Worship leader: Yuki Schwartz
Call to Worship
One: O Thank God! Pray to God by name!
Tell everyone you meet what God has done!
ALL: Even if we kept silent, these stones would shout out!
One: Sing God songs, belt out hymns, translate God’s wonders into music! Honor God’s holy name with Hallelujahs, you who seek God. Live a happy life!
ALL: God, open our lips and our mouths shall proclaim your praise!
One: Keep your eyes open for God, watch for God’s works; be alert for signs of God’s presence. Remember the world of wonders God has made, God’s miracles, and the verdicts God has rendered.
ALL: Love and faith come together, justice and peace hold hands, because the world belongs to God, the earth and all its people!
One: Say Hallelujah!
ALL: Hallelujah! Hallelujah! And Hallelujah!
Call to Confession
“If you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’ and in your heart you have faith that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Keep this line from one of our readings from scripture in mind, I’ll get to it in a bit.
Dr. Parker is a Chicago doctor who flies twice a month to Mississippi, where he is one of two doctors who provides abortion care to women in the state’s last abortion clinic.
As I was reflecting on my confession for this week, I happened to read an article about Dr. Parker on esquire.com called “The Abortion Ministry of Dr. Willie Parker.” I was struck by this headline because I realized that it had never occurred to me that you could yoke these two words together –– “abortion” and “ministry.”
But the more I thought about it, the more I started thinking: why not? And I started thinking about what makes what Dr. Parker is doing a ministry, or as Webster’s defines it, “the attending to the needs and comforts of.”
But first, here are some dismal facts of abortion care in the U.S. right now: According to the Guttmacher Institute, a think-tank that advances research and public policy on sexual and reproductive health and rights, states have imposed more restrictions on women’s access to abortion care — nearly 250 — in the past three years than in the past decade. These include legislation requiring doctors providing abortion care to have admitting privileges at local hospitals, regulations requiring costly upgrades for clinics to make them meet the same standards as surgery centers, and laws that limit both surgical and medical procedures to the seventh week of pregnancy or before. And then this: that 89% of counties in the U.S. have no abortion clinics, and that in 92% of counties in Illinois have no clinics, which means more than one-third of women seeking an abortion must travel at least 25 miles.
I am grateful to be part of a church where speaking the word “abortion” and talking about abortion rights and care is less of a big deal than speaking the word “ministry.”
In the article, Dr. Parker describes his movement from an obstetrician and professor who refused to perform abortions to one of Mississippi’s two abortion caregivers as a “come to Jesus” moment. He talks about the women that he had known in his family and community who died in childbirth or from illegal abortions. He talks about how he learned about reproductive justice from womanist and feminist sisters. He talks about what it was like growing up in the Jim Crow South and the memory of what it was like to be terrorized, and his decision to become an abortion care provider the day that Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller was murdered. According to the article, “That fueled the search for social justice that led him, eventually, to theologians like Paul Tillich, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor who wrestled with “Thou shalt not kill” before joining a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.” Dr. Parker says, “(Bonhoeffer) said that the kind of Christianity that does not radicalize you with regard to human suffering is inauthentic—cheap and easy grace.”
It struck me in Dr. Parker’s story that ministry is not just the care and attending to other’s needs, but it’s also rooted in a faith journey, a relationship with the divine that calls us out of our own comforts and certainties and into places unexpected and even dangerous places. What makes it a ministry is the self-conscious, self-reflective, self-and-God-revealing confession of that call. Or as Dr. Parker said in the article, “The protesters say they’re opposed to abortion because they’re Christian. It’s hard for them to accept that I do abortions because I’m a Christian. … There’s more than one way to understand religion and spirituality and God. I do have belief in God. That’s why I do this work. My belief in God tells me that the most important thing you can do for another human being is help them in their time of need.”
This is the heart of what I understand confession to be: The ability to say where God has touched my life and called me to engage in the world as a disciple. I confess that I do not do it well, that the last decade of my life has been a struggle to not only learn how to confess, but also to be a kind and loving listener to the confessions of others, even and especially when I disagree with their viewpoints. And most of all, I confess that I need God’s help to be God’s hands and feet and ears and heart in the world, because I know that I cannot walk in dangerous and unfamiliar places without God.
Unison Prayer of Confession
Dear God, be good to us. The sea is so wide, and our boat is so small. We are tossed by oceans of anger and hatred surging throughout our world. We confess that we are afraid and want to hide ourselves in security. Dear God, be good to us. Beckon us to go forth from our boats of familiarity and enter the wide and frightful seas of discord. Hold us as we meet our sisters and brothers in disagreement, and sink us deep in your love as we imagine together how to live in Your peace.
Words of Assurance
So back to this line: “If you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’ and in your heart you have faith that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” I never really understood this often-quoted line from the 10th chapter of Romans until I heard this song by the band the Mountain Goats, also titled Romans 10:9. This deceptively cheerful song walks the listener through the day of the life of the singer, who is struggling with depression, and after each struggle, the chorus reminds us, “If you believe in your heart and confess with your lips, surely you will be saved one day.” Lead singer John Darnielle described the song as the story of a man who is hanging on his last thread of hope, and the last verse ends with “Won’t take the medication but it’s good to have around/A kind and loving God won’t let my small ship run aground.”
I think that the Mountain Goats have managed to get closer to Paul’s original meaning than anyone else I’ve ever heard. Paul reminds a frightened and struggling community of Jesus followers at Rome that they are living into the promise of a new reality, where Jesus is Lord, not Caesar, where confession is not just words but also a new way of living without hierarchy and abuse, and where salvation meant the flufillment of God’s promise of peace and justice not just in heaven, but also on earth. We are the participants in that promise, that new reality, and that confession of living. And our kind and loving God won’t let this small ship run aground.
