Thanks Be to God?

Edina Morningside Community Church
Today’s scripture reading: Genesis 21:1-3; 22:1-14 Sermon audio:

Thanks be to God?? We often end Scripture readings with, “Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church. Thanks be to God.” But “thanks be to God”, for this?? Today’s scripture challenges that verse of Second Timothy which claims, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness….”(2 Tim 3:16). But I struggle to recognize as God the voice at the start of Genesis 22, who commands a father to kill his son in order to demonstrate ultimate devotion. Taking these verses on the level of fact would ask us to shelve a morality so fundamental that it shows up in the Ten Commandments: “You shall not murder.” We must question and challenge the divine command here, lest we encourage others to claim God-given license to commit murder. The God we know in Jesus Christ does not ask things like this, so we’re best to be on guard when the Bible starts to make it sound otherwise. Perhaps this story exists not for instruction, but “for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Sometimes instead of a roadmap to follow, the Bible gives us a warning of where not to go.

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Creative Creatures

Edina Morningside Community Church
Today’s scripture reading: Genesis 1:1-2:4a Sermon audio:

After an oxygen tank exploded aboard the Apollo 13 spaceship in 1970, three astronauts were stranded in a small lunar module only meant for one. All of those astronauts breathing the same air for days would lead to a deadly buildup of carbon dioxide that would kill them. The air filters they had available from the spaceship were the wrong shape, so they had to figure out how to put a square filter into a round hole. The movie version of these events suggests that, down on Earth at Mission Control, a team of engineers dumped out on a conference table a jumble of cardboard boxes overflowing with everything that the astronauts had available to them in space. From the chaotic pile of hoses, wires, curtains, cables, screws, spacesuits, plastic bags, and duct tape, they would need to pull together something to filter the air and save the lives of the crew.

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Persistence in Prayer and Action

Edina Morningside Community Church
Today’s scripture reading: Luke 18:1-8 Sermon audio:

Javen has wanted to renew our living room for years. The furniture in there was from a family member almost a decade ago. It’s a little too big for the space and doesn’t make the best use of a small room, but it works okay if you ask me. Our two cats have scratched the couch corners and the rug over the years, so we’ve said that after they are gone we’ll do something new in the space. What’s also true is that I’m accustomed to the status quo, I don’t want to deal with the disruption of another home project, and I’m cheap.

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Juneteenth is a Spiritual Milestone

Tomorrow this country marks as a federal holiday—for the first time—the celebration of Juneteenth, commemorating the anniversary of when the final enslaved Americans in Galveston, Texas heard the news of their freedom, almost two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. These people—God’s people—were always free in their divine creation, but sinful systems of slavery had denied that freedom for generations. Juneteenth, which we observe today, marks a moment when human chains fell away to recognize what has always been true: God’s desire of freedom and fulfillment for every creature. Of course, there’s a great deal more transformation to come until people of every race, gender, orientation, identity and class are able to experience the loving freedom that God intends for all lives, but this Juneteenth milestone belongs alongside other epic liberation moments of spiritual history. The exodus of enslaved Hebrews from Egypt, the return from Babylonian exile, the overthrow of Rome’s deadly crucifixion in Christ’s resurrection—and also the enactment of freedom in every enslaving part of this country—are true highlights of human history, when we see more clearly the arrival of God’s reign come and God’s will done, on earth as in heaven.

Cover image: YWCA of St. Paul, Minnesota.

Look Again

Edina Morningside Community Church
Today’s scripture reading: Acts 4:14-30

When my husband Javen, who is also a pastor, was ordained, this is the Gospel passage chosen for his ordination service. It’s fitting for such an occasion, because this first sermon of Jesus lays out a mission statement for ministry and all who would be disciples of Christ. Here Jesus returns to his childhood home of Nazareth, is recognized to read and interpret scripture, then goes looking in the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Jesus chooses this passage to read: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” At Javen’s ordination, I’ll never forget what the preacher Grant Stevensen said to Javen and all the other church people in the room. Because this is the mission of Christ and therefore of all who would follow him, Grant said, let nothing you do in ministry be more than two steps away from this work. Don’t put anything on your calendar that you can’t easily trace back to good news for the poor, release to captives, sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor.

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Drafted onto God’s Team

Edina Morningside Community Church
Today’s scripture reading: Acts 15:1-18

I had a hard time keeping the attention of at least one member of Youth Group this week. He had our conversation pulled up on his screen at home, but also on a nearby screen he was watching something else at the same time. I don’t know when it became must-see live TV, but I learned that Thursday night was the beginning of the multi-day affair that is the NFL Football Draft. These high holy days of professional football mystify me, but it is fascinating to think about all the skilled college players who just found out over the last several days where they will play next.

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Open and Relational Christianity

Edina Morningside Community Church
Today’s scripture reading: Acts 8:26-39

One of the things I’ve noticed this year is a proliferation of bills in state legislatures that would criminalize various acts of hospitality to transgender people. In states across the country, it’s becoming more difficult or even illegal for trans youth to participate in school or sports as their true selves, and for doctors to conduct gender-affirming hormone treatment or medical care. Just as bans on gay marriage were used twenty years ago as an electoral wedge issue, so now anti-transgender bills are popping up around the country and here in Minnesota, targeting a small minority community to achieve something in the “culture wars”.

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On the Conviction of Derek Chauvin

Tuesday’s verdict in the Derek Chauvin case was a momentous one, even though it was just one court decision in one case. As I said to Conie while we watched the verdict being read, the powerful validation I felt seemed strange, considering that the jury was affirming what seemed obvious to anyone who watched the video of George Floyd’s murder. Yet in the midst of a legal system that treats police with such deference, this decision was cause for relief.

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Transforming Community to Better Serve God

Edina Morningside Community Church
Today’s scripture reading: Acts 6:1-7

What a hard week, dear Church. Javen and I were away for vacation starting last Sunday, but it seemed like each day there was more inescapable and tragic news: from the police killing of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, to days and nights of violence against those protesting for justice there, to the video released of another police murder of a child in Chicago, to the mass shooting news from Indianapolis. In the background is the ongoing trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, with each day bringing more graphic video and legal arguments that re-traumatize the entire community, especially our Black neighbors. A pastor friend who is Black and lives here in the Cities told me recently that he wonders if he can remain in Minnesota—every time he sees images of George Floyd, he knows that could well be him. Even though there are many officers serving in communities with honor, excessive police violence continues to grow worse. One recent analysis found that an average of three people per day have died at the hands of police since the Chauvin trial began, and more than half of them have been Black or Latino.

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Re-member

Rev. Dr. Emily C. Heath, a friend and colleague serving a UCC church in New England, posted on Twitter as the pandemic first began last year. Emily wrote: The first Easter didn’t happen at a church. It happened outside of an empty tomb, while all the disciples were sequestered in a home, grief-stricken and wondering what was going on. So, we’re all going to be keeping things pretty Biblical this #Easter. One year on, the pandemic is waning but it’s not over yet, and many of us carry similar feelings of anxiety, grief and loss. A biblical Easter, indeed.

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