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Forgetting and remembering
May 2, 2015 by Vernon Rempel | Edit
when forgetting the past has caused us to repeat the past

riots and racism rising up like dormant dragons

from hidden caves that lie between streets

colorblind, we fail to see the sleeping creatures

until their smoky breath clouds the air

and the other: when “never forget” has become the carrier

of a reason for violence rather than healing,

a carrier of hurt and anger, trauma,

a pilot light that never goes out

waiting to ignite the noxious fumes of the day.

Let us turn quickly, generously, with leaping hearts

to the river of life that flows through the city

let us find the river, come to the river

together, offering the water to each other

cupped in our hearts and hands

Gospel Disruption

Easter 5

May 3, 2015

For First Mennonite Church of Denver

Vernon K. Rempel, 2015
Narrative Lectionary Bible Reading

Romans 1:8-17
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world. For God, whom I serve with my spirit by announcing the gospel of his Son, is my witness that without ceasing I remember you always in my prayers, asking that by God’s will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you. 
For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as I have among the rest of the Gentiles. I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish — hence my eagerness to proclaim the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith.

Freddy Gray and…

Paul says

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
It is the power of salvation to

Freddy Gray, Eric Garner, Michael Brown

To scared officers 

to officers consumed by internal departmental dynamics

to disconnected wealthy folk,

white folk
all scared ones, self-protective ones,

anywhere there is confusion or ignorance or prejudice

it is the power of salvation – the gospel is

where there is pressing down of entire neighborhoods

where there is generational PTSD
Paul says:

It is the power of salvation to everyone who has faith.

He says:

I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish
Everyone

We’re all in this together
Paul is saying:

I have found the gospel among Gentiles, barbarians,

Jews, the wise, the foolish
Salvation for everyone:

Baltimore and Ferguson and Staten Island and Aurora and Aurora again and City Park and Whittier and City Park West, Cole neighborhood, north-east Denver
Later on in Romans, Paul says:

For all have sinned…

depraved heart murder is the charge in Baltimore

all have sinned…

and then he also says

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor

angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We are all in this together

we all need salvation together

Barbarians, the foolish, the wise

Those lovely evangelicals

I attended a conference on Thursday

called Race, Reconciliation, and Immigration
It was put on by Michelle Warren

of the Evangelical Immigration Table

among others.
And it was evangelicals saying that

it is the character of God

it is the beauty of Christ

to understand the gospel

that we are all in this together
Warren noted that she was not going to either

throw politicians under the bus

or pump them up
they are not our hope, she said,

although she expends much passion

seeking legislative reform
our hope rather, she said,

and Danny Carroll said

as he joined the voices of the conference

is in the character of God

who cares for the poor
John Perkins was the morning’s feature speaker

he danced around the stage at age 85

telling about his birth into sharecropper poverty

and the power of the gospel in his life
And Noel Castellanos

said that we are not here for a political rally

to get us to choose sides

we are here to rally our hearts

to do God’s work
Evangelicals putting heart into politics

Not taking sides but letting ourselves be on God’s side

And who does God include on God’s side – everybody!
Paul says:

The gospel is the power of salvation to everyone who has faith
All together

barbarian, Greek, you name it, the foolish
The thing that’s cool about Evangelicals

really doing the social justice gospel

is that they have often struggled 

to get over to it

from a nationalistic religion that just 

talks about getting saved for heaven
Noel Castellanos said

we evangelicals sometimes only work at

people’s celestial immigration status

and the also need help with their 

earthly immigration status
It is the politics of Jesus.
Their spirit and tone reflects the wonderful

simplicity that has integrated complexities

into something new
It is social justice, but it is warm social justice

it has all the evangelical heart stuff,

love for God, love for Jesus

and a startling message of care for the poor

of seeking deep and long-term relationships

with people who are different,

people who are marginalized, invisible
It’s warm and loving…

There’s plenty of idea Christianity around,

of any kind. 
Ideas about justice, ideas about salvation,

about what’s the right kind of church and so on.

