speaking about the absence or distance of a savior who was once so real that she held his bleeding head in her lap as she anointed him with oil and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, just as she’d done when he was a baby. Not in a manger, but now in a tomb. This is not a distant God who exists only in comfortable ways. This is a God of food troughs and caverns. A God of hunger and scarcity. A God of anger at injustice. A God of righteous indignation.

THIS is the God of whom we speak when we say, “He is not here, he is risen!”

Christ has risen because anything less than everything wouldn’t be enough.

Anything less than everything would be what we are capable of.

But, aren’t we capable of more?

Aren’t we capable of more love, more grace, more forgiveness, more righteous indignation. And not always on our own behalf, but on behalf of others?

After all, how do you take a lifetime of small victories and a lifetime worth of sorrows and pull them together into a space that makes sense? How can we take the joys that are fleeing and the griefs that are abiding and hold them in the tender care of who we are, as children of God? How do we make sense of the narrative that sometimes seems more like struggle than it does like comfort?

We do it because this narrative is real and true. God didn’t defeat death by making us immortal; rather, God lived into the suffering. We worship a God who is unafraid to go hungry, who is not reluctant to get dirty, who is willing to get hurt.

My boys play baseball, and they have a teammate named Josh. He is eleven years old. The only brother of 3 sisters, a stellar athlete and a brilliant boy. He is good and kind, tenderhearted and compassionate.  And, he was diagnosed 8 weeks ago with an inoperable tumor on his brain stem.

And his cancer is aggressively growing. 

After reading one of the most recent updates, I sat and cried and shook my first at God with the demand to understand why this would happen to such a person. Why does a young child have to suffer like this? How can God ask me - us - *anyone* to preach faith in a good and loving God when the manifestation of evil that is Cancer is slowly and painfully robbing this boy of his life and this family of their wholeness. God may not have willed this but I want desperately for God to stop it. THAT is the great mystery of why I keep my faith.

But, this text reminds us: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here!” It’s because we expect something less than everything.

Two days after we got the most dire update about Josh, we received word that there was more news.

The MRI had been read incorrectly.

Josh’s tumor wasn’t growing aggressively. It was possibly shrinking. His cancer is still present, he is still fighting through the sedation, there is still a lot of wondering and hoping. But, his prognosis is much better than anticipated.

I want God to be a mighty force for good. I want the cancer gone. I want miracles of healing and hopefulness and to be right without a shadow of a doubt. I want Nothing Less than Everything from this God of all creation. I want the mystery to be about how his cancer disappeared without a trace.

But, sometimes what we get is a matchstick’s worth of light in the darkest of valleys. And, what we find is that it’s enough. It’s enough to give us all the light that we need to see what’s next. And, though we may want fireworks, God knows that we’d be overwhelmed. The soft glow of hope allows our eyes to adjust, to take it all in, and to focus as we see what’s next.

“Anything less than everything” is what we anticipate, but we are loved by a God who will do nothing less than everything to abide with us.

In the name of the God who is with us, for us, and refuses to be God without us. Amen. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday: Meditation in Word and Art

Table by Rev. Dr. Beth LaRocca-Pitts
"The Crucifixion," James Weldon Johnson 

Jesus, my gentle Jesus,
Walking in the dark of the Garden --
The Garden of Gethsemane,
Saying to the three disciples:
Sorrow is in my soul --
Even unto death;
Tarry ye here a little while,
And watch with me.

Jesus, my burdened Jesus,
Praying in the dark of the Garden --
The Garden of Gethsemane.
Saying: Father,
Oh, Father,
This bitter cup,
This bitter cup,
Let it pass from me.

"Betrayed," Bobby Strickland

Jesus, my sorrowing Jesus,
The sweat like drops of blood upon his brow,
Talking with his Father,
While the three disciples slept,
Saying: Father,
Oh, Father,
Not as I will,
Not as I will,
But let thy will be done.

Salvador Dali, "Vision of Fatima," 1962

Oh, look at black-hearted Judas --
Sneaking through the dark of the Garden --
Leading his crucifying mob.
Oh, God!
Strike him down!
Why don't you strike him down,
Before he plants his traitor's kiss
Upon my Jesus' cheek?

"Jesus Before Pilate," Jan Richardson
And they take my blameless Jesus,
And they drag him to the Governor,
To the mighty Roman Governor.
Great Pilate seated in his hall,--
Great Pilate on his judgment seat,
Said: In this man I find no fault.
I find no fault in him.
And Pilate washed his hands.
But they cried out, saying:
Crucify him!--
Crucify him!--
Crucify him!--
His blood be on our heads.

