So I used to be obsessed with the right way to apologize. This created a lot of issues in my life, mainly bad ones, and especially in my marriage.

Grace and I met when we were young – I was 19, she was 20 – we got married about four years later. But in our dating years and then again and again in our early years of marriage, we had a fair bit of conflict. And a lot of that was conflict about conflict. 

Like how should we argue and how should we apologize.

Now in my defense, in our defense, we didn’t make it all up. A mentor in our faith community at the time taught a lot about apologies and forgiveness. And he was really specific about what he thought people should do. He basically said, like, he knew what Jesus wanted for our conflicts.

Basically the advice was this: There are bad ways to apologize.

  • Like the one word, vague and flippant: Sorry!
  • Or the version of an apology where you’re actually blaming the other person for being so sensitive. Like: sorry that hurt you.
  • Or: I’m sorry for everyone that was offended. 

Apologies should say what you actually did wrong and regret.

So far, so good. We all could use better apologies.

But then he’d teach that the person who receives an apology should quickly say out loud: I forgive you. 

Which sounds holy. Jesus talked a lot about God’s forgiveness of us and God’s call to us to forgive one another as well. 

And Grace and I – but especially me – took this to heart. But what it meant was that I wanted our communication – about really emotional and complicated things – that’s kind of the nature of conflict – I wanted that communication to follow rigid patterns. And if I said sorry for something, I wanted Grace to very quickly say to me: I forgive you, or I’d feel hurt. 

After years of this off and on, I finally started to get what’s messed up about this. Forgiveness is a gift one gives. And you give it when you’re ready. It’s not a right to insist upon when you’re apologizing. Sometimes a lot more is needed before a person will forgive you. Like actually starting to change.

There are also ways of saying “I forgive you” that are not helpful, like offering forgiveness when you’re not ready yet or when the person is going to use your trust to harm you again. And then there are ways of offering forgiveness that aren’t about saying the words too. 

Surprise, surprise, my marriage got better when I stopped being rigid about what I expected with apologies and the specific words I wanted Grace to say, and started paying more attention to what I have more control over. Which is the way I interact with my spouse – whether or not I cause harm in the first place and what I do if and when any harm occurs. 

For the last sermon in our big words series, I want to talk about a word that includes apology but is much bigger than just that. The word is repentance.

I saved this for last because this is also the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, a Christian holiday of repentance. And because it’s also the Sunday before we start celebrating Lent as a church. Lent is the six weeks before Easter that for followers of Jesus has traditionally been a whole season of repentance. 

What does this word mean: repent? 

It’s one of the very first words Jesus says in the earliest biography of him, the Bible’s gospel of Mark. 

Mark 1:13-14 (New Revised Standard Version)

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the good news of God

15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Jesus apparently said some version of these words again and again. Now’s the time. The kingdom of God is close. The beloved community, we call it, is beginning – it’s in reach. So, repent.

Repentance in the Greek text here is the word: metanoia. It means changing your mind, seems to imply the kind of changing your mind that reflects some kind of inner change too. The path to believing the good news of Jesus is a change of heart, a change of mind. We need that change, that repentance, to get to the good news, or maybe for the good news to get in to us. 

Later Jesus takes this into relationships between people too. He says this:

Luke 17:3-4 (New Revised Standard Version)

3 Be on your guard! If a brother or sister sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive.

4 And if the same person sins against you seven times a day and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.”

Jesus says:

speak up when harm is being done. Don’t be a bystander.

But he doesn’t say to forgive them when they say sorry. He says:

forgive them when they make a change. Forgive them in response to their repentance. 

By the way, I’m going to talk way less about forgiveness today – I think we’ll have chances to talk more about that later this spring, but for today I want to focus on repentance.

Repentance is our way into Jesus’ good news for us, and repentance is part of the path to healed relationships. It can even be a prerequisite for forgiveness. Repentance is important, so why is this word uncomfortable or unfamiliar? 

Well, one, we are obsessed with apologies. 

I mentioned my issue with apologies in our early marriage. 

I think about how we raised our kids too. What did we do every time one kid hurt another? We’d get them to apologize, teaching them what we’d been taught, not to just say the word “sorry” but to say what you’re actually sorry for. 

I’m not saying it’s bad to teach your kids to apologize, it’s a good life skill, it’s just not enough. Apologies by themselves are paths to shallow and sometimes fake peace making. Which, let’s be real, sometimes shallow peacemaking is all we’re looking for, but eventually it’s not enough. 

We also don’t get repentance because it wasn’t much part of our inherited faith. The history of Western Christianity centers perpetrators, not victims. Western Christianity was developed with harm doers in mind, not the people who’ve been done harm.

This is not Jesus’ story. It’s not the writers of the Bible or the first fathers and mothers of the faith. But from the 4th century on, the most influential theologians of Christianity have been aligned with the power brokers of their societies, focused on helping harm-doers not feel guilty, more than in actually stopping harm or helping harmed communities and harm-doers heal. 