Ideas.
But that’s cold soup compared to the warmth

of the heart
We’re not here for a political rally

but to rally our hearts for God’s work.
Not choosing sides, because God does not choose sides,

but God has immense care for the poor,

the immigrant, the incarcerated person of color

and for the jailer and the king

the wise and the foolish
So, the evangelical speakers said,

must we also have this immense care, 

if we are people of God,

not as an idea, but because we live with this God

we want to live with God now

we feel God’s influence in our analysis,

yes, and also in our hearts

Whose side are you on

Marilyn and I were on a march for Arturo Hernandez

a few weeks ago

One chant we kind of had trouble with was 

“Whose side are you on, now?”
And then we saw a sign we really appreciated:

“Standing on the side of love for the immigrant.”
Standing on the side of love.

That is a side we can put our hearts into.

Not the side of a political idea or an issue

but asking the deep background question

what would love have us do with everyone 

involved in this picture:
the immigrant, their dear families, 

ethnic communities dislocated from their roots,

the judges, the politicians, the police on their motorcycles, 

ICE, a couple of church people trying to march along
what would love have us do

if we’re all in this together

if God is on the side of everybody
The power of the gospel for barbarians,

Greeks, elder brother Jews of Paul’s day,

the wise and the foolish
The sign had a web address:

standingonthesideoflove.org

it’s a Unitarian Universalist 

initiative with a great website.
On the side of love:

I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish….

For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
So we see that even mighty Romans

the big book of Paul,

the one full of theology

lying right at the root of the church
there is this warmth of the heart

that Paul has
He in effect says

I’ve had help from everywhere on this.

I’m a debtor to Greeks and barbarians

but the thing is, it’s the power of the gospel

for salvation for everyone who has faith.

Disruption

But now I want to take it one final step

 

Because for Paul, this gospel of love

is not warmth as sentimentality.

Just by making the lists that he does:

Greek, Jew, barbarian, wise, foolish

Paul is signaling that this will break hearts open

will break entire systems open

will come as a challenge to empires.
Paul knows that especially in Rome

the contrast will become painfully clear:

he is declaring a Messiah, an alternate allegiance

instead of honoring Caesar as Lord
This will be a problem

it will be great, great love,

but it will be a problem….
So here’s the last thing- 

It will be disruption…

(From TED Talks To Taco Bell, Abuzz With Silicon Valley-Style ‘Disruption’ – April 27, 2015)

Linguist Geoff Nunberg

was opining about the word “disrupt”

this week on NPR
It is used satirically in the comedy “Silicon Valley”

as the title for a tech competition – The disruptors!

He points out that tech competitions

often in reality include “disrupt” in their names
He writes: 

“Disrupt” and “disruptive” are ubiquitous in the names of conferences, websites, business school degree programs and business book best-sellers. The words pop up in more than 500 TED Talks: “How to Avoid Disruption in Business and in Life,” “Embracing Disruption,” “Disrupting Higher Education,” “Disrupt Yourself.”.
He notes that it was first popularized in the 1997 book

by Clayton Christensen about how established

companies fail when scrappy new companies

turn out stripped-down versions

of their products at a low price-point.
For eg. Craigslist, Skype, and no-frills airlines.
That was the original business disruption.

But now it’s a good thing.

It’s what angel investors want to see

in tech innovations.

name a tech conference “the disruptors”

and they will come.
Nunberg continues by saying that

it’s not just details of a story like that 

which make a buzzword.

It’s the emotional resonance.
He thinks it was used of him

when his kindergarten teacher sent home a note

about his classroom behavior — disruptive!
But now it’s cool.

Amazon and Uber are disruptive.

But also Procter and Gamble and General Motors

CNBC even called an iPhone case disruptive!

(it converts the phone into a gaming joystick)
The emotional resonance is echoed

in popular youth-culture shows like

Hunger Games and Divergent.
In Hunger Games, the authorities are corrupt

beyond belief and need to be disrupted.

In Divergent, the young woman who is the hero

doesn’t fit into any group.

Next there is an uprising!
And in both series, the key hero is female.

That’s disruptive of the James Bond narrative.
And such disruption brings us directly back around

to Baltimore and all.

Pressed down people will rise.

It is their God-given dignity as humans

that is at stake.
You may remember this Langston Hughes poem:

Harlem
What happens to a dream deferred?
      Does it dry up

      like a raisin in the sun?

      Or fester like a sore—

      And then run?

      Does it stink like rotten meat?

