Archive for May, 2015

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

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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

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.

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:


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.


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:

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 


and that lives in our hearts

as the Spirit of Christ,

disrupting, opening prison gates, there for all people.

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