“Peace Be With You”

For this week’s events, click on “Download PDF.”

Today was our Graduation Sunday in Virch. Congratulations, Graduates of 2020! We love you!

Click YouTube link to watch our virtual service, with a special video just for our grads.

Part 1: Wounded Nation

Good morning, my friends. It’s good to be with you today. 

We are in the midst of two pandemics.  The Covid-19 pandemic that has claimed the lives of at least 107,000 people in the United States.  

And we are in the midst of a racism pandemic. 

And we grieve. Oh we grieve, the exponential loss of black lives.  We grieve so recently the loss of Breonna Taylor – who’s 27th birthday, would have been this past Friday.  We remember and say her name once again today, Breonna Taylor. 

This racism pandemic is one that has plagued our nation since it’s birth.

And so not surprisingly the vulnerabilities and inequities laid bare by the covid pandemic have fallen hardest on Black bodies.  Revealing to us how we have long been deeply sick as a nation, with no balm for the aching.  

As the delayed waves and ripples of awareness make their way across our country uncovering where we have left the wounds of black people raw and untreated,  for 400+ years  – we have a lot to learn about the power and the tenderness of wounds. …how to let our black siblings rest – and how to get at the underlying work of dressing those wounds. 


We are a wounded nation. And we have long been a wounded nation.


On Monday this week our family talked of vigils, rallies, marches which ones we would be a part of in the days to come – realizing what a privilege it is to have the luxury of choice.  A part of – what that means… to be in solidarity to be an ally?  What we could be a part of changing…. We talked around all of these points – but hadn’t acutely brought Jesus into the conversation.

My daughter interrupted and asked, “But does it really matter if we pray?  I mean it’s been so long, people have been praying for so long – and it seems like nothing has changed – nothing is working. So does it matter?”


Scott and I reflexively went into a discourse on prayer, “well – it depends on how you think about prayer,  action v. sitting at the periphery… blah, blah, blah…and how our own experiences of faith in our past have led us down these different paths of prayer.”


And she interrupted again and said, “Stop – I want you to answer my question – does prayer matter?”


Such a disruptive question. 


A question that holds within it the bewilderment of what she bears witness to.  Such deep pain, wounding in the world – and the truth of what she knows of God – to help… and yet calling out that this mode of prayer  – does not seem TO WORK. 

We need to start paying attention to, and listening to the voices that say, “Things aren’t working”… whether it’s a 13 yr old – or the wounded crying out in pandemics – or a disciple like Thomas, (who we will spend more time with this morning).  Because these voices will be what HELPS us into building/creating alternative landscapes of care in our world – that hold both the power of the resurrected and wounded Jesus.  


[PRAYER] God, show us what’s in these wounds. Invite us into the most intimate, deepest, HARD & messiest parts of ourselves and others. Help us to keep pressing in – to listen and learn – so we can move trusting that this is where you reside also.  


Part II: Scripture
Let’s read together the story of the disciple, Thomas.  I invite you into this ancient story this morning – to see how it translates to your own unique, story… let’s read together:


John 20:19–29 (NIV)

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger [IN] where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Jesus has just died. The disciples’ wounds of grief, and despair are so raw. And they are sheltering themselves in a room, they have retreated in fear of the leaders who demanded Jesus’ death, and are still circling – looking for Jesus followers.  And so the disciples go back to the last place they were with Jesus alive.  To find peace. ..

You see these disciples had imagined and believed for a world that was not governed by state-sponsored violence. They had dared to dream and to hope for a world where flourishing of humanity would lend itself to equitable life…a world where healing could be realized for everyone.   

They believed IN resurrection.  

Yet instead they saw death.  Death on the cross of their friend and teacher, their rabbi. And with his death, the dying of their own vision and dreams – for this new kin-dom of God.

And so here they are in a liminal, in-between space, this waiting room.   WAITING. 
Their grief is so much though, and maybe doubt is creeping in too –  this waiting space between death and hope is hard to be in – when everything is atrociously the same as it was the day before. 

What the disciples want in this waiting room is, “peace”.  A version of peace that allows them an escape from the loud threats, a place to quiet their inner turmoil and grief, a temporary loss of sensation – some numbing agent – some anesthesia. They want a version of resurrection to burst into that room, like the sun – shining with warmth and permeating, obvious hope… not a version of resurrection that in it’s sunbeams reveals the injustice and suffering of the world, as abundant as dust particles.  And they ask their own disrupting questions at that familiar table, “What is resurrection then? What is peace?”

And then their answer comes.  Jesus appears to them from behind these locked doors. Resurrection in the flesh. With Bleeding, Open, Raw wounds  – embodying the very thing they don’t want to see aymore – the wounds of injustice… but saying the very thing they hoped for, “Peace be WITH you”.   A bewildering picture, but one they immediately notice as their Lord.

Part I(b) – revisited:  US

We too – are in a waiting room my friends.  This inbetween place… Where  like the disciples we are witnessing death and waiting for resurrection.   

The kind of resurrection that Jesus brings is one with the promise for tomorrow, a way forward when it only looks like dead-ends – an upheaval of unjust systems – flipping tables and turning everything on its head…it’s hope. It’s resurrection. 

But it’s messy and gritty and it will require us to be close to pain.  Now for . And move. And act in love. 

Jesus likes to disturb, surprise and provoke- to roll back stones, and bust through walls .

He asks us to do the same.  He breathes the HOLY Spirit on to these disciples – to send them out into the world – to create a new humanity – to birth something different. New.
And so, instead of “waiting” behind closed doors – Jesus shows us in this scripture how to bring resurrection to our world… and that is to not give in to despair -and not deny the pain – but to get close to the wounds – “proximate to pain”, as Bryan Stevenson the author of Just Mercy tells us.   
Many of you who inhabit black bodies, know this pain by lived experience.  And my words to come are not to ask you to inspect your pain – you know it so well.  My words are for my white siblings to come and lean in closer – but not by probing black people for information,  adding a fresh layer of trauma – 

But by asking one another these disrupting fundamental questions – like “does prayer matter?”, “Is America possible?” “what do i feel or not feel?” “ IS Jesus alive?”

And with the breath of the Spirit, discover the answers – by walking them out – by going into the wounds of our country, by getting closer,  to look at them deeper in ourselves – and follow Jesus in standing in solidarity with the pain of the world around us.  We need to try to continue to agitate ourselves to be proximate to the pain.

So that we can look at such pain, such wounds in Jesus’ hands, his feet, his sides… such pain in our nation,   and say STILL  – HE IS ALIVE… that is resurrection. 

Because to be proximate and ask questions – will help bust down long standing walls and structures.  And seeing the risen Jesus reminds us that the power of love can not be deadened within us.

Part III: Thomas & doubt:

Thomas loved Jesus so much.  He cared so much for the power of resurrection that could be brought to the world..  And he does not shy away from asking the uncomfortable questions  – earlier in this gospel, he says to Jesus, “NO, I don’t know where you are going?  How are we to know where you are going?”  And here in this scripture we see Thomas say to his friends, “Really? You have seen the Lord?  Is it so that Jesus is alive?  I must see it for myself.” 
Because, I doubt it. 

This is vulnerable work.  He too, witnessed the injustice, the violence the brutality  -the death of his teacher, Jesus.  And he too knows that Jesus said he would come back, resurrect.  He cares so much that this be true, for himself and humanity – that he can’t just stand on the outside and passively accept it as true.

So he says, “I must see and touch the wounds.”  The power of vulnerability, how to not just go close to pain and injustice, but to know more about it – to press into it…. 

A friend of mine says that, “Doubt is the friend of questions and the teacher of truth”. (Padraig O’Tuama).  Perhaps Thomas’ disruptive question here, “Is Jesus alive?” – unveils the truth – that yes, Jesus is alive – and this alive-ness looks like resurrection and woundedness.   

Doubt, questions are vulnerable – because they challenge the status quo.  The word vulnerable from the Latin word, “vulnus” – means “wound.”