Thirdly, those of us who are in exile or in recovery from the too rigid, too closed minded religious systems of our youth have sometimes lost our  vocabulary for sin, repentance, and forgiveness because we connect those words with too rigid moral codes or with shame. 

But repentance is not about feeling shame for our bodies or our sexuality. It’s not about narrow or rigid morals. It’s about healing. It’s about getting well. It’s about learning not to be a harm doer. 

I mentioned that the Greek word for repentance, metanoia, speaks to a change of mind or a change of heart. But the Hebrew word for repentance, tshuvah, means returning. The Bible’s first word for repentance means coming back to where you’re supposed to be. Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg says repentance means,

“coming home, in humility and with intentionality, to behave as the person we’d like to believe we are.” 

Repentance is our way into the good news of Jesus. It’s our way into mended relationships. It’s part of the healing path for all the ways we aren’t yet fully human, the ways we aren’t yet the person we hope to be, or even the person we’d like to believe we are.

So what is repentance? 

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg has this amazing book out called On Repentance and Repair: Making Amends in an Unapologetic World. It is really good. 

Ruttenberg writes about the influential Jewish medieval scholar Moses Maimonides and how he developed a five step system of repentance that can be extremely useful in how we think of all kinds of harm and repair.

Let me tell you Maimonides’ steps of repentance according to Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg. Again, there are five.

They are:

  1. Naming and owning harm
  2. Starting to change
  3. Restitution and accepting consequences
  4. Apology
  5. Making different choices

You’ll notice that Maimonides says not to make an apology to the person you’ve harmed until you’ve already named and owned the harm, you’ve started to change, and you’ve attempted in some way to make things right. 

Because the purpose of the apology is not to get someone to say “I forgive you” (speaking to my younger self here). And the purpose of an apology is not to make a shallow, fake peace, where the harm doer gets to feel better and move on. No, the purpose of an apology is to help the person harmed to heal and to help the person who did the harm get humble and deepen their humanity again. 

Sometimes we move through the steps quickly, seamlessly, almost intuitively. And sometimes it can be long and hard work. 

Let me give you an example of each, and then invite you to consider what role repentance might play in your life in the weeks to come.

Here’s an easy and quick picture, where repentance looks like what I talked about last week, laying down our burdens. 

It’s from the poem “I worried” by Mary Oliver. It goes like this:

“I worried”, by Mary Oliver

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers

flow in the right direction, will the earth turn as it 

was taught, and if not how shall I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,

can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows

can do it and I am, well,


Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,

am I going to get rheumatism,

lockjaw, dementia?

Finally, I saw that worrying had come to nothing.

And gave it up. And took my old body

and went out into the morning,

and sang.

Who’s being harmed here? No one else. The over-worrying is a victimless sin. The only one being harmed is the poet, and maybe God. We do well to be free and joyful people, and God loves when God’s children are free too. 

So we have a picture of quickly, seamlessly moving through repentance. The poet names and owns the harm. I’m staying inside, perseverating on my worries. That’s hurting me. She says:

it had come to nothing.

Then she starts to change – she says

“she gave it up.”

There’s no restitution, no victim to make this right with, but there’s an accepting of consequence – this is not doing me good. That’s its own kind of apology to oneself, to one’s creator, and then a different choice is made. I went out into the morning and sang.

Perhaps over time, the poet might move through these steps more slowly, reckon with the consequences of this habit, seek to get outside and sing more readily. Who knows? 

But like a lot of our moves toward freedom, it’s a kind of seamless repentance. It’s not really about apology at all, but awakening to an awareness of harm, and then steps with God’s help toward a better way.

When we turn toward the good news of Jesus, here it would be the good news of Jesus’ teaching on God and birds and worry and the freedom of laying burdens down, we are coming to that good news through repentance. 

One more story of repentance, a messier one. This is a church story. A collective story of repentance. Because we repent as individuals, but as groups too.

Christians and churches have a serious issue with abuse of power. So many of us have celebrated, followed, looked up to leaders who play out some kind of hero narrative for us. And so many of them, usually men, usually in our context white men, are caught up in their own ego and have abused that power and tried to cover it up.

There’s a podcast by Brad Onishi called Straight White American Jesus. It’s an expose of evangelicalism and Christian nationalism. And they had this whole thing a while back about something called the new apostolic revival, and its connections to Trumpism and the January 6th attacks. Scary and gripping stuff. 

Now, let me clear that our church was never a promoter of any of this kind of violence or a vision of Christianity that would dominate public life and government and all that. But we were just a couple of steps removed from some of the people involved and I think our church in its early days had its own blind spots on looking up to talented, charismatic men and giving them too much power. 

