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Independence or Interdependence

The sermon from Sunday, July 2, 2017 on Romans 6:12-23

This passage from the apostle Paul’s letter to the Roman church is layered.  

That’s good because I sat down to write one sermon and ended up writing another. The Holy Spirit will do that to you.

Let’s start with this line from the middle – I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations.

That sounds a little obnoxious, but I’d argue what Paul is saying here is that he’s trying to put things in terms that his audience will understand. He’s speaking their language.

Since our language and our context is different than Paul’s, we end up needing a little translating.

It’s always important when slavery comes up in Scripture to note that Paul is not endorsing slavery or saying anyone should be a slave.

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?

The point is this, I would argue: we choose whom we follow. We devote ourselves to many things – and that can be to all that is good and loving and compassionate and just – or not.

We can make ourselves slaves of consumerism and fear and oppression and meanness.

Or we can fill ourselves with the goodness of God.

Paul says – Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.

According to Paul, we who follow Jesus reclaim ourselves from the forces of wickedness in this world, so that we might live in righteousness, live as if God is working through us.  

Here’s where this sermon took a turn. I was going to explain why I wasn’t going to preach about Independence Day. Then I realized that in explaining why I wasn’t preaching about Independence Day, I was ending up preaching about Independence Day. So we’re just going with it . . .  

Other churches do.  I’m not looking to argue with any given church or pastor about the practice.

However, it’s tied into the same reason you won’t find an American flag here in the church – and why I tend to stay away from discussion of secular holidays in general.

It’s not because I don’t love this country. As a citizen, I love this country and I believe in the ideals to which it professes – even as I understand that it often fails to live up to them. I believe that we together continue the journey of making it better.  I was born in this country and I choose to remain here because it’s my home.

I vote. I turn up for jury duty when I’m called. I give blood. I call my elected officials about things that matter to me.  I am grateful for those who serve in the armed forces and respect how we need a professional military. I try to be dutiful.

Yet this is not supposed to be a church holiday. We as Christians don’t worship the flag. We  don’t worship the United States of America – or at least we’re not supposed to.

That would be idolatry.

We can respect the flag, but we ought not confuse it with God. We respect our civil society, our shared life together as a country, but we also remember who we, as Christians, are called to follow.

Some people make of themselves a slave to so-called patriotism. This is not about Republicans or Democrats. We can all fall victim to this.  It does not make sense to attempt be a slave to patriotism and a liberated, devoted follower of Jesus at the same time.

Jesus was a critic of state power used badly, a challenger of Empire. Then and now and all through the centuries, religion has been used as an instrument of state power. That is deeply problematic because the church is supposed to be an instrument of God’s love.

And God loves us all. We believe in a God who loves all.

We can say God bless America, but if we do, it might rightly be followed by God bless Belgium and God bless Nicaragua and God bless Madagascar and Japan. God doesn’t love just us, nor are we due the sole measure of God’s blessing. We humans are the ones in competition for everything.

God’s love is vast enough for all of us. That is the vastness of God. Because we all dwell within the vastness of God and God’s love, this isn’t just about us.

It makes for a complicated narrative because we also have these truths.

We celebrate freedom and independence on Independence Day and yet on July 4, 1776 and for more than 80 years after, chattel slavery – the actual enslavement of black people bodily ripped from Africa – remained the law of the land.

There were churches who walked lock-step with the existence of slavery in this country. And there were those who resisted it, who worked tirelessly for abolition and human freedom.

So whose Independence does this day celebrate? And how do we as Christians relate to that?

We celebrate freedom and Independence on Independence Day – and yet on July 4, 1776 and for decades hence, this country slaughtered indigenous people, seized their lands for settler colonizers, and destroyed the living vestiges of their culture.

There were churches who justified that genocide in this country. And there were those who resisted it.

So whose Independence does this day celebrate? And how do we as Christians relate to that?