So it makes sense that Jesus’ response to Thomas’ doubt, invites him to touch his wounds, a vulnerable action. If we re-read the words of Jesus – in these verses – we see that Thomas’ need for proof didn’t strike Jesus as a challenge – but was an invitation for Thomas to open up, to be vulnerable to go deeper. “Put your finger [IN] here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it INTO my side. Stop doubting and believe.”  COME IN, Thomas. COME IN from the periphery of the room, the periphery of your faith. Faith in me, is getting close to the pain, the wounding, – within yourself too.. because from here is where the gospel resides and goes forth. 

Doubt, our disruptive questions….. are our faculties for understanding what’s about to happen and where we need to go.  Jesus says, go to the “wounds”.  Go to the places, the people, the cracks where hurt is, pain, discomfort is – and embody Jesus there. BE a prayer there.

Our prayers, our dreams, our hope are birthed often from the spaces where wounds are, where we’ve paid attention to what’s hurting, learned of the injustices, how these wounds were caused. 

My daughter’s question at the table – revealed to me, a peripheral version of prayer.  A way to shelter behind a word, like the disciples, locked behind doors – hoping for  “hollow peace”.. .removed from the debris, the noise, the ache of life. ..” These words prayer, peace – hold no vision if they aren’t embodied…

Proverbs 29:18 says that, “where there is no vision, the people perish” – but Jesus reminds me as he busts through locked doors and hearts –  that he and WE can embody both resurrection and woundedness –  we can call for justice and peace – and in this people LIVE.

Thomas shows us that the vision that he and his fellow disciples had for the kin-dom of God ..the dreams they held of sharing the good news with so many – the hope they had for a more just world… would only be birthed when they became embodied….  When they took on flesh, broken, wounded flesh. 


Today I ask to touch Jesus’ wounds  – his hands his feet his side.  Because I grieve today – I have grief upon grief … because I need to know that he is tender, and alive in this crazy waiting room of life  – where I strain to see resurrection.   And I ask to touch Jesus’ wounds as a prayer – to draw me from the periphery of my “stilted” faith, to active faith.

How many of you today, are walking around with fresh wounds? 
How many of you have wounds that have been gaping and aching for a long, long time?

Part IV: “Peace be with you”
Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”  “Peace be with you.”

This peace goes beyond what the disciples were hoping for when they went into that upper room.  This peace is a deep call, an embodied prayer.  Birthed from known places of woundedness and injustice.  And from a place where the HOLY SPIRIT breathes her powerful breath. 

I invite as Jesus does – for those black siblings among us who need peace to be REST.. to rest.  To find peace in the  familiarity and comfort of trusted friends.   And I am inviting those who CAN to find peace in action.  To act, to go out and disturb unjust peace – on behalf of those who need rest.  

Peace be with you, as you move OR as you rest.  For those of us who move – know that peace is not an escape from what is hard, or from what is loud, or  painful – but it is a way into the wounds with hearts and eyes and ears wide open. It’s not a word to shelter under, to stay separate from the world.  It is what we pray for to STAND IN the wounds, it’s what we pray for to CALL out injustice, it’s what we embody when we get proximate to those who ache, are tired and hopeless.  PEACE is a strong, powerful, ACTIVE force that generates and binds us to one another, that helps us resist numbness and keeps us intimately engaged.

So many of us wish to return to normal, rush to regain a sense of previous familiarity.  But if the therapists among us are right – we will not return to “normal,” ever again..we will forever be marked by this time…    And if the black voices among us are right – we should not want to return to “normal” ever again.  

So it is time for us to come close to Jesus, with our  doubt, to get intimate, vulnerable, to be uncomfortable….  Not just intellectualize or create policy or laws to help thwart pain and injustices… BUT use our bodies to  speak  -and drive justice…to change hearts and heal.  THIS IS why I think JEsus says “peace be with you.”  We can’t feel that peace, without justice… and we can’t feel that justice without going to the source of the pain..

What will we shape, imagine, dream, vision for – and how will we pray? What will we embody?

What do our mouths ask for? – and how will our own bodies/our flesh be part of the answer?

Thomas shows us where to begin – with the wounded, resurrected Jesus.  

The one who holds the whole world in his hands.  The  pain and joy and trauma and beauty – and asks US to also hold it too –  asks US to embody him in the world .  

May we greet today as resurrected and wounded people, and may we be greeted by Jesus at every turn saying “peace be with you”.  “Peace be with you.”


Ending Prayer:

I’m thankful today for how my daughter pushes me to pray connected to wounds and resurrection in my body….  and how the scriptures echo her thoughts, “not to pray like the hypocrites, who love to pray standing in the synagogues – (and in front of churches) – and on the street corners to (merely) be seen by others.” Matthew 6:5…..but to pray,

9 “Oh God, Divine parent of us all – *in whom is heaven* (New Zealand Prayer Book).

Holy, Loving, wounded one is what we call you. 

May your love be enacted in this world THROUGH us.
and may you be our LIVING guide to create the world now, and as we imagine it to be.
11 Give us what we need to do this work – today, our daily bread.

12 And forgive us our debts,  as we also have forgiven our debtors.

13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us – Oh God, deliver us –  from the evil one.’

Peace be with you.  Peace be with you.  Peace be with you – today, my friends.

Day of Pentecost

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Communion 5_31_20

[Prayer] God, I ask for your presence today. We are seeking you in these times. Would a gust of wind take over now, like you did at Pentecost. Help me to speak, not from my own knowledge, but yours oh Jesus, from your love, your truth, your wisdom. Help us to hear you, through and despite my voice, would you speak to each of our own hearts. Pray this in Jesus name Amen. 


Today, in the Christian liturgical calendar, is called Day of Pentecost. A tradition, a time where we remember this story from Acts. Let me read it for us. 


Acts 2:1-21

2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.

2:2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.

2:3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.

2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

2:5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.

2:6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

2:7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?

2:8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?

2:9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,

2:10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,

2:11 Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”

2:12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

2:13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

2:14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.

2:15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.

2:16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

2:17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

2:18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

2:19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

2:20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.

2:21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’


What a weird story! A tongue rested on each of them, and they spoke in different languages. And some people were like, are they drunk?

This is chapter two of Acts. A book that captures the history of the times following Jesus’ death and resurrection. Chapter one starts with Jesus being taken up to heaven, and then what happens to the community of Jesus followers, the aftermath of resurrection, that becomes the building of the first church of Christians. Chapter 2, catapults this powerful moment when the Holy Spirit comes. These were confusing times. Original followers of Jesus not knowing what to do exactly, gathered together in fear, constantly in prayer. There were even some changes in leadership by casting lots in chapter 1. These were uncertain times. 


Much like our times. This is why I believe that the Holy Scriptures are alive because it hits us right where we are sometimes, even through stories from ages ago. I can see parallels and relate to some parts. Like they’re locked in a room together. And the State power had just recently unjustly executed one of their beloved teachers and friends. People were left with grief and loss, and confusion. 

While others saw the resurrected Lord, spoke with him, touched his hands, and ate with him, others were in hiding and denying they knew Jesus at all. The rules of being a follower of Jesus had changed. His disciples went from being fishers, to traveling and doing ministry with a miracle worker, and then he was gone. Now what. 


I’ve been saying to some folks in these times, I feel like I’m completely learning how to do ministry in this new age in new ways. I did not learn zoom in seminary! And we’re no longer meeting in a sanctuary for Sunday worship, now what! 


Amidst the uncertainty, the chaos. This happens.While they were gathered together to pray, suddenly, a violent wind suddenly came in, making a huge noise. With that collapsing wind, a crowd came together in bewilderment. And each one heard them speaking in their own language. The Holy Spirit comes as a violent wind, and what happens? They all start speaking in different languages and hearing their own language. 

That’s what the Holy Spirit did? I find that kind of, I don’t know, in one sense, that’s it? They just spoke different languages? They didn’t all fly, or all get healed, or all levitate, or all something more supernatural maybe? Just as perplexed as they were, I”m asking, “what does this mean?” And as I say I don’t get it, what the significance of why God decided this was the miracle sign of the Holy Spirit, I ask myself, what does this mean to me personally as I meditate on the words now. And it alivened in me a few thoughts.