In our early days, many people here were enamored with the ministry of Bill Johnson and Bethel Church. There were people who traveled to California just to pray and worship there. That’s a church that has produced a lot of emotional worship music, they’ve purported to be the site of many miracles. They also celebrate charismatic leadership of people who supposedly have a more direct line to the voice of God. 

When I was hired as our second senior pastor, 10 years ago, I was asking around about what I should be reading to understand our church and the values it was formed upon. And one of the people who was recommended was a friend of Bethel, a man named Peter Wagner, who’d been a mentor to the Vineyard group of churches we used to be part of. Wagner promoted a model of pastoring where the senior pastor of a church would have as much power and as little constraint, as little accountability as possible so that pastor could listen to God and lead the people wherever they felt God wanted – quickly, forcefully, without restraint. 

Maybe you know where this is going. These white men who supposedly have a direct line to God often seem to get very odd things in their mind that they think God wants, things that elevate their own power or other authoritarian men like themselves.  Bill Johnson and his team promoted Trump as God’s man of the hour. Peter Wagner spent his dying days doing the same. And there are deeper, more troubling connections between these men, their colleagues, and the support of violent white Christian nationalism. 

Again, we didn’t promote that stuff, but we had our own tendency to put charismatic white male leaders on pedestals, especially those who claimed a really direct connection to God. We kind of hungered for that connection and trusted their voices.  

Some of those people meant well and were helpful. Others didn’t. A few had their sin and abuse of power exposed. Just this past week I realized we still had a sermon deep in our archives from someone who preached here before but has been credibly accused of abuse of power in his relationships with women. We pulled it down. 

I’m really proud of this church and our history. We’ll be celebrating our 25th anniversary this year. So many of our roots and our early mission still carry us! But this blind spot on power, and the manipulative and sometimes dangerous things that happen when we put people on pedestals was a problem. And so men holding power without accountability has been an area of repentance for our church under my time of stewarding this role of senior pastor. 

So, the steps: naming and owning harm.

We had conversations on the Board early in my tenure about what goes wrong when men promote their own special connection to God and lead out of that.

Starting to change

The first thing our church did when I was hired was we gave the Board of this church more power. I insisted that they evaluate me, in writing, each year and that they make more important choices for the church. I’m a leader in this community. I have some authority. But none of us want me to have any more than I earn, and we want me, I want me too! – to lead in partnership with others and to be accountable. 

Restitution and accepting consequences/apology – This has been messier. It hasn’t always been clear how to go back to our church’s early years and figure out who was or who wasn’t hurt by our church’s connections to abuse of power, but I do believe that we faced consequences for this as a community, and when I become aware of a situation in which I feel able to apologize on behalf of the church, I feel able to do so now. 

I’m certainly sorry to this community for two people I allowed to visit and speak here in my early years as a pastor, one in 2013 and one in 2016. Both seemed very talented but they were also unaccountable free agent types who later have said or done things I view as harmful. We’re done with unaccountable men being connected to this ministry. I’m sorry that in our early, fast growing years as a church when so many wonderful things were happening that we also weren’t learning how to watch for and prevent manipulative power and abuse of power. 

And then making different choices – continuing to do the work.

We are making a lot of choices now to be healthy and humble about power. We won’t invite traveling preachers who aren’t accountable to real Boards and communities. Our Board has done reading together about how to prevent abuse of power in our church. I like preaching. I think I’m good at it. But I preach less than most senior pastors, both because our associates, Pastor Ivy and Lydia are awesome at this and we want their wisdom and because it’s a way of not overcentering any one person’s voice. We promoted Trecia Reavis a couple years ago from director of operations to executive pastor because she is an excellent leader and we wanted the church to have a real partnership between me and her on the institutional leadership of this community.

It turns out that not following the voice of one man isn’t a loss at all. It opens up more community to more people’s gifts, and to a more beloved community way of being in the world. Like most processes of repentance, you gain so much more than you lose. You get to leave behind an inferior way of being and walk into the good news of something better. 

Repentance – changes of mind, changes of heart, coming home to our best selves – is serious and holy work. Repentance opens us up to good and healthy relationships. And repentance opens us up to the good news of Jesus. 

We start Lent this Wednesday with our Ash Wednesday service, and next Sunday, when our preaching and guide on this year’s theme of Earth begins. 

The first quarter of Lent – a week and a half in the guide, focus on humility. We’re invited to think about our own earthly mortality and our needs for change and repentance. 

Here’s my question, friends.

Where is your life falling short of the person you consider yourself to be? Where is your life out of alignment with the person you believe you are meant to be, who God calls you to be?

I’m not asking you to feel lousy about that. I’m also not asking you to apologize to anyone. We’d do better if we learned to be quicker to humility, quicker to soul-searching and attempting to change and make things right, and slower to apologize.

What I am asking you is to be curious about yourself.

