Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sermon: Christmas Truth

Christmas 1 Year A
Matthew 2:13-23
Christmas Truth
By Rich Gamble

Truth is a tricky thing. A list of facts in a newspaper may be deceiving. A poem may speak a universal truth. One the books Kate picked up at the Festival of Hope book sale was called “Lying with Statistics.” Kate was trained in statistics and uses them all the time for her job and she tends to be cautious in accepting the conclusions of some else’s statistics.

For a couple of hundred years we have believed that facts were the source of real truth and stories were just something to pass the time. Before that, stories were believed to be sources of truth and facts were occasionally handy but not necessary. Many modern people reading the Bible refuse to believe it is true because they don’t believe the facts; others want to believe that it is true as they define it and so demand that that the stories be accepted as facts. Prior to the modern age people sought truths not necessarily facts and they didn’t confuse the two.

The two gospels that have accounts of Jesus’ birth have some differences in the details of the story. The Gospel today tells Matthew’s version of the birth of Jesus. If you were distracted by all the Christmas carols it is good to review. Luke has Mary and Joseph living in Nazareth and forced to go to Bethlehem by the dictates of Caesar. This makes the parents of Jesus homeless during his birth. Mary gives birth in Bethlehem in a barn and then Mary and Joseph go back home to Nazareth.

In Matthew’s version Mary and Joseph live in Bethlehem, where they give birth to Jesus at home. But then out of fear of Herod they flee to Egypt. Once they hear that the coast is clear they leave Egypt but since they are fearful of Herod’s son they decide to move to Nazareth instead of going home to Bethlehem.

So in the two Gospels that talk about the birth of Jesus there are different stories with commonalities. Jesus is born in Bethlehem but raised in Nazareth in both accounts. And in both accounts Jesus’ parents are shown to be victims of political tyrannies. Caesar makes the holy couple homeless during the height of Mary’s pregnancy, which was a direct threat to the survival of the infant. Herod plots to kill Jesus directly because he fears that Jesus will be a threat to his claim of the throne of Israel.

In both cases a cruel and thoughtless policy by the rulers leads to hardship and homelessness, and in today’s readings, the death of all the male infants in Bethlehem.

Did Caesar and Herod care about the suffering imposed by their policies? The story doesn’t indicate it. For them, the suffering and loss was an acceptable cost of asserting their idea of how the world should be ordered.

But in these Gospels we see the world not through the eyes of Herod or Caesar but through the experience of the peasants of Palestine. Our history has a particular perspective, that of the victims and not the potentates, the occupied and not the occupiers, the homeless and not the lavishly housed.

You can read historical accounts that will tell you what the Caesars had for dinner. You can read about the wars they fought, the policies they implemented, you can see even today the evidence of their influence in roads and buildings and monuments. There isn’t much evidence of the suffering caused by their economic priorities. There isn’t much information about the life expectancy of the slaves who quarried the marble for the monuments or the impact of the Roman taxation policies on the health of peasant farmers. In the worldview of domination, God is a dominator, therefore those who have dominating power are important and those who have little or no power are not.

Who would care about a couple of Jewish peasants expecting a baby? Who would care about a few peasant babies in the backwater town of Bethlehem?

That is where our story comes in. What’s important isn’t whether either of these accounts is factual. What’s important is the truth they reveal.

This truth is that not only are the lives of those most vulnerable humans important but that God’s purpose for all of humanity is located not on the throne of Rome or the palace of Herod but in a barn (or house) in Bethlehem. The truth of this story is that the power of God is the opposite of domination just as a helpless peasant baby born in nowheresville is the opposite of king on his throne.

The truth is that our God takes a side in history, the side of the nobodies. God’s side in this story is not with those who have the power to destroy human life but with those who have to run for their lives.

Already the cuts in human services is beginning. The wealthy won in the elections and there will be no new taxes to make up for the lagging income caused by the current greed caused recession. And it is unlikely that any more money will be coming from the federal government who just bent over backwards to give wealthy people tax breaks. Programs are closing, services cut back, and the outcome will be more suffering. The corporate media will cover the facts but largely miss the suffering. It is unlikely we will hear much of what it is like to have no medical care for your children, no hospice care for your loved ones. The nightly news will not cover what happens to a working mom when her daycare support is cut, and no one will track down those who are mentally ill and homeless and cover what it means to lose outreach workers.