In my own personal context as it meets me where I am today, is that God is speaking to me in my own language exactly where I am right now, what I need to hear. Which is maybe the power of the Holy Spirit at work even this week as I prepared for this message. I’ll explain it to you in that context and see if it makes any sense or meaning to you. I don’t know, but this is the only way I know how to understand this text. Through my own experience and language. Maybe you’ll hear it in your own language, wherever you are. 


I am an Asian American. I know you can see that, and also that you see beyond that in most situations, that I’m just Lydia, or I’m a pastor, or a woman. But what I look like has had a big impact on my life on how I understand myself, how I understand how the world sees me. Even as I get older, my culture, my language, my heritage, my tradition rings me back to reality of who I am again and again. How I long to teach my daughter Korean. How making korean food makes me feel a certain way. How hearing Director Bong speak Korean on Oscar awards stage made me feel.  I’ve been a part of Reservoir’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion team and how those words and race plays a role in my life, my work, my church has been at the top of my mind. Race. Diversity….

Sometimes I wish I was just normal, not looking at the world through this lens, just me, just worry about work, and food, and I dunno hobbies instead of race, ethnicity, color. Sometimes I get tired of translating everything from “normal” to me. 


So when I hear that the Holy Spirit flared up into your own language,I think, “God I so want that.” I need God’s work to be spoken in my language without me needing to translate it. And this is what the Holy Spirit does. It gathers disparate afraid people to gather in one zoom room, united by Jesus, and yet speaking in different languages, diverse from all different countries, backgrounds, experiences, stories, worldviews, political views, and the Spirit among us somehow, even though we are so different helps us speak up in our own languages AND hear in our own language. This is what the Spirit does. And may I say, sometimes it’s not very orderly like our Bible story today. It can be confusing, messy, some are astonished and oh, yes, there will be “others” who sneer and say, “They are filled with new wine.” Some won’t get it. Some who say how does that even work? Some who will judge or ridicule. Inside the room and outside the room. That voice will be there. Still, this is what the Spirit does. Spirit does what the Spirit needs to do to speak to God’s people, so that the God’s people hear, recognize, and are empowered by the truth of Jesus. 


My favorite part of this story is what the Spirit did to Peter. In the midst of judgement and chaos,  Peter gets up, raises his voice, and addresses the crowd to set things straight. It’s like this dramatic moment, like that old movie, Dead Poets Society, oh it’s such an old movie now but when the students start standing on their desks one by one in solidarity with their teacher played by Robin Williams. The spirit, an energy, moved around the room and gave them courage to stand. 


And Peter, remember him? Dr. Debra Mumford professor at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary with interest and focus on African American prophetic preaching, pointed this out to me. She says, “Is this the, “I don’t know the man, I have never heard of Jesus,” Peter?” Yeah, in Luke 22, when people recognized him as one of the disciples, “you’re one of them.” He denied, “I am not!” and another said, yes you knew him, Peter said, “I don’t know the man. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” To that Peter, Dr Mumford says, “The power of the Holy Spirit emboldened Peter to speak to the masses.” One who denied Jesus only maybe weeks or months ago, now stands and defends and speaks. This is what the Holy Spirit does. It turns people around. It raises people to speak up. It changes people’s minds. It gives them courage, it gives them words, words of their own to reach those who are different from them. 


So let me riff off of this power of the Holy Spirit, cause it sounds so good, I want some, I wanna try it out. 

Let me stand up and take courage to say something that I really want to say, but I’ll say it in my own language, in my own context, and I pray, that the Holy Spirit will come upon us and will receive my words in your own language as you need. God, preaching is hard, and again I apologize if this sounds political to you, but race, look at my skin, is not political, it’s personal, this is my testimony and my witness. Humbly I speak. 


When I read Peter standing up quoting Joel, I heard this. (You’ll see Joel text on your screen but I’ll share my thoughts throughout it.)


In the last days, boy it feels like last days these days. Daughters will prophesy, my god that’s good news, cause I’m a daughter, thank you Jesus for giving the power. They’re seeing visions. They’ve got dreams, that one day… Even on servants, and this word originally is slave but many translations use “servants” to make it less um, yeah, that’s why it says, “even” them, the Spirit will be poured out. And when I hear the word slaves, I can’t help but think of American history and black Americans, and yes, thank you Jesus, pour out your spirit on these descendants of slaves and for they are prophesying. Show us the wonders in heaven above cause I see the signs on earth, blood on the streets, fire in Minneapolis riots, and tear gas billows of smoke flaring up, Lord Jesus. The sun will be turned to darkness, man this winter was long, and the moon to blood… too much blood…. You say all this happens before, before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord, oh God please, Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord, Yes Lord, Lord, I call out to you. 


Like Peter, I used to deny, as an Asian American buying into the “norm”, benefitting from white normative culture.  “Oh that man, I’ve never heard of him.” I’m sorry to bring this up, the clip of George Floyd’s death, that asian cop standing there, quoting my friend Ophelia Hu Kinney now, “as the accomplice to the murder”. It reminds me of the ways how complicite we can be. Again, I don’t know about you, who you are or how you identify yourself, but I’m speaking from my perspective. On Twitter @braynyang says, “Asians need to reckon with the fact that we are all too often subservient and party to white supremacy because we are seen as model minorities…Don’t play into it.” it’s a reminder to us all, to speak up against anti-blackness. We can not just stand idly by why this happens again and again. 

And when folks say, oh those riots, they must be crazy, they’ve lost it, or maybe they are drunk. or whatever, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King says, “a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear?”

What is it that America has failed to hear? Wow. What is it that America has failed to hear? 


Amidst the chaos, the blood, and fire, and smoke, I am caught by the thunderous and violent wind of the Holy Spirit that rushes in and ignites in each of us the fire of justice in and through our own stories, our own language, may that tongue rest on each of us, and hear in our own language about God’s deeds of power. Because I can’t imagine that this is what God wants for our world. Our tongues, may they be loosed with joy, hope, and love. Amen. 


God of Un-Consuming Fire

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Before I speak, I’m going to lead us in a moment of prayer and remembrance over some of our griefs in this season. If you have suffered the loss of a loved one this year, I’d love to hear from you in the weeks to come, so we can include you in our prayers as well.


We have had much to grieve already this year, losses of many types. But today, we grieve together the loss of sacred human life, remembering those in our community who have died so far this year. 


-We remember community leader, and friend of our church, Justice Ismail Laher, who died on May 8th, as well as his wife Zuleika who died in February. 

-We remember Manny Nicolas’ cousin William Joseph, who died on April 25th.

-We remember Robert Lenkauskas’s wife, Georgette, who died in North Cambridge on Monday, April 20th.

-We remember Cloie Andrysiak’s cousin Rachel Emond, who died on April 17th, and Cloie’s father Donald Harnois, who died on March 27th. 

-We remember John Porco’s sister Jody Porco, who died on April 7th.

-We remember Caroline Beal’s father Matt Beal, who died on March 6th. 

-We remember Malik Latif’s wife Abida, who died on March 4th. 

-And we remember Laidy and Eduardo’s dear friends Mr. Li and Cesar Velasquez, who died recently as well. 


We also remember the names and lives of some of the Black Americans who have been killed by citizen or state white supremacist violence. They may not be part of our local community, but their deaths remind us of the work we have to do in ridding our nation of the old and grave sin of white supremacy that lives on and chokes us still. Today… 

We remember Ahmaud Arbery, killed on February 23rd.

We remember Breona Taylor, killed on March 13th.

We remember Sean Reed, killed on May 6th. 

We decry the injustice of their deaths and lament the racism and violence in our nation that contributes to the degrading and loss of sacred human life.


For all these, beloved by God and remembered by us, we pray. Friends, I invite you to hold before you the names and memory of those we have lost and those in our community who mourn as we pray.


God of life, Source of our life and breath, God who creates and protects nourishes all life,

We hold our grief at death before you today.

We celebrate the lives and memory of these sisters and brothers and siblings we have lost, thanking you for their lives and legacy.

God of Resurrection, who has conquered death, and who brings life out of death still,

We remember those we have lost and ask you to welcome them into your eternal embrace.

May your light forever shine upon them, and may you give us the blessing of reunion on the day of resurrection.

And God of comfort and hope, be present with kindness and grace to all those of us who mourn, 

That we can carry on in hope and strength, That we can remember and honor those we have lost, 

And That their legacy will remain in our hearts and in our minds and in our action for a better world.

