It. Is. So. Real. Pick up any book. Any pen. Any toy. Step on any Lego, and it-is-all-so-real. Ouch.
The world around us. The people. The needs. The wants. The anxieties. The hunger. The excitement. The goals. The gifts. The losses.
Life. Love. Grief. Pain. Relationships. It is all… so… real…
Last week was Memorial UCC’s “Celebration Sunday,” and we celebrated. We celebrated the active presence of God’s abundance in our midst. We talked about gratitude. We talked about stewardship. We enjoyed a meal of lasagna together. We reflected on the world around us. The need for that world to shift. Change. For our relationships with one another, in our families, our country, our world, to be repositioned. I talked about “GPS.” Not the “global positioning system” sort of GPS, but those faith practices that we learn and share that can transform us. transform beyond us, that are our GPS—Gratitude, prayer, and that something that we do—those actions, our responses to the Holy, that can change everything. In worship at both 8:15 and 10 am last Sunday I asked you, those gathered in this space, to help me identify our “GPS” in the 21st century. Our “gratitude, prayer, and… ______” (that “something”, that “s” word). The “s” words that we came up with included:
Serenity, service, strength, stewardship, safety, selflessness, sympathy, solitude, study, sleep, self-care, social, spiritual, songs, sanity, smiles, scripture, and simplicity. GPS. As people who follow Jesus, these are our words of repositioning, of transformation, of extravagant love: Gratitude, prayer, and… those many “s” actions. Of our acknowledging that the kin-dom of Jesus that is not of this world. That this world of systemic fear, anxiety, violence, denial of human worth and dignity, is not the world of which Jesus is born. That God’s kin-dom is not of the empires that trample truth, and neglect to hear Jesus’ voice.
It is all… so… real… as we pause today to commemorate. Remember. Transition Sunday. A day to acknowledge and to name. To pause in our travels and festival planning. To grieve as a faith community. To remember those in our midst who died over the past year: Dolores Van Kirk, Michael Hay, Mary Ellen Tetzlaff, and Terry Kiss Frank. To mark the changes of life, death, new relationships, new jobs, new homes, new challenges—that pattern our lives in the midst of the church’s calendar (which is not the same as our Gregorian calendar). Today our Church calendar comes to a close. It is the end of another year. Today is Christ the King Sunday, transitioning us from this year into the season of Advent. The season of waiting. That season which is pregnant. Anticipating the birth of God With Us. Finally. This place where the past, present, and future intertwine. Where the beginning intersects with the end.
But we are not there yet. Instead, we take time today to time to lean into a world that is not what it seems… and yet is exactly what it seems. For this is what our faith is born into, as the book of John opens with the words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…” (John 1:1, NRSV). That Holy, eternal relationship that exists beyond time. Beyond space. And into the future. Word embodied. Word living. Word breathing. Jesus says, “For this I was born…” Birthed beyond the scope of time and place as Word. Birthed into the flesh of this relational world as a newborn child. This Word. This birth. This embodiment testifies to Truth.
A Truth that is so real. Yet so beyond our grasp.
And so we commemorate. Transition Sunday. A day to acknowledge and to name. A sacred space into which we share our losses. Relational losses. In a culture that tries to tell us “all is well,” we purposefully make time to grieve. Lament. Tell our truths. Rev. Dr. Dow Edgerton writes that, “…grief lives within a whole web of relationships that comprises family, friends, community, culture, world, and even the cosmos.” (Edgerton, “Listening to Grief,” pg. 44)
Today we heard read the “last words of David” (2 Sam. 23:1a). That end which is a beginning through which God speaks. Then we listened to a part of Jesus’ trial before Pilate, and know how this story continues. We know that soon, “standing near the cross of Jesus (will be) his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene” (John 19:25b, NRSV) and that “early on the first day of the week, while it was (it is) still dark, Mary Magdalene (will go) to the tomb…and (stand) weeping…” (John 20:1; 11a, NRSV).
And so we hold open these sacred places, these ongoing stories in which the past, present, and future intertwine. Where the beginning intersects with the end. Today, Jesus stands trial. Next Sunday, we await his birth. Again anticipating the birth of God With Us. Finally. Edgerton states that, “Our own grief is speaking and telling us something about ourselves and the world in which we live. How can we listen?” (Edgerton, “Listening to Grief,” pg. 1)
Transition Sunday. This is the end of our Church calendar year. Our “December 31” of sorts. Our eve of something new. The edge of our waiting. Our pausing. In a moment we will pray our losses through the lighting of candles. Then, next Sunday we begin again. The first Sunday of Advent. In this space of transition, I leave you with this question: Can we s-t-r-e-t-c-h our idea of Transition from one day per year, to all days? Can we name, and lift up, and talk about the transitions beyond those we hold so dearly in our hearts today, to those that are urgently needed around the world, NOW?
For it is all… so… real… and I grieve. I grieve the death of John Chou. The self-proclaimed missionary who was killed by the people who live on a remote island off the coast of India last week. I grieve not only for the loss of John’s life, and those people on the island who felt threatened by his presence, but I grieve even more for the theology. The development of a form of Christianity that leads to a person to be driven to proselytize the Christianity of colonialism. That Christianity that grew out of the Doctrine of Discovery during the Crusades centuries ago. Our conference, the Wisconsin Conference United Church of Christ, is encouraging congregations to become familiar with this doctrine prior to our annual meeting in April of 2019—and to understand why the national UCC is calling on us to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery. To speak truth.
We will have a chance to talk about the doctrine in more detail in the upcoming months, but for a quick overview this concept “…Theologically… provided the spiritual rationale for Europeans… to conquer and confiscate other lands, including what is now the United States. There were papal documents which laid the groundwork that, later, Protestants adopted. It treated the indigenous peoples as if they were animals; they had no (European) title to the land on which they lived. Thus, the Church justified removing and killing them.” In his book, The Conquest of America, Tzvetan Todorov notes that, “In Columbus’s mind, the propagation of the faith and the submission to slavery are indissolubly linked” This is a Christian and legal thought process that continues today. And we must learn. We must hear the truth.
For it is all… so… real… and I grieve for the death of Sandra Parks, the 13 year-old girl in Milwaukee who was shot and killed by a stray bullet while sitting in her bedroom this past week. Two years ago, Sandra had won a Martin Luther King, Jr, essay contest in which she wrote about the gun violence children today are experiencing. She wrote: “Our first truth is that we must start caring about each other. We need to be empathetic and try to walk in each other’s shoes. We shall overcome when we eliminate the negative and nasty comments people make about each other. We shall overcome when we love ourselves and the people around us…” Sandra Parks witnessed, and spoke truth.
For it is all… so… real… and I grieve for our planet, and for the inexplicable fear some Christian communities have raised as a “conflict” between faith and science. In my own faith journey, my work in language development, communication, and neurology has deepened my relationship with God. The UCC notes that, “For too long, science and faith have had a combustible relationship.” And then on Friday, the federal government released the National Climate Assessment. The threats on our land, our waters, our air, are overwhelming, and disproportionally impact “People who are already vulnerable, including lower-income and other marginalized communities, (who) have lower capacity to prepare for and cope with extreme weather and climate-related events and are expected to experience greater impacts…” of climate change and global warming.
It. Is. All too real. Edgerton states that, “Our own grief is speaking and telling us something about ourselves and the world in which we live. How can we listen?”
Jesus says: “For this I was born… to testify to the truth.”
May we listen. May we hear. For this is what our faith is born into.
Reflection on 2 Samuel 23:1-7 and John 18:33-37 offered on November 25, 2018
 Gettleman, Jeffrey, Hari Kumar, and Kai Schultz. “A Man’s Last Letter Before Being Killed on a Forbidden Island.” The New York Times. November 23, 2018. Accessed November 24, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/23/world/asia/andaman-missionary-john-chau.html.
 November 21, 2018 at 12:00 PM, and November 20, 2018 at 11:14 AM. “Doctrine of Discovery.” United Church of Christ. Accessed November 24, 2018. http://www.ucc.org/justice_racism_doctrine-of-discovery.
 Todorov, Tzvetan. The Conquest of America the Question of the Other. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999. 47.
 Caron, Christina. “Girl, 13, Who Wrote Essay on Gun Violence Is Killed by Stray Bullet.” The New York Times. November 21, 2018. Accessed November 24, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/21/us/sandra-parks-milwaukee-gunfire.html.
 Parks, Sandra, posted by Faith Karimi, Faith. Twitter. November 21, 2018.
 November 23, 2018 at 7:00 AM, and November 22, 2018 at 1:00 PM. “Not Mutually Exclusive.” United Church of Christ. Accessed November 24, 2018. http://www.ucc.org/not-mutually-exclusive_index.
 Usgcrp. “Fourth National Climate Assessment: Executive Summary.” NCA4. January 01, 1970. Accessed November 24, 2018. https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/.