We celebrate freedom and independence on Independence Day – and yet believe that we have the right to bomb sovereign nations at (our) will, prop up brutal dictatorships, and impose the hegemony of capitalism to the ends of the planet.

There are churches that prop up state power and those that critique it.

So whose Independence does this day celebrate? And how do we as Christians relate to that?

We celebrate freedom and independence on Independence Day – and yet we consume and destroy the living Earth.

So I ask: whose independence? whose freedom? who benefits from these masks of ideology and our full plates of nationalism?

There are many ways in which the path of being an American and the path of being a Christian can be the same. But a nationalism that fails to see the harm that we’ve caused and that we continue to cause – even and perhaps especially when it’s wrapped in the flag – is not Christian. It’s an idolatrous worship of militarism, vain superiority, and the accumulation of power.

So you can have Independence Day.

I believe in the vastness of God and the vastness of God’s love.

As all living people and creatures are connected in our being and our well-being, I will celebrate Interdependence Day.

It too comes with good friends and good meals and celebrations and risks.  It’s got no problem with a day off by the lake or fireworks or cook-outs.

An acknowledgement of our interdependence means we have to look at the cost of our rhetoric and the sins of our history – and after we have faced up to that we have to do something about it.  That is how we might become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted.

That is Interdependence Day.

You can find that on your calendar on any day that ends in a “y”.

Amen.

Image credit to  Be Freedom: Movement Strategy for Activists and Organizers

 

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Living our Covenant

We hope you will join us through advocacy, prayer and action this month to support the realm of God on earth.

This is our Covenant: “With the help of God, We will walk together in the ways of Jesus, creating a community and striving for a world where no one is an outcast and no one is a stranger

Speak out for Sanctuary policies in Birmingham

“Where all people are celebrated as precious children of God

Speak out against LGBTQ discrimination in Birmingham

“Where we joyfully share with one another: Hope for the living…”

Write letters to support summer feeding and child nutrition programs

Comfort for the dying.. Dignity for those in struggle…”

Ask our Senators to protect healthcare for low-income, elderly and sick people

“And the freedom to ask, and to seek, and to grow
more fully into the 
persons we were created to be.”

(Above photos show Beloveds at the March for Sanctuary, Pride Parade, Brown Bag Ministry and the healthcare sit-in this month.)

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Happy Anniversary, Beloved!


  

  
Shown above: LeNard Brown, Rev. Jennifer, our celebration meal, and performances from The Murray Family, Christ Will Enter In (CWEN) and D’Marie

Thanks again to our anniversary sponsors:

A.G Callins Home Inspection – First Congregational Church UCC – Hope Central Church –Pilgrim Church UCC – Radical Hope Church – Risk Consulting Expert Services – S&W Electric – Birmingham Friends Meeting – Birmingham Progressive Christian Alliance – The Cooperative New School – Kelsey Weeks Photography – The Abbey Coffee Shop – Beautiful Rainbow Cafe & Catering – JC Services – The Juke Joint – Just Love Weddings – Mentone Vacation Cabin

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The Work of Healing

The sermon from Sunday, June 18, 2017 on Matthew 9:35-10:8

Christians are called to be healers.  Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. 

To be a follower of Jesus is to accept that we are tasked with healing.  It’s one of the foundational aspects of the Gospels. Jesus heals and he tells those who would follow him to do the same.

There is much work to be done. The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. 

We as followers of Jesus are called to the work of healing as a primary commitment – the work of healing ourselves, the work of shared healing with those around us, and the work of healing the world.

This world where we glorify guns, but deem it okay for a police officer in Minneapolis to shoot and kill a black man who lawfully has one. We grieve tonight for the death of Philando Castile – and for a world that perceives blackness as threat.

There is a need for healing.

Continue reading The Work of Healing

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The Work of Pentecost

The sermon from Sunday, June 4, 2017 on Acts 2:1-21

I want to tell 4 stories tonight. None of them is long, but they all speak to the Pentecost moment.

The first takes place not so long after the actual event of Pentecost. Nero was emperor of Rome for 14 years – from 54-68 AD. History remembers him as cruel and tyrannical, vain and corrupt.  He executed his own mother. He slaughtered Christians – then still a minor, troublesome sect in the empire –  for sport. He spent far more money than the imperial coffers could sustain. He was obsessed with his own popularity.

In the year 64 AD, there was a massive fire in Rome. It is said to have burned for 5 days. It destroyed 70% of the city and left half of Rome’s population homeless. It was massive. There were rumors that Nero had had the fire started to clear way for a new planned palace – 1st century gentrification and redevelopment – and to deflect those rumors, Nero instead blamed the Christians. Christians then were still widely persecuted, but this imperial finger-pointing ignited a whole new wave of the killing of Christians. Continue reading The Work of Pentecost

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Help feed hungry families! June volunteer opportunities at Beloved

 We’ve committed to a big month of volunteering this June! The week of June 26th-30th, we’re providing meals and helping host homeless families with Family Promise.
family promise

We’re also providing summer meals to 175 students that week through GBM’s Thank Goodness I’m Fed Summer Program. Most of the meal assembly will happen the weekend before and meals will be delivered by 10:30 each morning, MondayFriday.

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Plus, we will continue to do our Brown Bag Ministry on June 21st and 24th!

How you can help:

  • Help with meal prep, packing or delivery – contact Molly Merkle or Jackie Limbaugh to help (several volunteer opportunities available June 21st-28th).
  • Volunteer to stay overnight with Family Promise June 26th, 27th or 28th – You don’t have to bring food to help out. Contact Jackie Limbaugh for info.

 

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Radical Love: A Good Friday Short Sermon

Rev. Jennifer participated in  a Seven Last Words of Jesus Good Friday worship service at Talladega First Congregational Church in Talladega, Alabama.  Her  assigned text for a 5 minute sermon was the 3rd word, John 19:26-27 – 

“Woman behold thy son! Behold thy mother” –

There he goes again.

Jesus.

Making room – in the midst of death – for love.

Teaching us how to live even as he faces death.

Life for a woman alone in first century Judea was perilous at best.

A woman alone was an outcast, removed from the graces of proper society, without status.

Elder women alone faced both stigma and starvation.

Jesus, on the verge of death, makes certain that his mother will be cared for, that she will have a home and food and love, that even in losing a son, she will gain a son.

An act of radical love in the very face of death.

An act – yet another act – of making sure that the vulnerable – the most vulnerable – are cared for.

Two thousand years later do you think we are still in need of the witness of radical love? Are we any better today at ensuring the well-being of vulnerable and marginalized – those people whom Jesus continually cared for?

Yesterday, the midst of Holy Week, on Maundy Thursday, that celebration of love and friendship, we drop what is obscenely being called the Mother of All Bombs on one of the poorest countries in the world.

Yesterday, I sat by the side of the road with a young woman who had just been in a serious car accident.

As I wiped the blood from her face, I heard her tell her story to the police officer. She was leaving her job at one fast food restaurant on her way to pick up her friend, who worked at a different fast food restaurant.

The two of them shared the car – the car that was now a heap of crumpled metal – to get to and from work and their apartment in an area of the county that has no public transportation.

She had no car insurance, could not afford car insurance on her salary even while working full time to support herself. For that, as she sat in the back of an ambulance preparing to ride to the emergency room, she received a ticket.

Yesterday, as I was walking through Avondale Park after a planning meeting for the Easter sunrise service, a woman called out to me to come help her.

I crossed the grass to discover that she was trying to pull a homeless man from the creek.

He lives in that park and has long-term, serious medical issues. I do not know how he had ended up in the creek, but he could not get himself out.

He was soaked and swollen and dead weight. We managed to get him to safety. He refused the offer to call 911, but I worried that this unmoving man might end up – yet again – face down in the creek.

I asked the fire fighters down the street to quietly check on him because I knew of none other that would care for him in that late afternoon moment.