This we pray in Jesus’ name,



Signs of Life: God of Un-Consuming Fire (Or, How is it that God is Powerful?)


So one of the questions we’re asking a lot these days is where is God when things are hard? If God is the one who controls and guides all events in history, then … let’s be honest, on those terms, God is doing a really bad job this year. And this century. 


Even in a time in history when we can explain so many things without God, we still blame God a lot when things go wrong. Or if we don’t, then judging by the amount of racism and hate crimes in this country, and the foolish scapegoating garbage some people keep saying, we still like to blame things on people we imagine to be our enemies, or even God’s enemies.


But as people of faith – people interested in walking in the world with the hope and experience that God is with us, and that God matters, we have got to step back instead and ask: where is God in all this? And specifically, what does it mean that God is with us and is in some way powerful?


Recently I’ve been reading a lot of the writing of the psychologist Richard Back, who’s been writing a lot about the thinking of a Chrisitan theologian named Katherine Sonderegger. They’ll be our guides a bit today. 


But before them, we’ll start with the mystical experience Moses has in the wilderness that really kicks off the great liberation narrative of the Exodus. 


Here’s our scripture reading from Exodus, which will help us think about God with us, and what God’s power is and isn’t like. 


Exodus 3:1-7 (NRSV)


3 Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3 Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4 When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Our narrator presents this story here so innocently. A guy named Moses is out in the desert, taking care of his sheep or his goats, working in his very religious father-in-the law’s family business, when God appears and speaks to him.


There’s more of course. Moses isn’t just an ordinary guy. He’s been on this extraordinary midlife journey of ethnic identity. A Jew, a child of slaves, raised in the ruling class, majority, privileged Egyptian culture, Moses has started to ask: who am I? And how am I to be in the world? Like most immigrants or children of immigrants or people of color tend to ask in the US: what does it mean to be resident or citizen of this land and culture which persists in casting me as less or other? 


There are questions of identity:

How am I to be? Do I accept or conform to that image? Do I align with my own people or do I assimilate to the ways of others? Where can I be safe? Where will I belong? Moses was still asking all these questions.


And questions of purpose:

Do I withdraw or flee for my own safety? Just take care of me and mine? Or is there a part for me to play in the transformation of this place? What is my work to do in this world?


And while he hadn’t fled a pandemic, Moses had fled a crisis, with none of these questions resolved. 


And there in the wilderness, Moses is confronted by a God that at turns seems stunningly powerful and active, while also kind of weak and passive. A God who is present in the world in power, but whose direct impact is hard to see. A God who is powerful, but not in the ways we normally think about power.


See, when we think about God’s power, we normally work our way backwards to God. We think about powerful bosses or parents or forces, and we sort of widen out that scope of power and try to make it nicer or wiser too, and then bam, that must be what God is like. Even the metaphors of the Bible do this.


God is kind of like a king – in charge, laying down the law, but doing it for everyone’s good.


Or God is kind of like a father – laying down the rules for the household.


Or like a shepherd – a boss of the sheep, guiding them to what’s best and whacking them on the head with his staff when they stray off.


And metaphors are fine for what they’re worth, but all metaphors break down. They’re limited. When we take these metaphors too literally, we end up with what the Bible calls idolatry – believing in a God that we made in our image, instead of relating to a God that made all of us in God’s image.


What Katherine Sonderegger and other really great thinkers about God helps us do is see where some of our ideas about God have broken down and see where encounters like this one at the burning bush point us toward truer and more helpful, more life-giving conceptions of God.


If we think about God’s power as God being in control, then when we have a pandemic, or when that pandemic further reveals all kinds of awful injustice and pain in the world, or when we see a brutal hate crime, or when our kids or our friends or our very own lives go off track, then we have some hard choices.


We can say:

-God, you suck at being in control. You’re either mean, or you’re a failure, or you are bad at your job.

-Or we can think God might be nice, but God’s not actually powerful at all. Or maybe God was powerful enough to make this whole world, but God’s not all that engaged any more. “God is watching us, from a distance.” Which is supposed to be comforting, but really isn’t.

-Or we can lose faith entirely. We can slowly drift toward thinking God isn’t real, that God doesn’t exist, or that God may exist but isn’t good or doesn’t matter.


Unless, unless God comes to us in the burning bush, and we can start to relate to a God that is powerful on very different terms. Three things to tease out here today, before I close with an invitation.


1) At the burning bush, we find a God whose power is kind of like the sun. 

The sun is super-powerful: hotter than hell, the source of all life, sustainer of everything. But it’s not like we experience the sun as dominating us, causing any immediate change or action, taking over anything’s will. 


Richard Beck here, writing about the burning bush through the theology of Katherine Sonderegger.


The bush burns with divine Fire, but the bush is not consumed. God’s power doesn’t displace, override, meddle, or interfere with the natural life and creaturely integrity of the bush. A botanist, as a botanist, wouldn’t find anything strange going on with the bush as a plant. And yet, God’s Power is Present in and flashes forth from the bush.


In a similar way, for Sonderegger, all of creation is like the burning bush. God’s Power is everywhere present in creation, a power, like with the burning bush, that flashes out and becomes visible at times. God’s power isn’t like a Cosmic CEO who dips in and out of creation to interfere with the causal flux. God is, rather, that Hidden Presence and Fire that burns everywhere, yet doesn’t consume or displace creation.   


God is real, God is present, God is the source and sustainer of life. God is at work for good, for healing, for beauty. But God’s not doing that by overriding anyone or anything’s will. God’s not dominating or controling. God is shining.


All the bad that we see in the world isn’t God’s fault at all. It’s our fault. And it’s someone else’s fault. A lot of someone else’s faults. And it’s disordered atoms and disordered weather systems’ fault. And it’s evolution gone off track’s fault. And it’s the fault of systems and culture we’ve set in motion and that seem too powerful and broken to change’s fault. God is too loving to dominate or control this all into order with a snap of God’s finger. God can’t do that. God isn’t like that. 


God is real and present as a sustainer of life and a force for good and for truth, for healing and for beauty. God will help get us where we need to go together, but we won’t get there with only God doing the work.


2) Secondly, God’s not just like the sun. God is fire, but God is fire that does not consume. Moses would have been used to seeing a brush fire in the desert, I expect. Hot days, cold nights, lots of dry vegetation. Moses knew fires; he’d have set many himself at the end of a long day.


But this caught his eye, because this fire burned hot and bright and beautiful but it did not consume. 


Katherine Songeregger again:, God’s power isn’t hands off or distant. Here is God burning with fire and speaking to Moses. God is present. God is in personal relationship. And yet, God does not violate or coerce. God doesn’t do things against anyone’s will. 


This paradox continues through the whole Exodus account, as the ancient writers aren’t always sure how to describe who is doing what. 


Right after the six verses I read today, God says: I have observed the  misery of my people. I have heard their cry. I am going to deliver them, to lead them out of oppression and violence and into a good and peaceful place. I will do it, God says. But then God says: Moses, I need you to lead the people. Moses, go do it, and I’ll be with you. 


Which is it? Is it God who will do it, or is it Moses?  It’s both. Because God is real. God is powerful. God is a fire. But God is a fire that does not consume. God won’t coerce or violate, won’t control or override anyone’s will.


Which takes me to the third and final thought today about God’s power, which is that:


3) At the burning bush, we learn of a God who is a partner, but usually only if we let God be. There’s that beautiful line in this story, so quick it’s easy to miss, that God is burning in the bush, but not consuming it, and that God only starts to speak to Moses after Moses notices. Moses says: woah, this beautiful and unusual burning bush. And God thinks: here is someone who is paying attention. And then God calls his name, and Moses answers, and the sandals come off on this holy ground, and off we go from there.


The point is that God doesn’t force our attention, but God welcomes it. God doesn’t dominate or coerce, God calls. Sonderegger says: We come because we are drawn. 


Here’s where this leaves me today.


We are in hard times, but they are not hard times that God has caused or let happen. Disordered creation has done this, and here we are. But a powerful God is with us still.


