Tuesday, January 20, 2015

All Lives Matter

January 19th, 2015          “All Lives Matter”         Rev. Heather Jepsen
For the Martin Luther King Jr Praise and Worship Service
Psalm 139:1-4, 13-14
1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
   you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down,
   and are acquainted with all my ways.
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
   you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
   Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
Matthew 22:34-39
A lawyer asked Jesus a question to test him. 36‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ 37 Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself."40
I am sure that there are quite a few people here today who are wondering who I am and why I am the one listed tonight as the featured speaker.  I am actually wondering that myself a bit as I stand here.  So let me introduce myself.  I am the Rev. Heather Jepsen of the Presbyterian Church here in Warrensburg.  I have been in ministry for almost 10 years and I have been serving in this town for about 3 of those years.  I am a pastor, a preacher, a wife, and a mother of two small children.  And I know that I probably don’t look like what you imagine when you think of a pastor; I get that a lot. 
          I can’t come to this place tonight without telling you a bit about my week last week.  See, I am a preacher, and I love to preach.  I love to carry on about God’s justice, and about how sinful and broken the world we live in is.  I love to point out to folks that are a little too comfortable, that the world is not what it should be and that they are partly responsible.  I love to go on and on about the big problems in our world; economic injustice, racial disparity, the march of war and violence, and the way those with the deepest pockets are the only ones with any real power in our country.  I love to talk about the way that Jesus Christ calls us to rise up, and the way that Jesus Christ sets an example for us of what it means to speak out for what is right.  As I was thinking about this service, I was thinking about what an awesome opportunity this was and what an awesome message I was going to preach to you in this hall tonight.
          I was ready to go, but then I got a phone call.  You see, I am not just a preacher, what I really am, is a pastor.  And on Monday I got one of those jarring calls that pastors so often get.  A young person in my church, someone I was friends with, had had a stroke.  This fellow was only 45 years old and now he was in the ICU with a traumatic brain injury.  So I set aside all my grand sermon plans and ideas, and I drove into the city to be at his bedside.
          That night I met his friends and I met his family.  I sat with his mother as the doctors told us how bad things really were.  And while we were in those awful moments, his mother reached out her hand to me.  It was almost an unconscious thing.  We were standing together in the dark of his room and I looked down and noticed she was reaching out.  Clearly she needed something to hold on to.  She didn’t know me five minutes ago, and now here we were holding hands.  We did a lot of praying that night, we made some very difficult decisions, and in a few short hours, my friend was gone.
          I came back to the office the next morning and started thinking again about Martin Luther King Jr and this sermon I was going to preach.  As I was perusing photos and information on the internet I started noticing how often people were holding hands, how often people were holding on to each other.  Everyone was lining up and holding hands in Selma, holding hands at rallies, holding hands in marches and in demonstrations.  Like my experience the night before, people were holding on to each other in the darkness.  People were giving each other strength in the difficult moments.  When we need courage, we hold hands, because we are all connected.
          In my life as a preacher and a sometimes prophet, there are days when all I can see are the big problems in our world.  I am passionately focused on inequality and injustice.  I am focused on the broken system.  And then I have moments like I had last week, when I am jarred out of my everyday routine, when someone I know and love dies.  In those personal moments I find myself suddenly faced with the reality of the fragility of life.  I am sure you have had those days as well.  Like a slap in the face we wake up and realize how precious every moment we spend together is.
          This past year, those personal moments of loss for families and friends became public moments of awareness and grief.  When Michael Brown was shot and left dying in the street, as a nation we were shocked into awareness.  We were slapped in the face and we woke up to the reality of racism in our nation.  As a white person, that can be an easy problem for me to ignore.  But not this year.  This year there were many people of many colors wondering how something like that could happen.   How could that life not matter?  Many of us were angry and some of us were ashamed.  I remember that I had just gotten off a plane from Africa, that day and I wondered why I was coming home to a country like this.  This wasn’t the place where I wanted to live. 
          You see, I want to live in a place where every life matters.  I picked these Scripture readings to share tonight because they inform my opinion.  The Psalmist reminds us that all people are fearfully and wonderfully made.  All people are knit together with care by our creator.  All people are known intimately by our God.  Blacks and whites, Christians and Muslims, women and men; all people on this earth from all walks of life are blessed carefully crafted creations of our loving God.  The Psalmist tells us that all lives matter.  
Jesus too reminds us that all lives matter, not just to God but they should matter to each of us.  Not just my own life matters to me, but your life should matter to me.  What makes you who you are, what brought you to this place tonight, what kind of home you will go to when this event is over; all of those things should matter to me.  I am called to care about you.  Just as I am called to care about Michael Brown, and Eric Garner, and the folks who died at Charlie Hebdo, and the hundreds who are dying in Nigeria, and the folks who are dying from Ebola, and my friend Terrence who died last week.  I care about all these people, they matter to me.  They have to matter to me, if I am going to love my neighbor as myself.
          Of course what I am talking about, about caring for each other, is the beloved community that Martin Luther King Jr called us to see and to know and to be a part of.  That was the way that he called us to live, the way that he challenged us to live.  Dr. King said that Jesus Christ was an extremist for love.  I really like that.  I wish I was an extremist for love.  I wish we all were.  I believe that all of us should cry out at the injustice of the world, just as we cry out at the death of those whom we know and love.  Because everybody is somebody’s loved one; because every life matters.
          The world we live in can often seem a dark and dismal place.  From violence in France and Nigeria, violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, to violence on our streets here at home, the message of peace and hope can often seem such a quiet insignificant thing.  It’s been half a century since the days of Dr. King and at times it feels like we are no better at the whole beloved community thing.  At times it feels like this small planet of ours is nothing but a place of hardship and pain.  Sometimes we are tempted to lose hope, and to wonder if all this talk really makes any difference in the end.
           Thank God we have these moments when we gather together and remind ourselves who we are and who we are called to be.  It is our faith that moves us forward in hope.  It is our faith that makes us long for justice.  And it is our faith that causes us to reach out our hands to each other in the darkness of an ICU room.  Just as it was faith that called folks to reach out hands to each other in the darkness of the civil rights struggle.
          In these continued days of unrest we are reminded that the world is not the way it should be.  And I think that for a lot of us it is a good and necessary reminder.  We need to talk about the injustice in our world, and we need to ask the hard questions.   We need to ask why so many of our children don’t have enough food to eat.  We need to ask why we are shooting each other all the time every day in neighborhoods and in schools.  We need to ask why we are living in fear of religious extremists.  We need to ask why we think it’s OK for the rich to get big tax breaks while we cut food stamps and Medicaid programs for the poor.  We need to ask why our nation spends more than half its resources funding violence and war.  We need to ask why we don’t care about the destruction of the planet we live on.  We need to ask why we don’t talk about what the world is really like.  We need to ask why we can’t stand together in the name of love and peace, why we aren’t be the people Dr. King believed we could be, why we aren’t the beloved community.  We need to ask why we aren’t the people our God created us to be, the people our God calls us to be, people who love their neighbors as themselves.
          Tonight, we are here to remind ourselves that it is within our power to be the beloved community.  It is within our power to be the people our God calls us to be.  The beloved community is here tonight as we reach out our hands in the darkness of this space, in the darkness of these days, to hold on to one another.  We can be that community of hope and peace and love.  We can be that community, here in Warrensburg.  A community where all lives matter.  Amen.


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