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See and Flip Over

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Last week, we took a look at the first third of the mission statement that proclaims “we are a community of faith called by God, to gather for worship and reach out in ever-widening circles.” This week our reflection shifted to the next section of our vision which states, we are witnesses “to God’ all-inclusive love in Jesus Christ.”

Hear these words again: We are witnesses “to God’s all-inclusive love in Jesus Christ.” Now. HERE. So how do we… how are we… (or are we?)… keeping our eyes on Jesus today?

For in the Gospel of John, the story is all about God coming near. From the beginning.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being” (John 1:1-3a, NRSV). The story that we heard read today, this flipping over of tables at the Temple in Jerusalem, as John tells it, happened early in Jesus’ ministry. Chapter 2 of 21. This is a story that… if any of the Jesus story actually happened—this is a story that likely happened. For this narrative is told to us in all four of the Gospels. All the writers, all the communities of early Jesus followers, knew this story.

However, in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), the flipping over of tables happens near the end of Jesus’ life. After Jesus has flipped the expected. But not in John. In John, Jesus shakes up things at the Temple as one of his very first actions.

Here’s the sequence in the opening chapters of John: There is the proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah by John the baptizer who says that he “… saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on (Jesus)… and I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God’” (John 1:34). Next, we are at the wedding at Cana where Mary, Jesus’ mother, prods him to turn water into wine (John 1:4, The Message). And now, Jesus has just arrived in Jerusalem for the spring festival of Passover. There Jesus “…found the Temple teeming with people selling cattle and sheep and doves” (John 2:14, The Message). And as Eugene Peterson writes in The Message, “The loan sharks were also there in full strength. Jesus put together a whip out of strips of leather and chased them out of the Temple, stampeding the sheep and cattle, upending the tables of the loan sharks, spilling coins left and right… That’s when his disciples remembered the Scripture, “Zeal for your house consumes me.” (John 2:15-17, The Message).

The Divine made flesh. Walking amongst us. Spirit descending from heaven. Water turned into wine. Tables in the Temple flipped over.

This is fast.

THIS gets the attention of the authorities.

THIS is uncomfortable.

This. Seems. Foolish.

But here we are.

Holy Folly.

God moving. God acting. God found not just in one, static, Holy place. Not just in the Temple, but God found along the River Jordan. God encountered in the Spirit that descends amongst us. God revealed in miracles, and yes… the flipping over of what is.

In the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul picks up on this foolishness. Because the cross, the Empire’s instrument of extreme fear and humiliating death, is—as Paul writes, “the message.”




“The foolishness of our proclamation” says Paul (1 Cor. 1:21b).

“God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:25a).

The grotesqueness of the cross.

The flipping over.

Life over death.

Love over fear.


Holy Folly.

THIS is the message of Paul.

Have we heard it?

Do we see it?

Belden Lane, a professor Emeritus of Theological Studies at Saint Louis University, suggests that:

“In the New Testament, we see some of its writers… recognizing the utter absurdity of the Christian’s claim that God was in Jesus Christ. Born in a stable to a woman who counted for nothing, Jesus came from Nazareth, the proverbial home of fools in first century Palestine. But, above all, the notion seems ludicrous that an incarnate God would be willing to appear as Jesus did before Pilate and his soldiers — mocked as a king, spat upon, robed in purple, crowned with thorns, and led to a cross. Yet Paul actually celebrates this very foolishness of the cross. “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise . . . what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are” (I Cor. 1:27-28). In other words, we all are invited to enter into God’s great Yiddish sense of humor. “We are fools for Christ’s sake,” adds Paul, “while you [stuffy Corinthians] are such sensible Christians” (I Cor. 4:10, NEB).[1]

 Where do we witness God coming near today? Where does Jesus need us to flip some tables? Where have we been “stuffy”? The United Church of Christ has encouraged congregations to lean into conversations around God’s 3 Great Loves: Love of Neighbors, Love of Creation, and Love of Children. Over the past three months we participated in conversations around Love of Neighbor. We listened to guest speakers and preachers, individuals working with the Wisconsin Conference’s Immigrant Welcoming status, people working with refuges newly settling into our community, and those working with the Dane Sanctuary moment. We held conversations around White Privilege, read the book “Dear White Christian,” and several members of the church are currently participating in Justified Anger’s 9-week course “Black History for a New Age.” We also talked about the love of neighbor within the life of the church, as we continued our discernment around how God is calling us to serve our members and friends HERE through our ministries of cards, food, and visits.