My friends, God is real and powerful and is very much with us. God is beautiful and strong as the sun, fierce and bright like fire. But God is not about to single-handedly consume or change anything without human partners in the work. 


But my friends, sisters and brothers and siblings, we can do hard things. With the help of God and friends, we too can burn with creative, loving force in the world. We can partner with God to love and nurture. We can partner together, with the inner strength and the inspiration of God, to heal and to do justice, and to remake and transform things and times and cultures and systems for good. 


With the help of God and friends, we can do it. For the next several weeks, starting tomorrow, in my weekly Word of the Day on our youtube channel and social media, I’ll be sharing thoughts about a Rule of Life, about a creative, life-giving, God-seeing way in the world we can be rediscovering together. Join me in paying attention to an opportunity of this season. We can do it. 


But for today, let me end by praying with us. Katherine Sonderegger ends her meditation on God as unconsuming fire with these beautiful words:


God descends down through the individuals and kinds He has made with His own Life, His own Vitality and Truth, so that they catch Fire, they combust with the Life that is Divine–yet remain their own kind, the bush not consumed. 

Let’s pray.

Signs of Life: When Your Heart’s On Fire

I spent a few hours this week sending mail to people, not something I normally do. Here’s why.


It started with an 11-year old named Emerson.


Emerson loves to send letters. They usually include news and updates, lots of questions, jokes, artwork – inside and on the outside of the envelope, and talk about Taylor Swift. 


And a couple of months ago, Emerson decided to write a note to her mail carrier, who’s been sending her letters and delivering the responses she gets. She wrote: I’m Emerson. You may know me as the person that lives here that writes a lot of letters & decorates the envelopes. Wel, I wanted to thank you for taking my letters and delivering them. You are very important to me. I make people happy with my letters, but you do too. The reason you are very important in my life is because I don’t have a phone so how else am I supposed to stay in touch with my friends? You make it possible!” 


The next day, Em got two letters back – one from the mail carrier and one from his supervisor. And the following day, she wrote them both back. And then a couple of weeks later, two boxes of mail came for Em. 


See, the mail carrier’s supervisor had shared her letter with the whole group of USPS workers in her region, and lots of people wrote to Em. Because she had been vulnerable in her letters, they were too. There were jokes and little gifts, and talk about their family and lives, and confessions of love for Taylor Swift from from grown men and women. And on it went; Things like:

“I work alone in a small rural post office….” 

“Not everyone realizes how hard we work….”

“I can’t tell you how much it means to read your letter…”

“I have a son in Kuwait. If you have a second, could you send him a letter too. He’s all alone…”


And on and on it went, and on and on it’s still going. This circle of seeing and knowing, of thanking and recognizing, of finding new connections in a lonely world. All inside stamped, addressed, marker-art covered envelopes. 


I read this story, shared with me on twitter by another pastor I’m friends with. And my heart lit up. What I mean by that is I was thankful and inspired and happy and sad and had new ideas for how I want to live in the world and what kind of world I want to see into being –  all at once.


And so last Wednesday, a few days later, I sent some letters. It was surprisingly slow going. So much slower than email, to think of who to write to, and to find the words, and write them out by hand, and find addresses and envelopes and stamps and all that. 


But it was my way of not letting go of what had happened to me when I read that story, my way of honoring that my heart was on fire, and that I had new life in that moment.


In my teaching the past couple of months, I’ve been again and again asking: Where is God? 


Because we’re all in our own ways wondering that a lot these days. Where is God? 


Well, in the resurrection accounts – the stories of Jesus come back to life in the scriptures – we find God in so many signs of life that are places we find God still. 


And this week, I’m giving what I think will be the first of a two-part sermon on signs of life as we find God in fire. This one on how we find God whenever our hearts are on fire. 


Let me read today’s scripture. And you can look at this picture of two people walking at dawn, and imagine this story.


Luke 24:13-35 (NRSV)

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.


There’s a movement to this story.


It starts where we’ve been collectively, with obvious sadness and loss. They grieve the death of Jesus, and the loss of hope. We grieve our losses too. We grieve the sick and the dying. We grieve the tens of millions of lost jobs. We grieve the lost graduations and parties, the lost freedom, the lost control. This week, we grieve racial injustice again. And we, like the two in this passage, sense the anxiety of an unknown future. We had expectations for what this year would be like, and all we know now is that we have to let them go, and aren’t quite sure yet what to hold in their place.


Next the story touches on the burden of the unexpected. Tucked into what they say to the stranger that walks with them is a possibility they were ready for, from people they wouldn’t listen to. There’s this report that Jesus is alive, but it came from the women of their group – news too good for them to believe, from people they weren’t used to listening to. 


I wonder what good news is here for us that we weren’t expecting, living in people we won’t listen to. God so often speaks truth not from the loudest or the supposedly most qualified people, but from people and places that have been disrespected, even silenced. Who are you listening to, to hear God’s truth?


Next the stranger fills out this gospel, this good news. It’s the gospel as apocalyptic, which is a fancy way of saying that God’s good news rarely affirms our sense of the world as it is. God reveals. God’s good news shows us something truer and deeper and more beautiful and more terrifying than what we’ve yet seen. Jesus reframes for them what “God with us” means, Jesus shows them that suffering has always been part of glory. Jesus helps them see differently. 


We’ll come back to this. 


Then these friends have the basic wisdom to stay with this moment, and in staying with the moment, their eyes are opened. The sign of life Jesus has for them is theirs to see, and they too in turn become a sign of life with a message of hope for others. 


And it all happened while they were walking. Jesus showed up and walked with them, as God is prone to with us. The speed of God is 3 miles per hour, the speed of walking. Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama coined this phrase – the 3-mile-per-hour God. So much truth in this. That God moves at our pace, more than what we imagine to be a god’s pace. That we think better when we walk, literally. That God is so often with us on the way to places, not once we get there. So much more here.


But looking back, at the center of this encounter, these two unnamed disciples recognize that good news, the apocalyptic, the unveiling or revelation that they couldn’t yet see came to them as Jesus taught them. 


And the sign of life for them, the sign it was true, was their burning hearts. 


Hearts on fire. What does this phrase mean to you? How or when have you experienced your heart on fire?


For words like heart, it helps to look at the Hebrew imagination of the Old Testament, which continues in a different language in the New. The heart is the seat of human emotion, for sure, but also the center of cognition and imagination. It is an integrated center of what we might call mind and heart. Thinking and emotion, which are never separate. 


Here the two people who walk with Jesus think new thoughts and feel new feelings, because they see new truth!


Perhaps your heart has been on fire as you’ve stared at the waves or taken in the sights from a mountaintop. You feel the rush of beauty, wordless, arrested with awe, your sense of being so small and yet of having a place in this world. 


Perhaps your heart has been on fire as you’ve been in love – with a lover you want to know as close and as constant as possible, or with a child you’d step in front of a truck for you feel so much fierce, protective love, or with an elder or mentor you respect and appreciate.


I’ve seen hearts on fire in students who have these light-dawning revelations about themselves or their world, I’ve had that happen to me as I’ve sat under good teachers.


Perhaps you’ve felt a fire of anger at the injustice of the world as it is, as you ask: how long? And why not now? And how will I be part of the change to the world as it should be? 


Hearts come on fire with Jesus as he teaches them the powerful, world upturning truth of God in the scriptures, and as he breaks bread with them, reenacting for the first time the communion meal of the Last Supper he’d shared with them just days ago. 


This is why our worship, and the worship of most Jesus-communities historically, has centered around the teaching of scripture and the taking of communion. Because we know these are so often places where Jesus sets our hearts on fire. 


But they’re not the only places. Whenever we become profoundly grateful – to God, to others, to land, to friends, to ancestors, to anyone or thing from which good comes – we move toward hearts on fire.


Whenever truth is revealed, whenever conviction is stirred of the deep truth of how things are, the deep promise of how things should and will be, our hearts are on fire.


Hearts go on fire when we seen new and important possibilities, when we offer or receive love, when we find courage for what’s right, when we see and admire or even make what’s beautiful.


And when your heart is on fire, that just may be a sign that the risen Jesus is with you. 


