Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | January 10, 2018

Tingling ears

The story of God’s reaching out to the boy Samuel is a famous and popular tale from the Hebrew scriptures. Samuel is living at the temple (read chapter 1 to see the sad story of why he’s there), serving Eli the priest. Samuel hears a voice in the night. Thinking Eli is calling him, he goes to the priest, who says he didn’t call and tells Samuel to go back to sleep. This pattern repeats and Eli thinks Samuel may be experiencing an auditory visit from God, so he sends the boy back to his bed and tells him to listen.

People usually end the reading there, at verse 10. But this year I’m attracted to the second half of the reading, verses 11-20.

When Samuel listens, the boy hears this: “I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.” I suppose tingling ears could be either good or bad, depending on the message and on the hearer. Samuel knows that the words are bad for Eli, and after a sleepless night he decides not to reveal what he’s heard when they encounter each other the next morning. But Samuel tells him to speak the truth, no matter how hard the truth is for Samuel to say and for Eli to hear. He does. And the text ends with this note about how Samuel’s life turns out: “all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.” He was known as a person who listened for and spoke the truth, no matter what.

In a day when so much of what we hear is factless fake news, truth has taken on new importance of a spiritual nature. It’s our job as spiritual beings to seek out the real truth and to unleash that truth on the earth, for God’s sake. Sometimes the news is bad; sometimes it’s good. It’s also true that what is bad news also reveals good news, and vice versa.

  • It’s bad news when tragedies result from natural and human-made disasters like floods, hurricanes, snowstorms, tornados, murderous rampages, war.
    • It’s good news that there are those who work for relief, and for the protection of the vulnerable.
  • It’s bad news that immigrants are threatened with being sent “home,” even though many of them have been here decades and nearly all of them contribute to the economy and well-being of our communities.
    • It’s good news that people are speaking out against this unwise and unkind threat, and are speaking up for the human rights of all concerned.
  • It’s bad news that sexual assault is rampant everywhere.
    • It’s good news that many are becoming empowered to tell their stories, and that they and others report sex crimes and misconduct and strive to make homes and public spaces safer.
  • It’s bad news that poverty and hunger and lack of access to decent housing and healthcare overwhelm so many.
    • It’s good news that there will always be people who follow Jesus’ teachings to raise up the least and make them the greatest. That is what God’s kingdom is like, and it isn’t just a metaphor.

Are your ears tingling yet? There is so much bad news out there to make the ears recoil. It’s easier to turn up the music and avoid the things that are difficult to hear. But if we stop listening we’ve silenced the part of our souls that cries out with God’s heart for justice, love and peace.

Once we listen with tingling ears, we begin to understand more deeply, and we commit to go to work.

Who knew that the ears could lead the whole body?children and truck, Miguel Colorado, LR adjusted, copyright, low


© 2018, Melissa Bane Sevier

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | December 15, 2017

Mary’s song and the tax plan

Mary has the best lines in the gospel drama surrounding the birth of Jesus. Her song (sometimes called The Magnificat because that is the opening word in Latin) isn’t just beautiful, it’s also both comforting and terrifying. It’s comforting to the poor and frightening to the wealthy. It was countercultural then; it is countercultural now.

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for God has looked with favor on the lowliness of God’s servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is God’s name.
God’s mercy is for those who fear God from generation to generation.
God has shown strength with God’s arm; God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
God has helped God’s servant Israel, in remembrance of God’s mercy,
according to the promise God made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to God’s descendants forever
. [from Luke 1]

It is this: even before the child of promise is born, God is sending a message that the tables are going to be turned. The poor will be on top. The rich will be emptied of their money and will learn what it’s like to lose power and even to go hungry. What would that produce? Even one day of poverty, powerlessness, and hunger might move people to be more compassionate toward those without money, power, or food.

And has this ever happened? Sure. On a small scale, people’s hearts change every day. Eye-opening conversion. On a scale that would reflect Mary’s song? We’re still waiting.

This Advent season of waiting, as American Christians attend church and hear Mary’s song, the US congress is passing a new tax code that reinforces just the opposite of what the gospels envision.

Let’s be clear. In this country anyone can have any political beliefs, even political views that decrease taxes on the wealthy while shrinking relief programs for the poor.