There is… a lot… to see and to flip over!

Now, throughout March, April, and May, we will be lifting up Love of Children. So today, I am going to share stories and action opportunities with you that weave together seeing, hearing, and witnessing God’s presence and identifying places God is calling us to “flip tables” today. And then… you get to respond…

You may know that I work with Worker Justice Wisconsin, a merger of the Worker’s Rights Center and the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice. This is the only center in the state of Wisconsin that provides support for workers who have experienced wage theft and sexual harassment. Worker Justice also develops worker leadership. In addition, I am a member of the UCC’s Economic Justice Movement and am on the Stewardship of Public Live Commission with Wisconsin Council of Churches.

Did you know that just a few weeks ago, on February 15, our legislature passed what the Wisconsin Council of Churches identifies as “ten bills making changes in programs such as FoodShare, subsidized housing, Medicaid, childcare support, and the Earned Income Tax Credit.” And while “The bills are supposed to promote work and personal responsibility for people in poverty, and reduce fraud and abuse in public benefit programs… Many of these bills impose new burdens on people who are already facing challenging financial and personal circumstances, add to the stigma of poverty, and create additional obstacles that can prevent them from receiving the benefits they need and for which they qualify.”[2]

Thus I want to share with you this story: A couple of years ago, a crowd of approximately 500 people gathered in the Capitol rotunda in Madison. In the marbled chamber, people whose employers did not provide a living waged described their financial struggles. They faced challenges due to insufficient resources for affordable housing, healthcare, transportation, and quality childcare. Their narratives included multiple instances of wage theft. I stood there listening to the stories of systemic economic injustices as a witness.

A young, single mother stepped up to the microphone. Before hundreds of people and the news media, she told her story. She poignantly shared the sense of dread that whelmed up inside her each time she went to the grocery store with her children. With tears welling in her eyes, she meticulously described how she would prepare to go shopping. She made lists and estimated food costs to ensure that she would have enough money. Yet even careful planning did not avoid the inevitable challenges that occurred at the checkout counter. On one recent trip, as the cost of the food in her cart was tallied, the total on the cash register was higher than she had estimated. She did not have enough money to cover all the food in her cart. As her children stood watching, she had to make a choice. She needed to decide whether to buy hot dogs, or buns. Embarrassed, she told the cashier to set the buns aside and purchased the hotdogs. Walking out of the store, her seven year-old daughter asked, “Mom, why can’t we get hot dogs and buns? You work.”

Beloved, we are called as witnesses. To see. To hear. To witness the living Christ in our midst. And while it might seem like Holy Folly, we are also to see and flip over. Flip over those structures built into our institutions and culture that oppress, shame, and ignore the other. Our neighbor. Our children. Lane reminds us that “…As Holy Folly accomplishes its work of awakening consciousness, it also necessarily stirs to action. All Christian spirituality must lead to politics — to an incarnational affirmation of the polis, in all its dimensions.”[3]

And there are tables to flip over. Thus I leave you today with 2 questions. I ask you to reflectively look at who we are as a faith community. Once I have asked the questions, I will give you a couple of minutes to write your responses on the post-it notes in your bulletin.

  • If you were not here last week, there are pink post-it notes in the gathering space. Following worship, feel free to add your response to the question: In term of social justice ministries, what is your vision for Memorial UCC in 5 yrs?
  • Next, on the lime green post-it note, answer this question: What are the assets—resources—people, etc., that will help us?
  • And on the blue post-it note: What do you see as hindrances—people—experiences—or other issues—how can you/we address these?


{those gathered were given an opportunity to  respond during a 2 minute period of silence}


Beloved, as we continue with our worship, know that God is not done in this community of faith, and we are called as a witness to God’s all-inclusive love in Jesus Christ.

And flip over.



~Pastor Kris



[1] “The Spirituality and Politics of Holy Folly.” Religion Online. Accessed March 02, 2018. https://www.religion-online.org/article/the-spirituality-and-politics-of-holy-folly/.

[2] “Advocacy Action.” Advocacy Action | Wisconsin Council of Churches. Accessed March 03, 2018. https://www.wichurches.org/advocacy/legislative-alert-center/advocacy-action/?vvsrc=%2FCampaigns.

[3] “The Spirituality and Politics of Holy Folly.” Religion Online. Accessed March 02, 2018. https://www.religion-online.org/article/the-spirituality-and-politics-of-holy-folly/.