Wednesday, May 19, 2010

It's Full

When people ask me to tell them about Keystone I typically say, "Keystone's full. Full of ideas, overflowing with blessings, and rich with joy." That has been my experience of this community over the last six months. It is a time I have truly enjoyed.

Recently, there has been some significant news in my life. Not long ago I was offered the position of Director of Family, Youth, & Children Ministries at Plymouth UCC. I feel great excitement about stepping into this newly created position. Yet even more than the sense of excitement, I am filled with gratitude.

Keystone has been such a healing, nurturing, and forming place for myself and Janelle. Over the past several months Keystone has given my creativity space to roam free, inspiration to try new projects (the Keystone website is the first website I have ever made), an opportunity to work on timely justice issues (like tax reform in WA state) and throughout it all Keystone has been a loving, supportive community. The gifts Keystone has given me over the past several months will accompany me into every ministry of which I am a part. No matter where I am I will keep my eye on Keystone, watching for the next bold steps of faith the community takes.

This Sunday I look forward to celebrating with you the great amount of life and blessings we filled the last 6 months with.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Sermon: Let Them Eat Pork

Easter 5 Year C 2007
Acts 11:1-18
Let Them Eat Pork Chops
By Rich Gamble

Peter was a faithful Jewish man. To Peter this meant that he bore the marks of his faith: he was circumcised, he honored the Sabbath, and he followed Jewish dietary laws.

It is hard for us today to understand the power of these marks of faithful identity. For us faith is something that happens in the head. We believe some particular way of thinking about God, and faith and that is enough. Most Christians don’t see any particular marks of faith as being essential. But to faithful Jews these marks defined who they were.

So imagine just how gut wrenching is this story Peter tells. Peter has a dream in which he sees all the profane animals, animals that the Bible sometimes call abomination. And in the dream a voice from heaven tells him to kill and eat these animals.

Now through his whole life he has been told and he believes that these animals are unclean, that they are so repellant to God that to come in contact with them will make you unclean. They are nasty things, these animals. Just as we would be repelled at the germs carried by a cockroach or a rat or a vulture, so Peter would have been repelled by the holy uncleanness of these beasts.

But the voice in the dream invites him to snack away.

No way, says Peter. I have never eaten such disgusting animals.

Then the voice says: ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.'

This happens three times in the dream. Then Peter is awakened by a knock on the door. It is from some unclean people, Gentiles who have been sent to Peter by the Spirit.

Peter makes the connection: Breaking the taboo about eating certain food is like breaking the taboo about sharing a Jewish faith with unclean people. So Peter shares his faith with them and they are filled with Spirit and Peter realizes that : If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?"

This is a dramatic moment in the life of the Christian Community. This is the moment when the community chooses to become bigger than their religion. No longer will they be a sect of Judaism. They have now pushed Judaism so far that it ceases to be recognizable as Judaism.

Understand what is being said here. The love of God is bigger than religion.

In religion boundaries are essential. If you are a member of this religion you believe this, and you do that, and you don’t do that. These boundaries help us figure out our religious identity.

In a confusing world knowing your identity is important and often it comes from a set of layers. You are an American, of the Middle Class, a citizen of Seattle, a liberal, a book keeper, a Mariners fan, a vegetarian, a male or female, heterosexual or homosexual, a parent or grandparent, a member of your particular family, and a Christian. All of these layers have certain qualities and in all of those we find our identity.

Peter had lost most of those identifiers in following Jesus’ call. He was no longer a fisherman, no longer a resident of his village, no longer honoring his familial obligations. So much has been taken from him that what little he has left is precious to him. He is a Jew and a follower of the Way of Jesus as Messiah. Now the very marks of his Judaism are being stripped from him. He has given up his job, given up his community, given up his family, given up his security, and now he has to give up his religion.

And when he does, the door of his world opens just that much more. For the things which we cling to as sources of our identity are also barriers to others. That is what sources of identity do, they say this is me and mine and not you and yours.

For the love of the God of the Jews who created everyone, Peter, gives up his Jewishness to include everyone.

So what is left when the barriers are broken down?


Love calls us to break down all barriers and love is all that is left when the barriers are all broken down.

In the end the ways we identify ourselves turn out to be ways we alienate ourselves from our neighbors and from ourselves. Who are you? A beloved child of God. Who is your enemy? A beloved child of God.

Now maybe there are behaviors out there which do not reflect the love of God for self, neighbor or enemy. Out of love for the sinner and those sinned against we advocate for more loving behaviors but we don’t deny the other the love of God, it is not ours to control. As the voice to Peter says: ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.'

We are called to recognize the difference between acts which violate the law of love and the things that God made clean.

If someone causes harm to another, takes advantage of another, they are acting in opposition to the love of God but they do not have the power to place themselves outside of the love of God. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God.

Walls can protect people from those who would do them harm and walls can harm those who are excluded from distributive justice. As people of faith we are called to understand the fear that causes folks to build walls, and to understand the harm that is often caused by those selfsame walls.

A drug policy that relied on punishment and not treatment gave opportunities to violent people to rise to wealth and power in this country and in Mexico. A trade policy which decimated small scale farms and businesses in Mexico caused a great desperation for jobs amongst the poorest of Mexicans. These things created a tide of desperate people and growing lawlessness in our neighbor to the South. I can understand why people are fearful in Arizona, and why people are desperate in Mexico. Walls and racist laws will not protect the people of Arizona and will only increase the suffering of those desperate enough to leave their homes in search of hard work at low pay.

The real answer to the problems of Arizona does not lie in more laws, jails, police and walls. It lies in more opportunities for people to have meaningful work in Mexico. It lies in decriminalizing drugs and spending money to educate young people and aid addicts. It lies in changing trade policies. It lies in not placing any higher value in one group of people over another.

As the worlds wealth flows to fewer and fewer people. There will be a rising tide of desperate people and out of that desperation will flow growing lawlessness and a growing call for more and more repressive responses. The trickle down theory hasn’t worked well for wealth but it works remarkably well for violence. A violent economic system which allows some to live as royalty and others to starve leads to greater and greater violence throughout society.

This spiral will end either in chaos or in awakening to a new way of living. The way of self giving love is the hope of the world. It has real political, social economic and religious dimensions. But those dimensions undermine our current domination based systems.

For too long we have been blinded and diverted by arguments about who Jesus was rather than what Jesus taught. The old form of Christianity which demanded orthodox creeds about Jesus as God, God as trinity, salvation as heaven have to be set aside as Peter set aside his dietary restrictions.

I think it was Pearl S. Buck who pointed out that Christians sent missionaries from America to China to help the Chinese get to heaven but Americans wouldn’t let the Chinese into their country.

Our calling as people of faith is to move beyond creeds of faith and move to deeds faith, faith in a God who calls all people God’s children, and all creation good. Our calling is to stand for justice which springs from human need and moves to transform human greed.

Our calling is reach out past the flag waving, race baiting, nay saying angry crowds to see the real fear beneath. Our calling is to reach out to those who are desperate and seek the causes of their desperation.

Our calling is to embody the love of God which stands with the oppressed so that they and their oppressors may also be released from systems which dehumanize all.

This is who we are called to be traitors, wimps, and dreamers to those who guard their walls. We are called to be the love of God, which transcends every barrier. It is the highest calling in the world, and for us and the world it is good news.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

New Display Possibilities

As we look ahead to this summer we have a few projects on the horizon.

First is replacing the sign we have on the building with something that reflects our new logo. This is what we're thinking of putting up.

Next is a larger art display. This is what it could look like.

It might not be a bad idea to repaint the building at the same time. Any suggestions for what color?