"Via Dolorosa," Bobby Strickland

And they beat my loving Jesus,
They spit on my precious Jesus;
They dressed him up in a purple robe,
They put a crown of thorns upon his head,
And they pressed it down --
Oh, they pressed it down --

And they mocked my sweet King Jesus.

Graffiti Art, London

"Simon of Cyrene," Bobby Strickland
Up Golgotha's rugged road
I see my Jesus go.
I see him sink beneath the load,
I see my drooping Jesus sink.

And then they laid hold on Simon,
Black Simon, yes, black Simon;
They put the cross on Simon,

And Simon bore the cross.

"This I Do For Love," Bobby Strickland

On Calvary, on Calvary,
They crucified my Jesus.
They nailed him to the cruel tree,
And the hammer!
The hammer!
The hammer!
Rang through Jerusalem's streets.
The hammer!
The hammer!
The hammer!

Rang through Jerusalem's streets.

"Stripping of Garments," Bobby Strickland

Jesus, my lamb-like Jesus,
Shivering as the nails go through his hands;
Jesus, my lamb-like Jesus,
Shivering as the nails go through his feet.
Jesus, my darling Jesus,
Groaning as the Roman spear plunged in his side;
Jesus, my darling Jesus,
Groaning as the blood came spurting from his wound.

Oh, look how they done my Jesus.

Weeping Mary,
Sees her poor little Jesus on the cross.
Weeping Mary,
Sees her sweet, baby Jesus on the cruel cross,
Hanging between two thieves.

"Heaven Weeps," Bobby Strickland
And Jesus, my lonesome Jesus,
Called out once more to his Father,
My God,
My God,
Why hast thou forsaken me?
And he drooped his head and died.

"Sealed," Bobby Strickland

And the veil of the temple was split in two,
The midday sun refused to shine,
The thunder rumbled and the lightning wrote
An unknown language in the sky.
What a day! Lord, what a day!

When my blessed Jesus died.

Oh, I tremble, yes, I tremble,
It causes me to tremble, tremble,
When I think how Jesus died;
Died on the steeps of Calvary,
How Jesus died for sinners,

Sinners like you and me.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Sermon: Advent II: The Path Is Illuminated: John the Baptist

Rev. Mandy Sloan Flemming
Laguna Beach United Methodist Church
Sunday, December 6, 2015

Advent II: Light and Life to All He Brings
The Path Is Illuminated: John the Baptist

Luke 3:1-6, NRSV 
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 

3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, 

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

One: This is the Word of God, for us, the People of God. 
ALL: Thanks be to God!

The opening lines of our scripture verse today seem to be throw-aways. They are the part that I always want to skip, so that I can get right to the good stuff. I want to make the crooked paths straight. I’m ready for the mountains to be laid low and the valleys to be exalted! I am desperate for the rough paths to be made smooth. These opening two verses are filled with nothing but ancient names, complicated pronunciations and outdated geography. But, these first two verses are there for  a reason. They establish the political scene in which this narrative is being told. In the reign of Emperor Tiberius, Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod was ruler of Galilee, Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests. The very beginning of this particular story reminds us that the context of our salvation is never divorced from politics. These names are not unfamiliar to us, and they will become critical to the story in a few short weeks as our narrative takes us from Christ’s birth to Christ’s death. Listen again:  

“In the reign of Emperor Tiberius, Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod was ruler of Galilee, Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests.” The inclusion of this information names those in the political landscape who were to be held accountable for carrying out the actions that crucified Jesus. Under Tiberius’s reign, Pilate released Barabbus to the masses, and washed his hands of Jesus’ conviction. Herod had been chasing Jesus since the moment of his birth, when he sent the wise men to find the star at its rising, and ordered the slaughter of the innocents – all first born children under the age of 2. It was Herod who sought the title “King of the Jews,” and this was the conviction under which Jesus was arrested, tried and murdered. This is when Mary, Joseph and Jesus fled to exile in Egypt, refugees in a foreign land, seeking shelter and safety. 

Friends, our faith is inherently political. Jesus was killed at the hands of the state. His family sought political asylum after his life, and the lives of so many other children, was threatened by the ruler. We cannot pretend that politics and Christianity are not deeply interwoven. What, then, are we called to do? 

The GOP was derided this week for inviting prayers for the victims and their families after the devastating shooting in San Bernadino, after the New York Daily News ran a scathing headline in condemnation of their passive response. The hashtag #GodIsn’tFixingThis began trending on Twitter, which means that millions of people are shaking their fists in outrage, either because their faith and its practices are being attacked or because there is the perception God has let us down. The problem is that both statements could be true.