Obviously, not all moments of human enthusiasm and passion are signs of God. People have become excited about some weird and even straight up evil ideas that they thought were true. The human mind and heart – our imaginations and intellect and emotions – can deceive. Absolutely. Which is why we discern truth, and don’t just take everything at face value. Why we practice, in community, the meeting of the real, risen Jesus in the teaching of scripture, and in the taking of communion. 


But today, I encourage you, I exhort you really to notice when and where your heart goes on fire, in way we’re talking about it today. 


Pay attention to this. Stay with it. Don’t let it go. Be curious. Ask what the moment has to teach you. And respond. See what it means to carry it forward into your own sign of life and message of hope. 


For me, this year, I was convinced that it was to be a year in my life of more radical kinship, more radical hospitality, more radical solidarity, the discovery of a more deeply, relational way of living. And then came social distancing.


I don’t know what that all means still, but I know that in a story of 11-year old Emerson reading and writing letters, in that giving and receiving of connection, my heart was on fire. That this year of discovery continues for me. So I’m sticking with that for a while, and seeing how I’ll find God there.


When or where has your heart been on fire? When or where have your mind, your emotions, your imagination been lit up with goodness, truth, or beauty? God is alive there. 


Pay attention. 


Let’s pray.

May 3 Virch Service

May 3rd Virch service was a joyful celebration – spring has sprung! We shared stories of where our community is finding life during quarantine, worshiped through song and communion, and heard more about the resurrected Jesus giving us invitation to give and receive of God’s provision. Sermon text from John 21. Join or rewatch.

FOR THIS WEEK’S EVENTS highlighted in our service slideshow, including contact information and links: CLICK ABOVE “Download PDF.”

Sermon: Jesus Cooks Breakfast

John 21:9-14

9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Let’s pray, Loving God, illuminate your word to us now, that we may listen, hear your voice, and be transformed. By the power of your spirit, descend on us now we pray, ignite in us your mercy, your grace, your love, deep within ourselves and for our neighbors we pray. Show us, God, we seek you now. Amen. 

I’ve been cooking a lot lately. More than usual. Why does the next meal come around so fast? Especially in the morning, I’m like so hungry but not sure what to eat. And these days food runs out quicker, I don’t know how. Okay, so I’m constantly eating all day. On Tuesday morning last week, I woke up and there was no yogurt, no banana, and no bread of any kind. Nothing quick I could grab so I made eggs. I put some coconut oil on the pan and adjust the heat to medium like Gordan Ramsey taught me, I crack a bunch of eggs in and take it off the heat, stir, add some milk, on the heat, stir, off the heat salt and pepper, and turn off the fire and back on the remnant heat. And I added some avocados on top. It was delicious and satisfying that I didn’t even sit down to eat. Breakfast, really the most important meal of the day, and ya know, it tastes even better when someone else cooks it! 

Jesus cooks breakfast for his disciples. I love this. Fish and bread. I’m not sure if americans eat fish for breakfast but when my mom made mackerel and rice for breakfast, it was a special day. Jesus cooked up fresh fish by the beachside, over open fire bbq. Have you had fresh fish that’s just been caught and cooked up right after? Our family used to go camping a lot in Korea. It’s one of the cheapest ways to take a vacation and we were always camping either by the beach or by the mountains, public spaces provided by the government. We didn’t catch our own fish but you could buy fish off the boats that would just come in. They’re some of the fondest memories I have with my family. 

It’s been a few weeks since Easter and we’re continuing to meditate on the events following Jesus’ resurrection. The sightings of Jesus, that made the disciples realize, he’s back. Signs of life and love that Jesus showed us before he ascended into heaven. Those few moments they had after the resurrection were the foundation of a church built that would become known as Christianity. There aren’t that many. The book of Mark ends abruptly with the disciples finding out the resurrection and they scattered in fear. When you read the last chapter, chapter 16, you’ll see a little note that says, “the earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20” meaning that the last 10 verses or so were added later with Jesus showing up again, giving them a commandement, a closure you might call it. In Matthew, Jesus resurrects in the first few verses of chapter 28 and then there’s a story about the guard’s being paid to keep their mouth shut and another commandment, known as the Great Commission, “Now go and make disciples of all nation,”ending chapter 28, which some think that the later ending of Mark got it from Matthew and added it to match with Matthew’s account better. Luke has a few more good stories of how Jesus showed up to a few guys on their road to Emmaus, while they were leaving town, and they didn’t even recognize him, and another story about how they gave him fish and saw Jesus eating in his resurrected body. But John, John has almost twice as much as content of the post Easter stories than the rest. Jesus appeared to Mary, Jesus appeared to Thomas, the miraculous catch of fish that Steve shared a few weeks ago. And then, this story, of Jesus cooking them breakfast. I love that we have these varied sources of what happened. No one knows exactly what happened and different people saw different things. I have this one book, that lays out the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in chart side by side with parallel stories. It’s honestly my favorite thing to pull out and look through. I feel like I’m sitting around the table going, wait but what did you see, and you saw this, you didn’t hear this but you did! Fascinating! 

This is right in line with John’s style. “Signs” was a big theme in his book. All of Jesus’ actions are captured as signs, a testament to his power. A visible sign to the invisible reality. Bible commentators name John’s writing style as one with a “sacramental” tone. Sacraments, what we usually call baptism and communion, sacred acts to enact and unveil holy power, water to represent birth, bread to represent life. Sacramental theology is a way of looking, playing, interacting with embodied human things to try to understand heavenly things. It’s part mystery, part poetry, it’s like art–where symbolism is the only way to properly express truth. Like I can’t explain it to you with words that are too lofty to use. I can only show you, here’s what I mean, and the artist busts out in a song that you might not understand, but oh you feel. Yes, John’s style was like this, from the beginning, was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word became Flesh! It reads like the children’s book. 

The poetic nature of John’s accounts are unmistakable. An Introduction to the Gospel of John says, “Some have suggested that his prose is quasi-poetic and should be printed in poetic format.” They said, you can even find rhyme, although rhyme isn’t common in their poetry but does occur, and even rhythm can be picked up in the original language. There’s parallelism in his prose, or “staircase” arrangement of his speech, like a good rap. I mean that’s what hip hop and rap was for African Americans and many others, and like the blues and the gospels, the singing kind not the 4 books of the bible, a way to express the inexpressible things. Like Chance the Rapper’s song, Blessings, here’s a few lines,

I don’t make songs for free I make ’em for freedom

Don’t believe in kings, believe in the kingdom

Chisel me into stone, prayer whistle me into song air

Dying laughing with Krillin saying something ’bout blonde hair

Jesus black life ain’t matter, I know I talked to his daddy”

Like, I’m not gonna explain the lyrics to you, cause it’s kind of like modern art, you get what you perceive. Kinda like Jesus, said those with ears, let em hear. It’s got double meanings and puns of truth. 

Why am I going on about this? The symbolism of John? Because we need to listen deeper. We need to not just take the story at its face value but dig. That’s how we should read the Bible with some respect, like those art geeks who walk the museums with the commentary device in their ears. Like when you lean into a painting and read the little box that says, acrylic on canvas 1978 expressing individualism of a woman’s body after childbirth. And you’re like, WUUUUUT these colors and lines I couldn’t make out is about, OOOOOOOH! And then you see it. There’s layers of meanings. 

So let’s lean in and see it. This story of Jesus cooking up fish. What does it mean? Here’s one interpretation, and one access point is just a starting place for each of you to find your own deeper meaning in these Bible stories. Never read or take anyone’s commentary as the authority, it’s just one perspective of someone who spent some time and studied it but that’s it. The fish, is the people. Peter and his friends catching fish, is them doing ministry. Peter was the bedrock foundation of the Church. And the way that they were doing ministry, wasn’t bearing fruit. They were looking at the wrong places. They thought they needed to do ministry to a certain people and Jesus says, no not there, the other side. Not those, the others. And then, their ministry boomed. 

At first this story, my first pass at it, I was like, ugh, I love that Jesus cooks breakfast. What a sweetie! Like when your date says, hey this weekend, come over, I’ll cook for you and you’re like ooh! Special night! Which, I think there’s that meaning too in this story. Jesus loves us. Jesus provides for us. Jesus feeds us and nourishes us. Especially in times of frustration and fear, when you’ve worked all day and came out still with nothing to show for. When your loved one has just died and you’re confused and sad and afraid. Jesus sits you down and says, “eat, drink.” But just like good art, this story, it might have different meanings for different audiences. 