      Or crust and sugar over—

      like a syrupy sweet?
      Maybe it just sags

      like a heavy load.
      Or does it explode?
Hughes asked the right question

with his poem in 1951

and it remains the right question

64 years later.
Disruption will happen, should happen

to dreams deferred.

It is the will of God that all God’s children

live in peace and unafraid.

(Proverbs 3:24; Micah 4:4)
So disruption is a buzzword.

It’s already at risk of being tired

(and of course that’s the first time I’ve

paid attention to it, when it’s already aging out)
It may soon go the way of “thought leader”

and “change agent”, Nunberg suggests
But since I’m finally on the bandwagon,

I want to use it for the gospel.
The gospel is full of immense love;

and that love means disruption.
That love means saying we are people of Christ

more than we are people of the United States,

as much as this nation is a blessing.
That love asks clearly-spoken questions

about homelessness.
Shirley Whiteside said on CPR  this week

the thing that’s not being talked about

in our discussions of homelessness

is that people do not have a place to live.
People do not have a place to live.

Why in the wealthy world would

people simply not have a place to live?
That’s a gospel question.
It is love, not merely cold-eyed analysis,

not an argument, but love,

that asks
how so many people of color can be incarcerated

and how jails can be for profit, 

motivated by quotas
Anthony Grimes – founder of Denver Freedom Riders

told the story of a young man – Dante,

who he ran into in Ferguson.
He asked him if there was anything,

anything at all that he could help him with.
Dante said, I want a sheet of paper that lists my rights.

Grimes asked – you don’t want food, money?

No, I just want something that shows

that I have rights.
Young men like Dante are getting thrown into

for-profit prisons all day long.

Grimes notes that corporations have found that 

it is more profitable for them to have Grimes

in prison than out of prison.

And he said, we have to ask ourselves,

where do we want Dante – in prison or out?
Can we incarcerate ourselves enough 

to find salvation?

I think Paul would disagree with that.
One way to make new connections for action

see the websites for

The Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance

Together Colorado

The Evangelical Immigration Table

Mennonite Mission Network

Mennonite Central Committee

one small new connection can make all the difference
The gospel is the power of salvation.

And the gospel is the love that Jesus 

demonstrated,

and that lives in our hearts

as the Spirit of Christ,

disrupting, opening prison gates, there for all people.

4-23-15

Stopping the Nourishing of Illusions

(Psalm 1; Stephen Mitchell paraphrase:

Blessed are the man and the woman

who… no longer nourish illusions.)

 

I have spent enough time

stirring the overheated

pot of my own

cogitation and ideation,

the thickness of my

emotion and longings.

 

Come out of the

hot kitchen of the

self. It is too small,

too singular

in perspective.

 

Walk into the garden

of the other –

that woman over

by the awning. That

man sipping coffee.

The excited and

tired child walking

beside her stroller.

And the tress with

a million leaves

and the wind-carved

clouds. Everything.

Happy spring to you! Yes, it is the time of the Vernal Equinox, that ancient time when the world in the northern hemisphere feels so much more flooded with light even while our fellow travelers in the south are preparing for the deepening nights of Autumn and winter.

What is your season, in the midst of this seasonal change? Is this a time of growth for you? A time of loss? Is there great burden and difficulty in your life? Or are you being set free from some old confinement? Is this a season fear? Of love? Where are you heading toward? Where have you come from?

On this last question, Edward Hays, the Catholic poet, has a psalm entitled “The psalm of my whereness.” The psalm begins:

“The question ‘Where have I come from?’

rises up and haunts me;

lingering, it floats like a flower

in the backwaters of my mind.”

Hays explores this a bit with a number of affirmations from the voice of God. Some examples:

“You were the dream of my delight.”

“Before I shaped a single star, I nursed you for endless ages.”

“I laughed at the marvel of your being.”

Hays then ends with these lines:

“O my child, 

you in whom live all my hopes and loves,

you came from me.”

To some, this is wonderful; to others, it may seem a bit sentimental. I think it is an illumination of the affirmation that humans are created in the image of God. One of the most compelling insights of our Mennonite movement is that this “image of God” in each one is the root of a deep and thoroughgoing rejection of killing and of violence. The other, even our enemies, must be considered in this deep well of God’s own dreams for that person. Not in what they have done to us. Not in what our country or tribe says. We may consider those things. But the ultimate consideration is rooted in something deep in God’s creation – the image of God in each one.

