God is Other: Revelation 1.17–20, 4.1–7, 5.1–8, 6.1–8

2017.8.13 lambDelivered at Ames UCC
on August 13, 2017

©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be
heard rather than read.
Please join us Sundays
at 10:30 a.m. All are welcome.

MONSTERS
Our scripture is full of fantastic beasts, cataclysmic events, and magical/miraculous imagery: A talking snake in Genesis’ Eden. A talking donkey in the book of Numbers. A whale that can swallow Jonah whole and then still spit him out. A flood that destroys the world. Ten plagues that free the slaves. An angel that balances Jesus atop the temple. Water becoming wine.

But the beasts and cataclysms and magic and miracles of the book of Revelation are so concentrated, they can sound so extreme, that today I’m mixing up the order of worship a bit by integrating Dan’s reading of the scripture with my teaching/preaching on it. And thank you to Ben and Barbara for the sung preview.

But before we get to Revelation, let’s get to its author: John of Patmos.

JOHN OF PATMOS
John of Patmos was a Jewish man from Jerusalem who at the time of his vision-writing, about 90 CE, was living on an island—Patmos—off the coasts of Turkey and Greece. As a Jew from Jerusalem writing in the year 90, this John may well have witnessed the final destruction of the Jewish temple in the year 70.

Remember that, for Jewish people during the temple period, the temple was the home of God on Earth, the nexus between this world and another. It was literally and materially an intersection between the sacred and the profane. And the Romans crushed it. The Romans closed the door.

In doing so, the Romans didn’t just insult the Jewish people, they attacked God. Their destruction of the temple was not only aggressive warfare, but the height of sacrilege and blasphemy, too.

Imagine how we would feel if a foreign nation burned this house of God to the ground. Though we understand God to be everywhere, we still come to a particular place to practice that relationship. How bitter, how angry, how venomous might we feel toward those who took it from us?

John of Patmos leaves Jerusalem, possibly in exile, possibly as a refugee. But he cannot escape the violence of Rome. When John is on the mainland of Turkey, he is constantly confronted by celebrations of Rome’s violence. He even has to look at a statue of the man who took the temple down.

Kind of like how Black and Native Americans have to look at statues of genocidal generals and Presidents throughout the US.

John also has to contend with a culture that has come to revere the Roman emperors as divinities. Wasn’t it enough for God to be taken away, now they have to put themselves in God’s place? John is surrounded by insults to God and the hubris of rulers. He is a body under threat, a soul under attack.

And then he has a revelation.
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Public Servants

January 21, 2017
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

My grandfather was a soldier.
My grandmother was a public servant at the federal level.
My mother was a public servant at the state and federal levels.
My aunties–biological and chosen–were public servants at the federal level.
My uncle was a public servant at the federal level.
My stepfather was a public servant at the state level.
My father-in-law was a soldier.
My brother is a public servant at the state level.
My sister works in a public school.
My sister-in-law teaches in a public school.
My cousin teaches in a public school.
My brother-in-law teaches at a public university.
My wife taught in public schools and at a public university.

Each worked hard to receive training and do their jobs well with and for fellow Americans, regardless of race, class, sex, economic background, sexual orientation, abilities, nation of origin, or religion. Each entered public service for common good and not to personally enrich themselves (and at times even at the risk of their own lives).

Which, in addition to their positions, is why I am appalled by so many of the nominees for our nation’s cabinet and the new president’s top advisors. Their careers have been marked by self-interest and their training is in no way related to the concerns they would now have to tend. Or, even worse, their careers or training to date have been directly opposed to those concerns. By refusing to remove conflicts of interest that will be personally enriching while making decisions for all of us, they serve only themselves, and not us at all.

As a Christian priest, I do not engage in partisan politics. Instead, I work within my church and my local IAF alliance to build power and then address specific issues we are struggling with. This allows me to be in relationship and solidarity with people with whom I might not share a party platform but do share pressures around housing, jobs, and mental illness, for example.

In that work, I am a public servant. And you can be, too.

My family taught me that public service is a privilege, but one open to all people. If you have not already, please seek out the alliances in your community that transcend name-calling and take no pleasure in the suffering of others. Because this new cohort of leaders will betray that role and all of us because of our race, class, sex, sexual orientation, economic background, abilities, nation of origin, and religion.

Nazis and Narratives

Published December 24, 2016 in the Ames Tribune

By Eileen Gebbie

Do I want to read another article on American Nazism, Aryan Nations and the Ku Klux Klan (now re-branded as “alt-right”)? Do I need to read about another hate crime against people who are Jewish or Muslim or queer or female or of color? How will such news prepare me for when the violence comes to my door and my soul (again)? How will reading about more physical, emotional, economic and spiritual violence help me to be an engaged citizen and faithful pastor?

These are the questions behind my daily choice to read the news or not.

