Ruth Bader Ginsburg has suggested that some Supreme Court decisions - notably Roe v. Wade - have been too swweping, too far ahead of public opinion: "The court can put its stamp of approval on the side of change and let that change develop in the political process."

Later, she said that the Supreme Court would not duck the same-sex marriage issue next time it came up. But this week, they did exactly that.

Here's the  problem:

Justice cannot be based on majority opinion.

If we merely allow majority rule, we have no need for judicial review: the majority has spoken. But the framers of the US constitution were aware of a fundamental ethical principal: that the rights of the minority should not be only at the pleasure of the majority.

For the visually oriented, cartoonist Randall Munroe has offered us a graphic that helps us to understand this in terms of access to marriage:


Notice that over half the states had legal inter-racial marriage even back in the 1950's. This shows that even legislators recognized the justice issues as being more important than the popular opinion. When the court made its decision in 1967, fewer than one in four Americans approved  In fact, more than a quarter of a century would pass before even half of Americans were in favor of inter-racial marriage.

But we have fallen so in love with polls that we forget that some things should simply not be decided by popularity contests. Even with polling that shows more than fifty percent approval, legislatures are reticent to do what is just. So the courts have been called in to do what's right and, at least at the appelate, circuit court level, they have.

The Supreme Court, on the other hand, is letting the circuit courts take the heat.

Why are we so afraid of standing up for what is right? Why do we not stand up for the rights of those profiled by race or religion or sexuality? Why do we not defend workers' rights  to a living wage?

Do we not care enough? Or do we fear being treated like those who we would be defending?

It's scary to stand up for justice when one is part of a small minority of voices. But it's far more scary to be that minority subject to injustices on a daily basis.

What is just does depend on how many people like it. We ought to stand for what is just, no matter how many stand in opposition.

Walk the Talk (sermon)

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As Jordan has mentioned, I'm currently searching for my first call as pastor.

The experience has been...


There's a website that lists all the UCC churches who currently are looking for a pastor, and each has some description of the ministry:

Some listings are funny, though most are serious.

Some of them describe the church building.

Some of them discuss the history of the congregation.

Some of them mention things about the area:
historical sites, good schools, recreation, arts...

And some - though not all - talk about the congregation's current situation
and their hopes for the future.

And most of them are very nice.
Very few mention any challenges they're currently facing.

These listings are written to make the church looks attractive.
Of course these churches want the best and most talented clergy
to consider becoming pastor there.

But sometimes I wonder what they're leaving out.

The Old Testament reading is from Jonah, my favorite prophet.
I like Jonah because he is so human.
I can really identify with him.
Most of us have heard about Jonah and the Whale, or Jonah and the Great Fish.
But this part of the story doesn't get told very often.

The background to this morning's reading is that Jonah arrives in Nineveh and spends four days prophesying about their sin. And the city - including its king - repent.

Interestingly, the ruins of Nineveh are in modern-day Iraq, right across the river from Mosul, which is under control of the Islamic State in the Levant. Imagine going there now to tell them to repent.

Jonah ran away - not because he was afraid -
but because he wanted the Ninevites to get what they deserved.
They had done some awful things, and he wanted them to suffer for it.
Sure enough, after he prophesies to Nineveh, the people repent.
And God forgives them.
And Jonah is so upset about their not being punished that he wants to die.

Jonah isn't focused on his relationship with God;
he's focused on God's relationship with Nineveh.
Jonah has judged Nineveh himself, and found it deserving punishment.
He disagrees with God's judgment of Nineveh.
In fact, Jonah is judging God.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus tells a parable about some workers
who agreed to a certain amount of money for the day's labor.
Other workers came later in the day and worked fewer hours,
but got the same pay.
That doesn't sound fair to our ears, does it?
And it didn't sound fair to the workers.
They think these other workers got more than they deserved.

But those who worked a full day for a fair full day's wages
did not have their pay reduced. It was still a fair day's wages.
These workers are instead concerned about what others have done to earn their pay.

These workers have stepped out of their relationship with the landowner
and have concerned themselves with the relationship
between the landowner and the other workers.
They disagree with the landowner, and are judging him.

When someone receives the same money, food, or other reward that we do, we expect them to put in at least as much time and effort as we do.

We don't want them to get more than they deserve.

When someone harms us, we often want revenge. We want the other person to hurt the way we hurt. An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth.

They get what they deserve.

And even if we're going to bring forgiveness into the picture,
there are some things that just seem unforgivable.

We often think of justice as an economic issue - a math problem:

In fact, we often see a balance - "the Scales of Justice" - as a symbol of fairness.
It's the way we hope our courts will work.
It's the way we want our judges and juries to decide what's right.

That may be okay for government - for civil justice.

But sometimes we want our God to reflect our idea of fairness.

And when we see God forgiving those we think are unforgivable,
it's easy for us to feel those scales are tilted
in someone else's favor.

Or maybe someone new to the faith -
or new to our church -
gets as much of a say in how the church moves forward
as others who have been in the church for many years.
It doesn't seem fair, to have worked so hard for so long,
Only to have some newcomer step in.