Where do you want to turn? Where do you want to heal?

Let’s bring those questions with us to the communion table. 

In communion we remember Jesus’ final meal before his death, when he took the cup and said: This bread is my body, which is given for you. This cup is the new covenant by my blood, which is poured out for you. And now we eat and drink in memory of me.

We eat and drink as a kind of repentance as well, that Hebrew word tshuvah, or returning. We return to God. We come home to God and come home to ourselves, to the person we believe we are meant to be. 

If there’s a particular way in which you seek repentance in this season, in which you seek healing or turning or change, I invite you to name that to God as a prayer, saying to God that you offer your desire for change, your desire for healing, your desire for return, and welcome God’s presence and power.


Glory, glory, hallelujah…

I start us out by singing today because at least for me, it takes me somewhere. Somewhere less burdened, somewhere more joyful, more free. 

I would love for us to go there together, my friends. 

We are burdened people, I believe. We are anxious, stressed, weighed down, carrying a lot of troubles. For some of us, it’s more true than others. 

Some of us are more prone to stress than others. Some of us more prone to worry or anxiety. 

Some of us carry trauma in our bodies. That internalized fear and pain – old or new or some of both – can be a burden. Awareness of others suffering can be a burden. Those of us in the helping professions and those of us who are parents may face this kind of compassion fatigue a lot. But all of us, in our wired up, globalized age know more about more people’s suffering than any of our ancestors did, and that’s a lot to know when most of it we can’t do anything about. 

I’ve talked with women of color in my life about what it means to have both your culture and your gender be frequent targets of violence and frequently experiencing inequity and harm, knowing that there’s generations more of this in your backstory. There is growing research on how the effects of trauma can be passed down through generations. That’s a lot of burden too.

We are a burden-bearing people. 

I’m not an expert on all this. This is also a sermon, not a treatment course in trauma, anxiety, or other specific forms of burden.

So know that I’m not pretending to have the last word on getting free from our burdens today or anything. But I think there is wisdom, there is invitation in the scriptures, in the faith tradition of Jesus and his ancestors and his followers too, that we also easily forget or have never heard or don’t put into practice very much.

So I’d like to tap that tradition a little today, share a couple of stories and tips around what to do with the burdens we carry, how to maybe pick up a few less and lay down a few more, and find more of that Glory, Glory joy and freedom in our days. 


I’ve got three scriptures. Here’s the first:

Psalm 55:22 (New Revised Standard Version)

Cast your burden on the Lord,

    and he will sustain you;

he will never permit

    the righteous to be moved.

I first heard that verse when I sang it. In high school, I joined a community chorus with my dad where we sang the choral dramatization of the life of Elijah the prophet. And in the middle of it, there’s this beautiful setting of this verse. 

Cast your burden upon the Lord. It’s beautiful. 

How do you do that, though? How do you throw your burden onto God’s back, so God can carry you, strengthen you?

When I first sang this verse, I was both picking up and starting to put down burdens at the same time. 

I had experienced secrecy and neglect around some trauma in my life, and that was still buried at the time. I was just starting to become an ambitious and driven person to be able to put a life together for myself, one that I love and am proud of but that 25-30 years later, in my 40s, I had to stop and reevaluate parts of. We’ll come back to that, but this was in some ways a season of accumulating burdens.

And yet, the beginnings of laying down my burdens were happening too.

I became convinced in my teen years that God, the creator of the universe, knew and loved me. That spoke to my lonely self, so that was a laying down of burden. 

After I moved out of home, I started to be able to name and understand my trauma story. I got help learning about it, I got curious about what was going on inside me. I was able to see a therapist for a while. And this work was hard but it helped me know more acceptance and love for myself and freedom, helped me let go of some of the shame I carried. So that was a laying down of burdens too. 

I started learning how to notice my feelings when they happen and talk to someone about them – basic I know. But I was learning how to pray and learning how to have better friendships than I ever had as a kid. And this was freeing too. 

And I realized that I was entering my adult life with a ton of fear of failure – fear of career failure and fear of financial failure too. And the spiritual resources I found in my faith community helped me start to lay that burden down.

All these layers of starting to lay down burdens as I grew up, none of them happened by myself. They all happened in relationships with God and friends. 

This laying down of burdens, I think mostly we don’t do it alone. We need partners, people to help us pull stuff off our back and let it go. 

I love this old documentary called Strong at the Broken Places. It’s the story of four people who came of age facing immense trauma. And all four of them find enough healing in their broken places, enough recovery in their trauma, that their very weaknesses, healed in part, enable them to help many, many others find their recovery. 

One of them, Max Cleland, was profoundly disabled during the Vietnam War, and then faced depression and PTSD after returning home before finding the help he needed to heal and to serve others in public life, even becoming a US Senator. He quotes Hemingway, who wrote:

“The world breaks everyone but afterward many are strong at the broken places.”

