Black History Month Project Update no. 2

If you read my columns in the Carillon Notes, then you know that I’m embarking on a personal project during Black History Month. I’m trying to add Black (or predominantly Black) media to my usual media diet.

Admittedly, I wasn’t as active in my search for media this week as I was last week. Sometimes, life gets in the way, and even good projects get pushed to the side. That said, I do want to highlight a few items that I’ve come across in the last couple of weeks that I think are good:

Enjoy!

Black History Month Project Update no. 1

If you read my columns in the Carillon Notes, then you know that I’m embarking on a personal project during Black History Month. I’m trying to add Black (or predominantly Black) media to my usual media diet.

Because I’m looking to change my media diet, I’m not looking so much for books or articles, even though I have been reading a few articles. That’s because those kinds of media tend to be one-off. Once I’ve read a book, I’ve read that book. And while I might read that book again sometime, it isn’t something that I’ll keep reading day in and day out. Instead of looking for one-off media, I’ve been adding serial media: media that is regularly creating new content and, therefore, media that can be a part of my diet for months, years, or decades to come.

So, here’s what I’ve added so far.

Twitter: I spend a surprising amount of time on Twitter, so the first thing I looked at was my Twitter timeline. It already had some racial diversity, but definitely needed more. So, here’s a list of the Black people who I am now following (who are not politicians). I’ve followed some of these people for a while, so there are some on the list who haven’t posted in a while, but several are fairly new.

@JIJennings, @ReignOfApril, @BigGhostLtd, @Nettaaaaaaaa, @questlove, @BlackGirlNerds, @JamilahLemieux, @Combat_Jack, @brokeymcpoverty, @bomani_jones, @JamilSmith, @eveewing, @FeministaJones, @ProfessorCrunk, @Moore_Darnell, @writer9706, @RevDrBarber, @JoyAnnReid, @deray, @wkamaubell, @PureKwest, @revdrseed, @thephiwa, @pastortraci, @DaBuhuro1, @om3

Podcasts: I also listen to a lot of podcasts, so I looked at what I was listening to. Again, there were already some Black people on the list, but not enough. So, here are the Black (or predominantly Black) podcasts that I’m listening to. I should point out that there are very few podcasts that I listen to every episode of, so it’s not like I’m listening to the whole back catalog. But I am listening to these and they’re in my feed for the future.

Reveal, In Black America, The Nod, Pod Save the People

General News: I also read a lot of news, so I’ve added theGrio and The Root to my regular reading.

Do you have suggestions? Leave a comment below! Twitter and podcasts are obviously welcome, but I’m also looking for blogs, tv shows, or anything else!

Baptism (Sermon for January 13, 2019)

Way back in June, we had a baptism. James and Brianne stood at the front of the church, and I held a kind of squirmy Kaelyn, and I baptized her in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And it was a wonderful day. We welcomed Kaelyn into our family… our little corner of the Kingdom of God.

And, later, someone asked me how I felt about what was obviously my first baptism. And I laughed it off.

But the truth is, that wasn’t my first baptism. It was just my first baptism that wasn’t in a hospital… and my first baptism where the clock wasn’t ticking, or where the clock hadn’t already struck.

You see, baptism is one of our sacraments. It is a distinctive and sacred Christian rite; an outward and visible sign of God’s grace.

In the Catholic and Orthodox churches, there are seven of these sacraments: baptism, confession, communion, confirmation, marriage, holy orders, and anointing the sick. For our Lenten program later this year, we’ll be reading a memoir by Rachel Held Evans organized around those seven sacraments.

In the United Church of Christ—and in most Protestant churches—there are two sacraments. We push confession, confirmation, marriage, holy orders, and anointing the sick aside. They’re important, but they’re not sacraments. We stick with baptism and communion. 

And we stick with those two because, we say, they were instituted by Christ himself. 

Communion on the night he was betrayed, when he took the bread and blessed it and broke it and shared it with his friends, saying, “This is my body, broken for you.” And likewise, after supper, when he took the cup and blessed it and shared it, saying, “This is the new covenant in my blood, poured out for you. As often as you drink of it, do this in remembrance of me.”

And baptism when… well…

A few weeks ago, during Advent, we met Zechariah and Elizabeth. 

They had a son, named John, and they were told that he would be great in the sight of the Lord. He would turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. The spirit and power of the prophet Elijah would go before him. He would make ready a people prepared for the Lord. And I can only imagine how proud they must have been when they imagined the great man that their son would be.

And in today’s reading, we see John… all grown up.

He lives in the wilderness. He wears camel hair clothes and a leather belt. He lives on locusts and wild honey. And the locusts might be a misunderstanding of a word for pancake, or they might be the pods from the carob tree, or they might be insects. He baptizes people in the water of the river Jordan for repentance. He calls Pharisees and Sadducees—Pharisees and Sadducees(!)—a brood of vipers.

He talks about the one who will come after him: the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

And then the one who will come after him… shows up.

It has to be a strange moment. Here is Jesus, the Messiah, king of kings and lord of lords, standing before John in the Jordan, asking to be baptized.

And John responds the same way anyone would respond, “Why are you asking me to baptize you? You’re the Messiah, the king of kinds and lord of lords. I’m not fit to tie your shoes. I need to be baptized by you.”

And Jesus says, “No. We’re doing it this way.”

And John baptizes him, and the heavens open, and the Holy Spirit descends, and a voice says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Baptism is a sacrament. It is a distinctive and sacred Christian rite; an outward and visible sign of God’s grace. And it’s hard to get a more outward and visible sign of God’s grace than the heavens opening and the Spirit descending, and a voice saying, “I am well pleased with you.”