But what would it look like for God to use our sense of justice -
that everyone gets what they deserve?

What would it look like if we were punished
according to everything we had done wrong?
What if we had an unforgiving God who made us suffer
for every unfair, unjust, harmful, or cruel thing we had done in our lives?
What if our God had no mercy?

That's the God Jonah wants - but only for the Ninevites, not for himself.

And what would it look like if we had to earn forgiveness?
How many years would we have to work?
We can't earn a gift.
We can't earn grace.

Fortunately, we have a God who doesn't pay us back in kind for our sins.
We have a God who doesn't require that we work off our debt.
Instead, we have a God who wants us to be transformed:
to become new creatures who, having received grace,
are ready to pour it out to others.

Unfortunately, we're still human.

We still get that feeling that other people are undeserving.

We still tend to judge others.

Sometimes we even judge God.

We forget how blessed we are and start measuring ourselves against others.

The good news is that the grace of God even covers our ungracefulness.

We can try again.

So for this week, I want to leave you with this challenge:

Notice those times when you're concerned about
someone getting a better deal than you are.
Notice those times when you think someone needs to suffer for what they did.

In those times, refocus on your relationship with God,
and not on what good fortune others may have.

Over at RevGalBlogPals, janintx challenges us to "share with us something that you like that seemed surprisingly "new" to you sometime in the near past. It could even be a RE-discovery."

Here are my five:

  1. I'm a fan of the late George Harrison, and today, in looking at a video someone posted for "International Talk Like a Pirate Day," I found snips from a television show where George wants to be a pirate. I had never seen this before, but it's completely in line with his whimsical nature:

  2. A few friends suggested what turned out to be a wonderful book about the writing of a new Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal: Lamb.

  3. I didn't see the film "The Princess Bride" in the theater (from what I gather, not many did), but they're showing it on the big screen near where I live. So I get a chance to see it as if it were "new."

  4. My Windows 8 tablet has one micro USB connection that doubles as its power/charging plug. This means I have a choice of connecting it to a USB drive or device and running it on battery, or charging it and forgoing the USB functionality.

    Until I found a Y-cable that lets me use it as both:

    Y cable

  5. There's a cool old-timey drive-in in my town called Ace Drive-In. Car hops, root beer in frosty glasses, the whole thing.

As Below, So Above (Sermon)

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Preached at Bethany United Church of Christ, Chicago IL


This is Rally Sunday. It's the last day with Elizabeth St. Leger. It's also the month when your long-time pastor will be retiring.

So there's a lot of change going on.

It's reasonable to think that there will be some tension or disagreement in the coming months. Change is difficult. And the readings today deal with the tension that can arise in communities like this, especially during periods of change.

I think they say it pretty well.

And I'm not going to talk about it this morning.

Let us go to God in prayer.

May the words that I speak
And the ways they are received by each of our hearts and minds
Help us to continue to grow into the people
And the church
That you have dreamed us to be.

Preached August 24, 2014 at St. Michaels UCC West Chicago IL

Year A, eleventh Sunday after Pentecost


More than a decade ago, I was in a park for a festival. Some people from a church were handing out quizzes on the Bible as a means of outreach. I remember one question in particular:

What one person in the Bible never dies?

I'll come back to this.

Preached August 17, 2014 at St. Michaels UCC West Chicago IL

Year A, tenth Sunday after Pentecost



Surely Jesus knows this passage from Isaiah. In Luke we read that as a child he debated the teachers of the law at the temple, and in Mark it says that he read from a later portion of Isaiah.

And Jesus has just been proclaiming that what comes out of one's mouth is what defiles a person.

And now Jesus reacts to a person in need:

  • first by ignoring her

  • next by rejecting her

  • finally by insulting and degrading her

Do we have the right Jesus here?

This week, the Revised Common Lectionary - used by many churches to determine the readings for Sunday - calls for the Gospel reading to be the fifteenth chapter
of the Gospel according to Matthew, verses 21 through 28.

Some churches will also be reading the optional verses 10 through 20, but I will not be referencing them here.

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.

Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting,
"Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon."

But he did not answer her at all.

And his disciples came and urged him, saying,
"Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us."

He answered,
"I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

But she came and knelt before him, saying,
"Lord, help me."

He answered,
"It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."

She said,
"Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."

Then Jesus answered her,
"Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish."

And her daughter was healed instantly.

I'm not an internet preacher.
While I do post some of the sermons I have preached in churches, I don't usually post youtube videos of sermons created specifically for the World Wide Web. But I think this is an important topic, so this is a first for me: a sermon from my heart to the web-at-large.

Image via Memecenter - click for site

There's an idea out there that if your pastor's family looks like this:

family FcM.png

your church will attract more families. In this case, we'll assume your ideal pastor is a man with a wife and one or more young children.

RGBP: What's in a Name?

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For today's Friday Five at RevGalBlogPals, 3dogmom asks "What's in a name?"

Here are my answers to her five questions: