Every Day Pentecost: Listening to the Spirit Daily

For this week’s Events and Happenings, click “Download PDF.”

For this week’s Spiritual Practice, led by Lydia Shiu, click HERE.

Hey, it’s been a while. I’m Steve, if we haven’t met, or if you’ve just forgotten that I’m around. I’m one of our pastors here at Reservoir. Thank you so much for your support in letting me take some extra time off after eight years into a delightful run as a senior pastor here. I took a month to take it easy, enjoy time with my beloved family, and get some time to myself. It was really refreshing to catch a break. If you have a chance to take even a few days off for rest and reflection after the year we’ve all been through – hey, even a few hours here and there, I highly recommend that. If any of you ever need some ideas on how to take a break for personal renewal, or maybe how to do that in your mid-life years in particular, let me know. I’m always game to help with that kind of thing. 

All to say, though, it’s great to be speaking with you again. I’m looking forward to today, as well as to some preaching I’ll be doing this summer starting next week. I’ll write a little bit about that in this week’s newsletter, coming to your email on Wednesday. 

Also, Happy Pentecost Sunday today! In the Christian calendar, Pentecost is a commemoration of the time when Jesus’ first followers experienced a captivating, powerful sense of God’s presence with them not long after they lost God’s presence among them through the person of Jesus. Jesus had said

after I go, things will get better, not worse. I will be with you through an Advocate, a Comforter, a Strengthener, a Truth-Teller, an Encourager,

literally as one who comes alongside, in Greek the Paraclete, which is the unseen Spirit of God. And Pentecost remembers a significant time Jesus’ first followers knew this was so. 

Pentecost was a holiday already, though, 2000 years ago. In Hebrew, it’s called Shavuot. And Shavuot, in the Jewish tradition, is also the celebration of the presence and gifts of God through two other means. Shavuot remembers the gift of God’s law, the Torah, to Moses in ancient times. Thank God for words to live by, for guidance for a healthy, just, good life. And it remembers the gift of food – Shavuot was a spring harvest festival. Thank God for food to live by. 

So Happy Pentecost to you today. And happy Shavuot!

This year, on Shavuot/Pentecost, I have on my mind the beautiful story of the Bible’s book of Ruth. I love this little book. Back in 2015, we did a whole multi-week series in this book – it was a project Will Messenger worked on with me. You can still find it online deep in our sermon archives. Ruth is a short book – you can read it easily in a sitting – and it’s got tragedy, redemption, great characters, sex and romance, surprise twists, and all kinds of beautiful and wise things it can illuminate when read well. But today, on Pentecost, there are three reasons I want to center this story.

One, it’s like the original Pentecost book. It’s an old, old story set around the time of a spring harvest and still read today in many Jewish communities around this holiday.

Two, the original Pentecost is a celebration of the giving of Torah, the articulation of Law by which people would find health and order and justice and life. It is the celebration of the command to live in what was meant to be the original expression of Beloved Community in our faith traditions. But Ruth messes with what law means in really interesting ways. 

The little book of Ruth pushes creative tension into the Old Testament’s account of what to do with law. 

See, in the Torah, there’s this bit of boundary marking about who can or can’t be at worship in the temple. And after the requisite comments about crushed testicles and other issues (I kid you not!), we get this:

Deuteronomy 23:3-4a

3Ammonites and Moabites can’t belong to the Lord’s assembly. Not even the tenth generation of such people can belong to the Lord’s assembly, as a rule,

4 because they didn’t help you with food or water on your journey out of Egypt.

That is some serious shade cast on other ethnic groups. If it sounds like someone’s grinding an ax here, well it’s because they are. These two ancient nation-states didn’t help us out, so they are never welcome in our house. And we’ll be tracking lineage, 10 generations deep. That’s extreme. 

But this thing with the Moabites doesn’t go away. In the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, Israelite men who marry Moabite women are publicly shamed and commanded to divorce their wives. There are beatings, brawls over this thing. 

This strand of tension in the Bible reminds us that long standing conflicts with near neighbors do not heal easily or quickly. Time does not heal all wounds. The pain and bitterness and grudges and inequities and perpetuation of harm that flows from injustice can keep cursing down to the 10th generation and more. 

Think of Israel and Palestine, and what’s happening this spring.

Think race relations in this country, and race-based violence, as we remember the murder of George Floyd one year ago. 

One way out of the plague of memory and resentment is separation, exclusion, barriers. Torah prescribes this for the Moabites, delineating who’s right, who’s wrong, and how to achieve safety and justice. 

But then we get Ruth, which is a celebration of intermarriage between Jewish men and the most remarkable Moabite women, one of whom becomes the great-grandmother of the greatest ever king of Israel.

One lesson of Ruth for Shavuot is that legal and moral, ethical matters need to be worked out not just with principles in mind, not just abstractly, but in real, earthy detail, humanely, with specific people and places in mind.

This is true when it comes to border policies and policing. It’s true when it comes to things like family rules and company policies and practices as well. How do we do right by people? How do we heal wounds? How do we achieve justice? We need law and principles, but we can’t only follow them in the abstract. We have to love and honor the real people and situations in front of us that we’re dealing with today? What do dignity and love and justice and healing look like on the ground? 

And that could have been the sermon. Padraig O’Tuama has a whole book out about this. It’s called Borders and Belonging. You can check it out if you like. 

But there’s something else I feel we’re supposed to see today as we finish our series on Listening to the Spirit. Which is that Ruth is also a book about the creative leading of the Spirit of God in daily life. 

There are these three moments in Ruth where three different people say or do something utterly surprising, achingly beautiful, and powerfully transformative. Let’s read each and ask – why did this happen? And how did this happen? And what does this show us about how the Spirit of God speaks to and leads you and me? 

First, there’s Naomi. Naomi is a middle aged Jewish woman, widowed before her time. As a result, she finishes raising her two sons as a single mom. They grow up in Moab and marry Moabite women, this big no-no in the tradition, we heard. But after they marry, they each die young as well. And now Naomi has two Moabite daughters-in-law, trying to survive a famine together. In a patriarchal age, in which widows often faced destitution, you’d think Naomi would cling to her daughters-in-law, try to ride one of their coattails into a better situation. 

But instead she does this. 

Ruth 1:8-9 

8 Naomi said to her daughters-in-law, “Go, turn back, each of you to the household of your mother. May the Lord deal faithfully with you, just as you have done with the dead and with me.

9 May the Lord provide for you so that you may find security, each woman in the household of her husband.” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.

Naomi thinks everyone will be better off in their own homeland. Dissolve this mixed family, go back as a beggar among her people, and let her daughters-in-law start over. That’s one way of reading the scene.

But another is to see in Naomi this extraordinary, self-giving, sacrificial love. Longing to see her daughters-in-law flourish, she encourages them to move on without her. It’s like: if you love somebody, set them free. In a way, it’s this extraordinary moment of love and courage. Where did this freedom come from? 

One daughter in law, Orpah, says a tearful goodbye, but the other, Ruth says: no way, we’re family now. My life is bound to yours. Let’s do this together. We get this in the text.

Ruth 1:16-18 

16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to abandon you, to turn back from following after you. Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.

17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord do this to me and more so if even death separates me from you.”

18 When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her about it.

Ruth is the woman who helps care for her in-laws, even though they’re not her parents. She’s the busy woman who makes time to visit her parents, and sing through the window while they’re in lockdown during COVID. She’s the loyal friend, the loyal spouse who hangs in through sickness, mental illness, turns of fortune. Ruth is this paragon of love, to the degree that her words get used sometimes in wedding vows. And as the book, she will become a paragon of courage and boldness in different ways as well. 

She, a Moabite, is the rare person in the scriptures who is called an Eshet Hayil, a woman of valor, like the highest compliment you can give a woman in this tradition.

How does she live this way? Where does this love and courage come from?

The last, the third main character we meet is a Jewish landowner, and distant cousin of Naomi’s. His name is Boaz. 

When Naomi and Ruth return to Israel. Naomi sends Ruth to glean in his fields – to pick the extra harvest that Jewish law prescribed landowners to leave behind for those who had nothing. It’s a practice of Beloved Community that was baked into the law, that people with access to capital recognize their privilege and good fortune, and make sure it benefits those without capital as well. It’s like the obligation of a business – not just to its profits and customers, but to the broader community, and to the land, and to the native peoples of the land in which it operates. 

Anyway, Boaz meets Ruth and doesn’t just encourage her to keep gleaning in his fields. He goes out of his way to ensure she is protected against any possible sexual harassment and is empowered to thrive. Here’s one bit from Boaz.

Ruth 2:8-9 

8 Boaz said to Ruth, “Haven’t you understood, my daughter? Don’t go glean in another field; don’t go anywhere else. Instead, stay here with my young women.

9 Keep your eyes on the field that they are harvesting and go along after them. I’ve ordered the young men not to assault you. Whenever you are thirsty, go to the jugs and drink from what the young men have filled.”

The language is lifted out of the ancient times of the story, but Boaz emerges as what Richard Beck calls a “man of valor”, a Gibor Hayil. And it’s cool that what makes a man of valor is not wealth or power or skill in war, or any other ancient patriarchal archetypes. What makes a man of valor in Ruth is doing the right thing with your privilege, is generous and fair labor practice, is just and kind and appropriate relationship with women. 

Boaz goes on to follow his culture’s laws of goodness toward one’s distant in-laws, and through a kind of hot nighttime rendezvous, ends up becoming Ruth’s husband as well. It’s a great story, but it starts with Boaz meeting Ruth when she is most vulnerable and determining to be safe and tender and just and kind.

Where does this all come from? How is this man led to be so good?

I think what’s playing out in this story for each of the three main characters are the same things that play out in our own way in all our lives. So let me highlight three things that I think can lead us toward listening to and flowing with the movement of the Spirit for us, today. 

First – We’re all playing improv, all our lives, all the time.

Ruth is set in hard times. In the Bible, it comes right after the book of Judges, which tells the story of a hot mess of just about every kind of suffering and violence known to our species. No one’s living their best life, getting their dream job, married to their soulmate, or in any other way, living the dream.

The book of Ruth is all about people doing their best with their back-up plans, and sometimes with their backup plans to their back-up plans, and often with no plan at all! When times are hard, when plans are disrupted, when life isn’t going quite how we hoped it would, what do we have? 

I’m sure that you, like me, have had many plans upended this past year. It’s been hard. I’ve been confused and disillusioned and disappointed sometimes this year. But we’re learning that despite our best efforts to control life, this is a normal part of being a human on planet earth. 

Most of life is improvisation. It’s how we relate to our friends and family after the mess explodes. It’s who we love, who we commit to, who we will do life with when nothing else makes sense. It’s how we’ll treat our colleagues and our employees and the marginalized and discouraged in our communities when they’re in chaos. It’s our next move when life’s gone off course. 

I have less and less confidence in plans any more, and more and more in character, presence, faithfulness, and courage.

Friends, God doesn’t want your life to go according to script. And God can’t make your life go according to plan – that’s not the kind of power God has. What God can do, though, is be with you with perspective, peace, and love wherever you are today or any day. And God can encourage you that if you seek to be a person of character – a person of valor like Ruth or Boaz – a decent, safe, loving person who commits to the kindest, most loving options in front of you in life… God can encourage you that you’re going to find power and joy in that. 

Secondly – Every moment, God is offering creative possibilities to us all.

We saw in the text that Naomi and Ruth and Boaz, while improvising their way through strange and hard times, each at different moments find themselves saying and doing brave and kind and good things that turn their lives toward the good, that open up good things in other people’s lives too.

And we asked – where do these ideas come from? How are these folks led to the words and actions that turn their lives toward the best possibilities for them and for others around them? 

My understanding, and I believe the best understanding of the Christian faith, is that these impulses, these ideas come from the Spirit of God, who is near to us all, and inviting us every day toward the best, most creative, most loving possibilities for us and for the rest of the world around us. Our future is not pre scripted by anyone, God included, but God is in relationship with everyone and everything God has made, inviting us all toward what’s most creative, delightful, redemptive, and loving. God is doing this pre consciously, or what we call subconsciously, the great majority of the time. 

We don’t spend most of our lives, like our Sunday prayer teams at church, consciously looking for a word from God, wondering what God’s best invitation is moment to moment. But on Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate that God is speaking to us even when we’re not looking for it. God’s Spirit is with us: inviting us, encouraging us not toward some crazy ideal that’s way out of reach, but to the very best possibility we have in any situation. 

So what do I do when I’ve been laid off? When my loved one gets ill? When I’ve been done wrong by the last person I expected that to come from? 

What happens when my dreams for my kid die? Or when I’m not where I want to be in life? Or when I’ve been a jerk to the person I love? Or when my mental health has tanked? Or when I’m just having a bad day?

None of these things, none of any of the things you’re facing today, are an out-of-reach, out-of-help place for the Spirit of God. Just as God is the wisest and most loving being in the universe, God is also the most creative and adaptive one, the one who’s always got an inkling of a possibility for what’s next. And if we really believe the Spirit is speaking, that notion is already kicking around your mind somewhere.

Spirit of God is present to you, and Spirit of God has spoken.

Our church’s Christian past, in what was called the Vineyard group of charismatic or renewalist churches, was famous for calling out to God, “Come, Holy Spirit,” and expecting cool things to happen.

But with all respect to that heritage, it’s a weird prayer, as the Holy Spirit is already here. Today we celebrate that the Spirit HAS COME. 

So we can pray instead: Spirit, I’m glad you’re here – what are you speaking? My God, what creative best is available right now?

And here’s one way we know which thoughts most connect us with God’s possibilities. By knowing what God loves and longs for for us all. 

Which is this:

Third – Spirit of God wants satisfaction, provision, life, joy for you – and for all God’s children – today. 

We see in both Ruth and Boaz aspects of the character and nature of God. Ruth in her loving loyalty, in her bold and disruptive and creative moves to bring about goodness and love and redemption. And Boaz in his self-giving love. And in Boaz’s earthy invitation to Ruth:

Whenever you are thirsty, go to the jugs of water and drink,

we hear a little echo, a little foretaste of the Spirit of God at Pentecost.

God has determined to not be God without us. 

Whenever we are thirsty for love, for meaning, for hope, God is eager to meet us. 

God has and is more than enough for us all. 

When we’re looking for the voice of God, wondering how God is inviting, speaking to us beneath our consciousness, we can ask what idea, what thought, what inclination holds the most promise of life, satisfaction, and joy – not just for me, but for me and others – and we may find ourselves moving towards God’s invitations.

And when we’re looking for the presence of God, wondering how to pray, how to know God is with us, we can take whoever or whatever brings satisfaction, provision, life, and joy to us or those around us, and see that or them as a way God is loving us, as a means through which God is stirring, as a sign of Spirit’s presence and goodness to us all.

From Suffering to Hope

For this week’s Events and Happenings, click “Download PDF.”

For this week’s Spiritual Practice, led by Ivy Anthony, click HERE.

Let me pray for us.

Loving God, you have brought each of us here today to this moment, for a reason. We come into this space from many different places. Some of us, rushing in to hear the word, some of us with open curiosity, some of us with much doubt or even suspicion. No matter how we may find ourselves this morning, we pray that we may be honest to our hearts in this moment, and discover the love that you have poured into our hearts, through the spirit. we pray, in Jesus name.


Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God.

3 Not only so, but we[c] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;

4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.

5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Peace be with you. We have here our text today, a life of peace with God. It lays out a life description of movement from suffering to hope. From Suffering to Hope is the title of my sermon today, but how? How do I take you through from suffering to hope? Shall I make you suffer first?

I’ve been reading a book called The Book of Joy. It’s a book capturing a five-day meeting between the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. The Dalai Lama is the spiritual and political leader of Tibet. For them, the reincarnation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion is their utmost holy figure, a patron saint, a Christlike figure in the Buddhist tradition. Desmond Tutu is an archbishop, a Christian, in South Africa, a human rights activist and theologian notably during the time of apartheid in South Africa – which apartheid, literally meaning ‘apart-hood’, like neighborhood but ‘apart’. It “was a system of institutionalized racial segregation that existed in South Africa and South West Africa from 1948 until the early 1990s”. 90’s ya’ll, the 90’s.

After many seasons in my life of engaging suffering and grief, I needed some knowhow around joy. And not just fa-la-la joy, but true joy, deep joy. Grounding joy. Not busy distracting myself joy but peace-joy. And joy in the face of real injustice. Joy without ignoring the problem. Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it this way,

“Discovering more joy does not, I’m sorry to say, save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily, too. Perhaps we are just more alive. Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreak without being broken.”

Hardship without becoming hard. Heartbreak without being broken. Ooh I want that.

‘Cause joy that doesn’t answer to real suffering doesn’t really matter. So this book I thought maybe could get me closer, through two figures who literally have been exiled and fought the oppression of their own people. I wanted the secret to joy from folks who have been through some stuff.

If you haven’t suffered, it’s not a good idea to give advice about how to deal with suffering. No one can tell another how to deal with their suffering. But we do this all the time, to try to be helpful. We often try to offer solutions instead of just listening and validating their pain. The biggest no no is trying to give meaning or purpose to someone else’s suffering. And that’s where I want to start, what not to do with this text we have today.

I have two points. Point one: let’s not use this text to tell someone how to cope with suffering. And point two: if you get to witness suffering turning into perseverance, and perseverance turning into character and character turning into hope–that is a gift and miracle from God.

So point one. Churches, especially from places of privilege and power, have used this verse and verses like it to those who are suffering as a way to placate those who are oppressed. And while I do believe that this text has some meaning or value to offer, to jump to it as a quick resolution to someone in pain is not helpful. “Glory in suffering?” You want me to be happy about this bad thing that happened?

It’s unfortunately reminiscent of other texts in the Bible, which also has been widely misused, like

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ”

in Ephesian 6:5, along with,

“Wives, obey your husbands as you obey the Lord.”

in Ephesian 5:22. Which, by the way, most biblical scholars are fairly conclusive that Ephesians is a “deutero-Pauline,” a fancy way of saying that it wasn’t written by Paul.

Ancient writings in the style of their teacher was not an unusual practice. It was actually a way of honoring, continuing the great ministry and theology of Paul. But I’ll be honest, when I first learned that the first five books of the Bible weren’t written by Moses himself, and Paul has pseudo writers, I did experience a level of losing my faith going, “What! The Bible’s a fraud!” But, after you get through the initial shock and learn from professors who’ve spent decades studying this explain in detail how they analyze and interpret ancient texts like this, your faith expands and grows to be able to hold the complexity, the depths of human history and traditions that try to contain the mysteries of God in their lives. This is all the more reason why we should not use random verses out of context and apply it to our lives.

Don’t tell me suffering produces perseverance. Do you know what I’ve been through? You would make me persevere in this maddening injustice? Don’t tell me it produces character. I don’t want character. Let me do it to you and see if it builds your character. They say it’s like a metal in fire, getting stronger. Really, God? Why do you keep putting me in the fire? It’s hot.

Instead of changing our world of eradicating systemic injustice, we say, “what doesn’t kill ya, makes you stronger!” But the thing is, sometimes, it doesn’t produce perseverance. Sometimes it produces cynicism. Sometimes, it just hurts and keeps hurting no matter how long it’s been. It doesn’t get easier. It gets harder. Sometimes the burden is so heavy, the suffering so great and the problem so sophisticated and complex that instead of building character turns a person to depression. Sometimes, the suffering is so crippling and the trauma upon trauma so insidious that there seems to be no way out. Sometimes, suffering leads to hopelessness.

What do we do with that?
I don’t know.

The formula makes it seem like I need to persevere, build my endurance, fix my character, and then I can obtain hope. But even Paul, he wasn’t offering this as advice. He said, “we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.” It was a reminder of something they went through together. The whole text is in plural 1st person, we and us. He’s able to speak like this, because they know each other’s pain and have journeyed through it together.

If you happen to have experienced or know or have seen suffering producing hope, you know that it is not because of some straightforward formula, suffering + perseverance * character = hope. It’s because at every step of the way there was a thing called grace. In the midst of deep nonsensical suffering, a sudden gift of renewed strength. In the deep rock bottom of the void, a glimmer of a voice that said, “look up” that came from nowhere. In the places where you felt like you were just the scum of the earth, surrounded in your own filth with no motivation to pick yourself back up, someone came and grabbed your hand and lifted you up.

This is my point two. You know what stands out to me about this text? Not the formula part, that’s often most quoted and used. It’s the stuff around that text that undergirds it. It says “we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”

All of it is by grace. Grace, something undeserving. Something that doesn’t make any sense. It defies cause and effect. It does not compute. It’s not calculated, it has no reason, it’s not supposed to happen but it does. Grace.

Hope? Hope is not a product of suffering. The product of suffering should be something bad but hope, hope is a miracle. Hope is a gift.

Whether in your life or another person’s life, whether the suffering was self-inflicted or inflicted on them, all we can do if we see the miracle of hope at work in the midst of suffering is, be in awe.

How did that hope come about? It says it is “because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Not because we worked hard to get out of our suffering, but because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts.

We don’t get to tell someone to have hope in the midst of suffering because hope in the midst of suffering is a miracle and a surprise. All you can do is be in awe if it happens.

Again, it’s not a formula, but I will say, I have seen it. Suffering, that produces perseverance and stubbornness like no other. It’s almost scary to see, the drive in their eyes when you know they’ve known hunger. And character, whew the personalities that I’ve seen who’s been through some real crazy stuff, they are characters.

There’s a word I like in Korean, KKI. I’m not at all sure if this is at all the epidemiology of the word, but I think it defines the word well. It’s like, the Chinese word for energy, chi, which in Korean is gi, but KKI is like an extra cool factor energy, KKI. It’s kind of like the African-American culture of a thing called ‘swag,’ it’s just like style, like even in the smallest ways of how a person walks, how they carry themselves, how they talk. To me, that’s why I think of when I think of hope from suffering. Like where d’you get that? That kki, that style, that swag, that energy, I don’t recognize it, I can’t even name it, it’s just, you’re just in awe.

