A Word from Our Pastor 2016 December

I think most of us are very grateful that the campaign season is over, and the election done.

No matter our attitude toward the outcome, at least the pain of seeing the two candidates hurling negative comments about each other is over. Although as I write this, it appears that there will be a recount in 3 states – so perhaps, the election isn’t over, but the campaigning is.

But now we must turn our attention to the fallout. It seems that because the President-Elect promoted a number of stances that may be seen as discriminatory against people of color, (including Asian Americans) LGBTQ people, Muslims, Jews, refugees, immigrants , Mexicans and more. . . some Trump supporters have felt it is appropriate to commit vandalism and bullying. Also, there was a murder of an African American young man on Nov. 12 – Will Sims was beaten to death in El Sobrante. The police have caught one of the perpetrators and charged him with a hate crime. The Southern Poverty Law Center has documented 700 hate crimes across the country since the election. In the Bay Area, two Asian American churches (one in San Jose and one in East Oakland) were vandalized with graffiti – swastikas and the word, “DIE.” One of the pastors said that his members have been told go “go back to China.”

Of course, these kinds of things were happening before the election. But, it is clear that there is a significant increase in vandalism; “Trump” has been included in the graffiti in a number of cases. So, no matter who you voted for, we all have to find ways to build safety and security for people who are under threat of discrimination and violence. This is a tough context as we look forward to celebrating the birth of Jesus.

In some ways, tho, it could be a more appropriate context. Our District Superintendent, Schuyler Rhodes, posted a Thanksgiving reflection on Facebook:

Let us give thanks to God for calling us into the breech to be with those who are hurting. 
Let us give thanks to God who calls us to build a world where “none are afraid (Micah 4).”
Let us give thanks to God for calling us to care for the least and the last.
Let us give thanks go God for giving us a Savior who calls us to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, house the homeless, feed the hungry, help the lame to walk, and to let the oppressed go free!
And let us give thanks for the solidarity and community that binds us together as we answer the call of Jesus.
Thanks be to God!

Frankly, I have not felt energized when I hear about the hate filled activity that is associated with the election. I have felt discouraged, disheartened and tired. We have been struggling with some of these issues for so long, and now it seems that the so many of the “haters” were just underground, and now, they feel empowered to come out and act out their hatred.

But something woke up in my heart when I read the line, “Let us give thanks to God for calling us into the breech to be with those who are hurting. . .” I was reminded of the reason for Jesus’ birth.

Jesus was born into a world in which most people were peasants, didn’t own land (or at least, not very much land), had no say in the government that was dominated by foreigners and a ruling class, kept in poverty by heavy taxation (among other things) and were terrorized by violence, particularly from a militarized police system (i.e., Roman soldiers everywhere). Public crucifixion wasn’t just a punishment – it was a form of state-sponsored terror that was intended to keep people so afraid they wouldn’t step out of line.

Jesus was born to bring good news and to proclaim peace. Matthew says that Jesus was born to “save the people from their sins.” Too often we interpret “sins” as the acts of an individual – things you or I have done to hurt others. But there are also the sins of communities, of nations, of governments. The sins of greed and discrimination and violence against specific groups of people; the sins of setting up an economic system in which only a small percentage of the population benefits, and a few get very, very rich while most stay poor; the sins of rejecting the foreigner and exploiting the servant. To save us from those sins isn’t just to forgive them. . .God seeks to purify our hearts so that we will no longer commit those sins, so that we will no longer support a system – or a politician – or any kind of leader or group of leaders – that makes those sins possible.

It’s an important calling; as old as the God of the Bible, and made even more clear and urgent by the birth of Christ. Emmanuel: God with us, calls us, empowers us, encourages us to do this work: to save the people from their sins. . .
–Rev. Naomi

Christmas Letter

The birth of Jesus… “good news to the poorest of the poor, shepherds guarding their flocks on a frosty cold, snowy night. The good news of a birth of a savior who will exalt the lowly, fill the hungry with good things, the Son of God, of whose kingdom there will be no end.“ (Luke 1:33, 52-53)
The birth of Jesus—the first step toward the birth of the church, whose mission is still to be the bringer of good news to the poorest of the poor. For us in Berkeley, these are the people who shiver in the cold alleyways of our city streets, who struggle with mental illness or drug addiction, who are hungry.
We pray that your holiday season will be blessed, that your loved ones will be able to have meaningful connections with each other, to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the event that offers inspiration for love and service to the suffering world.
We hope that you will be inspired to add to your monetary Christmas gift by joining in with BMU members in doing the ministry of Jesus.
We would love to invite you to join us in preparing or serving a meal to the needy, to contribute to the holiday food drive, to serve the elderly /homeless or the new service projects scheduled for 2017.
May God’s presence uplift your Christmas and New Year.

–Rev. Naomi