This week, an Editorial ran on the front page of the New York Times for the first time in 95 years. It read, “All decent people feel sorrow and righteous fury about the latest slaughter of the innocents, in California… But motives do not matter to the dead. Attention and anger should be directed at the elected leaders whose job it is to keep us safe, but who place a higher premium on the money and political power of an industry dedicated to profiting from the unfettered spread of ever more powerful firearms.” Did you hear that? They borrowed our language, Church. The language we have used to describe the flight of Mary and Joseph to Egypt while Herod ordered the murder of all first born children is the “slaughter of the innocents.” They are using our words to discuss the world today, and we have an obligation to speak back. 

It is my best hope to stand in this pulpit, week after week, and try to offer theological insights into the text which can help us make sense of the world. And, week after week, there is a need to hold the text and the world in each hand, and weigh how one affects the other. Karl Barth reminds us that, “The Pastor and the Faithful should not deceive themselves into thinking that they are a religious society, which has to do with certain themes; they live in the world. We still need - according to my old formulation - the Bible and the Newspaper."

This week, we all sat with a newspaper in one hand, as we listened to journalists and politicians use the language of our Church to tell us what the world needs. If you think for a moment that your faith is irrelevant, or that the Church is unnecessary, this week will remind us all that the world is crying out for a word from us - the believers in an almighty God -  to make sense of the chaos. We watched as the GOP prayed for the victims and their families, and listened as Senator Chris Murphy replied, “Your ‘thoughts’ should be about steps to take to stop this carnage. Your ‘prayers’ should be for forgiveness if you do nothing — again.”   But, strangely enough, that is exactly what our text is telling us to do today. 

This week, phrases like "prayer shaming’ were used to describe the rhetoric offered after one too many mass shootings took the lives of too many innocent people. But, prayer is what we do when we have no other way to move forward. It is how we begin. It is the origination of action. But, as journalists reminded us this week: Faith (including prayer) without works is, indeed, dead.

So, now, if we go back and read the text from Luke 3:1-6, we can see that John the Baptist’s cry from the wilderness is coming from a political landscape of corruption, greed and impotent enforcement of the law. It is in the context of this political backdrop that the text tells us, “John went into all the region, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Do you hear the subversive nature of this action? John, a prophet, the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, leaves the safety of the wilderness to emerge into a dangerous political landscape, and preaches baptism and forgiveness, not condemnation and judgment. He preaches an actionable and gracious response: Prepare ye the way of the Lord! 

This, Sisters and Brothers, is a call to justice, a call to action! This is not a sit-back-and-watch sort of platitude. This is the reminder that we, the people of God, are called to help bring about the Kingdom of God, here and now. This doesn’t separate us from the implication that God is called to make God’s own self known in the midst of the turmoil. I am of the opinion that God needs to show up in big ways, especially when the tragedies occur. But there is a tie between the prophetic call of John the Baptist to the indictment that God isn’t fixing this. And that tie is us, the Church. 

We are the ones the world is observing now. Our God is on the line, our prayers are cast as weak, and our faith deemed irrelevant. But, you and I know that our response of grace and forgiveness is the only way to change the world. It is also the most difficult thing to offer. Because the crooked paths have yet to be made straight. We are waiting, just as those who heard the words of the Prophet Isaiah (40:1-5), “Comfort ye! Comfort ye, my people! Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned. The voice of him that cries out in the wilderness; prepare ye the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God."

We live in a world where warfare has yet to be accomplished, where the valleys are low and the mountains are still insurmountable. But, we are called to be the ones who model what it means to be baptized, with water. This means we are imbued with grace - a gift freely given to us - and encouraged to share it. It means we must listen to those with whom we disagree. It means we must push those who need to be held accountable. It means we do the work to prepare the way for the one who is coming after us. We do so by letting go of our pride, embracing our enemy and relinquishing a love of war for a search for peace. 

Today, on the Second Sunday of Advent, our prayer is for peace. There is no week more desperate for a word of peace than this one. This is the day we look for justice to roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream, when nation will no longer lift up sword against nation and we study war no more. Our salvation is woven into the fabric of political reality of the world. We are called to rise above it, to pray without ceasing, and to preach forgiveness and righteousness. 

So, Church, let us stand up and be the ones who answer the question, “Where is God in this?” Let us be the reason why people see God in the midst of the turmoil. 

In the name of the God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.