I love dance. Fun fact, I was in a hip hop dance team when I was in college. And in dance, especially in what you call street dance, these new moves that come out of literally off the streets like New York or the Bay area, that become so popular that they end up being picked up by pop stars years later. It happened with the “moon walk” with Michael Jackson and just about every other dance move you’ve seen on TV. The history of these dance moves many times come from, strife.

Take Voguing for example. You might’ve heard it from pop culture, Madonna had a song called Vogue. But it originates from Harlem dance clubs of Black and Latina gay and trans folks. The form is fun and powerful, drawing out so much confidence and strength when you try to do the moves. It’s a statement. It’s art. It’s defiance. It’s beautiful.

Another example is one called Turfing, from the Bay Area. Turf, which means Taking Up Room on the Floor. I can’t explain it. So here’s a clip. It’s four minutes but it’s such a beautiful embodiment and display of suffering producing perseverance and perseverance character and character hope that I’d like to yield my time of words and talking to just see it and feel it.
Take a look

Here’s one of the comments from the video-

This the stuff that make a real one shed a tear, this video ain’t about dancing, it’s about mentally escaping a place you are physically in. East Oakland is as tragic as it gets, they filmed this after one of their Patna’s got murdered, you can feel their pain. Oakland made me tough but I’m glad I don’t live there no more. If you from the hood, it’s the goal is simple, get out and give back

Your suffering, I’m sorry that it happened to you, and that it can be hard. And if it’s been too hard that you can’t just look around and find hope, that’s not your fault. But I pray, that the gift of grace will be upon you, taking you through, and that the love of God may be poured into your hearts, that you may indeed, experience endurance and strength, resilience, that will build you up and make you into a beautiful image of God at full display like these guys, that no may what may befall, you will have friends you can smile and dance with, with power and freedom. May this be our life in the spirit. Amen.

3 O’ Clock Prayer with the Spirit of God

For this week’s Events and Happenings, click “Download PDF”

Good morning everyone! I am Ivy. It’s a gorgeous day here in Milton, MA – I hope it is also wherever you are calling in from.  For those of you who enjoy celebrating Mother’s Day – and honoring the “motherly” influences in your life and within you, I hope today holds lots of opportunities for you to do that.  My sermon will not be a “mother’s day specific sermon”  – but we will explore the Spirit of God –  who I find to be quite motherly.

We are in a Sermon Series called, Listening to the Spirit of God with Freedom and Power.  This series was inspired by a conversation we had as a staff (I believe in February) wondering what this Spring would look like,  and what we might all need at this point?  

We hoped,  as it is, that this Spring would be a season of “promise.  O vaccines, reuniting with people, of travel, society re-opening. And we also thought we might not be out of the woods yet… We also learned, thanks to the wisdom of many health professionals and trauma specialists, that these “cusp” seasons where “promise” comes into real view, are also the times where the tiredness, the grief, anxiety – the trauma of all this last year- also come into view. It’s often when we start to process, and feel the impact of all of what we’ve endured.

And so we realize that this spring, while “yes” a hopeful season, is also an intense season.

And we wondered, what did the first followers of Jesus need in seasons like this – after Jesus’ death and resurrection? When everything was different and threats were still real and it was hard to imagine a way forward?  We found that what they needed was implanted – poured INTO THEM – the SPIRIT OF GOD – this accessible resource that grounded them and became the core of their faith and their beings.

This morning, I invite you to come face to face with the ground and core of your faith…

I invite you into a space of deep wisdom, and great knowing that goes beyond even the best things you’ve been taught about God – beyond the well crafted Bible Studies, prayer practices, and sermon “tips”(all amazing in their own right).

I invite you into the internal landscape of your soul, your heart, your mind, your body. Here it is, that we can access a wealth of “education”, knowing, and expertise – that goes beyond convention.

Where the raw materials of the spirit – the signs, and wonders, and miracles lay in waiting – wrapped in the DNA of God – and found in our own intuition and in our gut.

We’ll take a look at a couple of Jesus’s closest friends, Peter and John and see how the Spirit of God trains them for such love, in the midst of the complexities and realities of the world around them. 

Let me pray for us first!

Oh Spirit of God – this morning could you be our great teacher?  Could we listen to you as you draw us into deep love! A deep love of ourselves, each other, and GOD!  Enliven us – remind us that your love that you have poured into us is a resource that steadies us with courage and strength for the days ahead.

As we enter the story in Acts, that we will read together in just a few minutes,   Jesus has left John and Peter, and all of us, his Spirit. Franciscan Priest Richard Rohr says that as a result we have an

indwelling Spirit as a permanent, strengthening gift.

God has implanted in us a true “homing device” that we can depend upon (in any season). We have been given a source for a true inner knowledge, which becomes a calm inner authority by which we know spiritual things for ourselves.” AND we have that resource – accessible – within us, always. 

And yet we have been, Rohr says,

“so afraid of this in most churches; most religious people have been told to look outside for such knowledge, instead of inside.”

Coupled with our society that is infused with a focus of accumulating knowledge, being “smart,” “articulate,” and “educated” as a way to gain status, maintain control, and establish hierarchy, this culture then permeates our spiritual contexts, our understanding of God (even though we regard love as boundless and God as mystical) and we still veer toward needing to be “experts of the subject of God.” 

The Spirit of God – mercifully and gently reminds us that we are not subjects to be studied or mastered, and neither is she.  

Last week I had an interview with Oprah Daily – this new offering that Oprah is putting out in digital and print editions.  One of the writers was trying to connect with Steve, (our Senior Pastor), around a sermon he preached last fall, “An Attempt at a Sex Positive Sermon.” They found he was on sabbatical – and so ended up with me. 

We had a good chat about Christianity and Sex – and inparticular how church leaders have gone about this topic.

So much of this conversation centered the attempts of church leaders to convey their knowledge – and their “training/educating/teaching” on the ways of a good and holy sex ethic for followers of Jesus. And how most of these patriarchal voices rely on an external structure of testable – behavioral rules that will prove one’s holiness/purity. Versus surrendering their moral high ground and surrendering trust to the Spirit of God. 

This allows them to be experts on the matter, and speak from the vantage point of God – often offering statements that start with, “this is from God. ” What follows this statement is often not of love, but a set of behavioral rules to follow:

This is from God” – you should not have sex before marriage.
This is from God” – don’t look at yourself in the mirror too long, don’t masturbate, don’t trust your body, don’t be weak, don’t desire, don’t long for…

This knowledge then takes the form of doctrine.  As we’ve talked about many times before at Reservoir, this approach is not an educational program that leads folks into wholeness/integration of their full selves… but is one that is controllable, through separation.

It sets up hierarchies of holiness. “Insiders and outsiders” producing either arrogance (inside) or despair (outside). 


It separates us from ourselves. 

It separates us from our bodies.

It separates us from feeling.

It separates us from our own HUMANITY, which in turn separates us from the DIVINE within us – and then we lose our grounding with the spirit of God – our access to all training and education. 

The book of Acts, written by Luke, begins with the promise of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We then see Jesus’ closest friends and followers make their way without their Rabbi, teacher present – but with such a knowledge of the Indwelling Spirit that it creates the foundation of the “church” that will spread throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. And this “church” doesn’t depend upon an educated patriarchy and hierarchy to generate itself, (or measure itself), but depends on the Spirit of God which guides with freedom and power. 

Let’s read this story in Acts together:

Acts 3: 1-6

1Peter and John were going up to the temple at three o’clock in the afternoon, the established prayer time.

2 Meanwhile, a man who couldn’t walk  since birth was being carried in. Every day, people would place him at the temple gate known as the Beautiful Gate so he could ask for money from those entering the temple.

3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he began to ask them for a gift.

4 Peter and John stared at him. Peter said, “Look at us!”

5 So the man gazed at them, expecting to receive something from them.

6 Peter said, “I don’t have any money, but I will give you what I do have.”

So we’ll pause on the slides there – but the story goes on…

Peter then said,

“IN the name of Jesus get up and walk”

and the man does! He leaps, he jumps and praises God and then goes into the temple with them

And Peter starts to preach to the people in the temple about Jesus.

The priests, the chief of the Temple police, and some Sadducees are not happy about this. They arrested them and put them in jail for the night.

The next day there’s a meeting with the rulers, religious leaders, religious scholars, the Chief Priest, and they ask Peter and John

“Who put you in charge here? You are not qualified!  What power – authorized you to do this?”

And then we see this response  -again picking up on slides:

Acts 3 8- 13

8 Then Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, answered, “Leaders of the people and elders,

9 are we being examined today because something good was done for a sick person, a good deed that healed him?

10 If so, then you and all the people of Israel need to know that this man stands healthy before you because of the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead.

11 This Jesus is the stone you builders rejected; he has become the cornerstone!

12 Salvation can be found in no one else. Throughout the whole world, no other name has been given among humans through which we must be saved.”

13 The council was caught by surprise by the confidence with which Peter and John spoke.

After all, they understood that these apostles were uneducated and inexperienced. They also recognized that they had been followers of Jesus. 

The longing of John and Peter, as they’ve understood Jesus’ teaching – is for connection and integration, as a way of continued learning. 

They didn’t reject the Jewish religion.

They didn’t try to separate themselves from the Jewish community.

They still went to Temple and synagogues for worship and prayer. 

They saw Jesus’ message and resurrection as the fulfillment of everything they knew and believed of the Old Testament.  

And as they walk into the temple for  3 o’clock prayer they notice this man outside who can’t walk. And in that brief moment they listen to the Spirit of God, they listen to this man and they listen to their inner authority and trust that they know spiritual things for themselves – AND THEY THEN embody the very lessons – they hope to learn within the temple.

And here, the New Testament begins to be written. And what’s written, is that the law isn’t upheld by us…neglecting/separating, silencing and ignoring anyone who sits outside of the “formal temple.”

What’s written, is that we can fulfill and expand the law by, listening to, loving and healing anyone who sits anywhere, 

Peter and John have accumulated this deep knowing  by being with Jesus – walking with him, listening to him, watching him, questioning him, laughing with him, crying with him –  and this has been written as “LOVE” in John and Peter.  And the spirit of God in this passage is TEACHING them to harness that knowledge, that LIVED learning, and to not hesitate putting it into action.

As John, Peter, the spirit of God and this otherwise marginalized, silenced, neglected man interact we see the kindom of God come into being. Jumping out of the sacred texts that the religious elite have been studying and we see the kindom become real – in and through them.

Peter & John came to experience God in the Temple  – and yet they experience God in the temple of a human being who can’t walk.

They came to meet God at 3’oclock prayer – and yet they find the timelessness of prayer in the touch of a beggar’s right hand.

They came to study scripture – and they find themselves learning the scriptures by “loving their neighbor.”

They came to the temple to draw the attention of God and improve their “goodness”  – and yet they find the “goodness” of the Spirit of God already attending to them. 

They came to strengthen their spirit for the unknown days ahead  – and they find the same spirit strengthening weak ankle bones and feet.

They came to be TAUGHT, to be educated about God – and they find the endless lessons of God in the gaze of a man who longed to be seen.

To see, to be aware, to love – and to move with so much knowledge and confidence is what I hope the Scriptures, the verses that we continue writing in our day, are FULL of.