And Cleland says that’s his story, and it’s a story he’s seen in others, that with the help of God and friends, we can be strong at the broken places.

We don’t do it alone. The help of God and friends is the key. Life’s too hard to be a solo sport. We all need help with our burdens. None of us can carry them, or even give them to God, alone. 

This is one of the reasons this church has community groups – places to know and be known. Grace and I pull together an online group Thursday nights for parents of younger kids. We check in over Zoom, often about our burdens or those of our kids, and pray together. That’s it. Pretty simple. But a place to not be alone in our burdens.

In my Saturday morning Bible study here, we study the Bible but we also each share some way we’ve found life this past week or some way our lives could be better. It’s also a place to not be alone in our burdens. 

Because I’m a pastor in this community, I also have friendships and groups outside of this church where I can make my burdens known. Without those circles of friendship, I wouldn’t even notice many of the burdens I’m carrying, and I certainly wouldn’t have the kindness and empathy and prayer and support that helps me not keep carrying them. 

So, friends, we don’t cast our burdens unto God all by ourselves. We do it together. 

I’ve also mentioned prayer. And I want to say a little more about that. Prayer is a lot of things, but one thing it is is when we offer our burdens and our gratitude to God, and God gives us God’s peace. 

I get that description of one kind of prayer from these powerful lines in one of my favorite chapters in the Bible, the fourth chapter in the letter to the Philippians, where it says:

Philippians 4:6-7 (Common English Bible)

6 Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks.

7 Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.

I share this and pray this for others a lot, that they won’t get stuck with their burdens dominating their mind, but that they can ask God for help and as they do remember there’s so much to be grateful for too. Because that combination of gratitude, perspective, and reaching out to our Mother/Father God for help has brought so many of us profound peace, peace that keeps us safe, peace that keeps us well, peace that goes beyond our understanding.

Last month, I needed help remembering this teaching for myself. I was in a lot of conversations with people who were facing high stakes problems – big, big burdens. And normally it is not hard for me to show up as a pastor and a friend to other people’s pain. I feel sad with them, sad with you, each time this happens, but to be a friend, a support, a help in it is actually fulfilling for me. 

But last month, it was getting to me for some reason. I was thinking about other people’s problems at random times of the day, having some of the sadness and stress of other people start to feel like my own, and I was telling my therapist about this, and remembering this way I’ve prayed for burdens, out of this teaching in Philippians.

If I can, I share with God – I say it out loud, or I write it down – here’s something, someone I’m grateful for right now. Gratitude is a great perspective maker – there’s always more than our burden.

And then the burden prayer has four parts.

I picture the burden, and I say I really care about this, God. 

And then I say, if I think it’s true, I’ve done what I can. I’ve done my part. Or if I haven’t yet, I say to God, I will do my part. I will do what I can.

Burden releasing is not an excuse for apathy or irresponsibility. We’re called to do something about our burdens and the burdens of the people we love. But we’re not gods either. We can’t do it all.

So: I care. I’ll do my part. Or I’ve done my part.

And then I say to God:

this is too big for me.

And I tell myself, and I tell God what I can’t do, or what I don’t know how to do.

And then I usually stick my hands out, and I say:

I release this to your care, God.

I was telling my therapist about this, and she was like:

do you want to do that now? 

And so, in front of my therapist, who does not share the details of my faith at all, I named a person I love whose burden felt so heavy and I prayed my way through this, naming to God: 

I care about them.

I have done and I will continue to do my part. 

But also, this is bigger than me.

And God, Abba, Mother/Father, I release them to your care. 

My therapist affirmed the peace she saw this bringing me, and she stretched me a little too. She said:

Steve, you know sometimes you need to release the people you love not just to God but to themselves.

You have to remember that parts of their stress and problems, you can help with, but parts are for them and not for you. You have the trust that they too will own their healing journey. And so, I’m adding that to my prayers, saying before God, you know, God, that this isn’t mine to keep carrying.

The scriptures after all admonish us:

Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.

To bear one another’s burdens is one way we fulfill Jesus’ law:

to love our neighbor as ourselves. 

But it says: bear one another’s burdens, help carry them for a while, be a friend, but it does not tell us to hold on to another’s burdens or make them our own. 

A lot of the inner work, the spiritual work I’ve been doing in my late 40s has been about learning to live with less driven-ness and less stress, to live more present, more free and joyful, and with more peace.

This giving God my burdens is part of it.

And rest is too. Rest, what the scriptures call sabbath rhythms. 

We let go of our burdens with partnership and help. 

We let go of our burdens in prayer.

And we let go of our burdens, and pick up fewer in the first place, with rest. 

Jesus said:

Matthew 11:28-30 (Common English Bible)

28 “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.

29 Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves.

