The ‘God-factor’ in our recent elections

A post-election sermon

by Ken Sehested
Texts: Isaiah 58:1-12, Matthew 5:13-20

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        In the weeks before the recent Women’s March on Washington, I heard from several friends around the country who were planning to go. I sent them notes saying, “Look for Nancy and our granddaughter Sydney. They’re going to be wearing some kind of pink hats with kitty cat ears.”

        I didn’t realize nearly everyone in the crowd would have one of those hats.

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Prayers of Martin Luther King Jr.

A brief collection

§ Most gracious and all wise God, before whose face the generations rise and fall; Thou in whom we live, and move, and have our being. We thank thee [for] all of thy good and gracious gifts, for life and for health; for food and for raiment; for the beauties of nature and human nature. We come before thee painfully aware of our inadequacies and shortcomings. We realize that we stand surrounded with the mountains of love and we deliberately dwell in the valley of hate. We stand amid the forces of truth and deliberately lie. We are forever offered the high road and yet we choose to travel the low road. For these sins O God forgive. Break the spell of that which blinds our minds. Purify our hearts that we may see thee. O God in these turbulent days when fear and doubt are mounting high give us broad visions, penetrating eyes, and power of endurance. Help us to work with renewed vigor for a warless world, for a better distribution of wealth and for a brother/sisterhood that transcends race or color. In the name and spirit of Jesus we pray. Amen.  

§ Lord, I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone. (After receiving a telephone call from a white racist who threatened his life, his home, and his family, King said this prayer in the kitchen of his residence in Montgomery, Ala., on January 28, 1956.)

§ Dearest Jesus, come and sit with us today. Show us the lies that are still embedded in the soul of America’s consciousness. Unmask the untruths we have made our best friends. For they seek our destruction. And we are being destroyed, Lord. Reveal the ways the lies have distorted and destroyed our relationships. They break your shalom . . . daily. Jesus, give us courage to embrace the truth about ourselves and you and our world. Truth: We are all made in your image. Truth: You are God; we are not. You are God; money is not. You are God; jails, bombs and bullets are not.
        And Jesus, give us faith to believe: Redemption of people, relationships, communities and whole nations is possible! Give us faith enough to renounce the lies and tear down the walls that separate us with our hands, with our feet, and with our votes!

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A Public Call to Protect All People

            The 2016 presidential campaigns of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have added to the anger, fear and misunderstanding already present in our communities. We refer specifically to the inflammatory and blaming language used by Donald Trump regarding Muslims, Mexican immigrants and women and by Hillary Clinton regarding the Russian government and “deplorable” Trump supporters.

            The election results require us to be far more serious about lost jobs and income. American households of all colors have suffered from economic policies and military interventions pursued by Democratic and Republican administrations over the past 25 years. Most importantly, we dare not ignore that the elevation of Donald Trump as President of the United States came with threatening, authoritarian messages. If such talk is not opposed, we open the way to more radical attacks on human rights and democratic processes here in the U.S. And we can expect even more reliance on military threats and force abroad. As followers of Jesus ourselves (see names below)—and with a fervent hope that other faith communities, secular groups, etc. might use this as a model—we feel led by God’s Spirit to call upon congregations and other assemblies to make the following public commitments in their communities

            • We will protect and support the worth and rights of all people, including marginalized persons who are targeted, discriminated against or singled out by hate crimes or state-sponsored/sanctioned violence.

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Martin Luther King Jr. in Cuba

A Cuban pastor's story of King's influence

by Francisco Rodés

On April 4, 1968, I was spending several weeks working as a volunteer during the sugar cane harvest when I first heard the shocking news of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.  (Later I will explain why a young Baptist pastor found himself in that situation, in a voluntary work camp in which 95% of the workers were either members of the Communist Party or were members of the Communist Youth.)  As we sat eating our lunch, sitting on bundles of harvested cane and listening to a loud speaker providing music and occasional news, we heard the announcement that King had been assassinated.

I lowered my head in consternation when I heard several comments being made around me, “Look at that.  They have killed him even though he is one of them.”  In Cuban terms, the speaker was pointing out that King was just another American, someone who formed part of the Empire.  I took the opportunity to explain to those around me that King was a martyr, a fighter for racial justice and for the rights of the most humble of people.  I said that he certainly was an American, but that he was not an imperialist.  He belonged to the poor and to those committed to nonviolence.  Moreover not all Americans are imperialists, I said.

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Shall we gather at the river?

A reflection on baptismal integrity

by Ken Sehested

            Among my treasured fatherly memories is the baptism of our oldest daughter on Easter morning, 1986. Nancy and I performed the ritual together in worship after having climbed Stone Mountain in Georgia to watch the sun rise.

            Truth is, I think a lot about baptism—as the several excerpts below attest. [See the 6 January 2017 edition of "Signs of the Times," a special issue on baptism.] In fact, I believe a renewal of baptismal covenant, a return to baptismal integrity, is the believing community’s greatest need.

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Made flesh among us

A sermon based on John 1:1-14

by Ken Sehested

        It was an unusual Christmas, to be sure. Our friends in Atlanta got their first snowy Christmas Day since the late 19th century. It’s been more than 40 years since we had a white Christmas here in Asheville. But then, I got notes from friends in Australia and South Africa who mentioned their beach barbecues on Christmas day. In the southern hemisphere this is summer, and none of our cultural hymns about “dreaming of a white Christmas,” or “dashing through the snow on a one-horse open sleigh,” or even one of my favorite Advent hymns, “In the Bleak Midwinter”—none of these work for more than half the world’s landmass.

        We had a wonderful Christmas at our house. All our kinfolk managed to safely dodge the worst of the weather. With 10 people in the house, two of them juiced-up preschoolers, shoveling snow and splitting firewood offered a welcome break from the clamor. Of course, it’s always a special treat to watch youngsters rip open Christmas gifts. And when we finished, our living room floor looked like a bomb had gone off in a Christmas wrapping paper factory.

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Prince of Peace: The birth of Jesus and the purposes of God

A collection of texts

by Ken Sehested

No single word, in any language, can capture the meaning of the incarnation—of the birth of Jesus and the larger redemptive purposes of God. But of all the words used in Scripture to indicate the purposes of God and the mission of Jesus, “peace” is surely among the most prominent. What follows is a collection of relevant texts.

§ “For every boot of the trampling warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For unto us a child is born . . . and his name will be called ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.” Isaiah 9:5-7

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New secrets, waiting to be found

A post-election sermon, based on Isaiah 65:17-25

by Ken Sehested


Circle of Mercy Congregation, 13 November 2016
Principal text: Isaiah 65:17-25 • Other lections: Psalm 118; Luke 21:5-19

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