Yesterday, a homeless friend asked me for some clothes. He might have been drunk. He might have been sober. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

Either way, he had set down the backpack that contained all his earthly possessions on a bench in that same park – and then it was gone. “I just need a change of clothes, preacher,” he said to me.

The Mother of All Bombs cost 300 million dollars to develop. Each individual bomb costs an estimated 16 million dollars.

I sat last night thinking about that bomb – and all the people who get rich from bomb-making and bomb-dropping in this world.

I thought about that bloodied young woman who, though lucky to be alive, now has no way to get to the job that doesn’t even pay her a living wage, but is her sole source of support.

I thought about this man who is quite literally dying in the park and our failure as a nation to ensure that he has a humane and dignified place with clean sheets and warm food and loving hands to tend his final days.

I thought about my homeless friend who deserves a decent place to live, where his clothes don’t get stolen, whether he is sober or not.

And I thought about these words of Jesus, who speaks life and love even into death.

We have no shortage of death in our world.

We have a shortage of love in the world.

In this midst of unimaginable physical suffering, in the middle of dying a horrible death, Jesus still teaches us to care and to love.

In his  reminder we find a constant call on our own lives.

Amen.

The image is “Cross-Eyed” by J.J. Jacobs

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Holy Week at Beloved

Palm Sunday processional Sunday, April 9th, 4:45-5 PM
Religious procession in Avondale with Beloved and The Abbey


Maundy Thursday service at Beloved, April 13th, 6 PM

Joint UCC service with our fellow UCC churches (Covenant Community UCC, First Congregational UCC and Pilgrim Church UCC).


Good Friday – Stations of the Cross – Linn Park, 12 PM

Starting at noon at Linn Park and ending by 1:30 at Kelly Ingram Park, this pilgrimage involves 15 blocks of travel on city sidewalks. Wear comfortable walking shoes. Sponsored by St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Greater Birmingham Ministries, First Presbyterian Church and Church in the Park.


Good Friday – Seven Last Words of Jesus Service – 12 pm at Talladega First Congregational UCC

202 Martin Luther King Jr Dr N; Talladega, Alabama 35160

7 last words service

A powerful service with 7 UCC pastors reflecting on Jesus’ last words. Contact Jennifer to RSVP.


Sunday, April 16th, 7 AM at Avondale Park (4101 5th Ave S, Birmingham, AL 35222)
Joint Easter sunrise service with our neighbors at Avondale UMC and Saint Junia. In case of rain, will move to Avondale UMC at 500 40th St S, Birmingham, AL 35222.


Resurrection Sunday at Beloved!

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2017 Lenten Study Groups

Liberation Theology Study Group Sundays at 3 pm

Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God

Liberation Theology Study group is currently discussing Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God by the womanist theologian Kelly Brown Douglas. Local activist T. Marie King is co-facilitating the book discussion with Rev. Jennifer. All are welcomed to join the discussion!

 


Bible study Wednesday nights at 6 PM
Plenty Good Room: A Lenten Bible Study Based on African American Spirituals

This unique short-term Bible study combines an in-depth look at Scripture, American history, and the music and lyrics of six African American spirituals. The six-session study provides biblical, social, and historical analyses of  ‘Ev’ry Time I Feel the Spirit,” “This Lonesome Valley,” “Bow Down on Your Knees,” “Plenty Good Room,” “Ain’t Dat Good News,” and “Were You There?” Bible Study facilitated by Rev. Sally Harris at Beloved, Wednesday nights at 6 pm.

 

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Photos from our February 12th Installation Service

Sunday, February 12, 2017, Beloved Community Church UCC celebrated the installation of Rev. Jennifer Sanders, the second minister to serve as head pastor of our congregation since our founding in 2000.

rev. jennifer

The service of installation celebrated the covenant between Rev. Jennifer, Beloved Community Church, the United Church of Christ and the wider community.

Continue reading Photos from our February 12th Installation Service

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