As I write today, I’ve been following a story about a new campaign to go after people who are Jewish in Whitefish, Mont. It is being promoted by a prominent white nationalist website, one with a specific anti-Semitic agenda, and whose name is a specific reference to Nazism. To the site’s authors and readership, people who happen to be born into a Jewish family (and, presumably, those who convert) are not the same kind of humans as those who happen to be born into another kind of family. So the site has published the email addresses, phone numbers and Twitter names of people in Whitefish, whom the site has identified as Jewish. The site’s authors are advocating for a “Troll Storm”—intense and incessant harassment—against these people on the basis of their perceived religious identity.

Such behavior is vile and un-American, but it is not new or original. Our homegrown hate group, the Ku Klux Klan, was in its origins far more interested in destroying people who were Roman Catholic and Jewish than those who were black, as it is so famous for doing now. But I think this latest iteration of cruelty has stayed with me because I have been to Montana. I have family in Missoula and Miles City. I attended the installation of my great-grandparents’ photographs at the Range Riders Museum. So this harassment is in my own extended back yard, against my own neighbors.

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In Miles City, MT (second from left)

But what does that have to do with me as a Christian pastor at a church in Ames at Christmas?

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God is Everywhere: The Book of Jonah

jonahlovejusticeDelivered at Ames UCC
on November 13, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be
heard rather than read.

Please join us for worship
at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays.

ASSUMPTIONS AND FEAR
I don’t generally like to assume how people are feeling or what they are thinking. It isn’t fair and it can be dangerous. Plus, my personality and my training tell me to do otherwise. I like to assume the best about people and so I want to understand who they are and why they are and how they got there.

I doesn’t mean I respect where everyone ends up. I have no patience or respect for those who publicly pronounce their hatred of others, for those who organize whole institutions around the destruction of those who are not Christian, or of people of color, women, or queer.

Neither does Ames UCC. This is a church that has always stood on the side of people who have been hated for those reasons. We do not all do so from the same political party, but we agree nonetheless.

So I will take the risk in assuming that if you are here today, if you have chosen to a come to a place like this, you have experienced some kind of grief, if not actual fear, since Tuesday night.

Fear of the voters who chanted “Jew S. A.! Jew S. A.!,” fear of the voters who laughed at or dismissed a man who treats women’s bodies as objects for his own pleasure, fear of the voters whose children approached other Black kids in Ames to ask if they knew they would be slaves again soon, fear of the voters in Boone who keyed “die fag #trump” into the cars of two women, fear that those voters’ voices will not only grow stronger and more emboldened, but also translate into law that will reduce protection and rights.

In other words, even though I know we are not homogenous in our formal party affiliations at Ames UCC, I know that we are united in our condemnation of such behavior.
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Our Systems Are Not Working: Job 3.1–10, 4.1–9, 7.11–21

banquetDelivered at First Christian Church
on July 10, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard rather than read. On Sundays during July we worship with First Christian Church at 9:30 a.m., alternating between FCC and Ames UCC.
Please come join us!

REMEMBER, WE LIVE IN THE ASHES
I mentioned last week that I was worried about preaching on Job off and on all summer, that I thought I needed to find a way to sell this sorry story so that it didn’t become a summer off. I wish the news of the last week hadn’t reminded me that we are already living the sorry story. I wish our world did not require us to learn the language of Job’s ash heap over and over again.

RECAP AND UPDATE
To review: Job was a very rich man and a religious man. An adversarial force came into God’s presence. God bragged to it about Job’s faith. The adversarial force suggested that faith was built on God’s protection and special treatment of Job, that Job’s faith had no integrity. Of course it is easy to be faithful when you get everything you want!

God told the Adversary to take away all of his riches and see—Job would never forsake God. So Job loses his whole family to invaders and natural disasters. And God is right: Job does not forsake God. Then the Adversary, with God’s permission, destroys Job’s skin. Job literally throws himself away, scraping at his sores while sitting in and on the garbage dump.

Job is alone until he is approached by three friends, who sit silently with Job for seven days and seven nights, “for they saw that (his) pain was very great” (2.13).
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God is using YOU: 2 Corinthians 5.11–21

godsparkDelivered at Ames UCC
on June 19, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard rather than read.
Please join us for worship
at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays
(except in July, when we worship with
First Christian Church at 9:30 a.m.).

RECONCILIATION
At the heart of today’s passage from Paul’s second letter to his church at Corinth is the notion of reconciliation. The version we hear today, from
The Message translation, gives a clear definition:

God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them.

Reconciliation is the holy work of bridging divides, breaking down walls—whatever metaphor means the most to you to describe eliminating the divisions between people and holiness.

For Paul, the impetus to do this is Jesus Christ. He understands the execution and Easter mystery as God using Jesus as a scapegoat, in the most traditional sense of the word: Put all sins on Jesus then drive him out of existence.

