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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Lamenting anti-Asian Violence

As Christians we believe that every body equally reveals the image of God, yet this week’s violence in Atlanta has magnified further what has been growing worse over the past year—racial hatred against people of Asian descent. Where the Christian church has been complicit with European colonizers, our own ancestors of faith perpetuated such violence (and sowed seeds for White supremacy now). The Congregational denomination (which included our predecessor Edina and Morningside churches, and later became part of the United Church of Christ) actively partnered with American military and corporate interests to invade Hawai’i and overthrow its monarchy in an effort to establish plantations and missionary churches. The UCC has confessed our guilt in this and started to make amends, but that incident is just one reminder that White supremacy runs deep, even in our sacred communities.

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“Wintering” excerpt, by Katherine May

Such profound wisdom and beauty here. “It is all very well to survive the abundant months of spring and summer, but in winter, we witness the full glory of nature’s flourishing in lean times. …Wintering is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximizing scant resources…and vanishing from sight, but that’s where the transformation occurs. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible.”

Count the Stars

Edina Morningside Community Church
Today’s scripture reading: Genesis 15:1-6 Sermon audio:

Corrie ten Boom lived in Europe a hundred years ago, learning the trade of watchmaking from her father, and becoming the first woman watchmaker in the Netherlands. Growing up in the Dutch Reformed Christian faith, she also started a successful youth club for teenage girls until it was shut down by the Nazis when they invaded the Netherlands in 1942. Corrie ten Boom’s autobiography The Hiding Place describes how she and her family then worked in the Dutch underground resistance, protecting Jews and other targeted people fleeing Nazi fascism. The family safe house was betrayed by an informant in 1944, and ten Boom survived a series of concentration and work camps, even though she was in her fifties at the time. She saw how civil society can give way to autocracy, but Christian faith helped Corrie ten Boom resist and protect others. She described the trust that’s needed to keep faith in challenging times. “When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark,” she said, “you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.”

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