Tree of Life

[Note: In today’s worship service at Trinity United Methodist, Ritzville, this is what I said (more or less) at the beginning of the service.]

Post-ItsThis week I arrived in Wenatchee for the Gathering of the Orders, along with most of the United Methodist clergy from our Pacific Northwest Conference. We began, as always, with worship. At the sanctuary entrance, we were given post-its, and invited to write down something we were laying aside, so that we could better worship, engage in holy conversation, and grow in the Spirit, un-distracted.

It was a very good gathering. I had been asked to lead two workshops on Walking as a Spiritual Practice. If there’s time today, that’s what I’ll be talking about in the sermon.

But …
This is the week a white supremacist, after trying to force his way into First Baptist Church, a primarily Black church, in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, murdered two Black customers at a nearby Fred Meyer Store (they call them Kroger in those parts).

Those who died in Jeffersontown were:
Maurice E. Stallard, 69, and
Vickie Lee Jones, 67.

And …
This is the week a right-wing extremist was arrested in Plantation, Florida, for mailing at least fourteen
[update: FIFTEEN] bombs to presidents, political leaders, news organizations and public figures all across the country.

And …
This is the day after a Christian terrorist [warning: these 2 links contain very offensive material] killed eleven people (and wounded six more) at Congregation Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. On a web page with neo-Nazi messaging, the alleged killer professes Jesus and misquotes the Gospel of John to bolster his anti-Semitism, and names the work of HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, as the prompt for the murders he committed minutes after he posted.

Those who died this week in Pittsburgh:
Joyce Fienberg, 75,
Richard Gottfried, 65
Rose Mallinger, 97
Jerry Rabinowitz, 66
Cecil Rosenthal, 59
David Rosenthal, 54 (brother of Cecil)
Bernice Simon, 84
Sylvan Simon, 86 (Bernice and Sylvan are husband and wife)
Daniel Stein, 71
Melvin Wax, 88
Irving Younger, 69

[UPDATE: Both HIAS and Congregation Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha have “Donate” buttons on their homepages now. One way to show them they are not alone is to contribute, even if it’s not much.]

sanctuaryThis is the week we gather for worship.

But how do we worship, in such a time as this? Can we simply write these horrors on a post-it and lay them aside, stepping into the sanctuary free and easy? No. Yet we can, and we must, worship.

How do we find refuge in prayer, in such a time as this? How do we find that “place of quiet rest near to the heart of God”? And yet we can, and we must, pray.

How do we praise, in such a time as this? How do we claim the joy of the Lord as our strength? And yet praise is possible, though it may be the praise of a Job, who cries out for his vindicator in his suffering, that though his body be destroyed, yet in his flesh he would see God. (Job 19:25ff)

How do we intercede, in such a time as this? When public repetitions of professed “thoughts and prayers” ring hollow, how do we entrust the hurting other to the loving care of God, and offer ourselves to their healing and restoration? And yet we must sit alongside the wounded and the grieving, if we are to join our intentions with the will of God, or our attentions with the attention of God.

How do take Christ’s holy name as our own, in such a time as this? When mass murder is committed in his name, how do we continue to profess him as our sovereign and our savior? And yet we can, and we must, profess him, and follow him to the side of the grieving, even though it be walking the way of the cross, of risking and suffering on behalf of others, if we are to walk his way of real Life.

How do we take Christ’s holy name to the world – to Jews, to Muslims, to our neighbors and our children who have turned away from Christian faith – when Christ is used to justify racism, and abuse, and genocide and oppression? And yet we can, and we must live his life and walk his walk more publicly, to show the world that Christian faith is better than its perversions.

Today I pray for the Or L’Simcha / Tree of Life congregation, and I lift up the vision from the end of the Christian scriptures, that God’s intention for the completion of creation, includes complete healing:

On either side of the river is the TREE OF LIFE with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:2)

Sit with the thirteen names above.

Sit with the hope inherent in the name, Tree of Life.

Sit with the words and the imagery of the verse above.

For the healing of the nations. For the healing of the Tree of Life. AMEN.

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