Wednesday, October 27, 2010

UCC History - A Short Course

For all those in the Keystone family who would like more information on the history and origins of our denomination, the UCC, you can find a concise version on the national UCC website. You will learn some other exciting history in the process!

New Photo Directory!

Dear Keystone Members and Friends!

Keystone has been keeping up so well with the Church Directory, and most of you have a copy of the latest one from summer of 2010.

A few weeks ago the Communications Committee decided it would be a good idea to add photos to it. And guess what?! After taking pictures of obliging church-goers for the past few Sundays, we are more than halfway there! (For the Active Members and Friends at least). I will continue to take snapshots of those who we have not gotten pictures of, and of course am happy to accept digital copies from you if you already have a good head shot! The pictures are coming out great, and we are hoping for a Christmas delivery of the new and updated Keystone Photo Directory. Thank you for all your cooperation!


Sophie Morse

Sunday, October 17, 2010

It Gets Better: Sermon 10.17.10

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Luke 18:1-8

“It Gets Better”

In the past few weeks, the suicide deaths of seven teenagers have captured the attention of the news and so many of us: Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Billy Lucas, Asher Brown, Justin Aaberg, Raymond Chase, and the most recent, Zack Harrington. As many of us know, these teens were targeted by their peers for their actual or perceived sexual orientation, bullied ruthlessly at their most vulnerable age, and mostly while the adults in the community stood by without interfering. Coinciding with the fate of these young men, a NYT article last week described the ritual beating and torture of a 17-year old gang recruit in the Bronx. He was suspected to be gay. After the man had been stripped, kicked and punched, he was given a choice between a bat and a pipe for the weapon for his further torment, which would last for hours. He chose the bat. The nine suspects that were charged with this beating, also beat and tortured three other men in connection with the first.

The shock of the teen suicides, the Bronx beatings, and other national news relating to homophobia has cast a new spotlight on our cultural intolerance toward sexual minorities. It has also galvanized a wide response. One response has been media host Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better Project” which he launched last month. This project invites members of the GLBT community and others who have suffered particularly harsh bullying to submit videos that communicate a message of hope to teens. Each person’s testimony is meant to communicate that no matter how bad or intolerable it seems now, that life does get better. The intense microcosm of the teenage years that breed prejudice and cruelty does in fact come to an end. So far there are over 800 videos that have been submitted, each broadcasting the message to teenagers who are suffering abuse and who feel hopeless and isolated, not to lose heart, the message that It gets better.

These stories seem particularly apropos during a week that the gospels speak to us of ‘not losing heart.' The parable we heard today is the gospel version perhaps of the “It Gets Better” project. Luke knew his audience was in danger of losing heart. Jesus after all was late. His return was supposed to have happened already and his followers had been waiting faithfully to witness the coming of the Kin-dom heralded by his return. Now the first generation of those who had actually been alive with Jesus was starting to pass away and the community was in crisis, a crisis of faith. The author of Luke was eager to reassure Christ’s followers that despite what they saw, despite their disappointment, despite the fact the Jesus had not returned on schedule, that God was indeed working amongst them, God had not abandoned them, and that God’s promises were still real. Specifically in this story Jesus highlights the promise of God’s justice. If a cynical and self-serving judge can make the “right” decision on behalf of justice for the wrong reasons, how much more gracious, caring and swift is the justice that will be poured out by God. How much more quickly and completely will God respond to us, when we allow ourselves to open up to God, to pray. God is not remote, anonymous, abstract, but real and concrete, and God has not betrayed the people’s faith.

The message in today’s reading strikes at the heart of this faith. If we do not believe that God is there we will lose heart, and our vision of what is possible will continue to shrink until it fits the flawed and often brutish world that we live in. What we see in the way of mercy, justice and compassion in this world becomes all that is possible, the measuring stick with which to gauge how much we can have. Jesus is reminding his hearers to throw away the world’s measuring stick. There is another measuring stick, God’s and the Kin-dom of heaven where compassion, justice and mercy surpass all that we could possibly imagine. When the crumbs of justice occasionally fall from the table of the powerful, as they did for the widow in this story, we cannot allow this meager reward to be confused with the Kin-dom of God. When our cultural intolerance (of sexual minorities) continues to allow teenagers to be bullied to death, when it continues to allow you to lose your job if you are gay, lesbian or bisexual in 29 states and in 38 states if you are transgendered, when continues to deny same sex partners the right to marry, when continues to deny GLBT women and men the ability openly serve in the military, we cannot allow this reality to be confused with what is possible. It is precisely from a lack of vision of a better life that these teenagers took theirs. It is precisely from a lack of vision of God's Kin-dom that causes us to lose heart, and not stand up for ourselves or for the least of our sisters and brothers.