30 My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”

Jesus reminds us that heavy loads and struggles are never ours to bear alone. We need the help of God and friends. Jesus pictures himself as a leader and a partner to us in our struggles.

Walk with me,

he says.

Learn from me.

And Jesus offers and encourages rest in this. 

Jesus was born into a culture and a faith where this was really important, still is really important. As people whose founding stories go back to enslavement, Jews were commanded to practice regular rhythms of rest, worship, joy, and delight.

God said:

don’t forget you once were slaves, and don’t ever let that happen to you again. Be free people. 

And part of how they did that was by not working at all one day per week. And using that day for connection, for worship, for rest, and for that which brings joy.

In Hebrew, it’s called shabbat, or sabbath. 

And that refers to a weekly rhythm of not working and resting, but also to daily and over the course of years, seasonal times of rest and delight, stuff that helps remember that the earth and the labor of other people is not there for us to always work and exploit. And our own lies are not to always be worked and exploited.

We were made for freedom. We were made for joy. We were made, in part, for rest.

I have the blessing of regular rhythms of this. Even when life is busy, when life feels burdened, I try to practice daily small rhythms of rest. Reading something I enjoy almost every night before I go to sleep, listening to a song I love or taking a five minute stretch walk between meetings, rather than cramming in just a little more email. 

But whether or not I keep rhythms of rest throughout my day, I take a day off every week, where I will not work, and I make sure to for at least part of it, spend more time than most days in prayer, and where I get outside for longer because that brings life to me, or where I do something else I love for at least a little, when I can with a person that I love. 

Lastly, I’m blessed to be in a job that allows for longer periodic bits of rest. Our staff at church all get four paid weeks of vacation a year. And our pastors are allowed to apply for a paid, three month break – a sabbatical – once every seven years. This kind of thing is really rare in our driven form of capitalism. I feel almost awkward announcing it, but this summer, I’m taking three months off. I’ve been granted a sabbatical. 

I’m going to hang out with my kids much more as they start to become adults and leave home. And I’m going to get outside more. And my family got a clergy renewal grant to take a big trip too that we couldn’t afford otherwise. 

I’m aware that this is an immense blessing. I feel incredibly lucky, really grateful for this. 

I’m aware that for many people, these kind of daily and weekly, and longer, seasonal periods of rest can be much harder to find. For people who don’t get paid time off in their jobs, for parents of young kids, for people just scraping by economically, for lots of us, we wonder: how can we take a break? 

And listen, friends, I’d be the last person to ever minimize those struggles. But I will just say, that if we follow Jesus, we do into a tradition that invites and even commands rhythms of rest as part of a flourishing, unburdened life. 

We don’t get joy, and we don’t get freedom without it.

So a few ways I’ve known people to be creative with their needs for daily, weekly, and seasonal rest.

I’ve known people who prioritize their sleep hygiene. Like, maybe my waking life has no breathers, but I’m at least going to do what’s in my power to get better sleep. So they do stuff like not have their phones by their bedside, or at least have them off for an hour before bed, and other stuff that we know helps us sleep better.

I’ve known people who make lists of 5-10 things that bring them joy, because life’s hard enough they can forget those things, and when they have an unexpected break – some extra childcare, an easy day at work when they don’t have to push so hard – they let themselves just have joy for a while.

I’ve known people that when they are between jobs find a way to take a month off to just not be a worker for a season, people who ask for and get short medical leaves at work for their mental health, people make deals with their housemates or families they live with to change the rhythm of life in their household for one day a week.

People that take in less social media and less news, since they realize we’re not called to know everything or have an opinion about everything but to be people who do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly – and joyfully and freely – with God. Less exposure, more connection, more action, brings a lot of rest.

You get the idea. We all need daily and weekly and seasonal rest. We’ll never find much joy or much freedom without it. 

Friends, I hope you found this little tour through laying down our burdens through help and prayer and rest useful to you.


1 Corinthian 12:12-27

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.

13 For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.

16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.

17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?

18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as God wanted them to be.

19 If they were all one part, where would the body be?

20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”

22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,

23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,

24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,

25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.

26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

27 You are the body of Christ. Each one of you is a part of it.

Let me pray for us. 

Divine Love, Thank you for bringing us here together today. Thank you that you called us, no matter what week we’ve had, what morning we had, that you invite us with love and grace and mercy to be in your presence and receive your love. Help us to open ourselves up to something new. 

There’s a Ted Talk from a social psychologist named Amy Cuddy called, “The body language shapes who you are.” It was the one with the study where people took powerful, expansive postures for two minutes, and some would take the opposite, small powerless poses, and then they took their saliva samples for signs of hormones that equate to confidence.

She talked about the universal body language after you win a race — like this, raising your arms up and feeling big. And the universal body language for feeling insecure or scared, like scrunched over, holding your arms. One of her questions was,

“so we know that our minds change our bodies, but is it also true that our bodies change our minds?”

