If I were a rich man…Labor Day Sunday 2015

Once there was a rich man with gold rings and fine clothes who was applauded by television viewers. “You’re fired!” he’d say with a smirk.  He showed no mercy. He took no prisoners.  He took no guff. Judgment triumphed over mercy, and the people lapped it up. It came from someone just like them, or so they thought, a true-blue American who stands up against intruders from Mexico.

Then some of those who followed him went to church on Labor Day Sunday where they had to square their enthusiasm for the man with the gold rings and fine clothes with the assigned Epistle for the day from New Testament’s Letter of James.

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?  For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please’, while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there’, or, ‘Sit at my feet’, have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11For the one who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’, also said, ‘You shall not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgement.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

[Letter of James 2:1-17, NRSV]

And the people left church thinking the preacher was being political and went back to their television sets imbibing the illusion that one day they, too, might be like The Donald.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Labor Day Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015.

You might not believe this

Mark Andrew after shopping at the Mall of America

Mark Andrew after shopping at the Mall of America

A year ago Mark Andrew was beaten within an inch of his life. We commented on the assault at the Mall of America at the time and are moved to comment now on the unusual sentence handed down yesterday in the case of his primary assailant.

Click “Young woman who beat Mark Andrews receives no jail time – at his request” – for the story aired yesterday by All Things Considered on Minnesota Public Radio.

Mark Andrew, man of compassionate wisdom

Mark Andrew, man of compassionate wisdom

There is judgment and there is mercy. Mark Andrew is a man of faith. He was taught and he believes that God’s judgment is always a function of God’s love, and, as Cornel West puts it, that “justice is what love looks like in public.”


The Other Side

The poem of one dying of cancer:


I divested myself of despair
and fear when I came here.

Now there is no more catching
one’s own eye in the mirror,

there are no bad books, no plastic,
no insurance premiums, and of course

no illness. Contrition
does not exist, nor gnashing

of teeth. No one howls as the first
clod of earth hits the casket.

The poor we no longer have with us.
Our calm hearts strike only the hour,

and God, as promised, proves
to be mercy clothed in light.

Jane Kenyon (1947-1995), New Hampshire Poet Laureate, written while dying of cancer.

Jazz – the language of love and awe

“Who is your favorite jazz pianist?”

“Bill Evans,” came the quick reply from Ted Godbout, the jazz pianist who came to us out of the blue as a candidate for the music position at the little church in Chaska, MN where jazz is the language of love and awe.

In the news Michael Jordan is defending himself against a young man’s claim that he is Air Jordan’s “love child” who deserves more of Michael’s time. Listening to Ted Godbout at his audition, I wondered….

We sent Ted’s DNA to the lab for testing :-). He’s that good. And only 29! Ted leads the music at Shepherd of the Hill for the first this Sunday, March 10.

Extracts from the Visitors page of the church website speak of the language of jazz.

Imagine a place…

a church, actually, your church,……

where it is a safe place to land, for a bit of time

while you marvel….

and wonder, and revel in


and justice…..

and mercy….

where the questions get clearer and

better questions replace them….

where your heart burns to return

Again and again……

where jazz is the language of love……

and love, the language of


where God is a three letter word again….

spoken to soothe your tired feet…

On your journey of becoming

more of who Love intended you to be,

(since you have heard it said, “fear not….”)

Into the Cocoon of Sorrow

The return of the prodigal son - Rembrandt drawing

The return of the prodigal son – Rembrandt drawing

During seven years as Executive Director of the Legal Rights Center, Inc. a nonprofit public defense corporation founded in 1970 by American Indian and African-American civil rights leaders, there were sacred moments when the lawyers would call me in to meet a suicidal client in a jail cell. Sometimes the person in the cell was guilty of murder or manslaughter. They were beside themselves. All I could do was be there with them as a kind of quiet presence of hope and the possibility of forgiveness and new life.