Jeremiah echoes this message. The Israelites who have insisted on a king and military might to protect them, are now scattered by the forces that had opposed and are overcome. They are in exile from their city, their temple, their land. And now God is offering them a new relationship. Like the Oldsmobile commercial, God is telling the Israelites, this new relationship “not your grandfather’s” covenant. “Just because our relationship does not resemble what it has been for so many generations, does not mean that I am gone. Rather, I am here in a new way. Instead of a covenant that is formed through learning of the law, this new covenant will be etched on your hearts. The law is not thrown out, but out of your new intimate connection with me acting according to the law will follow naturally. I will love you so much and you will love me so much that we will be in harmony with one another.”

When we are losing heart, this harmony may seem beyond our reach, this promise may seem like cold comfort. What good is it to know that God has something more in store for us, when our despair, or our grief, is at its worst? When we feel abandoned and overwhelmed, what does this promise of mercy, justice and compassion really matter? What good does it do when again and again and again we cannot see the Kin-dom manifesting here on earth? I suspect that what drove the widow in Luke’s gospel to persist in asking for justice, was not an illusion about how sympathetic the system was to her. She knew it was stacked against her. But she knew what was right. Today’s message is not about ignoring what is around us; it is about abandoning it as the measuring stick for what is possible. These stories from today are God’s message that “It Gets Better.” And this relates to all of us. Not just members of the GLBT community of course, but to all us who for whatever reason are finding we are losing heart. The reasons may vary, but the message is that if we are losing heart, now is the time to pray. Now is the time to hear God’s assurance that It Gets Better, I have something more for you, and it is etched in your hearts where you can never lose it.

You may have noticed that we are being asked to pray. This message may seem hard to relate to precisely because it is a one we so desperately need. We live in a culture estranged from the God of Luke. The God that is introduced to us from our culture, is more often a God that is external, a God that is domineering, a God that is exclusive, a God that does not care about the goodness of our heart but about how often we perform the precise tasks needed to earn God’s love. When we are taught to pray we are taught to pray to a God that is “out there,” whose attention we have to fight for, to a God who stopped speaking 2000 years ago, a God who manipulates history, who spreads more terror than love, a God that will vindicate us at the expense of our “enemies.” No wonder we need this message so badly. This cultural God is not the God of the new covenant, and it is not the God of Luke’s gospel. Their God is a God that reaches out to us in the pit of our despair and does not care if we are “good Christians,” or whether we are straight or gay, rich or poor, whether we are alcoholics or drug addicts, or what mistakes we’ve made in our lives. This God reaches out to us through these words in Jeremiah and Luke and tells us “if you believe in me, if you trust me, if you cry out to me, you will believe that this is not all there is, not all that is possible, and this will give you heart. It Gets Better.”

Last month during a visit to the Bay Area I took a sojourn to #575 Castro Street in San Francisco. This is the address where Harvey Milk launched his political career over 30 years ago. As many people know, Harvey became one of the first openly gay men in the U.S. to be elected to a major political office. He was gunned down along with the mayor just 11 months into his term as city supervisor. Harvey had been a hero of mine for a number of decades and what I had been struck by all those years was not just Harvey Milk’s political persistence, or even his larger-than-life personality. It was his ability to galvanize and give voice to a community that was losing heart. He was the catalyst that inspired the gay and lesbian community (as well as others) who were criminalized and targeted by the law, to turn away from fear, to stand up, to demand a different world. Harvey’s motto in fact, was, “You gotta give ‘em hope.” He might have said, “You gotta give ‘em heart.” His gift was his vision, a vision so powerful it gained, not lost, momentum with his death. This vision did not depend on a change in circumstances, but a change in conviction. This is the message of the Good News today. As long as we have a vision of what might be, not what is, and faith that what God wishes for us is so much greater than what see, we will have heart, we can find strength, we can find peace.

I cannot imagine what is like to, at the age of 13, throw a rope over a branch and prepare to hang myself. I cannot imagine what is going through the mind of someone asked to choose between two torture weapons. All I know is that if such a person can keep from losing their heart, how much more am I called to not lose mine. If such a person is not able to keep their heart, how much more are we called to keep ours on their behalf?

And if we are losing heart, how much more are we called to turn our hearts to God and remember. God has a vision for us, not based on what is manifested in the world, but on what is possible, and what is guaranteed to come. And we might find comfort in the prayer the psalmist wrote:

I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come?

My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

God will not let your foot be moved; God who keeps you will not slumber.

God who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.

The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil; God will keep your life.

The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

New Faces

In case you missed it we have some new faces at Keystone.

Sophie Morse is the new Associate Pastor. Sophie is a recent graduate (Master of Divinity) from Seattle University (where Peg goes).

Elliot Kraber is our new Cantor. Elliot will be leading us in song on those occasions when Peg is helping our sister congregation Broadview UCC.