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Voices Heard

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Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditation or our hearts be acceptable unto you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer.

Last Sunday afternoon, I stood at the front of the sanctuary at the McFarland United Church of Christ and looked out across the amazing number of family, friends, and clergy gathered for my ordination. Everyone had been encouraged to wear something red – and everywhere I glanced the room was packed with the sense of the Spirit bursting forth. People from the faith communities that have shaped God’s call in my life were all represented: Plymouth UCC in Dodgeville, McFarland UCC, Lake Edge, and yes—YOU—Memorial UCC. That day, my heart was full. Just as the psalmist wrote, God’s glory reverberated throughout the worship space in McFarland and spilled out with immense joy in the conversations that followed:

“The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork” (Psalm 19:1)

Heart. Filled.

And then, I woke up. Less than 12 hours later, in the duskiness of the early morning, reality struck. Monday morning I got up to the news of the gun violence that had erupted in Las Vegas overnight.

Heart. Broke.

I stood there in the darkness. Streaming across the screen before me were multiple photographs, videos, and the horrific sounds of mass chaos and fear. Gun shots. My God, my God—what is this raw reality in which we live?

Voices silenced. Lives shattered. God weeps.

Just the day before, the Rev. John Thomas preached at my ordination. John, who is the past General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, noted that “… the ministry to which Kristin is called, to which the whole church is called, is the careful stewardship of this knowledge:  that we live in the love of God and with the overwhelming sense of God’s living presence among us.”

Hear these words again. Hold them on your hearts: “…we live in the love of God and with the overwhelming sense of God’s living presence among us.” And we… you and I… are the carriers—the teachers, the preachers, the prophets—of this Good News.

These words can be hard to grasp onto, especially when unnecessary violence breaks out (and – I will take the risk in saying – all violence is unnecessary). The theologian Marjorie Suchocki writes that, “unnecessary violence is… an act of sin…” and that “…the secularization of American culture has contributed to the trivialization of sin.”[1]

Standing there, Monday morning in the darkness, my mind raced back to John Thomas’ words: “Kristin comes to this ministry at a particularly challenging time with chaos strewn across the landscape in daily tweets, established norms upended, threats to cherished values everywhere, commitments to justice and peace under assault, spirits demoralized by corruption, greed, racist and xenophobic claims, communities and families divided, the environment and its poorest inhabitants challenged by climate change and its denial, and human existence imperiled by nuclear saber rattling.  Voices beckon loudly from the left and the right, clamoring for our allegiance and the way ahead seems more uncertain than ever.”

“Voices beckon loudly from the left and the right, clamoring for our allegiance and the way ahead seems more uncertain than ever.”

Memorial UCC, how can we be good stewards, how can we hold onto, how do we share God’s Word, God’s Truth, God’s Knowledge, God’s Love, when there is SO MUCH clamor all about?

And then—more overbearing than the chaos— is the silence. The stillness of lives lost.

There is no speech, nor are there words, their voice is not heard” (Psalm 3).

No speech. No words.



Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world” (Psalm 19:4).

The lost. The wounded.

Nothing can silence them.


I stand here before you today and state unequivocally that we have trivialized gun violence. In our country we have trivialized the 276 mass shootings that have happened in our country just this year[2]. If we, as followers of Jesus, do not listen, if we do not speak out in response to gun violence, we too trivialize the lives lost, the individuals that have been injured, and their families.

In response to the fear, the chaos—will we hear those voices?

 October 2, 2017. My first day as pastor at Memorial UCC. I have been in this space before. I have seen the signs before. However, Monday morning the words posted on the doors of the church meant so much more as I entered: “Love drives out fear. No guns here.”

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul…the ordinances of the Lord are true” (Psalm 19:7a; 9b).

Today’s Message for All (the Children’s Sermon) paraphrased for us the Ten Commandments. And it is the Ten Commandments to which the Psalm points us to in the midst of the voices not heard. In The Message, Eugene Peterson paraphrases the 19th Psalm with these words:

“The revelation of God is whole and pulls our lives together… The life-maps of God are right, showing the way to joy. The directions of God are plain and easy… (But) there’s more: God’s Word warns us of danger and directs us to hidden treasure. Otherwise how will we find our way? Or know when we play the fool?” (The Message, Psalm 19: 7a, 8, 11)

It is here in the assigned readings for this week that Jesus speaks to us: “Listen to another parable…” (Matt. 21:33a, NRSV). The story of the tenant farmers appears in each of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), as well as the Gospel of Thomas. This is an allegory that needs to be heard – both in the context in which it was first told and today. There is debate around parable amongst scholars, but in the economics of two thousand years ago, William Herzog reads the story as rooted in the oppression of the peasant people, “Much farmland had been taken over by agribarons in Jerusalem, and tenant farmers were bitter over being turned into sharecroppers on what was once their own land”[3] .

Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world” (Psalm 19:4).

The oppressed. The marginalized. The wounded. The lost. David Butterick, professor at Vanderbilt’s Divinity School, encourages us to understand this parable as a “passage that must be widened to include the whole wide world and all human beings. We are the wicked who reject God’s living word. We are all vinedressers who deserve eviction.”[4]

In our grief, our unsettling, our uncertainty, our fear, those are challenging words to hear. We find ourselves today in the tension set-up in the Psalm between the great joy of God’s great mercy and love in which we are continually immersed, and the warnings put forth for us by our biblical ancestors. What are our “errors” today to which the Psalm points? What are the “hidden faults” that we need to talk about?

Memorial UCC, THIS is the charge the Spirit calls us to today as we begin our ministry together. We are the holders of this knowledge. Hear these words: We live in the love of God, and with the overwhelming sense of God’s living presence among us. THIS is the message of abundance with which God calls on us to accept the cost and joy of discipleship. THIS is our Good News!

People of God: Go and tell!

Amen and amen.

Pastor Kris

[1] Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki, The Fall to Violence: Original Sin in Relational Theology (New York: Continuum, 2004). 28-29.

[2] “Gun Violence Archive.” Gun Violence Archive. Accessed October 7, 2017. http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/

[3] David G. Buttrick, Speaking parables: a homiletic guide (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012). 80.

[4] Ibid. 81.