Because what John and Peter add to the scripture that we read – is that there is no “outside of the temple.” There is no “qualified” or “unqualified” or “expert trainer.” In fact these are all arbitrary labels that are assigned by patriarchy and hierarchy that is afraid of losing it’s footing inside the temple.

Yet with the spirit of God, everyone should be able to move in and out of the temple – sure-footed- just as this scripture shows us. 

However, as we see in this scripture, those in power, that hold the reigns, the credentials, those that love to say, “THIS IS FROM GOD,” to exert control don’t love to embrace the vibe of the spirit of God.   In fact these religious elite will silence John & Peter try to remove the name of God , the name of love from their tongues. But they can’t remove it from the core of their faith/their beings.

The spirit doesn’t operate in a linear way, she creates, empowers, flares, has no three part vision plan with pretty “slide decks” to sell us on her power.  The spirit doesn’t care about proving herself to some outside “system.”

And she doesn’t care about making you prove yourself, either.

This man that couldn’t walk – didn’t have to show John and Peter what he had tried and failed at, OR his three step self-improvement plan.  He just “looked up.” And as he did Peter and John came face to face with the ground and core of their faith – which is to say, “You are loved.” “You are loved.”

And it’s in this space of love – where we are and can be “saved.”  Saved not “from” the world but saved INTO the world of God’s abundance, INTO the spirit of love, and INTO ever-evolving knowing of such love within ourselves.


As I was finishing up my time with the journalist last week, she asked me, 

“So what’s your experience as a woman in your role right now?”

And I genuinely responded that it’s been pretty amazing!  And that it’s also not lost on me that it’s not the majority experience as we look at Christianity as a whole to have non-white-male voices fully incorporated.

The way in for my voice here at Reservoir, was very natural.  I walked into my first service many years ago and heard Val Snekvik preach (our guest preacher last week). And her voice was what brought me back for a second visit – and obviously many, many, more visits these 19 years later.  Her presence and other women who have been pastors here – paved the way for me.

AND I also know that just having “representation” of a woman’s voice, or a Person Of Color’s voice, or a transgender voice – doesn’t mean we all immediately UNLEARN the toxic ways of white supremacy and patriarchy that we’ve been steeped/schooled in. 

I have had folks come up to me after a service, within the last few years who have said:

“I have no idea what you just said, but I like your boots.” (eruption into great laughter.)

“Glad to have your voice, Ivy – but I sure hope we hire someone who actually has a degree in this stuff.”

I come to those comments with such mercy now.

Because I know they are not intentional, these folks were not consciously trying to tell me how unqualified they thought I was/am.

And I am working on not taking any heretical message of internalized misogyny as personal.

But it points to how much we have been inoculated by the system that values hierarchy, “formal” training, masculine dominated “teaching,” patriarchy, and whiteness as the gold standard of “knowing.”

It’s why it’s so compelling to see Peter and John naturally greet this man who can’t walk moving with the spirit of God that is now WITHIN them. Woven as part of their INTUITION, part of their DNA.  Inviting us all to see that we can access the ABUNDANCE of LOVE that the Spirit has poured out on us all. So that at any point when society/systems/structures tell us we are unqualified, try to strip us of our worth and dignity, we can face the core of our faith inside ourselves, and be reminded that the only three words that can follow, a statement like, “This is from God,” are… 


May this be our 3’oclock prayer with God as we enter the temple – and our “any o’clock” prayer with the spirit of God everywhere. 

I just finished spending the last couple of months with activist and public theologian Dr. Christena Cleveland, who offered an experience for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) and White folks called, “Liberating your mind, body and spirit from White Supremacy.”  And she says, that

“Whiteness is always doing push-ups in the basement of our hearts.

Whiteness is always in training – trying to discredit us, hold us to external standards of perfection (which isn’t a real standard because perfection is a figment of the colonial imagination) and yet it strives to separate us from our true source of knowing. 

We need to continue the powerful training of surrendering to the spirit of God.

Peter & John were “uneducated,” “common”  they had no “formal training” in rhetoric or Jewish theology. They weren’t members of a privileged class that could afford higher education, or a religious class that would sit under a scholar. They were fishermen.

And Jesus, their Rabbi, didn’t have formal education either

Acts 2:22

“his credentials were/are through miracles, wonders, and signs.”

And yet they – along with this man who couldn’t walk outside of the temple  – school us in theology.  They teach us to revisit the ground and core of our faith, and not as a test, but as a great returning to ourselves  – where we find strength – and great courage to answer these questions by a lived way of being:

What is the nature of God? Love

What is the core of your faith? Love

What is the foundation of 3 o’clock prayer? Love

What binds you to your neighbor? Love

What can disrupt and then rebuild? Love

What connects and heals? Love

What does the spirit deposit in you? Love

What force can right injustices and free the oppressed? Love

What are the miracles, signs and wonders of our day? Love 

What does the Spirit of God say, “is from God’? Love

We would do well to revere, and honor this education implanted in us – lest we be left crippled by the weight of white supremacy and patriarchy.  

Spirit of God, we honor you.

Let me pray for us.

Stop Lying – You’re Free!

For this week’s Events and Happenings, click “Download PDF”


Act 4:32-37

32 The community of believers was one in heart and mind. None of them would say, “This is mine!” about any of their possessions, but held everything in common.

33 The apostles continued to bear powerful witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and an abundance of grace was at work among them all.

34 There were no needy persons among them. Those who owned properties or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds from the sales,

35 and place them in the care and under the authority of the apostles. Then it was distributed to anyone who was in need.

36 Joseph, whom the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (that is, “one who encourages”), was a Levite from Cyprus.

37 He owned a field, sold it, brought the money, and placed it in the care and under the authority of the apostles.

Acts 5:2-11

However, a man named Ananias, along with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property.

2 With his wife’s knowledge, he withheld some of the proceeds from the sale. He brought the rest and placed it in the care and under the authority of the apostles.

3 Peter asked, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has influenced you to lie to the Holy Spirit by withholding some of the proceeds from the sale of your land?

4 Wasn’t that property yours to keep? After you sold it, wasn’t the money yours to do with whatever you wanted? What made you think of such a thing? You haven’t lied to other people but to God!”

5 When Ananias heard these words, he dropped dead. Everyone who heard this conversation was terrified.

6 Some young men stood up, wrapped up his body, carried him out, and buried him.

7 About three hours later, his wife entered, but she didn’t know what had happened to her husband.

8 Peter asked her, “Tell me, did you and your husband receive this price for the field?”

She responded, “Yes, that’s the amount.”

9 He replied, “How could you scheme with each other to challenge the Lord’s Spirit? Look! The feet of those who buried your husband are at the door. They will carry you out too.”

10 At that very moment, she dropped dead at his feet. When the young men entered and found her dead, they carried her out and buried her with her husband.

11 Trepidation and dread seized the whole church and all who heard what had happened.



How to Live By The Spirit?

For this week’s Events and Happenings, click “Download PDF”

For this week’s Spiritual Practice, led by Ivy Anthony, click HERE.

Good Morning 

Galatians 5:16-26

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.

18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions

21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.


Holy and Loving God, we praise and worship you, for you are a good God. A God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in love. We thank you that you have poured your spirit upon us. Help us be aware and present to what you are doing in and through us in this moment now and today we pray, in Jesus name Amen. 

We’re in a sermon series called Listening to the Spirit. It’s so elusive. The Spirit. Such a mystery. It’s difficult to know exactly how to listen to the spirit. And what does it mean to live by the Spirit? 

I get this question often. How do you know when something is from God? Whether it’s a student facing graduation trying to figure out what to do with their lives, or someone trying to discern whether or not they should switch careers. Sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what you should do and what you shouldn’t do. 

In today’s text, Paul is trying to give advice to the churches in Galatia about how they were to live by the Spirit. He gives pretty clear answers to what you should do and what you shouldn’t do. So it seems like a good text for us to look into, as we ask how we can listen to the Spirit. But I have to warn you, the process of application should not be direct. 

You see, the text, it wasn’t written for you. It was written under great pressure in Paul’s personal and ministerial life, as his churches that he planted were being influenced by other teachings, and at the brink of all just blowing up. It was written in the face of a great controversy. Meaning? It was drama for your mama. 

I mean even writing a text message in the midst of a minor fallout is so hard for me. When you are emotionally entangled, every word means a great deal. Some of you know that I have been going through some drama with my mama for the past few years. It’s been a strained relationship and we don’t talk often. A thorn on my side. I miss her dearly. When she does text me, I take apart every word and comma, and reply with careful word choices that try to convey and include all that I want to mean. And I don’t know if you guys know this but that feature on text messages that tell you when someone’s looked at your text, oh God, I hate it. It’s like, it says, “READ”, and you hold your breath, they read it! And then the three little dots, letting you know that the other person is typing, displays and you just watch the three dots blink waiting. You know? No, just me? Cool. 

Well, Paul was very invested in this controversy about circumcision and who can eat with who. And very passionate. I mean his intro to the Galatians letter is,

“Paul an apostle – sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities but through Jesus Christ and God the Father.”

I mean I know he was a man of deep faith, but who writes like that?! And that was his gift too. He was audacious with his words. A gifted writer that compels rather than just tells, with each sentence. And he meant the things he wrote. He’s blunt and often very direct. Like,

“The acts of flesh are obvious!”

“Obvious”, those are fighting words. Never use the word “obvious” in a fight.  And he is a bit verbose. He likes to list and include a lot of things, with lots of commas. 

I’m saying these things, bringing context to Paul’s situation and maybe even to his temperament and style because that is absolutely relevant. Because when we don’t, we misunderstand the text and I have seen Bible used literally without taking context into account that can really be harmful. And this text particularly has been sometime misinterpreted to be a comprehensive list of do’s and don’t, a litmus test of who’s in the spirit or not. 

So let’s break it down a bit more to see if there’s more this text can offer about living in the spirit rather than just a list of things we need to check our lives by. 

First of all, this concept of Spirit versus the flesh that Paul is using to convey his point, it’s a framework. A metaphor, try to get at describing something but isn’t meant to define. In fact, through historical critical methods we know that this is a  common notion that was used in that day, which was a direct influence of a widely accepted thinking from ancient Greek philosophy. Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato, ancient philosophers, had some really powerful thoughts, like the concept of how they understood the spirit versus the body. And it influenced ways we talk about religion and culture. And Paul, because he, as pioneering of faith as he was, was too a product of his time and culture, immersed in his days’ ways of thinking.

The concept of the either or thinking, the binary thinking of spirit versus body, is in one sense interesting, but we also know now that the two are more connected and integrated than the ancient Greek philosophers might have thought. The body keeps score. The body is intelligent, like a computer of its own, holding literally codes of information through DNA, we realize through science. So it’s not simply that the spirit is good and the body is bad.

So what I’m saying is that you can’t just apply his concepts to us directly and blindly. Whatever your flesh wants is not always evil. If your body’s hungry. If your body needs to shake in grief. If your body needs to stretch out and hug a tree. If your body wants to move around its legs because you’re restless. If your body is tired- you don’t have to say, “the spirit is willing but the body is weak.” and quote bible verses out of context. Maybe you need rest. Maybe you need a nap. Living by the spirit doesn’t mean ignoring your body or that your body betrays you. 