Anyone can have those views. But no one should be deluded by thinking those beliefs are Jesus-y. From the prophets which informed the Jesus story to the birth narratives to the parables and beyond, there is a single witness about poverty. God has a preference for the poor. Period. They are to be honored, not vilified.

So, believe what you will about tax “reform” and the poor. But if you believe that God rewards the wealthy and that “all those poor people are lazy and don’t deserve help,” you’re just wrong. Poverty is complex, and pulling out the rug of support in order to fill the purses of the wealthy is the antithesis of the messages surrounding the birth of Jesus.

Listen to Mary.

© 2017, Melissa Bane Sevier

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | December 4, 2017

In the meantime

I’m a fairly patient person, but only if I have something to do that will keep me busy while I’m waiting. I don’t usually mind sitting in a physician’s waiting room for an extra hour, because I usually have my laptop so I can work while I’m there. If there’s a backup on the interstate and I get stuck sitting in traffic, I always have something to read in the car with me.

Advent is about waiting, yes. But it is also about working, keeping busy in the meantime. Not just mindless work and busyness, but work with a purpose. Work that helps us move toward a more just and purposeful future.

That isn’t easy, because the waiting lasts, well, our entire lives.

Now that’s patience.

The good, but hard to accomplish, news is that we since we have a lifetime to wait, we also have a lifetime to do meaningful work. We can have that kind of patience when we realize we have something to do.

[W]hat sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? …[I]n accordance with God’s promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by God at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. [From 2nd Peter 3]

In God’s someday, there will be a place where righteousness feels at home. We might call that a pipedream. The faith word for it is hope.

Hope is made real when we wait for new heavens and a new earth by living lives that are just and peaceful, and by working for that justice and peace.

  • We call out racism when we see it, and we examine our own hearts to see what bigotry is there.
  • We see that the poor, the sick, the child, the elderly, the homeless, the immigrant, and the refugee are respected, just as Jesus respected them.
  • We listen to the stories of abuse perpetrated by those in power, and we attempt to ensure that such abuse ends.
  • We look for those whose rights are truncated because of who they are, and we change laws at local, state, and federal levels in order to establish and protect those rights.

Waiting for the day of the Lord. It takes great patience.

In the meantime we have lots of work to keep us occupied until God’s future is in SC, sculpture, LR adjusted, copyright, low, blog 12-4-17

© 2017, Melissa Bane Sevier

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | December 1, 2017

Is real change even possible?

This Sunday marks the beginning of Advent and, along with it, the beginning of the new church year. The texts for this first Sunday of Advent describe newness and change.

…Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake. [From Mark 13]

Change is coming, and you need to be ready. The early Advent texts are not comforting, unless you are a person who needs dramatic change. Most people like stability, not upheaval.

Lately I’ve been thinking much about the “tipping point” our country is currently experiencing regarding the reporting of sexual harassment and sexual assault. The result is tremendous upheaval in the fields of state and federal politics, news organizations, and entertainment.

Will it result in newness and change? Or in backlash and renewed secrecy?

Why are so many women and a few men choosing this time to come forward? Because change is at the door. Victims now have the cover they didn’t have before. They’ve been afraid of exposure, embarrassed about what happened to them, fearful they’d be called the aggressors. They were right about that last thing. As supporters have circled around the predators, trying to protect political party and reputation, these women have been called liars and far worse. They’ve been shamed in the media and from lecterns and pulpits.

But as stories have been verified, and people have gathered to support the women in their telling of those stories, change appears at hand. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “I believe the women.”

The thing is, we have to stay awake. We cannot let this moment pass when powerful people are being held accountable for that abuse of power. These moments have arisen before (Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, Donald Trump), and we have failed to support the women, failed to move forward with substantive change. We did not ask for this moment, but here it is, surprising us with its audacity, its justice, its hope for victims, and that our society will seize it and learn from it.

Real change is possible. Stay awake. Change is at the door. Be ready to embrace in SC, labrynthe, LR adjusted, copyright, low, blog 12-1-17

© 2017, Melissa Bane Sevier

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | September 27, 2017

The humility of healthcare

This week the Republican leadership of the US Senate has decided not to vote on a possible new healthcare act. I know it’s a temporary delay, but for now, it’s a good step.

The still active Affordable Care Act certainly has its issues and problems. Not least among those are that the current government is reducing funding, not holding insurance companies accountable, not planning to continue to support Medicaid expansion (indeed, many want a shrinkage of Medicaid).

Yes, there were problems before this administration and, yes, Democrats should’ve worked with Republicans to craft the ACA, just as they now want Republicans to work with them. A bipartisan bill will be a better bill than either party can create on its own, and I hope we’re headed down that path.

Here’s what I find most disturbing about the whole thing: all the Christians who are unconcerned about poor people, sick people, and especially poor people who have the bad luck to be sick. Last week I heard James Comer (a Republican member of the House of Representatives, from my state of Kentucky) say on national TV, “People that deserve to be on Medicaid will continue to be on Medicaid.” I don’t even know what that means. Does it mean that only some desperately poor persons are the “deserving poor,” a demeaning designation I haven’t heard in years? (Oh, and who decides how to separate people into the groupings of deserving and undeserving?) Does it mean that those who are writing the house and senate bills plan to pare down the Medicaid rolls so deeply that only a few will be left in a system designed to fail?

The bill that is currently under consideration may, or may not, be good financially for some. But there’s no indication at all, despite protestations (by those same “some”), that it would be good for the most vulnerable: those with pre-existing conditions, elders, children. (Did you know that 20% of all children in the US live in poverty? See statistics about childhood poverty here. Surely nothing perpetuates poverty as deeply as when children begin life without the basic things they need, including adequate healthcare.)

Admittedly, healthcare laws and reform are complicated. There is no easy fix. But we’ve elected people to do the hard work of fixing it, not to remove from people the essential help it provides.

Just where am I going with this in a lectionary blog?

Here’s where. Bills that increase suffering, especially of the most humble, aren’t very humble laws themselves, nor are they designed with humility. Jesus people shouldn’t be supporting laws that aren’t Jesus-y. I’m closing with part of this week’s text from Philippians.

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 
who, though he was in the form of God,
   did not regard equality with God
   as something to be exploited, 
but emptied himself,
   taking the form of a slave,
   being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, 
   he humbled himself
   and became obedient to the point of death—
   even death on a cross. [from Philippians 2]IMG_7248, LR adjusted, copyright, low

© 2017, Melissa Bane Sevier

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | September 4, 2017

The only debt we owe

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. [from Romans 13]

Paul sometimes gets a bad rap. And, honestly, IMHO, sometimes deserves it. But I have always adored this passage from Romans. It simply reminds us of what’s important, but does it in such a way that it’s easy to remember in one word.


Sounds trite, doesn’t it? It isn’t. It’s as deep and substantive as theology gets.

Do you want to fulfill the commandments? Love.

Do you want to be faithful, keep from hatred and murder, refrain from taking what isn’t yours, refrain from wanting what isn’t yours? Love.

Love isn’t always easy, or there would be a lot more of it. As we struggle to define what is or isn’t right—in our world, our families, our country—everything must be put to one test: does it exhibit love? If the answer is yes, you can’t go wrong.

Stay out of debt, says Paul. Oh, except you owe one thing, and you owe it to everyone.

Love. It’s the only debt we owe.IMG_8168, copy, copyright, low, blog 9-4-17

© 2017, Melissa Bane Sevier

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | August 30, 2017

Deluge on holy ground

When Moses encountered the burning bush, he was just minding his own business. Literally. He was taking care of his father-in-law’s sheep. Maybe dreaming of a better future. Occasionally wondering what was going on with his friends and family back in Egypt, a place he’d had to leave after murdering an evil overseer. A people and a place that needed him.

The bush. The voice. The order to remove his shoes because the very ground on which he was standing was holy. Just plain old dusty soil on the mountain, dotted with a few scruffy bushes and sheep droppings.


And the recognition that even such an ordinary place could be holy sent Moses back to other holy ground, a place of suffering in Egypt.

God can, and does, designate any place as holy ground. The places where we have sacred encounters can be anywhere God is.

This week we’ve all seen pictures of unprecedented flooding in Texas and Louisiana. And we’ve watched, open-mouthed and teary-eyed, as people risked their own safety to save lives or recover the dead, to bring food and potable water—to bring hope.

Every dollar we donate, every prayer we raise, every conversation in which we honor survivor, victim, and rescuer—all of these recognize that God is present with the suffering. Indeed, that God suffers alongside them.

Because the ground over which more than fifty inches of rain fell—that ground is holy. It’s holy because of the suffering that has taken place there. It’s holy because it will take a long time to get back to any sense of normalcy.

It’s holy because God is there.IMG_7250, copyright low, my blog 8-30-17

© 2017, Melissa Bane Sevier

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | August 10, 2017

Thicker than blood

We often hear people talk about biblical family values. Obviously, those folks haven’t read the actual Bible. The families there are full of favoritism, treachery, lies, cheating, even murder—or attempted murder, as in the story of Joseph and his brothers. (Read it here.)

Joseph is Jacob’s (aka Israel’s) 11th son, and his favorite. You’d think Jacob, of all people, would realized that favoring one child over another isn’t good parenting, since his own parents did that with him and Esau. Or maybe it just is a pattern he knows and can’t escape.

The favoring of Joseph nearly costs his life, and it leads his siblings down a horrible moral path.

We know that families can be schools of kindness, love, friendship, growth.  They can also be schools of meanness, favoritism, dysfunction, sometimes even abuse, as we see here. Most families are inhabited by both good and bad characteristics. Our actions, both good and bad, often have unforeseen consequences, both good and bad.

Joseph’s father Jacob wounds him and the other sons with his favoritism.

Joseph wounds his brothers with his ego and by playing up that favoritism.

The brothers, out of their own hurt and woundedness, harm Joseph and their father in return even more deeply. The boy is sold and presumed dead. Then they grieve with their father as though the story they invent were true.

All of them live with this lie and this deed for two decades.

Jacob believes the lie and never stops grieving. The brothers maybe even convince themselves it is true. But on their beds at night, with darkness penetrating their daytime masks of decency, they surely remember.

Joseph himself never sends a message home. Why? Anger? Ego? Fear?  He names his son Manasseh, for “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” (41:51. Literally, “making to forget.”) I don’t think so!  Every time he calls his son’s name, “Making To Forget,” he remembers.

Everyone in this story is deeply harmed by others, and everyone in this story harms others deeply.

Blood is thicker than water, we say. That isn’t necessarily so, as we see the deep hurt in many families, in every age. And even those of us who are lucky enough to have great family relationships sometimes inflict pain on each other, intentionally or not.

Life is filled with unresolved conflicts.  Sometimes we learn to live with them; sometimes we don’t.

You may want to finish reading the Joseph saga before next Sunday, when there will be some resolution. God will fashion something good, even out of the remnants of this messed-up family. To be honest, it doesn’t always happen that way.

In the good or the bad, we keep on going. We attempt to find ways to keep our strong relationships strong, to fortify the weaker ones, to let go of the unhealthy ones, and to determine the differences among the types.

All of these can be results of the work of God’s work, as well as the spirit-work we do on ourselves.

It often isn’t easy. It often is quite complicated. Yet this God-work and spirit-work can make our relationships healthier, even thicker than blood.IMG_6067, copyright

© 2017, Melissa Bane Sevier


Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | June 26, 2017

There’s always room

When I was in college I had a friend who would often approach a crowded table in the dining hall, bring up a chair, elbow her way in, and exclaim, “There’s always room for one more!” And there always was. She’d say the same thing when someone else was looking for a place to eat, and she’d make sure that person had a seat at the table.

What if we lived that philosophy?

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” [from Matthew 10]

Most of us are willing to welcome prophets and the righteous, but who are the “little ones”? Is Jesus referring only to the children?

Maybe. But it’s more likely that it refers to all those who are vulnerable, invisible, thirsty or hungry, overlooked, as children were in his day.

Churches are usually great at coffee and donuts, social time where we welcome guests who are a lot like us in appearance, belief, status.

