Confrontation in Jerusalem

by Ken Sehested
Mark 11:1-11

This week we come to the dramatic events of Lent’s finale. Holy Week. Jesus’ so-called triumphal entry into Jerusalem. In order to figure out where this parade is taking us, we need to remember some clues that have been given earlier in the story.

The first thing we need to remember is that the nativity stories of Jesus’ birth were not originally sung as lullabies. Rather, they were provocative hints at the political intrigue unfolding with the birth in Bethlehem.

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Religion of the Heart

Ken Sehested
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Circle of Mercy, 2 April 2006

        Friday’s Asheville Citizen-Times featured front-page story was about the first day of our new lottery. The story, titled “Let the Dreams Begin,” was dominated by a photo of the woman who won the area’s first prize. She shelled out $20 at the Hot Spot convenience store and gas station south of where Nancy and I live on Brevard Road. The fact that she only won $3 didn’t seem to dampen her enthusiasm. “This is the only way I’m ever going to be a millionaire,” she said. “I can work all my life, and it isn’t going to happen.” [Hold up paper with headline: “Let the Dreams Begin”]

        Meanwhile, the state of North Carolina raked in $10 million on the first day. Last year the voters were promised the money would supplement spending on education, that it would be added to the profits from thousands of bake sales and raffles and school-sponsored carnivals—and, of course, property taxes that support public education. It wasn’t until all the lottery machinery was in place that the governor announced: Oh, by the way, a full 35% of the profits would go to education. And . . . well . . . the richest school districts would be getting more than their proportionate amount because . . . well . . . those poor owners of expensive homes pay an awful lot of taxes.

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The cost of freedom entails moral accountability

The need for truthtelling about the CIA’s torturing practices

by Ken Sehested


A few weeks ago, Senator Richard Burr [R-NC] took over as Chair of the US Senate Intelligence Committee, whose responsibility is to oversee the Central Intelligence Agency. But already we are troubled by his actions in that job.

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“Journey to Iraq: Of risk and reverence” & “Caitlin Letters”

by Ken Sehested


     Context: On 8 February 2003 Rev. Ken Sehested traveled to Iraq for three weeks as a member of the Iraq Peace Team, a project of Voices in the Wilderness, calling for an end to the threat of war by the U.S.
     Prior to going, the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times newspaper published his article, “Journey to Iraq,” as a guest editorial and asked Sehested to write three weekly columns for the newspaper while in Iraq. Printed below is the initial article followed by three columns posted from Baghdad. The latter are titled “Caitlin Letters,” written as open letters to Caitlin Wood, a member of Circle of Mercy Congregation in Asheville. Caitlin was among the more than 200 high school students in Asheville who participated in the 6 March 2003 “Books Not Bombs” nationwide school walk-out in opposition to war on Iraq.
     Sehested previously traveled to Iraq in March 2000 as part of an interfaith delegation of Jews, Christians and Muslims from the U.S.

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God, in Your Mercy

Lyrics by Brian Graves

// God, in your mercy, bind our wounds, renew our strength,

Hear our cry, hear our cry: heal the broken-hearted. //

// Like mother bird and tree of life, you have gathered and sheltered us,

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Pastoral Principles for Prophetic People

by Ken Sehested

      Working for peace and justice isn't easy. We live in a world predicated by greed and violence. Swimming against that stream isn't easy. It can be unpopular and lonely. Flannery O'Connor, paraphrasing a verse from John's Gospel, wrote: "You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you odd!"Sometimes we wonder if we're crazy. Sometimes even prophets need pastoral care.

      All of us have known people who have attempted to "win the world" only to have their own spirits wither, their vision blurred. Maybe not with such tragic drama—maybe they've simply stopped speaking out . Something has come undone in their lives. Maybe it's happened to you.

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Dean Smith: A remembrance

by Ken Sehested

        I once preached in the Chapel Hill, North Carolina, church were legendary basketball coach Dean Smith was a member. Smith, who died this week, was not expected to be there that morning, since his University of Carolina team had a road game, far away, the night before. Then he and his wife slip in the back about the time I get up to read Scripture. I doubled-down on the text and tried not to make eye contact during the sermon.

        In my youth I played every sport that used a ball, of whatever shape or size, from dirt yard marbles to Boys Club ping pong to Division 1 college football. I loved the college campus recruiting visits, during high school, receiving a bit of “expense” money, prowling the game time sideline with the prospective team and a pre-arranged dance date after the game. Though I always felt bad about the unlucky coed assigned to this high schooler who, to add insult to injury, didn’t dance or drink, for reasons of evangelical piety. Though I’m not an active participant in the muckraking exposure of how major college athletics programs find themselves awash in cash, I applaud that exposure.

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“House to house, field to field”

Reflections on a peace mission to the West Bank

By Ken Sehested
Thursday, 18 April 2002

Yesterday came suddenly; but it seemed to go on forever. My arm no longer aches; yet the stone hurled as a curse by a young Jewish settler in Hebron struck a more tender target. Not even the bruise remains; but my heart still hurts.

Only two days prior I began a 24-hour journey to the illegally-occupied lands of the West Bank of the Jordan River. It's a long way from Clyde to the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem where we spent our first two nights. Except for the similar terrain of hills and hollows, the regions are a universe apart. The mountains of Western North Carolina may be the world's oldest; but the recorded history of ancient Palestine is among the most intense.

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Fasting: Ancient practice, modern relevance

When we hear the word “fasting”—an historic Lenten emphasis—the initial image is associated with dieting. For most of us in North America, fasting is a foreign and somewhat threatening notion , conjuring notions of self-depreciation and ascetic mortification.

In Scripture, fasting is among the most common acts of religious piety. Yet it also comes in for severe judgment.

“Why have we fasted, and thou seest it not?” whined the people of Isaiah’s day. To which Yahweh thundered in response, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house. . . ?” (58:6) Similarly, in his only explicit listing of behavioral qualifications for entrance to heaven—when sheep will be sorted from goats—Jesus’ short list includes care for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the prisoner. That’s all. No mention of fasting or any other form of  “pious” behavior or doctrinal orthodoxy.

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Turn Strong to Meet the Day

A Son's Tribute to His Dad: Glen Leroy Sehested

This past Friday night [26 January 2001] I had what will undoubtedly be among the most enduring experiences of my life, sitting by my father's hospital bed from late evening until dawn. Keeping vigilance. It turned out to be his last night. I was not tempted to sleep. I had much work to do.

Part of what I did was to write. Here are some of those thoughts.

"Tonight I sit by my father's hospital bedside, straining emotionally in rhythm to his labored breathing. His breaths are short and shallow; his exhales are punctuated, frail muscles from chest to stomach rippling in brief contortion, emptying the lungs in desperation for the next gulp of air. Only occasionally does his body relax, save for the percussion of scarred lungs doing their best against impossible odds.

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