I knew then that we were sitting right in the middle of the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Gospel of Luke 15:11-32). In Jesus’ parable, the son, who has convinced his generous father into giving him his inheritance before his father’s death, has squandered it all, and, after finding himself in desperation, eating the left-overs in the pig sty of “the far country”, he staggers home to his father. He comes beating his breast with remorse and shame. “But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him, and kissed him,” and orders the finest robe for him and a magnificent feast to celebrate his son’s return from “the far country.” When the older brother who has stayed home obediently objects, the father of the two sons declares: “It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, but is alive, was lost, and is found!”

Only after returning to parish ministry did I discover The Book of Common Prayer’s rite for the reconciliation of a penitent that is constructed on the story of the return of the son to the father. For those in the bowels of despair, remorse, and guilt, there is no word from inside one’s own self that can crack open the cocoon of horror, self-disgust, and condemnation. When I found this rite, it moved me deeply. I adapted parts of it for the Prayer of Confession in morning worship at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, MN.

RITE FOR THE RECONCILIATION OF A PENITENT from The Book of Common Prayer (The Episcopal Church)

The priest and penitent begin as follows

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness;
in your great compassion blot out my offenses.
Wash me through and through from my wickedness,
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions only too well,
and my sin is ever before me.

Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One,
have mercy upon us.

Penitent: Pray for me, a sinner.

Priest: May God in his love enlighten your heart, that you may remember in truth all your sins and his unfailing mercy. Amen.

The Priest may then say one or more of these or other appropriate verses of Scripture, first saying:: Hear the Word of God to all who truly turn to him.

Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you. Matthew 11:28

This is a true saying, and worthy of all to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. I Timothy 1:13

If any man sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the perfect offering for our sins, and nor for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world. I John 2:1-2

The Priest then continues:

Now, in the presence of Christ, and of me, his minister, confess your sins with a humble and obedient heart to Almighty God, our Creator and our Redeemer.

The Penitent says:

Holy God, heavenly Father, you formed me from the dust in your image and likeness, and redeemed me from sin and death by the cross of your Son Jesus Christ. Through the water of baptism you clothed me with the shining garment of his righteousness, and established me among your children in your kingdom. But I have squandered the inheritance of your saints, and I have wandered far in a land that is waste.

Especially, I confess to you and to the Church . . . . (Here the penitent confesses particular sins)

Therefore, O Lord, from these and all other sins I cannot now remember, I turn to you in sorrow and repentance. Receive me again into the arms of your mercy, and restore me to the blessed company of your faithful people; through him in whom you have redeemed the world, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Priest may then offer words of comfort and counsel.

Priest: Will you turn again to Christ as your Lord?

Penitent: I will.

Priest: Do you, then, forgive those who have sinned against you?

Penitent: I forgive them.

Priest: May Almighty God in mercy receive your confession of sorrow and faith, strengthen you in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life. Amen.

The Priest then lays upon the penitent’s head (or extends a hand over the penitent) saying:: Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has left power to his Church to absolve all sinners who truly repent and believe in him, of his great mercy forgive you all your offenses; and by his authority committed to me, I absolve you from all your sins; in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Priest concludes: Now there is rejoicing in heaven; for you were lost, and are found; you were dead, and are now alive in Christ Jesus our Lord. Go (or abide) in peace. The Lord has put away all your sins.

Penitent: Thanks be to God.

I Wish…


When I say I have reached “Three score and ten,”

most folks today do not recall the phrase-

is from the Bible.  They just think of when-

“Four score and seven,” Lincoln said, in days-

of war.

                          At six-foot-eight I was too tall

for drafting to the war in Viet Nam.

My college friends were sent to fight and fall.

I went to Seminary–just a lamb

far from the wolves, from death, from…  (I almost

mis-wrote “…from Agent Orange”–for which no cure

exists–or rhyme.)

                                   I wish that I could boast

my years were spent in waging peace, in pure

activities alone:  but many a day  

I failed.  (It is for mercy that I pray.)

Steve Shoemaker at historic pulpit of Sheldon Jackson in CO.

Steve Shoemaker at historic pulpit of Sheldon Jackson in CO.


– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, December 19, 2012

The One who Regained his Sense of Worth

The Gospel of Mark tells the story of the blind beggar who regained his sight. His name in Mark is “‘Bartimaeus’, the Son of Timaeus”. The name is strange because although the word ‘Son’ is in Hebrew (‘Bar’), the name ‘Timaeus’ is  Greek, raising the question of what Mark wants his readers to “see” when the blind Son of Timaeus cries out “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

The Legacies of Joe Hill and Doug Hall

You who hold us in the hollow of your hand,

Who hold us in the curve of a mother’s arms,

Whose flesh is the flesh of hills and hummingbirds and angleworms,

Whose skin is the leathered skin of the barge-toter and the old Indian Chief and the smooth skin of a newborn babe,

Whose color is the color of the zebra and the brown bear and the green grass snake,

Whose hair is the aurora borealis, the rainbow and nebulae,

Whose eyes sometimes shine like the evening stars, and then like fireflies, and then again like an open wound,

Whose touch is the touch of life and the touch of death,

Whose name is everyone’s, each and all alike, for just a fleeting moment on the shore of time, the hem of your eternity:

Grant us to see ‘tis only the splendor of light hideth thee.’  Let Your healing balm salve the tender wounds of grief and turn the tears of mourning into tears of unshakable joy.

God of the sparrow, God of the whale, God of the pruning hook: You ask only that we do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with You.  Lead us to take the claims of justice, mercy and humility into the palaces and chambers of power where public policy is made and administered.  Give us confidence that, though truth still sways upon the gallows, yet it is truth alone that is strong.

Let our lives flow in endless song above earth’s lamentations.  Let no storm shake our inmost calm.  No tempest dim our vision.  No noisy gongs or clanging cymbals of ignorant armies clashing by night drown out the gentle sounds of the flute and the dulcimer, the quiet chords of love.

For this work and this alone, raise us up on eagles’ wings to follow Wamble Pok-he, our lead eagle now departed, and to see him standing there, like old Joe Hill, as big as life and smiling with his eyes.  “What they could not kill,” says Joe, says Doug, “went on to organize, went on to organize.”   “I did not die,” says he.  “I did not die.  Where workers strike and organize,” says he, “You’ll see Doug Hall,” says he, “We’ll see Doug Hall,” says he.  How can we can we keep from singing?  Amen.

– GCS, pastoral prayer at Doug Hall’s Memorial Celebration, Wabasha, MN.

Stephanie Autumn and Clyde Bellecourt honoring Doug with Indian blanket

Stephanie Autumn and Clyde Bellecourt honoring Doug with Indian blanket

Doug was the definition of “the street lawyer.” The farewell to Doug was attended by the people he had defended over many years, the founders of the American Indian Movement, African-American activists, U.S. District Court Judges, MN Supreme Court Justices, Indian drummers, and “America’s troubadour, Larry Long.” Doug was an important figure in the standoff between the federal troops and the AIM members who occupied Wounded Knee. He served as Director of the Legal Rights Center, and, in the last decade of his life was a leading figure in the state-wide movement for restorative justice. He was the Honorary Chair of the Minnesota Restorative Justice Movement.

Joe Hill, Swedish-American labor organizer, songwriter, (1879-1915)

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night

Alive as you or me.

Says I,  “But Joe, you’re ten years dead.”

“I never died,” says he,

“I never died,” says he.
“In Salt Lake, Joe,” says I to him,

Him standing by my bed.

“They framed you on a murder charge.”

Says Joe, “But I ain’t dead,

Says Joe, “But I ain’t dead.”
“The copper bosses killed you, Joe,

They shot you, Joe,” says I.

“Takes more than guns to kill a man.”

Says Joe, “I didn’t die,” Says Joe,

“I didn’t die.”

And standing there as big as life,

And smiling with his eyes, Joe says,

“What they forgot to kill Went on to organize,

Went on to organize.”
“Joe Hill ain’t dead,” he says to me,

“Joe Hill ain’t never died.

Where working men are out on strike,

Joe Hill is at their side,

Joe Hill is at their side.”
“From San Diego up to Maine

In every mine and mill,

Where workers strike and organize,”

Says he, “You’ll find Joe Hill.”

Says he, “You’ll find Joe Hill.”
I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night

Alive as you or me.

Says I, “But Joe, you’re ten years dead.”

“I never died,” says he,

“I never died,” says he.