category: Musings, Sermon Starter

A Hand on the Plough

By Rachael Keefe

From January of 2000 through May of 2002 I served a small church as an interim. They were reluctant, to say the very least, to have a pastor that was not male and not straight. It was a strange set of circumstances that only God can arrange that led me …

A Hand on the Plough


From January of 2000 through May of 2002 I served a small church as an interim. They were reluctant, to say the very least, to have a pastor that was not male and not straight. It was a strange set of circumstances that only God can arrange that led me to be their pastor. We had an interesting couple of years together. We learned some things from each other, both good and less than good. That church struggled with a lot of fear and a huge reluctance to go where God was calling them. Simply put, they did not want to change.

One Sunday I was preaching on Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt into the desert on the way to the Promised Land. I’ve always had a strong affinity for Moses and all that he had to endure in service to God and God’s people. In that sermon I laid out the difficulties facing Moses. I started with the fact that he said no to God five times and ended up doing as God asked him to do, anyway. Then I moved on to the moaning and groaning of the people as soon as they left the relative safety and comfort of Egypt behind. Add in the fact that any time Moses left them alone so he could get some clarity from God about what was next, the people became idol-worshiping heathens. Oh, the life of a prophet. Toward the end of the sermon I said, “Thank God I am not called to be a prophet.” And there was much laughter.

In the moment, I didn’t understand the laughter. It was explained to me during coffee hour by several folks. The statements to me were all quite similar. “Um, I hate to break it to you, but you are a prophet.” My response was to just look rather blank and the person would continue, “Are you not trying to lead us where we do not want to go? Are you not telling us that God wants more from us than a slow, steady demise? Aren’t we unwilling to listen?” My turn to laugh. God has an interesting sense of humor.

Today, the mantle of prophet weighs heavily on my shoulders. Two weeks ago I heard the Rev. Dr. Traci Blackmon call members of the Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ to be “repairers of the breach,” to begin building relationships that would dismantle racism within the denomination, our churches, and our country. This is a huge call and one that cannot be ignored.

Before the weekend ended, the news of the Pulse 50 reached us. This horrific act of violence has shaped my thoughts and days since. These murders have triggered fear and anxiety and outrage in the hearts of my parishioners. We are reminded that fear and ignorance, self-loathing and homophobia are not a thing of the past. We are reminded that there is no safe space – no school, no theater, no mall, no community center, no mosque, no church, and no club can keep out the bullets of hatred.

If this is not enough to daunt even the most committed prophet, add in the voices still crying for reconciliation in race relations in our communities and in our churches. Reconciliation cannot happen where there is no relationship to begin with, where there is no equality of power, where there is no admission of wrong-doing, where there is no sincere ownership of and apology for dehumanizing individuals and communities. Begin to repair the breach by empowering POC and not protecting white supremacy and white privilege. Maybe one day we will get to reconciliation, but not now, not even close to now. This is a white problem and not a POC problem.

Admittedly, I am tired. I am tired of trying to find a word of hope for people who are continuously pushed out of our churches, out of our communities, to the edges of society, to the edges of power. My hand is on the plough for sure, but I’m looking all around for a place to turn. I am searching for words and actions that will change what is. I do not want to hear one more person blame POC for situations that are the result of centuries of systemic racism. I do not want to hear one more person blame Queer folks for the hatred that led one man to kill 49 people. I do not want to hear one more person blame all Muslims for the actions of a very few. I do not want to hear one more person say that Hillary isn’t fit to be president because she’s a woman. I do not want to hear one more person blame President Obama for his inability to get things done while Congress blocks his every move.

My prophetic word for today is to tell you to start doing something different. Start planting seeds that will yield the fruits of the Spirit. If your words and actions are not consistent with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, then stop. Stop what you are doing, take responsibility, listen to those around you, and do what you can to repair the breach.

And if all this is too much, and you, too, are tired, then take heart. Jesus warned us that there would be times when we are not fit for the Kindom. Jesus clearly indicated that many would find rest, but those who embody the Christ would be weary and wandering without a place to lay down and rest. The frustration of the prophetic life is that rest comes only when we hear God speaking. In the meantime, the mantle grows heavy. It’s lighter when more hands and more voices join in. God is present and God is good. With God, it is possible to find the way of peace.

RCL – Year C – Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – June 26, 2016
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 with Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20 or
1 Kings 19:15-16,19-21 with Psalm 16
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9:51-62

Photo: CC0 image by Unsplash A

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About Rachael Keefe

Rachael is an author, a pastor, a teacher, and a poet. Her latest book (The Lifesaving Church - Chalice Press) is on faith and suicide prevention. She is currently the pastor of Living Table UCC in Minneapolis, and has launched a spiritual direction practice.

2 thoughts on “A Hand on the Plough”

  1. Dear Rachael,

    It has been too long since I have allowed myself the pleasure of reading your writings; my loss indeed!

    In part, my response to this is to say “Amen.”

    i do like the operational definition of a Prohpet as one who tells the peoples what they don’t want hear,leads them where they don’t want to go, goads them to do what they do’t want to do, and keeps asking God to find someone else instead!

    Although I am trudging through the Pentateuch at the moment, I find yself with a need to turn
    rather to the first two thirds of Isaiah for a while. I have spent a lot of time in the High Deserts of the West, time which I value greatly, and Isaiah leads me back to those times.

    That is good as at present, the life of our national polity is beginning to seem like the MAd Hatters
    Tea Party–as viewed through the eyes of someone on a very very bad trip in Acid!

    You are in my prayer life dily. I miss the pleasure of your company and inspiration so I
    must yoru writings more often!
    Love, PEace, and God Bless!


    • Cliff,

      As always, it’s good to hear from you! I can understand why you might need a little Isaiah to get through the Pentateuch. We are studying Isaiah in our Saturday morning Bible Study and have had some great discussions. I’ve got nothing more to add on current politics; you’ve assessed it quite well. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts! Blessings to you!


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