And you know, to be honest, sometimes it’s hard preaching one sermon here at Reservoir. We’re so diverse, and that’s a good thing, but sometimes one message is not what one needs to hear but the other needs. Like if I were just to say, God provides for us. That if we just believe in God’s provision, God will make it happen, well it wouldn’t be the whole truth. That would be prosperity gospel. To those who are in need, those who are poor, those who are oppressed, yes, God says, I will provide, I will feed you, I will bless you and liberate you. But to Nicodemus and Zaccheus, and we have some Nicodemus’es and Zaccheus’es in our congregation, Jesus tell Nicodemus to be born again, which essentially means to… face a kind of death first? And Zaccheus, ends up giving his money away. And the rich young ruler who went away disappointed at Jesus’s sermon because it’s not what he wanted to hear that day. 🙂 Preaching is a weird job. If I made everyone happy with my sermon then I’m not doing my job. Many of Jesus’s messages legit angered people and made them want to kill him. So if I’m preaching the message of Jesus, there should be some people….. 🙂 well, even if everyone hates your sermon, that also doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being prophetic. 

Anyways, Sometimes God provides and sometimes God…. destroys. I’m sorry I hate saying it… cause it’s hard. Sometimes God giveth and taketh away. Isaiah 40:4 says, ‘Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.” You know what that means? High mountains shaved down, rugged places stomped over with those big machines that flattens everything out! So are you a mountain or a hill that will be made low, or are you a valley that shall be raised up? Cause we got both in our congregation. We’ve got the privileged, highly educated in this zoom room, who might’ve lost tens of thousand in their stocks right now maybe. And we also have the ones who’ve lost our jobs, taking care of a child as a single parent, old, single/widowed/divorced, those without healthcare, not knowing where the next rent check will come from. For those, I want to say, Jesus will cook us breakfast. Jesus will have it ready for you burning on hot coals, as soon as you get off work, as soon as that fussy baby goes down for a nap, as soon as you get off the phone with your boss, as soon as you go through another bad date or a breakup, as soon as you’re tired and you’re ready to rest. “Come and have breakfast.” There’s some fish here already, all cooked up, and some bread. 

And that categorizing is not even sophisticated enough. Cause there are some who are rich but drowning in addiction, that need to be raised up from the valley. And those who are traditionally poor who are proud or stubborn that needs to be shaved down. I don’t know your heart, but Jesus does. 

Anyways, to some of us Jesus says, verse 10, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” put it here and add it to the pile that I’ve started. But Peter and his disciples might’ve been thinking, but we just worked all night and caught nothing for a while! We’ve been running empty too and just caught these! I worked hard for them! … Bring some of the fish you have just caught. Contribute and be generous, and put in your part, which I have blessed you with. “Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.” Reservoir, those who can, those who have the means, those who are able, literally and metaphorically, physically and spiritually,  if you’ve just caught some fish, climb aboard and drag the net ashore. The net, ha! you know like what’s your net worth? Cause even with so many, the net will not be torn. 

Because Jesus will come and take that bread, take that fish and give it to us all to feed us and nourish us all. 

“This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.” These were the signs of resurrection that changed the world. What signs of life will you join into? 

Let me pray for us. 

Sweet Jesus who lives and reigns, who gave himself for us and showed us the way. May your life give us life. May your light give us light. Where there is death, where there is darkness, may you shine in and through us we pray. Amen. 


Listening to the Voice of God in Chaos

What does Resurrection and reflecting on Jesus’ water baptism teach us during pandemic? Our Virch service allowed us the time and space to worship, examine our highs and lows, and reflect on God bringing us  – sometimes through water, wind, and chaos – to better understand our identity as loved and called forward.

Click PDF above for this week’s slideshow.


Good morning folks, it is an honor to share this time with all of you. I’m Ivy – a Pastor here at Reservoir Church.  We are for the next few weeks, going to be sharing thoughts about Resurrection – where life and love persist to emerge each and every day..

In our days as they are now, signs of death and separation seem most prevalent… And yet I want us to consider that the voice of God is inviting us to new life, new beginnings even in the most chaotic of times – and that we can find God’s VOICE and direction in the most foundational ways – through the wind and water.  


Growing up we had 5 or so steps that led up to the front door of our house … a door that we never really used.. There was too much of a draft caused by that big, old door, and with no system of heat in our house, we had to seal shut where any wind could find its way in.. Walls of plastic weathering material and some mixture of sheets or blankets were hung to block any of that breeze..  BUT on the most blustery of nights  –  the wind would still make its way through whatever cracks or fault lines we had missed –  or I guess, the fault lines we knew, but just accepted. 


On breezy nights like these – I’d find my mom out on that little 5 step platform – often taking a long slow drag off her cigarette, and lingering to enjoy the gusts of wind –  leaning back in a plastic chair she had pulled off the lawn.  I never remember joining her – whether I knew not to intuitively – or whether it had been a directive from her, I’m not sure … but I remember pausing, watching, and being captivated by the picture of her there in the midst of such power, such wild wind – as if she had dipped into something profoundly holy – if just for a few moments. 


When I talked to my mom this week, I asked her about the accuracy of these memories… she confirmed, and said the wind for her was like a “bubble bath without the trouble” – and I sort of laughed at that, but listened as she said the wind brought order to the chaos of whatever day she had had, and in some way re-ordered her, internally too – a moment of pause –  allowing her to find her bearings in some sense and enter back into our house, (which often times still held quite a bit of chaos). 



You may have noticed that it’s been pretty windy here in Massachusetts, these last few weeks…  MUCH windy-er than normal… In March and April we have experienced nearly double the average mph gusts.  Where I live in Milton – we clocked the highest wind gust at 80 mph this month… Branches and whole trees have been taken down, power to folks across the region has been lost…and these strong winds, of course brought with them delightful elements – like snow, hail and soaking rains. 


Which all seems to somehow match the greater chaotic tenor of our lives right now. 


In some ways we are….much like that old front door of mine… being exposed to the fault lines in our society’s framework by this coronavirus.  It is exposing where we have for a long time been symptomatic – sick with injustice and inequalities  – running a race to be the best, most powerful….


AND with the world shutting down – in this forced pause, we as a whole, are revisiting what it means to be human… that we aren’t impenetrable, that we are not invincible.  

We are coming to terms with what, and how, productivity should be gauged – realizing that the demands of our work, our schedules, our activities, our academics, our DOING – our ALWAYS DOING – for so long was actually inhumane. 

And we are feeling this disturbance as the wind blows through the cracks of homes – our systems, our organizations…..
(healthcare systems or justice systems, our family systems – and education systems… )


It’s scary – because, as many of you have shared, it feels: 

APOCALYPTIC…ghostlike streets

CHAOTIC… overwhelmed hospitals, epicenters of pain and suffering.

DISORDERED…..days, and rhythms and schedules.


so much of our regular ways of making meaning and purpose for our lives feels right now, 



Leaving us feeling




Leaving – as I find – many of the cracks within myself equally exposed!


And this widespread cracking – fracturing… feels like with one stiff blow of the wind – it could all come crashing down.   


… Our choice it seems – is to, 

  1. See it all as the end of the world as we know it..
  2. Or to see it as the beginning of the world as we can make it. . 


Option #2 means we go to the cracks.. we see what is up with the wind blowing in, we pay attention to the disruption of this draft…

And we listen…

Because maybe we find God hovering over this chaotic time and speaking to us, inviting us back to our very beginnings, what it is to be human …  who we really are, what we are made of, and made for …Giving us direction and anchoring  – reminding us that we too are made of wily and wild, and unrelenting forces… forces that love, shape, imagine, and find cracks to be our most fertile starting points .. lined both with CHAOS and the Spirit of God..


Prayer:  OH GOD – invite us to hear your voice in the chaos.  To see that your Spirit blows wherever it wishes, and invite us to tune in – to hear its sound, to trust it….whether we know where it comes from or where it goes. And may we find our own (new) beginnings as we enter into these wild and powerful currents. 


My Story:  The chaos I’m feeling these days is not as much in the big highs and lows of emotions that I cycle through on any given day – That seems quite normal actually for what’s going on -given that we are in a pandemic… 


But these unique days are exposing a fundamental crack in my being, I think – where my internal gauge of whether I’m doing a good job at life – actually has been lost…AND this is what I find to be chaotic.  Because the energy that I expend – and have expended…. to pivot and turn – and look and seek, and be so dependent on external feedback as a barometer of my worth –  is scattered all over the place..  And my own sense of self has scattered with it… So in these times of  quarantine –  I’m trying to find the pieces of myself. .. and it’s unmooring because I thought I had taken great strides in this area – that I had sealed the cracks. 


And yet the wind is blowing through these days, moving that great blanket I hung over this section of my heart – and I find the Spirit of God hovering close to me – and inviting me to wade in DEEP waters, not to find the next CREATIVE WORK that I can DO, and  feel really good about,  but to FIRST RECOVER “Who I am” – and  what fundamental truths I have in my soul –  Even in times of chaos.


Because chaos it seems, is where God does indeed hover.

  1. Genesis 1:1-3

The first verses in Genesis – tell us a story that beginnings often look like chaos.  That at the beginning of creation there was a watery chaos – and ALSO that there was a great wind blowing, the Holy Spirit hovering over the waters.. AND out of this combo – comes the world, with God’s voice sealing it all saying: “This is good.” (Being Christian, Rowan Williams – Archbishop of Canterbury).


A pattern built into our very world – a pattern of beginnings … chaos… wind… and the voice of God…


I totally dismissed my mom’s comment the other day –  that moments in the wind were for her like “a bubble bath without the trouble”, (mostly because I was like  yah, of course there were 7 of us – and one bathroom)…  but as I was thinking about this embedded, fundamental pattern of creation – of chaos, wind and the voice of God – as a starting point of new beginnings – it actually felt her comment was pretty profound. 


That somehow every night as she sat in a plastic chair, in the wind – she was baptized. 

Immersed fully in the depths, the messiness of her human-ness, the chaos of her day – AND was met with the deep, hovering LOVE of the Spirit of God.  

This is baptism – it sheds us of any falsehood that we can climb our way- produce enough to gain worthiness or holiness…and it just invites us to “die and resurrect” – over and over again, day after day”.. Filtering out the old crust of the day, the things that didn’t work, the versions of ourselves that don’t match the heart of God – and rising again with a new filter,  that we are “good” and honored recipients of God’s love. 


The voice that spoke into an empty cosmos at the very beginning, that brought shape and form, direction to the world …  is the same voice that we can find today in the wind,  


The same voice that said long ago, “this is good”.  

Is the same voice that says to us, even in our chaos… 

“YOU are GOOD.”


“GOODNESS” is a fundamental beginning point for us.  AND it is a message that Jesus himself needed to hear…


In the gospel of Mark we see the story of Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist, it says… 

2) Mark 1:10-11
10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the wind of the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, my beloved, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”


Chaos… the wind… and the voice of God. 

A new beginning… 


Jesus has not yet launched his crowd-gathering, miracle performing, great teaching movement yet…  he’s here standing in front of John, fully human… and we watch him dip into the mystery of death and love and life – to the depths of where it all begins. 

And we hear this VOICE TAKE JESUS into the depths of his own soul, 

“YOU are loved, you are good, IN you I am so pleased” (already with no “earning” or “striving”).

I take such delight in you.

You matter.

I believe in you. 


This is the deep baptismal message to us – that we need to be dunked in over and over and over again – AND we don’t have anywhere to begin –  if we don’t have this. 


Maybe we are all in a time of baptism my friends, as much as we are in a time of pandemic. 


Baptism – as Jesus shows us here – that is much more than separating ourselves out as privileged – elite – or holy…. 

…but baptism shows us how to go into the depths of human chaos – to be flesh (as Jesus took on).  “To be vulnerable and fully human in the heart of a needy, contaminated, messy world” (Rowan Williams). 


AND to do the great, productive work of remembering that as we wade into those waters, we can “reach out our hands from the depths of chaos to be touched by the deep loving hand of God.” (Rowan Williams)

Jesus doesn’t ask us to be all sealed up – free of cracks – .. .but He does call us to recognize the Holy Spirit whose voice flows through those cracks… to recognize what is being exposed at those fault lines.


Baptism affords us the surrender to not fear chaos or be free of it – but to find each other (and be connected to one another), in the neighborhood of chaos – “to be near to those places where humanity is most at risk, where humanity is most disordered and needy.” (Rowan Williams).


It’s in these depths that we find the Spirit is re-creating and refreshing our lives!… calling parts of ourselves out of the grave of self-doubt, apathy, prejudice, hurt, pride and despair and into the garden where we recognize his voice, where Jesus says, “I’m so proud of you…”   “I’m so incredibly proud of you.”   This returning –  to the beginning – allows us THEN to move, to love, to act in this world – in ways that are clear, that GENERATE the founding message of this world, as God’s vectors we say,  “THIS IS GOOD”.  Rather than divide, destroy or turn a blind eye.

So right now I am trying to find a way to be sealed in the voice of God.  This returning to who I am …  To reorder my relationship to myself and my vocation – whether in normal or abnormal times to see it as larger than any individual job description I’m given, (or ascribe to).  

To see that I already have God’s love – and when I can fully allow this love – to be the meaning, direction and purpose of my life – then I’m DRENCHed in my humanity and DIVINENESS as I was made to be –  I am baptized.


“This type of baptism restores my human identity and the potential for it to be overlaid by anything” (Williams)…. Baptism takes us right to where Jesus is, IN US, where something keeps coming alive in – where we can see that the cracks in us afford new birth, new sights, new creation in us – for the very work that our fractured world needs.


And maybe our work in this time – or in any time really is to say, “hold up – before you race to do that next project, or submit that proposal, or try to help your kids with on-line school…….take a moment, pause in the wind…
“Do you remember who you are?”
“Do you remember the call in the wind? 

The direction in those deep waters….”  

THIS RECALLING of who we are in God, gives us the direction, the guidance to do the great work of no longer just accepting where the cracks are – in our neighborhoods, communities, society – but to do the work of asking the question,  “Do you remember what you were meant to be?” 


This time of pandemic is ripe and rich with the possibility for change now and in the future.  How will we act in love? Many of our community groups are considering this question right now – across their own neighborhoods and cities – but I think it will take us fully entering the baptism of our times – – finding the voice of God that actually asks us to go, “Back to the beginning, back to where it all comes from.. Pleading with us to try and listen again to what God first said to us…” 

“This is good.”

“You are good.”


I don’t know what my mom heard in those small moments of sitting in the wind – what the voice of God specifically said to her, (but she must have said something to my mom), – but I do know that she entered back into our tiny, drafty chaotic house – and she showed us love – great love… and how to walk humbly and show mercy.   And I know that she returned to that chair again and again – to be baptized in the truth of who GOd made her to be… 


So my friends, may we FIND ourselves again – and OUR deep PURPOSE again- in these days –  on porch steps, in plastic chairs, as we wash our hands, in living rooms, on sidewalks as we sit at tables, or in the wind – and hear the truth GOD speaks to us, “that we were created by the wind and the water”, and we only need to turn an ear to hear the quiet, persistent refrain, in it – “that we are greatly loved – and that in us – God is greatly pleased.”


End Prayer:
Dear Jesus, may we all drink from the holy waters of your One Spirit.. And rise from chaos with your power of resurrection embedded deeply in our souls. 


Resource: Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer by Rowan Williams




Gratitude Service

Photo of fisherman silhouette, standing on small boat in water. Mist and mountains in background.

Reservoir Church gathers together to worship, grieve, welcome new life, and celebrate God’s abundance with gratitude. Sermon text from John’s gospel, Chapter 21. A video tribute of praise during Covid, from The Work of the People.

Click above on the PDF of today’s slideshow for this week’s events and happenings.

Glorious Easter!

In the midst of a worldwide pandemic of Covid-19, the Reservoir community celebrates Easter and the risen Christ in a joyful virtual service.

Thank you for joining, and watch here if you missed it or join again!