Visions of Peace

Edina Morningside Community Church
Today’s scripture reading: Isaiah 36:1-3,13-20; 37:1-7; 2:1-4 Sermon audio:

Last Wednesday, Robert Bailey stood on a stage in Queens, New York and received a check for almost $344 million. Robert Bailey is an African-American machine worker, now retired from the United States Postal Service. At age 67, he has won the largest prize ever in the history of the New York Lottery. With the money, he plans to get his mother a house and some land, to travel and invest the funds, and also to give something meaningful back to the city of Manhattan. This enormous jackpot came overnight, but the moment also took a lifetime to arrive. Bailey has been playing the same six numbers on lottery tickets purchased every day for the past twenty-five years. The odds of him winning were around 1 in 115,000 but he knew it was possible, so on a rainy Saturday morning in October he bought the winning ticket. He kept trying for that win despite losses every day for decades, trusting in what he knew could be true despite all the odds against it. It’s become a lifelong habit for him now. Even on his way to the award ceremony, he stopped for more tickets, telling a reporter, “I’m going to ride this out. I can’t stop now.” Robert Bailey is the latest example of people who believe in what appears to be impossible, who live their lives in pursuit of that goal, and who have the uncommon joy of seeing their faith vindicated.

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Peace Offerings: Justice, Mercy and Humility

Edina Morningside Community Church

Today’s scripture reading:
Micah 5:2-5a; 6:6-8
Sermon audio:

There’s a powerful community ministry in Nashville, Tennessee that I heard about some years ago. It’s called Magdalene, and it is for women recovering from life on the street as prostitutes. Many of them have been addicted to one thing or another, and all of them suffer from a history of abuse. Started by an Episcopal priest and supported by local churches, Magdalene provides a safe space for these women to break free of addiction and face the traumas that haunt them. For up to two years, residents share a communal house that is their home. Lena House, as it’s called, offers the women a place with hot showers, plenty of food, real dishes and fresh linens. They each get a house key and come and go as they please, growing in trust, confidence, security and freedom. But the women who live in Lena House don’t find it an easy place, according to one article that describes their challenge, and what a woman named Carolyn has learned from it:

As with any community, often the hardest part is living with other people. Carolyn says that humbling herself to live in community is one of the most important parts of her recovery now. Conflict comes from the way that other women clean the bathroom or where they leave their things or how loud they talk. But remaining committed is crucial to her. [Carolyn says] “It would be easy to walk away now. I have a home. I got married on Valentine’s Day. I’m sober. But I’ve never finished anything in my life… “And I’ve tried doing things my way. That don’t work. You have to be humble.”

For Carolyn, living in community is a daunting challenge. Yet she knows that by sharing food, home and space with others, she gains humility and concern for those beyond herself.

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Healing Courage

Edina Morningside Community Church

Today’s scripture reading:
2 Kings 5:1-15a
Sermon audio:

The War of the Worlds is a British science fiction novel that famously describes a battle between Martian invaders and the people of Earth. The aliens have far superior technology, and can totally destroy whatever human force comes against them. Their giant walking machines trample human tanks and artillery. They overrun the entire countryside and are on the verge of bulldozing London. But just as all hope is lost, these great alien machines squeal to a stop, and their crunching mechanical arms fall limp. When people knock over one of the machines, they find its occupants dead in the cockpit.  What killed them? By the end of the story, we learn it was tiny bacteria—all the organisms in the air—that killed the Martians because they had no immunity. Who would have thought something so invisible could save the planet? Deliverance comes through something small.

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Wisdom to Enact Justice

Edina Morningside Community Church

Today’s scripture reading:
1 Kings 3:4-28
Sermon audio:

Each week when folks gather for our Tuesday morning Bible study, we bring together different versions of the Bible. It’s illuminating to see how the same Hebrew or Greek words are interpreted by various translators at different times. This week we noticed a particularly sharp difference in translations of what Solomon asks for in his dream, according to verse 9. Should we understand Solomon’s request of God as “an understanding mind” (NRSV), “a discerning heart” (NIV), or a “God-listening heart” (MSG)? Which translation is closest to the truth, and what’s at stake in the choice?

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Transgression and Restoration of Covenant

Edina Morningside Community Church

Today’s scripture reading:
2 Samuel 11:1-6, 14-15, 26-27; 12:1-9
Sermon audio:

Some years ago, the church I was serving embarked on an all-church book study, reading together The Heart of Christianity, which is among the very best summaries that I know of for the Christian faith. Author Marcus Borg makes a clear, passionate, and compelling case for the Bible as the heart of our faith, Christ as the heart of God, and justice as the heart of Christ’s love in the world. Borg uses “heart” language throughout the book, and reviews all the ways that “heart” shows up throughout Scripture. He summarizes, “The heart…can be turned toward God or away from God, open to God or closed to God. But its typical condition is that it is turned away from God and ‘closed.’ The Bible speaks of this condition with a rich collection of synonymous metaphors. Our hearts can be ‘shut.’ They can be ‘fat,’ as if encrusted within a thick layer. They can be ‘proud,’ puffed up and enlarged. …They are often ‘hard.’” “The Greek word for this condition,” Borg writes, “is sklerokardia: we have sclerosis of the heart.”[1]

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Trusting in Covenant

Edina Morningside Community Church

Today’s scripture reading:
Exodus 14:5-7,10-14,21-29
Sermon audio:

I wasn’t a very focused pastor last Thursday. The week started out really well; I got a jump start on my sermon and waded through some emails. But when Thursday came around, I was feeling all the national hubbub around Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testimony about sexual assault, and how it might affect Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Driving to church that day with the radio on, I couldn’t listen to the politicians grandstanding as the hearing started. I thought instead of what I learned years ago, that one in three women is physically or sexually assaulted in her lifetime. I thought of my three sisters, and my six nieces, wondering which of them would have stories to tell (or already does). And I thought of my own experience as a twenty-year-old, evading unwanted physical attention from a national church leader in his sixties. Throughout the day on Thursday, I found myself obsessively refreshing news websites and trying to learn from the latest commentary. I went home early, since I was clearly getting nothing of substance done in the office.

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Enduring Covenant

Edina Morningside Community Church

Today’s scripture reading:
Genesis 39:1-23
Sermon audio:

I’m sure that most graduation speeches are fairly forgettable, but there’s one that I will remember for the rest of my life. When I graduated from Great Falls High School in Great Falls, Montana, the student body choice for graduation speaker was Brian Johnson, an outstanding musician, successful debater, and all-around nice guy. Brian was also a friend of mine, and a member of my church youth group. Because of that, I knew more than most about the trials of his high school years—getting out of a bad home situation and couch-surfing for a time, then eventually raising the money it took to hire a lawyer, go before a judge and legally change his name in an act of self-preservation and self-definition. So I remember well Brian’s speech on our graduation weekend. I remember the staccato tapping of a wooden stick on the talking drum that he used to frame his message. I remember the audience of hundreds paying rapt attention to each word, and the silence in between them. Most of all, I remember the illumination inside of me when Brian said that character is not so much who you are when everybody is watching, but who you are when nobody is watching.

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