One way I could offer that sort of reshapes the metaphor is, instead of saying the spirit versus the body, it’s been helpful for me to think about it as the True Self versus the Ego or the False Self. Again, this is just another framework. The True Self is that most authentic voice within, that is connected and curious and content. True self operates out of the gifts of human tendencies such as generosity, compassion, and love and acceptance. Whereas Ego, Ego is the exterior layer that came up to protect us against the dangerous world. It operates out of defensiveness and out of lack. Like, I’ll get them before they get me! 

A helpful way to look at what I mean by True Self and the Ego is the Enneagram. I’ve talked about Enneagram before, but it’s an interesting tool to name how all of us have a tendency of the Ego that we end up defaulting to, that often isn’t helpful and even harmful. It’s categorized into nine different types and each type has a kind of its own preoccupation that ends up upholding and maintaining the Ego. For example, Type One called the Perfectionist thinks, Because the world is imperfect, I must do all that I can to make it right to fix it. Hence their tendency toward perfectionism rather than grace and understanding.

Or Type Two, called the Giver or the Helper thinks that because the world is in high demand of things that we need to do, to be recognized, one must help or give something. Hence their tendency toward always busily helping rather than resting and simply being loved fully. 

I won’t go through all the numbers but every number, something, usually as a child, shifted in the world- the world demanded too much, the world was painful, the world was chaotic, and so all of us found ways to cope and work with that world, sometimes by overcompensating that fault. 

For me, a Type Seven, my ego says, no matter what, let’s just be positive! So I often try to make things better by doing something fun to help forget the hurt, because otherwise it just hurts too much. But my true self is able to engage grief or sadness without being afraid. And my True Self leads me and guides me in truth instead of ignoring the problem. 

I offer these words, True Self in place of the Spirit, and Ego in place of the flesh, because the war between the Spirit and Flesh has had a way of splitting a person’s wholeness, fighting within themselves, at odds with themselves. And that kind of teaching has resulted in sometimes even a betrayal of oneself that caused confusion about their identity.

I’ve gotten the question from a teen when I was a youth pastor, “why is everything God says is right but everything I do is wrong.” You’re not wrong. You’re not evil. Your body does not betray you. In fact, the spirit of God lives in you and works with you, the true you, who is connected, grounded, compassionate, and enough. There IS a false self at play, and we must know how to discern between the two. But at your core, your body, is not bad. To listen to the spirit does not mean you have to betray your body. 

“So I say, walk by the Spirit of True Self, and you will not gratify the desires of the Ego. For the Ego desires what is contrary to the True Self, and the Spirit of True Self what is contrary to the Ego.”

Now that we’ve got a handle on the framework, let’s tackle the content deeper.  

“ sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;

20 idolatry and witchcraft…

and so on

Okay, so the list Paul gives.  it’s not meant to be an exhaustive or a comprehensive list. I mean they all sound pretty bad but I’m just saying, he was writing his own list for the church of Galatia, not for you and your situation. This was simply Paul’s confession, his take of a life lived by the spirit. I’m sharing this text today, not to give you a list of things on what not to do and to do. There are some words of Paul’s that are helpful, but I’m sharing this text as an example of a man who really engaged himself to the situation, gave himself to the cause and named and called out things as he saw them. It’s an example, not a prescription.

In fact, Paul never meant for you to follow his lists either. The whole reason why he was writing all this was because he was trying to convey that you shouldn’t just follow things just because it’s the law.

“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”

The law, he means the old testament. That was their big controversy, as some were saying you must do things this way or that because of the law, the old testament said so. Paul was saying, no, we live by the spirit. We aren’t supposed to follow lists from the Bible but listen to the spirit that is alive right now. And he goes on to list some he sees, things that they were particularly facing that were particularly in Paul’s hearts at the moment. He was showcasing how one does that. 

So what’s your list ? What would you name as “The acts of the flesh” or maybe another way to think of it for us, “acts of ego” that we do? What are some ego tendencies that you’ve done or seen that are harmful and contrary to the spirit of one’s True Self? 

Let’s practice this together now, as a community, as Paul meant for us to do. 

Write some of your ideas in the chat. What are some words that you would say are not living in the spirit? Way of the Ego? 

The acts of the False self/ego are maybe not obvious to some but here’s some according to our community: power hungry, addiction, busyness and productivity, perfectionism, assuming the worst about a person…

…I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

And so, for the fruits of the Spirit. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great list. But again it’s Paul’s. What’s yours?

The Bible and Paul’s words are not the final word. It is a living word, and our lived experiences that also confess to the truth faith. The Bible, in the Jewish tradition, they are meant to be in conversation with one another. There are texts that even contradict one another, like Deuteronomy laying out all the ways you stay pure and clean. And then in the book of Galatians like where our text comes from today, says you don’t have to be circumcised and you can eat with Gentiles. And so our faith, our community is also supposed to maybe not all agree on what we think is the right way or the wrong way. Maybe this is how we listen to the spirit. We disagree and listen to opposing ideas. Maybe we take into consideration Moses’ list, Paul’s list, Mikayla’s list, Jin’s list…

We get to proclaim our story and we are witnesses to life in the spirit. 

So what is your picture of life in the spirit? What are your fruits of the spirit that you enjoyed? What is your understanding of what life in the spirit is, or life lived out of True Self is? 

love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

23 gentleness and self-control

are pretty good but give me some of yours in the chat. What is your fruit of the spirit that you’ve tasted and seen? What, in your opinion, is the fruit of the spirit of our times? 

The Fruit of the Spirit is freedom, collaboration, humility, rest, gratitude, resilience, boldness, vulnerability…

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit”

This was the provocative message of Paul. That we are all connected to the Spirit. And the Spirit speaks through us all, even in the face of old traditions and texts and prescriptions. Even through Zoom chat. Spirit makes things new, through you. Do you know that? Do you believe that? 

How do you listen to the Spirit? How do you live by the Spirit? Not by checking through Paul’s list. Maybe by coming up with your own list and sharing them with others. As you listen to your own list, may you be as audacious as Paul, passionate and bold. For the Spirit of God is upon you. Amen. 

Spiritual Practice 4_25

The Spirit of God Who Calls Us Out

For this week’s Events and Happenings, click “Download PDF.”

For this week’s Spiritual Practice, led by Trecia Reavis, click HERE. The images to accompany the Spiritual Practice are located in the PDF. .

Thank you Trecia. Namaste, namaste, namaste, may it be our guiding prayer as we walk, and breathe and have our being on this Earth.

If you missed the beginning of announcements – I just want to reiterate the Prayer Vigil for Hope and Healing coming up in 2 Sundays, on May 2nd.
Come with your prayer, come with your song.  It will be a time to give space for the voices of  Black, Indigenous, Asian American, and People of Color. All are welcome to attend and listen and stand in solidarity.  Sign up if you’d like to register.  Link in the chat – After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

It is good to be with you today my friends. I’m Ivy – a Pastor here on staff. And I’m going to share some words around this new series we are in called, Listening to the Spirit of God, with Freedom and Power.”  It is an invitation to both chronologically follow the events of early followers of Jesus and how they found their way with the Spirit of God, in post-resurrection days –  that were bewildering and confusing and laced with fear!  And it’s also an invitation for us to consider what we think of the Spirit of God IN these days. As Trecia led us through those images – maybe you felt those questions rise in you – where is the Spirit of God, where do I recognize it? What does it mean to listen to the Spirit? And what does that listening call us unto?

Our Lenten season centered the voices of the minor prophets and concluded with the promise of God, that we hear in the minor prophet of Joel –

I will pour out my spirit on all people

…not just kings, prophets and judges (people that had status and power and “religious” value), but poured out on all people. 

Today, this is the phrase I want to invite us to deeply mine, to revisit with fresh awareness.

I will pour out my spirit on all people

Because not only is this vital to our own experience of flourishing and wellness – especially in days of chaos and hurt (when only dead-ends appear on our horizon), and not only is it essential in piercing through our boundaries and limits of what and who God is, BUT it is also vital for our conceptions of what the “gospel” is, and who/what “church” is, as we revisit this promise.  

Today we’ll look at words shared to us in the book of Acts, particularly those of Stephen.  A voice that echoes around us, with the Spirit of God – just as strong today.  A voice that if we still/quiet ourselves long enough to listen, may just help us believe the RESURRECTION STORY is an everyday possibility – not just an Easter story. That death and violence and hatred will not be the message that wins out , the one that soaks into our veins and into our  next generations, but it will be a message of LIFE and Love that we create with the Spirit of God that wins out. Where the “gospel” and “church” represent the Spirit of God. Because the spirit of God, CALLS US OUT into liberation and new ways of living alongside one another – calling us into Beloved Community – which will take more than our human imaginations, it will take the power, inspiration and courage of the spirit of God. 


Oh Holy, tender one.
In faith, this morning we ask for your presence.
Aliven us, freshen us, tune us to your movement.

Within us… in the midst of us.. and beyond us.



Three years ago at this time of year – I took a trip to Duke University for a several day conference. The conference itself took place in Duke’s Chapel, this outstandingly gorgeous building, right in the center of campus. Actually it’s the tallest, most prominent university chapel in the world.   The first session of the first day – started with a woman leading us in song. I don’t even remember the song or the words, I just remember her singular voice starting us off. No instruments – just her voice echoing off these ancient stone walls,  and traveling up to the cavernous ceiling and reverberating back down – it was stunning.  And in a room of 1,000 or so strangers, it was uniting and the holiness. The Spirit of God. I felt it –  reverberated through all of us. 

Over the course of the next few days all of our sessions were centered in this sanctuary.  All the big speakers and all the great worship happened in this gorgeous building.  Except for this one opportunity where you could choose from a myriad of different breakout options. One of them was off-campus, which required taking a bus a few miles away in Durham, and visiting this property that was 1) a school – called the “School for Conversion, ” 2) a church, St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church, and also 3) a declared “Sanctuary” for a member of the neighborhood – Jose Chicas who was being faced with the risk of deportation – due to increased ICE raids in the area. He had been living there for a year at that point.. 

We would be able to meet one of the representatives of all of this – a guy by the name of Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

A LOT going on there – and I wanted to hear & see more about what all of this was. 

A church, a school, a neighborhood, “Sanctuary”, community?  What was the vision in all of this? The plan? The thru-line? The Program?

And also as you might guess, I was a little suspect of this word “conversion.”

“Conversion” has been a word that was often synonymous with the word “gospel” in my faith background. I held the “gospel”/the power – to “convert” others – which then gave them this separate/”holier” status. 

“Conversion” though, in its truest form, is a new way of being. And actually an on-going, ever-evolving way of being as we think of it situated in a faith context, with a living, resurrected God. IN YOUR FULL LIFE.  “Conversion” is a transformation of heart – and it is an active process that follows the movement of the SPIRIT OF GOD – that is not always visible or defined (as in a prominent tall building), but one that unmistakably introduces us into new patterns, spheres, people. And as Stephen shows us in the book of Acts – this newness and expanse –  is not always embraced or accepted by those in power. 