And her study results were, yes. Smiling when you’re sad can make you happier. Lifting up your chin and taking up more space can make you feel more important and powerful. And so they applied this to situations that particularly could influence and matter, like a job interview. Again, they found the study that those who took power poses before their interview were more likely to get the job. 

The feedback she got though was,

“well I don’t wanna fake it and get there and feel like an imposter.”

Because this method did feel a bit like

“fake it till you make it.”

She went on to say,

“I get it, because I know what it feels like to feel like an imposter.”

She tells a story about how when she was 19, she got into a really bad car accident that threw her out of the car. She woke up in a head injury rehab and her IQ had dropped by two standard deviations, which was very traumatic to her because she had identified with being smart, called gifted as a child. She was taken out of college and as she tried to go back, she heard them say,

“You’re not going to finish college. There’s other things you can do, you know.”

She struggled with this, having your identity taken from you, your core identity, that equated to being smart. But she worked hard, taking four years longer than her peers to graduate college. 

She ended up at Princeton and then Harvard, fighting through the imposter syndrome. One day, a student who had not talked in class the entire semester came into her office. She came in totally defeated, and she said,

“I’m not supposed to be here.”

That’s when she realized, oh my gosh, I don’t feel like that anymore. but she does, and I get that feeling. And so she told her,

“Yes, you are! You are supposed to be here! And tomorrow you’re going to fake it, you’re going to make yourself powerful.”

The student came back months later, she had not just faked it till she made it, she had actually faked it till she became it. So she had changed. And Cuddy tells the audience,

“don’t fake it till you make it. Fake it till you become it. Do it enough until you actually become it and internalize it.” 

Now when the Apostle Paul was writing to the Corinthian church, he had heard the same thing, in our text today,

“I don’t belong here.”

“I’m not supposed to be here.”

“ I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,”

“ I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body.”

As the church was facing conflict, corruption, divisions and just general drama, the church sometimes didn’t know how to be the church. What is the church anyway? What are we supposed to be doing? Paul said, the church is the body of Christ. 

We’ve been in a series called Seven Big Words, simply focusing on one word each Sunday to unpack and our word for today is Embodiment. I want to dig deeper with you together, what does it mean for us to be the Body of Christ, to embody Christ? Maybe we’re not facing conflict, corruption, and division as a church, but we sure are set in a world, post-pandemic, often politically and racially divided, and maybe how can Reservoir be an agent of healing and a voice of love just as Jesus was in his time and culture?  How can we, Reservoir Church emulate and be the body of Christ in our word today? What would that look like? 

What is embodiment?

Embodiment: is a tangible or visible form of an idea, quality, or feeling.

The representation or expression of something in a tangible or visible form. It is our thoughts, feelings, ideas, theology, values, coming alive and taking a bodily form.

  • What do we believe in?
  • Maybe hope, love, justice, mercy. Well how is that embodied?
  • What does that look like?

That’s what a church is supposed to be. Not just a building with a pastor who preaches such concepts, we all listen, and go back to our homes with feel-good thoughts, but the church is supposed to SHOW that in action all throughout the week in our hands, in our work, in our bodies. The church isn’t what the building looks like, what it says on its website, or even what’s preached. It’s the people. 

I’ve heard people say sometimes,

“I really wish the church would…”

as we’re standing in church on a Sunday morning. And the question I always want to ask is, who is the church? Is the church Steve? Is the church the staff? It’s not! The church is you. The church is you and you and you and you. The church is you leading a community group. The church is you coming to church at 8:30am to set up the coffee and you running late into worship when the sermons started. The church is you sitting up in the front with your arms crossed and you sitting in the back with your head down low. The church is you standing by the bathroom striking a conversation with someone you saw crying during worship. The church is you texting on a Tuesday morning to someone you know who has a surgery that day with words of hope and encouragement. The church is you laughing out loud about the hard things that went really wrong during the week with someone who can laugh with you because they too had a crazy annoying week at work. Do I need to go on? 

And it’s almost funny how similar our text is to what I hear sometimes. I have heard this from some of you, actually many of you.

“Oh I am not (fill in the blank) so I don’t belong.” 

“Oh I don’t come every Sunday, just whenever I can.”

“I did not grow up in church.”

“I’ve been coming on and off for about 6 years.”

“I don’t really know how to be Christian”

“I’m fairly new to church. I only started coming out right before the pandemic.”

All spoken to me by people I literally met at church. It’s funny how many of us feel like outsiders. 

Let me shift for a minute to talk about what it means to be the “body of Christ,” I’d like to unpack the word Christ. Sometimes we use the words Christ and Jesus, interchangeably. Like Christ is Jesus’s last name. It’s not. What does the word Christ mean? It comes from the Greek word, Christos, meaning, “the anointed one.”