But understand this, because this is so important. Baptism is not a sacrament because Christ performed the first baptism. Baptism isn’t even a sacrament because Christ was the first person to be baptized. 

Baptism is a sacrament simply because Christ joined us in being baptized; and simply because we can join him in that baptism. Whether it’s through a few drops on our heads or being dunked in a river.

And even more: through baptism we join in each other in this family, in the this little corner of the Kingdom of God, and in the whole great big Kingdom of God. Whether we are being baptized in a church on a bright sunny summer morning or in a hospital at the last possible minute or anywhere or anywhen else.

It is no secret that we live in deeply divided times. One of the beautiful things about the United Church of Christ in general—and about First Congregational United Church of Christ in particular—is our diversity. I don’t want to overstate things, we could be a lot more diverse. But one of the joys of serving this church and this denomination is that I get to work with all sorts of people.

And that isn’t always easy. We don’t always get along. We argue.

Sometimes, we argue over important things. Sometimes, we argue over petty things. Sometimes, we argue in a spirit of love. Sometimes, we argue in a spirit of anger. Sometimes, that happens in church. Sometimes, that happens in families. Sometimes, that happens in politics. It happens everywhere. We live in deeply divided times.

Even as a pastor, it can be easy to be pessimistic and fall into the same patterns that we see everywhere else. As a church and as a nation, we face serious challenges; and we live in deeply divided times… and I have this chance to stand in front of you on Sunday morning— behind the authority of the pulpit—and speak to you.

And in the midst of the brokenness of this world, when I preach on controversial things anyway, it can be tempting to speak like John did to the Pharisees and the Sadducees. It can be tempting to preach his little sermon:

You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.

And I’m not going to promise that you will never hear that sermon. I’m not going to promise that I will never preach it.

But today—on this Baptism of Christ Sunday—I am hopeful. Because in spite of all of the divisions in the church and in the world, we in this sanctuary, and in churches around the world, are united by the bonds of our baptism.

In spite of all of our differences and disagreements… Maybe even because of them, we are one body, guided by one spirit, called to one hope under the rule of one Lord, sharing one faith, cleansed by the waters of one baptism, worship one God the mother of all.

That is a truth… and that is an opportunity.

You may have noticed that there is something new in the order of worship today. Already this year, I’ve moved some things around… and today, after the sermon, is a time for silent reflection. We’re going to try this for a little while and see how it works; we’re going to take a moment to think about what we heard in the scripture and what we heard in the sermon and what we’ve encountered in our worship and how we can apply it in our lives.

And I’m not going to end every sermon like this.

But today, I want you to think about that person—or, maybe, those people—who you don’t get along with. And I want you to think about the water that touched Christ… and the water that touched you… and the water that touched them. I want you to think about water and the spirit and the promise that binds us together. One Lord, one faith, one baptism.

And the next time that person—or, maybe, those people—are getting you riled up or getting on your last nerve… the next time you feel the bile of anger and hatred rise up in you… think about that water… and the way that it connects you… as beloved children of God.

Baptism is a sacrament. It is a distinctive and sacred Christian rite; an outward and visible sign of God’s grace. 

But it isn’t a sacrament because Christ performed the first baptism. And it isn’t a sacrament because Christ was the first person to be baptized. It is a sacrament because Christ—whose shoes we are not fit to tie, who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, who carries the winnowing fork, and who will one day clear the threshing floor—joined us in being baptized and bound us inextricably together as one people.

Hallelujah. Amen.

All Souls’ Sunday/Totenfest

A while ago, I heard a song by Death Cab for Cutie on the radio. If you’re wondering about the name of the band, it’s from the song “Death Cab for Cutie” by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band (don’t ask). The song is called “Gold Rush,” and it’s about a man watching his neighborhood change and thinking about losing all of the places that he and his former lover used to go. But it has this line that’s resonating with me as we move into fall:

It seems I never stopped losing you.

Just before my first Sunday as your pastor, I lost my dad to dementia.

That’s not quite true. I spend years losing my dad to that disease. I watched as I visited him and he recognized me a little less each time. I started hoping that my mom wouldn’t say to him, as we entered the room, “Your son Chris is here to see you,” just so I could see if he still knew who I was. And, by the end, before he was sleeping all the time, I think he might have known that he was supposed to know me, even if he couldn’t quite place me. I spent years losing my dad to that disease… and I suppose he spent years losing me to it, too.

But the fact that his death was the end of a process doesn’t make it any less real. Anyone who has lost a loved one to dementia knows that.

And that’s true for all of us. Every death is a process. In the days and months and years following a death, the world changes and the living hold on to memories. We never quite stop losing the people who we love. They are no longer with us, but they are still with us.

One of the ways that Christians mark the long process of saying goodbye is through Allhallowtide, a set of holidays that includes Halloween on October 31st, All Saints’ Day on November 1st, and All Souls’ Day on November 2nd. Since the United Church of Christ is the result of a merger between English-speaking churches and German-speaking churches, we sometimes celebrate Totensonntag (Sunday of the Dead) or Totenfest.

At First Congregational United Church of Christ, we’ll mark All Souls’ Day/Totenfest on Sunday, November 4. While we will have a moment for the recognition of all of the people who have gone to glory before us, we will also have a time to recognize specific people who have passed. If you have someone who you would like to have recognized, please submit their name to the church office by Sunday, October 28th.

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