So let’s press into Stephen’s story a little bit here – we meet Stephen in chapter 6 of Acts where he is chosen to help with the daily distribution of food to widows who were being discriminated against – and we see here, that he is described as one who is

full of faith and the Holy Spirit 

and is one who performs many amazing signs and miracles.  This gains the attention of the religious elite – and they behold Stephen as a threat to their position and way of understanding God.

So they persuaded some men to lie about Stephen saying,

“This man is always speaking against the Temple and against the law of Moses.  We have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy the Temple and change the customs Moses handed down to us.

And so they arrested him and brought him before the RELIGIOUS COUNCIL. 

These accusations are a big deal.  Stephen knows that to continue to live in the Spirit – presses against the honoring of hierarchies of religious authorities. HE is transgressing the borders – closing the distance between insider and outsider.. Neighbor and foreigner… friend and stranger.   Suggesting that the Spirit of God sees no boundaries. 

So Stephen responds to the council – and it’s about 50 verses in Chapter 7 of Acts – I won’t read them all – but it is very powerful, so I’ll summarize a bit,

The interesting thing about his response to the council – is that he doesn’t start with a list of retorts for each point he’s been accused of .

Instead he decides to remind this religious council of the movement of the Spirit of God – to all of God’s people over the history of time.  

He starts way back with Abraham.

He details the movement of God throughout lands – out of Egypt, through the Red Sea and back and forth through the wilderness. The widening circles and borders and cultures that God embraces.

He reminds the council of God’s promises that have occurred throughout history – and how God came through on those promises.

He reminds the council of the Spirit of God’s bewildering ways – of how God created a whole nation from Abraham and his descendants even though there were no children yet.

He reminds the council of Jacob and Isaac and Joseph, and Moses  – who are pivotal characters in the religious elite’s present day understanding of God.

He reminds them of the spirit of God speaking through people, and bushes, and angels and fire –  occurring in curious ways  – but ALWAYS present.

The Spirit of God always present  – he also reminds the council (in this historical recollection), that at EVERY turn the Spirit of God has been rejected, forgotten, and disbelieved by the ‘people of God’ –  again and again – throughout history.  

 Stephen’s address ends with these powerful words (picking up at the end of Acts 7):

Acts 7: 45-51

45 Years later, when Joshua led our ancestors in battle against the nations that God drove out of this land, the Tabernacle was taken with them into their new territory. And it stayed there until the time of King David.

46 “David found favor with God and asked for the privilege of building a permanent Temple for the God of Jacob.

47 But it was Solomon who actually built it.

48 However, the Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands.

As the prophet Isaiah says,

49 ‘Heaven is my throne,

    and the earth is my footstool.

Could you build me a temple as good as that?’

    asks the Lord.

‘Could you build me such a resting place?

50  Didn’t my hands make both heaven and earth?’

51 “You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? 

Stephen ends here with the words of the prophet Isaiah.  Challenging them to consider these words of God,

“Didn’t my hands make both heaven and earth?”  “Oh religious council – can you understand that God’s presence has been and will always be present everywhere? Covering heaven and earth?”  “Do you see that *your God* is the same God of Abraham? 

And like Joel’s words,

“I pour out my spirit on all people.”

Can you see that

“I, Stephen have the same spirit of God in me – that is present in you?”

Stephen shows and calls out, in the same way that  prophets do, big patterns. They are seers of big patterns. They see what has always been true – and will forever be true of God.  Recognizing that one of the big patterns of God – as Stephen recollects through history –  is that God’s message of love and spirit – always gets wider and more universal, that God is IN all things.

It’s profound, because Stephen is showing here (to the council that is accusing him and will shortly murder him through stoning) that the very truths they speak of – and are so vehemently protecting and guarding – the “good news”, that speaks of the incredible power and goodness of God for ALL PEOPLE – is being warped and turned into “bad news” as they use it against the people in their midst. 

And herein Stephen not only reveals a big pattern of God – but he also reveals one of the biggest patterns of humanity -our continued effort to limit the Spirit of God.  Discredit the Spirit of God.  Cover our ears and not listen to the Spirit of  God.  Especially as we seek to retain comfort, power, and status. 

The pattern over history is that we (the bearers of God’s image and Spirit – are the destructive forces that hijack the gospel) resisting it

by believing that faith is our business to manage, our tool to use on other people or society.” 

This is why it is so important to figure out where you are, where we are, I am with the Spirit of God today. Because the Spirit of God calls us out – to continue the good work of reconstructing the gospel – to keep “converting”/transforming to new ways of being in beloved community with one another. 

The council before Stephen couldn’t listen to the truth that Stephen – by way of the Spirit of God revealed in his speech … so much so that it says in verse 57, that they

Acts 7:57

“put their hands over their ears, and drowning out his voice with their own shouts they rushed him, dragged him out of the city and stoned him.” 


As suspect as I was getting off the bus and walking a few blocks over to this “School for Conversion” – I warmed to Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove as I listened to him speak of “church” as in the Greek of the New Testament, “ekklesia – translated as “the called-out ones.”   Which he said is to be called out of the patterns and practices of this world’s sinful and broken systems into the economy of God’s abundance and  grace which is enough for everyone – this he said, is to be church. 

To participate in an institution called church that reinforces this world’s broken systems is easy. But to live by the spirit, is messier – because it requires that which we can not fully know – the person in front of us – and the only bridge to knowing is “love.”

As Jesus says in his first sermon,

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because the Spirit has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor”

This is the gospel. To challenge the injustice of poverty – those who have been made poor, kept poor, by unjust systems.

And what if this first sermon was an invitation – not to create or imagine a bunch of auxiliary ministries, dependent on the central mission of “church building/entity” – but what if it was a “calling out” of the Spirit of God? As a way of living with love, in this world, and fighting everything that comes against that love, by the power of the Spirit?

To walk by the power of the Spirit in an unpredictable world, is one that liberates us from the most powerful authoritative/hierarchical institutions and systems that lay in our land.

This freedom is what the COUNCIL didn’t like. Stephen was living alongside people. MORE THAN HE WAS IN THE TEMPLE, he was being the gospel, more than he was studying the mosaic laws, he was walking alongside, sharing his food with those who had been abandoned and cast aside – widows.  Yet what was the shape of this? What was the plan? The spelled out vision? The structure? How could they know if it was really of God or not? 

They couldn’t.  

It was too unpredictable. Too mysterious, one might say, even miraculous. 

And herein lies the miracles we get to encounter with the Spirit of God.  The miracle is that the Spirit of God can be found, in backyards and at playgrounds, and in neighborhoods and in offices. In you, and in me, and in all of us.  IF, as Trecia invited us to consider, “we choose to recognize it.” God is IN ALL THINGS.  God is in all things.

Our days are over-flowing with miracles.

What I discovered as I learned more about Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s work (which by the way was by standing in the parking lot of this property because it really wasn’t as much about the building or what goes on inside the building as a school/ or as a church/ or as “sanctuary”) it was more about the way of life that was found as he engaged with his community, neighborhood – as he was part of the area that surrounds him.  This has led to meaningful partnerships with so  many folks in his area – including Reverend William J. Barber (who created the Poor People’s Campaign of Moral revival – which takes up the unfinished work of the Poor People’s Campaign of 1967-1968 by Martin Luther King Jr.).   

It’s led to Jose Chicas being free to reunite with his family – after 1300 days in sanctuary.

It’s led to this “School for Conversion” being shaped by God’s vision of a Beloved Community. 

It’s led to the embodiment of “conversion” not being a separate set of doctrines that people have to subscribe to – but a WAY OF LIFE – that leads us ALL toward beloved community  –  a new way of living together and being in the world.

And it’s led the church to be not primarily about how many people show up for services, but rather about how many who are oppressed will encounter liberation. It’s about how many neighborhoods and families and individuals can be freed by the oppressive structures that continually try to limit life. And limit the Spirit of God.

And here we are today. The church, in this post, resurrection reality, just 2 weeks out from celebrating Easter, declaring that CHRIST is RISEN, CHRIST is HERE, CHRIST IS ALIVE. And our hearts are burning within us, with this awareness and hope. And yet we start this week, again, with death.  Another murder of a black man at the hands of police.  Daunte Wright, a 20 year old, a bearer of the image of God. Full of joy, given to laughter, a doting father, full of life, full of the Spirit of God.  We would do well, to listen to the Spirit of God.   We would do well to listen to the question that Daunte asks of us in his death, “Do you recognize the Spirit of God in me?”

Stephen says,

the most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands”

It’s us. 

We are the temples. We are the living-breathing sanctuaries – filled with the Spirit of God. Capable of miracles, capable of loving those around us – yet Stephen poses piercing questions – will we listen to the Spirit?  Or will we be a stubborn people? Heathen at heart and deaf to the truth?  Or will we be able in faith, to trust  like Moses did? And in faith, suffer like Joseph did? And in faith, persevere like Abraham? Will we be able to push against the spirit of our times – power, violence –  like Stephen did?

Howard Thurman says to,

listen to the Spirit of God in our hearts – often CALLS US OUT to act AGAINST the spirit of our times – and often causes us to anticipate a spirit which is yet in the making…”

Stephen listened to the Spirit – that was “yet in the making.” And he invited this council of religious elite – to listen to the Spirit that was “yet in the making.” The free, powerful, unboundaried Spirit of God. 

And in that he invited them to answer the same question Daunte Wright does of us today, one they couldn’t face and embody, one they covered their ears to, “Do you recognize the Spirit of God in me?”

God says in

Joel 2:12-13

  12  “Turn to me now, while there is time.

Give me your hearts.

    Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning.

13 Don’t tear your clothing in your grief,

    but tear your hearts instead.”

Return to the Lord your God,

    for God  is merciful and compassionate.

May we return. Return to the good, loving, powerful story of God in our lives – that has been written over the arch of history – so that we can write it into the future.  And so that our efforts to rid this world’s systems of racism and every other sickening toxin are freed from white supremacy – addressing our hearts, our souls in the light of God’s mercy and compassion.

So that we can greet one another with Namaste. With reverence, with honor.

May the spirit of God in me – greet the spirit of God in you.

May we see and behold one another  – as holy sanctuaries.

May we continue to become the church – embody the Spirit of God – that “calls us out.”

Amen – 



Where Is The Spirit of God?

For this week’s Events and Happenings, click “Download PDF.”

For this week’s spiritual practice, led by Lydia Shiu, click HERE.

From Easter through Pentecost, which is on Sunday, May 23, we’ll be exploring some of the ways we find what’s important, encounter God, and participate in God’s Beloved Community as we listen to God’s spirit, in all the places and ways God is present to us. We’re calling this series Listening to the Spirit. We’ve found over the years that listening well – listening to ourselves and our hearts and our lives, listening to the people around us, and listening to God in all the ways God speaks – is central to fulfilling our purposes for our lives, central to how we find God and wholeness and everything else good in life. We’ll end the series on May 23, partly because that’s about the right amount of time, and partly because that is Pentecost Sunday. This is a day in Jewish tradition associated with a Spring harvest festival and God’s giving of the law through Moses, but a day in Christian tradition associated with God’s Holy Spirit, God’s living presence on this earth to be with and encourage and speak to all people. And today I’m going to talk about where the Spirit of God is. Where do we go to listen to the Spirit?