Let’s pass the peace with one another for a good long while, while this song from the Mountain Goats plays.
Scripture reading: Matthew 14:22-33
A few months ago I was in a hurry because I was having a meeting in downtown. Before I left the house I had to walk our little dog Oaxaca. Wonderfully she was quick for the first time ever, I was hopeful to catch the next bus that would pass by in 5 minutes.
I ran to the front door to open it and I realized that in my hurry I forgot to take my keys with me, therefore I couldn’t get back into the house, leave the dog and go to my meeting. I rang the door bell of my neighbors, even though I noticed that they weren’t home because their car weren’t on the street. They didn’t respond.
Then I touched my pocket and I noticed with great joy that I had my wallet and my cell phone in my pocket, therefore I could take the bus but, not really because Oaxaca was with me. I was for several minutes just standing on the sidewalk while looking melancholic to my second floor apartment. I was also mad with myself because of my lack of attention I forgot the keys but I wasn’t afraid or didn’t feel unsafe being on the street.
Then I remembered that our friend Mónica has copies of our keys and I used my cell phone to call her. She was home, so I walk several block to her apartment, took her copies, left the dog with her and I took the bus 30 minutes later that I should have done it.
And I made it to my meeting.
Now, every time I am going to leave my place I repaso mentalmente estas palabras: keys, wallet, cell phone.
Besides the practical reasons (opening doors, buying/paying staff, talk with people) I was wondering why I feel so safe if I have all of these three items.
First I though what are my feeling towards having my wallet. Immediately I though that my id, and my green card are there. The proof of my identity is encapsulated in these plastic cards that allows me to have a way to express the conception of myself. It is like if my own existence would depend on them, not having them make me have the weird idea that I don’t really exist.
For example if I go to the bank and ask the employee to give me money from my saving account and I don’t present my ID I will be dismissed. And listen, I understand the importance of showing the ID for those errands. But what I want to express is that somehow I got to the idea that without them I just can’t exist. I would feel unprotected and vulnerable.
The other item that I have in my wallet is the stuff to buy things.The ability to pay for things that I need or want gives me the feeling of independence and freedom. It is like if I am buying things is because I can decide for myself.
Then I have my cell phone which besides its main purpose is allows me to play Candy Crush while riding on the CTA, it also has the amazing power to connect me with the people in the states and around the world. It gives me a sense of belonging to a wider community.
Finally my keys are the ones that gives me the possibility to get into my apartment, my space, where I feel safe, sheltered.
Inevitably this list of meaningful objects for me also leads me to reflect on the people that don’t have ID’s, credit cards, cell phone, and keys, therefore according to my own experience I would thing they would be dealing with all the issues of having to prove their identity, the lack of economical independence, and a null sense of belonging to a community.
But what if even if they don’t have all those objects that I depend so blindly they still experience those feelings of a true conception of themselves, an emancipation of the pressure of consumerism, and the personal location in honest community of equals built face to face that depend on each others back to survive day by day in and inhospitable city.
What if everything that gives me the sense of being covered and safe based on object are just an illusion?
Am I really protected of being isolated, alone, forgotten, hurt, just because I have my keys, my wallet, and my cell phone?
What is to feel safe anyway?
Is it that belief that nothing bad will happen to us if we do what it is need to be done to avoid it? Is it the dream that we’ll success over and over only if we have enough faith?
This passage has been always read as an invitation to trust and have faith in God. Peter ask for permission to walk on the water to encounter Jesus and he failed after walking for a little bit. Then Jesus reprimanded him because of his little faith and his doubts that caused him to sink in the waters.
Now, can we really blame Peter for having doubts that the actual water wasn’t going to resist his weight? What kind oh human being wouldn’t experience doubts if that was his/her task?
What Jesus was demanding from him wasn’t just impossible?
I have to admit that I always criticized Peter for his week little faith. I thought that if I was him I would have finish my path successfully until reaching Jesus.
But he was afraid of the strong wind and doubted.
What would you do if you were him?
The verb to doubt used here in greek is distazo, which etymology comes from the words di that means “two” or “double”, and stazo that means “to stand”. So distazo literally means “standing in two locations”, or figuratively “thinking in two directions”.
So Peter literally has his mind in two literal spaces and he couldn’t decide which one would actually be truth for him. One was the solidified water to walk on or the normal liquid water in which he would naturally submerge.
Can we assign responsibility on him for thinking about the two possible outcomes?
I personally don’t think so. I do believe that doubt is a characteristic of our humanity and I believe that having doubts allow us to see many more nuances and differences of meaning and value in every situation in our lives.
I don’t know why Jesus was so judgmental with him because faith is not something that you have just because you want it. Some people have a disposition to have more faith than others and it is fine because we are a diverse community, but to blame him, or to blame people of failing because of not having faith is to deny the unconditional love and grace of God for all of us.
My attempt to feel safe, acompañada, and covered trusting in objects that are very useful but they don’t really protect me makes me think about the trust that homeless people for instance develop without these things. But also makes me realizes that a pesar de su resilencia how hard and harsh is to overcome the journey without those basic elements in our lives and the doubts of self value that it carries onto them.
So our doubts, our double thinking of our current state, our location, our performancetivity, our relationships, and our identities are our reality. It is part of our existence.
Kalil Gibran said: “Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.”
Maybe when we are more ambivalent and fearful of taking one of two paths is when we are closer to the divine. Maybe when we doubt more is when we have more faith, because at the end we can encounter the Divine’s hand that will take us from the waters.
Actually Peter was successful, he walked a little bit, then in the middle had many different thoughts, sinked a little bit and then he reached his destination because Jesus extended his hand in the right moment.