The cuts will be made to seem like an act of nature, an act of God and not a choice by the powerful to cause the suffering of the powerless. And what few stories do hit the airwaves will rapidly be swallowed up by a sea of cheerful commercials and sports scores.

Here on this day after Christmas we are challenged to seek the truth which comes not from the perspective of judge or President or CEO, not from the guy who has his own media empire nor any of his minions, not from the neighbor who believes what sees on the TV or what he hears on the radio.

Here on this day after Christmas, we are called to look past the tinsel, look past the distractions, look past the lying statistics and instead see the truth that sleeps under our porch or in a car, see the lines of people seeking aid, hear stories of those who live without medical or dental care.

The President and the Congress will probably not send soldiers out to murder babies but they will pass a budget that will not feed uncounted thousands, not ensure everyone on the planet has basic medical care, not build housing for the poorest, not provide clean drinking water for all. This lack of action, this prioritization of the wealthy and warrior over the poor and vulnerable will lead directly to the death of thousands of children every day.

The slaughter of the innocents isn’t just a story from our book of faith, it is the ongoing outcome of the policies of the powerful. Only those of us who bother to look for it will see these deaths. Only those of us who believe in alternative truth than that of fiefdoms of wealth and dominating power will protest and act.

From the beginning of the Jesus story in the our Gospel we are called on to take a side and live that choice. Helpless infants or powerful rulers whose reality will govern our actions?

The good news is that through these truth-filled stories and through the heroic efforts of those who have lived this truth, we have a choice. Try as they might, the powerful have not silenced the alternative narrative.

Christmas, the holiday has passed. Christmas, the choice is ever in front of us.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Eve Service

Once again we celebrate Christmas Eve in our own twist on tradition.

Christmas Eve Celebration
7 p.m. Friday
December 24

We hope you can join us.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

"Reminder" Newsletter December, 2010

Keystone United Church of Christ

From Rich,
In the South Pacific the native peoples saw outsiders (many for the first time) during World War 2. The warring sides brought to these people, clothes, tools, medicine, and food. This cargo was believed to be the gift of the gods. Then the war ended. The supplies stopped coming in and the people, eager for cargo, built ceremonial landing strips and airplanes made out of straw. By making these things, they thought to lure the gods into bringing back the goods.
Every year at this time the celebration of the coming into history of a radical alternative to practices of domination is transformed into a celebration of a fat guy in a red suit bringing consumer goods. At Christmas we decorate, celebrate and exchange goods in hopes of filling the desire for the happiness, connectedness, purpose and peace which often cannot be found in our day to day lives. The cargo cults tried to lure back planes filled with goods by building symbolic planes. Just as the straw planes had no chance of luring back real ones, so our exchange of goods has no chance of filling the void in our lives and community.
My web search of the definition of Advent came up with this: “The coming or arrival, especially of something extremely important.”
This is the season in the life of the Church known as Advent. The coming or arrival of something extremely important is a perfect way to talk about this season of the Church. It is both coming and here, this thing we yearn for, this peace on earth, and good will to all.
It is here when we are open to it. Here when we work for it. Here when seek it deep within.
And yet, alienation, loneliness, poverty, violence, war, fear, and hate are all around us as well. In these dark days it seems to be getting worse and worse for more and more people. We hunger for a better world, for something that has not yet arrived, for a greater peace, a greater justice, where good will is not just a feeling but a political and economic reality for all.
Something here, something coming.
It is important to celebrate the goodness that is here. The justice we’ve won. The places where there is peace, the joy of being a part of such a wonderful community. But it is important also to yearn for more, for it is in our yearning that new steps are taken, new risks dared.
This year let’s lean into the light of a new way of living. That new way is as close as our willingness to live in its light. That new way is as far as today is from that first Christmas. Seek and celebrate the wonder of existence; work, plan and build a better existence for all, as if it will take many generations to arrive.
Advent isn’t just a season, it is a way of life.
All Events Free and Open to the public, but Donations are kindly accepted!