But first on a personal note, the last day of this series May 23 is the next time I’ll be preaching at Reservoir, since I’m taking a month off, starting this Tuesday. Yeah, a whole month; I’m incredibly grateful. It’s the first third of a sabbatical that the church is granting me for rest and renewal. After 11 straight years of leading a school and then leading a church, I’ve got some extra time over the next three years to step back from work here and there, find some peace, and listen to the Spirit myself as I seek God’s ongoing guidance in my life and the life of this community. So a big thank you to all of you and to our pastoral team and Board for making this possible, and a big thank you to this church for being not just a beautiful and amazing community I am glad to be part of and serve, but for being much more than the contributions of any one person, myself included.

And now to today’s topic. I’m speaking on the question “Where is the Spirit of God?” And I’m inspired by Jesus’ words in the gospel of Luke, which we’ll read now.

Luke 17:20-21 

20 Pharisees asked Jesus when God’s kingdom was coming. He replied, “God’s kingdom isn’t coming with signs that are easily noticed.

21 Nor will people say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ Don’t you see? God’s kingdom is already among you.”


Jesus taught a lot about this place, or this idea, that he called the Kingdom of God. And people around Jesus were often like: what, what? They knew about kingdoms. This area was occupied territory, part of the state of Syria on the Eastern edge of the Roman Empire. So they were like: woah, Jesus – what is this kingdom you speak of? Jesus didn’t usually address these questions very directly; he told stories about what life is like when God’s love and desires carry the day on earth.

We like to call it a kindom sometimes because when you take out the “g” you get rid of the emphasis on power and patriarchy, which isn’t what Jesus’ vision are about at all. And more and more, we’ve been describing Jesus’ kindom vision as Beloved Community. Where faith and freedom are more our way in the world than fear, where relationships and societies are governed by generosity more than judgement, kindness more than contempt, and where we walk with God and others not proud and contentious but beloved, included, humble, just, and grateful.

But today I don’t want to talk about what the Beloved Community is so much as where it is. Because Jesus was asked, if you have a kindom coming, if you have a Beloved Community growing on earth, how will we find it, and Jesus is like – fine, here’s where you should look.

Another way of putting this is to say if God is still with us by God’s Spirit, where do we find it? Where do we look for God’s Spirit, so we can lean in and listen?

A psychologist and theologian I follow named Richard Beck recently wrote about this passage along these lines, acknowledging that the phrase Jesus uses that I read today as:

“God’s kingdom is already among you.”

The power of a preposition, friends. There are actually three different ways you can read the Greek of that phrase among you, and those will help point us to three places we can find God’s Spirit and listen. 

The first way we can read it is “God’s kindom, God’s beloved community is in your midst.” 

“In Your Midst”

Read this way, Jesus is saying:

the Spirit of God isn’t going to be any place you need to find at all, it’s right here. It’s me. Wherever I am, there the Beloved Community will grow and be. I’m right here.

Jesus is God’s presence and wisdom and help and peace, and the Spirit of God is the presence of Jesus still available to us all, unseen. 

Earlier in Luke, when Jesus began his public ministry, he said this more or less, when he said:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to speak good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to those in prison, recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of God’s favor.”

Healing and justice and freedom are signs of the kindom, and Jesus is like:

listen to me. I can take you there. Into God’s favor.

We listen to the Spirit by listening to Jesus.

It was transformative for me when in my late teens into my twenties, I realized I could listen to the teaching of Jesus and try to really follow it. I’m not saying I did follow the teaching of Jesus in most way, my God, no, it takes a lifetime. It’s just that I learned it’s a thing you can actually dedicate yourself to, and that it’s good stuff. 

I was in a group of Chrsitians that read and studied the gospels a lot, for hours. A friend gave me a book by a philosopher named Dallas Willard. It was called The Divine Conspiracy, and it argued that:

God’s hope, the conspiracy God was hatching, was for ordinary people to love and follow the teaching and practice of Jesus, listening to the Spirit of Jesus as we seek to do so, letting this form my life. 

I grew up seeing and hearing about a lot of unmanaged anger and lust. Listening to the Spirit in Jesus, I learned that if I wanted to be a trustworthy and safe person, my anger and my lust would need to be transformed, so that I wouldn’t be prone to using people or attacking people. I grew up like most of us thinking love was a feeling, but I learned from listening to the Spirit in Jesus that love is a way of life – it’s steady kindness and delight and service and trust. I grew up in an all white, man’s world. But I got my start in feminism, in anti-racism, in the radical affirmation of the dignity of all people through seeing how Jesus did all that, so far ahead of his time, so far ahead of our time still. And I grew up thinking being religious made you “judgy,” gave you the right to look down on people who didn’t have their stuff together. But Jesus showed me the way to radical acceptance. 

There was this time when I was a teacher, in my late twenties, when I was praying about the upcoming school year. And I was reading the words of Jesus in the gospel of John when he says:

I have come not to judge the world, but to save it.

And this light when off in my head, like what am I doing? As a teacher, I spend so much time judging my students. Even the way I grade their papers comes off providing them a much larger dose or criticism than it does anything that will really help them be better writers and more competent, confident young people. And that moment transformed how I grade English papers, of all things, what kind of comments I write and what I don’t, what kind of process I’d work in my classroom to focus on elevating my students, not judging them. 

What I’m trying to say is that I found my start in the kind of adult life I want to live by listening to the Spirit in Jesus, right there in our midst. To be found every time I read the gospels, and every time I pray with Jesus and to Jesus. 

I know so many of you have this experience, that when we listen to Jesus, we find better ways forward. We find life. I’ve heard many dozens, probably hundreds actually of stories in this community of people praying while reading the words of Jesus and praying to Jesus and with Jesus and finding great ways forward. 

That’s why in my month off coming up, part of what I’ll be doing is reading the four gospels slowly, and taking walks alone believing that Jesus is walking with me, unseen, through the Spirit of God, and that Jesus is there to talk to when I feel like it, and to light up my mind and my heart and my path. 

The Spirit of God is in our midst, whenever we give our attention to the words and life and teaching and presence of Jesus. 

But there’s another way to translate this phrase. The Spirit of God is not only in our midst, it’s not only in Jesus. But the Spirit of God is also within you.

“Within You”

The Spirit of God is within you. One of the great innovations of the good news of Jesus is this radical interiority of God’s presence with us. 

The prophet Ezekiel promised that God can and will take hearts of stone – cold, hard, unresponsive – and make them hearts of flesh – warm, loving, responsive, able to receive and provide nurture. In Luke, some people call this Luke’s heart theology, that God can work upon us to help us be warm to change, to welcome love and grace and practice kindness and compassion and nurture for others. 

This is the “rule and reign” of God in our hearts, or what I like to call the God’s loving presence and leadership within us. Sometimes we listen to the Spirit within us through our conscience. And sometimes through the still, small voice of God, sometimes a combination of both.

So many of you have rich and many experiences of the God’s presence and leadership through God’s Spirit within you. We have a treasury of this kind of experience in our church. I am by no means the expert in the room on listening to the Spirit within us.

But I can simply say that many of the most important decisions I’ve made in my life have been based on listening to the Spirit within. Who I married. Where I live. Why I became pastor of this church. I could go on and on.

Seven years ago, our church was caught up in a controversy which thank God now seems dated and well behind us. But we were sorting out whether our LGBTQ participants in our community would have full standing and equality in our community. Again, this seems obvious to many of us now, but for most of Christian history, churches haven’t extended the same rights and freedom and blessing and dignity even to LGBTQ people as we have to everyone else. And for the most part, it’s only been in recent decades in this country that churches have started to do so. 

Now I was by no means the only player in this conversation in our church. There were many gracious, courageous, thoughtful LGBTQ people and allies who participated and led our church’s discernment and change. There were pastors and leaders and members of our community – and all kinds of people outside our church who were watching us – who weighed in in different ways. But for my part, though I read dozens of books on the Christian faith, the Bible, and the experiences of LGBTQ people and Christians, I participated in hundreds of conversations with people about their experiences and convictions and yearnings and pain. I was part of many discussions with pastors and scholars and people of different sexual identities and faith experiences, and so much more.

One of the most influential moments in my whole process that got me where I am today, was an experience I had during worship a little over seven years ago, where as I was singing with our congregation, a thought popped into my mind that was so vivid, in words so clear, and felt so much like everything I know in my mind and my experience of God, that I was sure God was speaking to me. I’m still sure God was speaking to me. And the sentence I believe God said by God’s Spirit was enough. I knew that I would always henceforth be a pastor who would extend the same dignities and blessings and love and inclusion to LGBTQ people as I would to anyone else. And I’m so grateful that God helped me get here. 

The Spirit of God is within you. God is with you to be present to you and guide you, my friends, whatever you are facing today. 

The late medieval Spanish mystic Teresa of Avila put it this way:

that God lives within you, and since heaven is wherever God lives, you are God’s heaven.

Friends, trust that God lives within you. Ask God for help to notice how God is with you, for God to speak God’s love and leadership to you through your mind, through your desires, through your conscience. Pay attention by faith, and see what you hear.

The Spirit of God is, with Jesus, in your midst.

The Spirit of God is within you.

But also one more place.

The Spirit of God is within reach.

“Within Reach” 

The Spirit of God is within reach.

This third way we can translate the words Jesus said about kindom and about the Spirit means “within your grasp”, “near to hand”, “right in front of you, wherever you are.” The Spirit of God isn’t just in Jesus, and isn’t just within us, but also just out in front of us, still to be realized, wherever you are, throughout all creation. 

When I was new to the Christian faith, I was taught that Spirit of God was in Jesus – so we can listen to the Spirit when we listen to Jesus. And I was taught that the Spirit of God lives within those who love and follow Jesus – so that if we love and follow Jesus, we can listen to the Spirit of God within.

But I was also taught that outside of Jesus, and outside of baptized followers of Jesus, you might find goodness, but you weren’t going to find much of God’s Spirit. A lot of Christians are taught this, which is why Christians sometimes don’t have the greatest curiosity, humility, and compassion for how God is present and what God is doing outside of Christian people and institutions. 

But over the centuries, more and more followers of Jesus have realized that God pours out God’s Spirit abundantly, in surprising people and places, and that God is present to God’s creation everywhere. The Spirit of God is also beyond you and me, but within reach. 

Franciscan followers of Jesus discovered that the Bible contains wonderful words of God, but the first Word of God is creation. The natural world – the trees and oceans and plants and animals – all of creation is the first Bible, where the Spirit lives and speaks.

Jesuit followers of Jesus learned to look for God in all things. Which at their best, which hasn’t been always, has led to really great curiosity and partnership with non-Christian cultures and peoples, seeing that God is speaking there too by God’s Spirit.

Protestant missionaries in the 19th and 20th centuries were mostly caught up still in the colonial project, in which they brought good news of Jesus but also white supremacy, and American and European dominance. So sad. But small, and later increasing numbers of these missionaries, were led by God and taught and trained to notice signs of the Spirit of God’s presence in all cultures and all peoples, long before Christians or the name of Jesus were ever on the scene.