May this affirmation and depth be with us, whatever our “whereness” in this spring season.

Matthew 17:1-13
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” And the disciples asked him, “Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” He replied, “Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist.

Comment
I attended a community organizing event for religious leaders yesterday. A keynote speaker spoke about the power of overcoming middle-class respectability, white supremacy and empire, all the things that reward a social arrangement in which so many young people of color are being beaten, incarcerated, killed.  He said, like the voice of God in our reading says of Jesus: “Listen to him.” “Listen to them.” He said we need to see them, need to hear them. But privilege makes invisible and inaudible those who are hurt by the current arrangements.

“Listen to him.” This was the word of God about Jesus, about to be beaten, incarcerated, and killed. “This is my son, the Beloved.” Not everything the current arrangement calls wonderful is wonderful. Not everything the current arrangement calls unworthy is unworthy. Is the voice of God saying to me “listen to them?” “See them?” They may be Elijah himself! They may be the wondrous ones, the hoped for ones. God’s intention for no one is beating, incarceration, and death. “Listen to them.”

I don’t believe prayer has magical power. I believe prayer has cosmic relational power.

Vern

“It’s not fair”

Lent 2

March 1, 2015

For First Mennonite Church of Denver

Vernon K. Rempel, 2015

Narrative Lectionary Bible Reading

Matthew 20:1-16

‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 

When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. 

When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.” 

When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” 

When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” 

But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” 

So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’ 

Introduction

Our big topic for Lent: behaving

in the sense of practicing

What are key moves 

of our faith?

Last week,

forgiveness,

Snow day, but I did

post it on line.

Next week, 

the parable of the wedding feast

Which is a parable 

that’s sounds like 

More fun than it is.

the practice will be 

Surrendering hardness of heart.

This week,

the practice of invitation

And welcome.

First, grace

In the story of the vineyard,

The first act of grace is this:

All day long, going in to the marketplace

the story builds, the rhythm 

of encounter quickens

early in the morning

also nine o’clock

also noon, and three, and then five

So the little story gathers momentum.

Why seek workers all day

in the marketplace.

And when invited, they go.

They go and go and go.

This is the first act of grace.

It is always invitation.

It is always seeking.

Truth seeking humanity.

seeking people

seeking us

Truth seeking us!

Love seeking us!

God seeking us!

The second act of grace

has to do with

the little matter of pay.

Each set of workers,

going in to work

at their respective hours,

goes in promised “whatever is right.”

Only the early morning workers

are promised the customary wage.

It appears that the others

are going in assuming

they will be paid

only for the hours worked.

No one would think otherwise.

No one would go in at 

noon or three or five

expecting a full days wage.

They just want to work for a fair wage.

But that is only the first act

of grace – a fair wage.

You get to work, 

you get paid some.

At least you’re in the vineyard,

in the economy,

in the house.

But now comes the shock and surprise,

the overturning nature of

the kingdom of God

In the kingdom,

all the wages are the same.

No matter how long you labored

in the vineyard,

you will be paid the same.

Now grace becomes not only

a generosity, but a disruption.

Grace makes economies

not only distributed to all

but not even a matter

of simple trade.

Fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.

That is wonderful.

But God knows that

calculus will not 

get us to the great community.

Because no calculus can.

Only when all adding and counting

and keeping fair

are overrun by the rush of generosity,

by the rush of grace,

can we establish the place

and practice

of abundance that God would have 

on earth.

Trummelbach Falls

Trummelbach Falls:

Somewhere between the Eiger

and the Jungfrau,

at the base of the Münsch

is an underground waterfall.

It’s roar is the roar of

the freight-train of the gods,

a mighty bone-shaking sounding

of water piling through stone.

One’s body hums in sympathetic

vibration with the roar.

To draw near to that place

is to feel the trembling

and the greatness.

And so, the spiritual imagination

may also say this:

It is also this roar:

it is the roar of the love 

of God pouring into the 

human present

from God’s good future.

It is a roar that sets up vibrations

and sounds that fill our bodies,

and hearts and minds,

a roar we can scarcely understand.

It looks like the joyful

but also fearsome and disruptive

grace of workers hired all

day long to work

in the vineyard.

All day long 

every hour of the day

people are invited in

to the place of work and provision,

the place of belonging in society.

All day long they come.