Friday, December 3, 7:00 to 9:30 PM
Film: “THE MEAN WORLD SYNDROME - Media Violence & the Cultivation of Fear” (51 min, Jeremy Earp, 2010)
A new film based on the late George Gerbner's groundbreaking analysis of media influence and media violence. For years, debates have raged among scholars, politicians, and concerned parents about the effects of media violence on viewers. Too often these debates have descended into simplistic battles between those who claim that media messages directly cause violence and those who argue that activists exaggerate the impact of media exposure altogether. THE MEAN WORLD SYNDROME examines how media violence forms a heightened state of insecurity, exaggerated perceptions of risk and danger, and a fear-driven propensity for hard-line political solutions to social problems. Please join us following the film for a facilitated discussion.
Friday, December 10, 6:30 to 9:30 PM (...Film starts at 7)
TRANSITION FRIDAY! Film: "WATER ON THE TABLE" (79 min, Liz Marshall, 2010)
Is water a commercial good? Or is it a human right like air? WATER ON THE TABLE is powerful new, character-driven, social-issue documentary that explores our relationship to our most precious natural resource. The film intimately shadows Canada’s own water crusader Maude Barlow over the course of a year during her term as the UN Senior Advisor on Water to the President of the General Assembly. While still giving voice to the powerful interests that insist that water is just another resource to be bought and sold, it solidly and factually lays out the undeniable conclusion that what is at stake is our very future, and potable water must be included as a human right. For more information on the film, go to: Please join us for a facilitated discussion on local water security with Transition Settle and sustainable Wallingford, and others.
Friday, December 21, 2007, 7-9:30 PM
Film: "JOYEUX NOEL" (116 min, Christian Carion, 2005)
In 1914, World War I, the bloodiest war ever at that time in human history, was well under way. However on Christmas Eve, numerous sections of the Western Front called an informal, and unauthorized, truce where the various front-line soldiers of the conflict peacefully met each other in No Man's Land to share a precious pause in the carnage with a fleeting brotherhood. This film dramatizes one such section as the French, British and German sides partake in the unique event, even though they are aware that their superiors will not tolerate its occurrence.
Food and Faith book study…
Peg will be leading the Broadview & Keystone UCC communities through the book Money and Faith: The Search for Enough. Coming out of “Earth Ministry,: this book contains writings from a variety of authors such as editor Michael Schut, Sallie McFague, Walter Brueggemann, Dave Barry, Henri Nouwen, and many others. The study guide integrates prayer with discussions of articles regarding abundance , justice, compassion, the myth of scarcity, and, of course, money. The study will begin on January 5, 2011, and will be held on the first & third Wednesdays of the month through May. We will meet at the home of Erv & Peg Faulmann (11718 12th Ave. NE in Lake City) from 7 until 9PM. Please let us know if you are interested so that we can order books by the beginning of December.
Festival of Hope!!
Thanks to the many hands that made the Festival of Hope possible and such a rousing success!! For those who have not already heard, we raised a record $14,525! Nearly $4K of that consisted of donations made where no goods were received. We are extremely proud of this outpouring of generosity, both by patrons and by the volunteers who made it all happen. The atmosphere was lively and fun throughout the event, enhanced by the delicious baked goods that kept issuing forth from our beloved food tables!
Thank you for everyone who donated their considerable time and talents, and see you again next year!!
Longest Night…
Traditionally a Winter Solstice event, the “Longest Night” worship service is for those who may find Christmas to be painful for various reasons, and for those who support them. Come and join the communities of Broadview Community UCC, St. Paul UCC and Keystone UCC in a service of prayer, scripture & music that acknowledge that God’s presence is for those who mourn and struggle. God’s light shines through the darkness. Everyone, regardless of religious background, is invited to St. Paul UCC on Sunday, December 19th at 7:00 PM.
Holden Evening Prayer Every Thursday in Advent, starting at 7pm Service lasts for about a half hour. All are welcome.
12/05 Isaiah 11:1-10;
Matt 3:1-12
12/12 Isaiah 35:1-10;
Matt 11:2-11
12/19 Isa 7:10-16;
Matt 1:18-25
12/26 Matt 2:1-12