I don’t have time to share more stories on this front in my life, but in recent years, I’ve listened to the Spirit more and more out in front of me, beyond places I’d known to look before.

I’ve listened to the Spirit speaking about the reforms that religion needs to be healthy in our times from a Muslim journalist who writes about about Islam, secularism, and Jesus. 

I’ve listened to the Spirit speaking about how to be a more relational person, and how to continue having Jesus shape my life, through a public health agency in India we partner with. 

I’m listening to the Spirit of God speak about the struggles of the earth to survive and the power of the earth to flourish through my children, and through the mountains and the trees, and through scientists and activists mostly operating outside of religious spaces. 

Turns out, where can we find God? Everywhere.

And through whom can Spirit of God speak? Absolutely everyone and everything.

This is why life with God is an invitation to listening. Spirit of God doesn’t want to be hard to find or hear. Spirit of God is living, moving, loving, luring, speaking, inviting us to all the best all the time, through many means. 

Jesus invites us ask, seek, and knock. Jesus call us to radical attention – to be present; to radical curiosity – to wonder where and how God will speak today; and to radical listening – to trust that the Spirit of God is in Jesus, is within us, and is right out in front of us, everywhere we go. 

Listening to Our Hearts

For this week’s Events and Happenings, click “Download PDF.”

For the Easter spiritual practice led by Steve Watson, click HERE.

Good morning and Happy Easter to you.

I’m pastor Lydia and I’ll be sharing the Easter message with you this morning. Let me read the text, and pray for us before we begin.

Luke 24:13-35

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem.

14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.

15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them;

16 but they were kept from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast.

18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

19 “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.

20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him;

21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.

22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning

23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive.

24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!

26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”

27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther.

29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.

31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.

32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together

34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.”

35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Let’s pray:

Resurrected Lord, open our eyes now that we may see you. Would you burn our hearts up as we listen? Speak to us, not through my lips, but through each of our hearts. Would your Spirit of resurrection anoint each and every heart gathered here this moment and ignite in us the truth that cannot be shaken, love that cannot be moved. Teach us we pray, show us yourself, your holy presence, that we may know and experience in our bodies now, the power of new life and resurrection we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. 

Things are looking uppity up y’all! Vaccines are making their way. There’s Spring sun and flowers. I even saw a bunny the other day on my walk, literally hop hopping through my neighbor’s yard. And, Christ is risen! 

But to get here, man have we had a year. To get here to resurrection, boy have we seen some death and losses and grief. 

With the year we’ve had, with all that you’ve seen, if you’re a bit skeptical, I get it. Even with the vaccines, masks are probably here to stay for a while. And I’ve learned when I moved to Boston, don’t get too settled into Spring even in April. We could still have another snow! And this past year we’ve gotten some wake up calls about racial injustice, and it’s been good to see the awareness and conversations opening up. But I know that for many of us, who’ve seen the old sturdy systems of injustice slow to change at work, sometimes it can get tiring, asking for change, when all you’ve seen is more of the same perpetuated and reinforced.

So what do we do now? How are we to move forward? 

Maybe this is how the two people in our text today felt. The trauma of events that led up to the arrest of Jesus, how he was betrayed by their own leaders, who handed him over to be murdered by the state. And after that gruesome death, they experienced so much grief that their bodies ached, tears hurled on, the community distressed. And then, after three days, they heard rumors that he was alive!? Like an ex who broke your heart calling you back to say they want to get back together, and you’re like wait what? They were distraught and confused, not sure what to believe. 

A side pondering on the characters. The text doesn’t say much about who these two people were. It mentions one of their names once, Cleopas but that’s it, nothing else about this person, not even whether it was a man or a woman. I always imagined that these were two men. Well probably because there are drawings of this scene in that manner and because any unknown character is usually assumed to be a guy. I noticed that I do this even when I’m harmlessly playing with my daughter, a lego block she has personified and feeding, I ask her “what’s he eating?” or a water bottle she’s putting on a truck I ask, “where’s he going?”

I mention this because I’m a female pastor and the excavation of women characters that were present and vital to the story is important to me. I don’t mean just making up female characters, but at the least not assuming every character is male. In fact, when I looked closer into the text, it never once said that they were male. I just assumed so. The text only refers to them as them. In fact, some say that it would’ve been more likely to be a couple, which probably was a woman and a man then, traveling together rather than two men. Just giving us new eyes to imagine the text as we read. But also I like how the text just refers to the two as “they/them/theirs” the whole time too actually. 

Alright back to the story. So. The two of them, they were going to a village called Emmaus.

Why? Why were they going away from Jerusalem, where everything had happened? Why were they walking away?

Maybe because it hurt too much. Maybe they were ready to call it quits from all that they thought and hoped. Maybe they needed a break from all the drama. Jerusalem was where everything had gone down and they were leaving. I mean I get it. Sometimes when we’re afraid, we retreat. Especially in the midst of great change or uncertainty, it’s easy to step away. Understandably, these two were trying literally to get some distance from it all. 

Has that ever happened to you? Where for some reason, maybe you faced a loss too difficult, grief and anger too consuming, that you walked not toward God, but away? Have you ever felt so hurt that you didn’t have the energy or vision or hope to stay in it and the only thing you could do and needed was to get away? Have you ever felt like you wanted to turn away from God?

I actually think we feel this throughout our faith journey. Faith is not just something you have. Like, “I have faith”, But the process of not believing and struggling, walking away and finding ourselves at the crossroads, IS doing faith. 

Our story tells us that when these two found themselves on the road to Emmaus, away from the center of all the drama, that there, right there on the dirt road they were trekking on, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them, asking,

“What are you discussing?”

What are you thinking about? What’s on your mind? Jesus asks.

And when they answered with despair, Jesus asked again, probing, “what thing?” Jesus came alongside them, curious, asking them questions, listening to what was on their hearts. Their hearts were broken. Their hearts were barely hanging on. And the first two things he said to them were, open questions. 

How would you answer Jesus on your walk today? Whether it’s on a speedy brisk walk to figure things out, a churning mind on a hike, or a downcast barely-got-out-the-door stroll, can you imagine Jesus coming alongside you and asking you,

“hey what are you discussing amongst yourselves?” “what’s going on in your community?” “What’s your heart holding and contemplating on?” 

When my husband and I go on walks together, we say it almost every time. I stop us and say “listen!” It’s a bird or the water stream nearby or children laughing. “Listen!” and it brings us back from whatever momentum we were on before, just going and busy, to pause and take in. Listen. 

Let me tell you a story.  A few years ago I met a young man named Shayok. He was fresh out of college, young charismatic energy, dark-skinned, and had an infectious laugh. We started having these meetings (one-on-ones they call them in the community organizing world) where we would meet up and we’d try to tell each other stories that shaped us. Stories that at some point maybe changed you, or solidified you. The story that left an imprint. Stories that broke us and motivated us. 

We were sharing these stories because we were trying to find ways to work together towards making a change. But what change? How? He shared about walking around near Harvard campus and passing by a homeless guy that made him stop in his tracks to wonder –all this prestige and power, right next to this guy. But he didn’t just tell me what happened or what he knows about the inequity and discrepancy in his mind, but how he felt. It made him angry. 

A year ago he started telling me about his dreams of trying to build some power and coalition locally in Cambridge, which is why he kept his relationship with me, a pastor in Cambridge. He was developing relationships with other leaders in the area like the pastor of Outdoor Church of Cambridge and leaders at the Unhoused Advocacy Group.

By April 2021, at the height of Covid, something was coming to Shayok’s attention and his friends. With all the public places closing, cafes, libraries, the homeless community was suddenly at a loss of bathrooms. Bathrooms where they would’ve washed their hands. Bathrooms where you do the usual stuff and get water. They all halted to an abrupt stop, especially at a time when it was needed the most. Shayok shared with me a recording of one person’s experience. It was a recording at the Outdoor Church asking about access for the homeless and sharing that..

there is only one bathroom for all of us from the Arlington line to Central Square…

Shayok rounded us up together. All the relationships that he had been developing in the last few years…it resulted in a series of letters being sent to the City Manager and Mayor of Cambridge, signed by 56 institutions (including us, Reservoir Church), strongly urging the city to provide more washing stations, bathrooms, shelter beds. It took some messy Zoom meetings, and more letters to sometimes no response but I’m going to skip to the end of the story cause I don’t have a lot of time left. 

I got an email a year later, March 2021 from Shayok saying:

Our collective advocacy has resulted in the expansion of public bathrooms including in Davis Square and Alewife, the institution of shower facilities outside First Church Cambridge, and notably, the creation of the 50-bed Green St. Shelter run by Solutions at Work, Inc., which has helped address the severe shortage of shelter beds. 

Which by the way, we’ve had an asylum seeker come through our congregation that a few of us have sweetly been serving for months, ended up living in that very Green St. Shelter. Although now, their story continues with twists and turns. And actually the latest is, we really need your prayer for this person, who’s currently at the hospital, I last heard. I won’t share the details but that’s the honest update. So it’s not a total happy ending to all this story…The stories of death and resurrection continue on. 

I wanted to share this story with you all because it started with listening. It started with our hearts burning for the stories of the homeless, and our hearts burning for this asylum seeker, and it moved us into and through these stories towards actively finding life and actively engaging hope in these stories. In fact through listening, we joined the story and became the conduits of life and hope, shaping these stories towards the arch of justice. 

This morning at the Sunrise gathering we read when Mary first realized Jesus’ body was missing. He asked her,

“Why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” 

Why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for? Shayok and I ask these kinds of questions: what is the world as it is, that you’re crying about, and the world as it should be, that you want to look for and find? Why are you crying and what are you looking for? 

Friends, I want to remind you that Jesus is listening. And when Jesus walked along the two that day, when they arrived to Emmaus, they urged him, “Stay with us!” stay with us!

And as Jesus ascended into heaven after his resurrection, he promised to them in

Luke 24:49

49 “And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Jesus left us with the Holy Spirit. That spirit is among us and with us even now. The power of life, resurrection, and hope– we have been CLOTHED with the power from on high. 

Do you want to invite Jesus to stay with you? Will you share your story and listen to other’s stories? Will you let your hearts burn, even if it hurts, with the stories that arise within us and the stories we hear? Even if those stories are ones of disbelief and walking away? Will you stay with us? 

We’d like to invite you next coming weeks to Listen to the Spirit among us, and ask one another as Jesus did, coming alongside one another saying, “What are you discussing?” “What things are burning our heart? Why are you crying? What are you looking for?

Throughout April and May our church’s Faith Into Action, a group of us who care about putting our faith into action through organizing toward public good and justice, and the Reservoir’s Equity Diversity Inclusion (REDI) team are partnering together to host Listening Sessions in our community and groups.

 Listening to our stories. And that through listening, our collective hearts will burn and that maybe we will stop in our tracks, turn around, and go back to the source and assemble together to say, “It is true! Jesus is risen! There is new hope and new life!” And live into that resurrection reality together. 

Would you join me in prayer…

Jesus, our teacher, Living God, May we boldly gather around tables (or over zoom) breaking bread and sharing with one another, that you may open our ears and open our hearts, that we may see and recognize Jesus, right there in our midst, We pray, in your precious and holy name, Amen.