And, for Paul, reconciliation is essential because Jesus will be back very, very soon. He’s less than 20 years out from Easter and certain to his bones that they need to be in the business of preparing for a massive, world-wide, collective, and final experience of God.

In the two millennia since Paul was building churches and creating this first Christian theology, as we have built churches and lived with that theology, we have developed other, equally valid, understandings.

You may remember that, last summer, I did a survey of our church and found we range from classic Pauline theology to “Jesus was a good, regular man to whom a bad thing was done and from whom we can learn to do better.” And we are not a church that places such an emphasis on a second coming of Christ. We name the constant risings of Christ in our midst rather than the cataclysm that Paul imagined.

I think there are at least two reasons for that. First, all predictions of the second coming have proved false. God’s time is clearly not our time. Second, we have plenty of cataclysms of our own that need to be reconciled. We don’t need to worry about one from on high.
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Gathering in Response to Orlando

On Monday, June 13, 2016, I hosted a gathering at my church in response to the mass shooting in a gay bar in Orlando, FL. The order of service and my comments folllow.

GREETING
13391604_1189965757703748_893419545035532880_oIn 2012 I gathered with my church to mourn the slaughter of children at Sandy Hook Elementary. Last August, I gathered with my church to lament the slaughter of the Mother Emanuel Nine and Freddie Gray and Tamir Rice and so many other African Americans.

Today, we gather again as a church and as a city and a county in rage and shock at the slaughter of 49 predominantly Latina and Latino members of the queer community.

The Young, black, brown, and queer: all targets of profound violence and cruel death.

In my religious tradition, we talk about how God cares most for “the least of these,” and how we are to literally care for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. But our nation, or at least some of our neighbors, seek out the least for death, not protection.

In 2012, I greeted my congregation with the following:

Welcome to this space of prayer. May you find it a place of comfort this night, and safety. May you find hope in the space between us. May we grown more whole as our time together unfolds.

How tepid that now sounds. How insufficient for the gore that has followed. And yet true. This is a space of prayer, this is a place for comfort and hope. But we dare not skip to those without confronting our grief and anger, or we will never find wholeness in ourselves or among each other.

Please join me in the invocation printed in your program. Continue reading

Are You Eating?

Published March 26, 2016 in the Ames Tribune

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For the last five weeks my church came together on Wednesday nights for a meal, book study, and meditation or choir practice. This was all part of the Christian church season called Lent, a time when we prepare for Easter. As I wrote previously, the book was about the work and responsibilities of white Christian churches who profess a desire for racial equality in the world. The discussion each week was so rich that we barely made it half-way through. At times we disagreed with the author’s premise, at others we were surprised by our ignorance around, for example, the Black Power movement. In smaller groups I heard expressions of defeat and guilt. I think the experience generated more questions than it did answers.

But the number one question I was asked each week had nothing to do with racism, structural inequalities, or unearned advantages. It was, “Are you going to eat?”

The meal that proceeded our class was a soup potluck. Meaning, each week church members signed up to bring a soup. They also brought bread, olives, pickles, peanut butter, and jelly. There was always just enough for the 60–80 people who came to feast and visit.

For me, this was a tremendous opportunity to get visiting time with members of my community. After leading the group in prayer, I went from table to table to check in with everyone, see how their weeks had gone, get a review of the night’s offerings, and whatever else floated to the surface. I made a couple of PB&Js for kids and handed out milk. I had a wonderful time.

I was able to do this because I ate before everyone arrived.
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Dear White Christians

By Eileen Gebbie

Published here on Feb. 8, 2016 in the Ames Tribune.

In the Christian tradition, Wednesday, February 10 is known as Ash Wednesday. It marks the beginning of Lent, a 40 day period (excluding Sundays for convoluted, medieval reasons) that prepares us for our highest of holy days, Easter. Lent is marked by quieter, more meditative Sunday services and simplifying the visuals (like fabric art and candles) in our sanctuary. We pastors who wear robes to lead worship will switch from white to black and wear purple-colored stoles (those long scarves). As a result, Easter morning, with its flowers and white banners and loud alleluias, becomes that much more of a celebration.

Another common Lenten practice is to intensify our corporate spiritual work with mid-week meals and study. At Ames UCC, that means a soup supper at 5:30 p.m., a book study at 6:15 p.m., and a choice of choir practice or 30 minutes of meditation at 7 p.m. (beginning Wednesday, February 17).
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Some People Think I Hate White People

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©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

I have been teaching, preaching, and posting about racism and the unearned advantages white Americans have for a long time.

It is not a comfortable topic for a lot of white people: Low income white Americans aren’t feeling advantaged. High income white Americans attribute their success to their hard work. All of us are taught that whiteness is not a race: people of color have a race, but we are some how race neutral.

And each of those statements is broad generalizations warranting a great deal more discussion and conversation.

However, I have only recently been getting any takers, at least on Twitter, and I would not say that they were really interested in dialogue as much as diatribe.
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