What if we took to giving cold water to the “little ones” instead of just welcoming the usual suspects? It may mean opening our eyes. It may mean going outside our doors instead of waiting for them to come to us. Our own status may even suffer if the identity of our church involves encouraging equal welcome and status to the physically and mentally handicapped, if we go out to meet and to serve the poor and actually get to know them?

What happens if we change our image by spending time with the homeless and join them in their gathering places? If we learn from them instead of just wanting to tell them how to live? If we actually get to know individuals who are not like us?

In that case, we won’t just be giving a cup of cold water. We’ll be sharing cold water with each other, as we learn to change our preconceptions and welcome people as Jesus did—with grace and a determination to bring equality.

Why? Because there’s always room for one more at the table.IMG_8078, copyright, low

© 2017, Melissa Bane Sevier

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | June 21, 2017

Family time

 ‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

 ‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

 ‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

 ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
[from Matthew 10]

I love my mom. Actually, I love my father, too. And I’m sure I would have loved my mother-in-law if she had lived long enough for us to meet, though I still do interior battle with the sainted mother of my husband who “made the best bread pudding in the world.” That’s kind of hard to disprove when she’s been dead for over 50 years.

I digress.

This passage from Matthew is hard because families are sometimes hard, and Jesus says we should be willing to fight with them. That he came to set us against each other. Well, I think we can argue just fine in our families without Jesus’ help, thank you very much. But why would he want us to turn against them?

Isn’t Jesus about peace, after all?

Jesus is getting ready to send the disciples out on a mission. He’s giving them instructions. The oft-repeated theme: Don’t be afraid.

Don’t be afraid when opposition comes. And it could come in many forms, even through the people you love.

You’ll be called names like Beelzebul—devil. Don’t let that make you fearful.

Now is the time to start telling aloud what you’ve heard from me in our private tutorials. Don’t be afraid.

God will be with you in a big way. Don’t be afraid.

You may be called to account. Don’t be afraid.

If God can care about a single sparrow among thousands, then how much more God will care about you. Don’t be afraid.

Finally, your own family may turn against you. Don’t be afraid even then.

And here we’re seeing something of what went on in Matthew’s world. As he was writing his gospel, the church was beginning to experience some problems from religious authorities, and even from family members.

If the head of household has a particular religion, everyone else has to follow. This believing in Jesus thing may make your family disinherit you, or kick you out. That has economic fallout, not to mention social ramifications (you won’t be invited to cousin Sarah’s wedding) and the simply personal issues of feeling abandoned by those who are supposed to support you.

Bearing the cross may be the cause of all kinds of difficulty. But Jesus calls us to give our lives for his sake. Because in giving them up, we find them.

Sometimes the gospel, the good news of Jesus, requires us to do some things that don’t look like peace. We yell at the 2-year-old who’s about to run out in front of a car. We make our kids do their homework or take their medicine even when we know they will get angry and fight us about it, but we do it because we love them and know it will be better in the long run. We tell our loved ones, when we’ve worked up enough courage, that we don’t like the way they treat each other and maybe they should go for some counseling. Or that they are harming themselves and the people around them with addictions.

So maybe we don’t believe in peace at all costs after all. Those who give up their lives for my sake will find it, says Jesus.

But we have to be careful we don’t sound like a cult. Our culture is very different from the one to which Matthew addressed his gospel. We’re not about telling people to leave their families, because Christianity is an accepted religion in our country, not one that is suspect, as it was in the first century.

That doesn’t translate exactly into our world. However, some things do translate. Families can be either a place of nurture or a place where nurture is in short supply. In every faith community there are those who have experienced family as nearly everything it should be—love, peace, fairness, affection, tenderness. And there are those who have experienced family as troubled, difficult, lacking in something, or even a place of neglect or abuse.

Family is, by default or design, our first school of relationships. But by now we know that family is far greater than biology, and even greater than the family that lives under the same roof.

Family is as large as a church, as great as a community, as huge as a world. As we understand what Jesus is getting at, we find that our sense of family is enlarged, and we find ourselves enriched.

We give up our hopes for the “perfect family” (as if), and make our hopes rest instead on creating the kind of community where all are loved, welcomed, and nurtured.

Those who give up their lives for my sake, says Jesus, will find it.IMG_5409, copy


© 2017, Melissa Bane Sevier

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