We all want community,

we all need community.

All day long we come,

when we have been waiting

in the marketplace

idle in our alienation and hurt,

idle in the trauma we carry,

idle in our grief and longing.

No one will understand,

it is to embarrassing,

it is just too painful.

So we stay out in the marketplace

We stay out,

idle in our misconnections

and misunderstandings

idle in our loneliness.

No one would want me

if they knew me.

Or the economic and national

arrangements make 

it hard, if not impossible,

to go to school,

to find work,

to be normal.

Idle when immigration status

has left us out;

when social formulations of race

have left us out;

when sex, or ability, or orientation,

or religion – our sense of how

to approach the divine –

has left us out.

However we are left out in the marketplace

we are offered work in the vineyard.

And then the strange pay comes

and it demonstrates to us

that no matter when we 

were invited in,

no matter when we arrived

we are fully human,

fully worthy

and all the history of the day

is washed away in the great

roar of God’s love and grace

so that at the end of the day,

we are left standing

on new ground

and tomorrow we will be

starting side by side

among all peoples.

This is not merely a place of counting

it up. This is a place

of joyful, radical availability

“And let this be to all people”

as the angel says to the shepherds.

As long as counting is the main thing

then privilege will always go

to the counters.

Dismantling privilege

Privilege, I think, is the hard part

of the parable.

For privilege is being challenged.

The privilege of those

who came first,

who consider themselves to have

done all the work so far,

who have set all this up,

who built in the hot sun

all day long, and

now someone wants to

come in and just be part of this?

Privilege of those whom

history has preferred and blessed.

Privilege of those for whom

tradition is on their side.

The freedom of God to forgive & reward

Found throughout the Bible:

Yahweh at the burning bush 

I will be who I will be

The Tetragrammaton:

 יהוה, YHWH

(The tetragrammaton in:

-Paleo-Hebrew (10th century BCE to 135 CE), 

-old Aramaic (10th century BCE to 4th century CE) 

-square Hebrew (3rd century BCE to present) scripts.)

Or poor Jonah – 

supposed to forgive Ninevah!? 

after all the’ve done?

Or the older brother 

of the prodigal son.

Really…!

He gets the calf?

In the strange Kingdom

of God, the first will be last.

Not just for the sake of reversal,

but because we all

need to be splashed

and roared into community.

Otherwise, we stay stuck in

the market-place,

stuck in our privilege,

alienated.

(Extra source:

The Upside-down Kingdom

by Donald Kraybill)

Infinite pain; infinite grace

Here is why:

The pain of trauma or exclusion,

whatever it is that has 

heart people’s hearts

hurt our hearts

goes all the way down

to the floor of our being,

of our psyche

and sense of the world

The hurt and trauma  

of seeking opportunity

through dislocation and migration

The hurt of being excluded 

or merely tolerated 

in your sense of your

own body and sexuality

“Will we welcome you into”

our country

into our church

is too often the framing.

When in fact the vineyard,

the place of belonging,

and resource, 

the place of all the 

social goods

Is always God’s, not ours.

the vineyard is God’s, my friends,

And God is in the marketplace

looking to give people good work,

all day long

Looking to grant the chance for full status

all day long,

no matter what your timing is,

no matter why you’re not yet

in the vineyard

The hurt is infinite

and so – here’s a deep teaching

from the parable

The hurt is infinite

and so the cure must be infinite

So the grace of the parable

is overwhelming, 

an outpouring, 

a grand washing

Like the mighty waters

of Trummelbach falls.

May God’s grace come,

and wash over us,

and bring us together.

**********

Additional note,

that can function as a summary:

Hi Rachel,

I’m talking about how God will invite you into the vineyard no matter how long you’ve been standing out in the marketplace waiting to work. Any hour of the day, if God finds you.

And then, God treats you as equal to others.

It is a story of radical inclusion and equalization. 

All God’s children got a place in the vineyard, so to speak.

It overturns our sense of counting and fairness. Grace just overwhelms our need to have priority, to make everything line up.

It helps us realize that it’s God’s vineyard, not our vineyard, and that can look really different.

So – really welcoming, even of some people who might not have received a welcome. Generosity and grace and how it can change relationships that may be stuck (stuck in the marketplace of the parable, so to speak)

That sort of thing

How’s that sound?

Vern

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