So it simply means Jesus the anointed one. If we understand the “body of Christ” as simply, interchangeable name for Jesus (which is how it has often been by many recent understandings) and by that I mean, in the last 50 years conclusion and assumptions and theological implications –which most of us in this room have probably been most exposed to by pure incident of time, but there were other understanding of Christ, not just the person of Jesus. Why does this matter?

Church is the body of Christ, often just meant, church, be like Jesus. Be Jesus in this world. And in many senses that is true. Because Jesus did very visibly show us how to be in this world with divine love. 

In the book titled The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr, a notable Franciscan priest, he talks about the beginning of the Gospel of John, 

“In the beginning was the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him and nothing was created except through him.”

Now in the past, even though this text made no sense to me, here’s how I was taught about it. See? The Word, he’s talking about Jesus. The Word, is Jesus. So you see, Jesus was there all along. Jesus was at the beginning of Creation. Nothing came into being except through him. 

And again, it made no sense, but I just chalked it up as, Oh John, you are just so poetic. And I didn’t ask, how is the Word an unmistakable reference to Jesus? But just like any metaphor, it is and it isn’t. John was being poetic, which means it has this meaning and so so so much more to offer us than one conclusion.  

Richard Rohr says

“The word became flesh” in (John 1:14), (John is) using a universal and generic term (sarx) instead of referring to a single human body. In fact the lone word “Jesus” is never mentioned in the Prologue! Did you ever notice that? “Jesus Christ” is finally mentioned but not until the second to last verse.”

It is true that in Jesus, what happened is that a thought became a body. Word became flesh. And it is a visible sign and a reminder that God indeed is one who made divine things into earthly things. As Rohr says quote:

“This infinite Primal Source somehow poured itself into finite, visible forms, creating everything from rocks to water, plants, organisms, animals and human beings–everything we see with our eyes.” 

Though many Christians think of baby Jesus when we think of the word “Incarnation” but, Rohr calls the creation first Incarnation, because the word “incarnation” simply means that

“God joined in unity with the physical universe and became the light inside of everything,”

including and perhaps quite powerfully and so sweetly in the person of Jesus. Rorh says that Franciscans say it like this,

“Creation is the First Bible and it existed for 13.7 billion years before the second Bible was written.” 

Stay with me please. I know I’m throwing a lot. 

Again, what does it mean to the Body of Christ? 

Some of us have confused the Christian mantra to be, be like Jesus. Be like Jesus. And again, that’s one way to put it. But, And also, it means, You are the body of Christ. Christ – the anointed one. YOU ARE THE ANOINTED ONE! The question isn’t, “what would Jesus do” but “what would an anointed one do?”  You are the concept of the anointed one embodied through who you are, what you do, how you live right now, right here. 

“Follow Jesus” wasn’t just about trying to be like him, taking on his character, learning his ways, which again, is one way to follow his ways, but another way to think of it is, Jesus knew how close and intimate he was to God. So much so that he called God Abba. Now learn from that. Call God Abba, and feel in your body what it means to be a beloved child of God. Understand just like how Jesus understood his own holy anointing, that you are my child, in whom I am well pleased, which is the voice from the heaven spoken when Jesus was baptized and the voice we are to hear in our baptism, You are my beloved. 

Please hear me. You’re not just a sinner who needs Jesus. You are a beloved child of God, just like Jesus. Look at him. Look how he shined. It’s not meant that his light is just supposed to rub off on you even though you are despicable and undeserving. That was a wrong message and how torn I am to realize, how many years I spent, of my life, thinking that GOSH, why won’t his light rub off no matter how hard I try. The message was always that that same light is in you all along. 

So what does the call for the church, for our church to be the body of Christ, mean? It’s not, let’s try our hardest to be more like Jesus. It’s not a call, “be more like Jesus”, it’s a pronouncement.

Verse 27 says,

“You are the Body of Christ.”

You are the anointed one. 

That’s the beginning and the starting point of what it means to be Christian. It’s not, oh dear, do try to be more like this good boy Jesus. It’s, you are loved and holy and anointed just like I am union with Jesus, so I am with you. Isn’t that a pretty big difference? 

I get emotional about it because it’s something that has made all the difference. 

You see, when I first felt like I was being called to be a pastor, I too said the same thing. I do not belong. I am not supposed to be here. Do you know who I am? Do you know what I’ve done? If you saw me in my worst moments in my life, heck in my week, you would not approve of me standing here preaching to you. Most every one of you might say, “you’re one to talk.”

Just to be clear, I’m not a pastor because I’m some kind of role model. I just have had enough grace and mercy spoken to me that has covered me so well that I’m okay with being visibly publicly a stumbling bumbling mess of a person who struggles with her faith. Who struggles with embodying her faith to even her own children when they are relentlessly crying literally for no reason. Who struggles with feeling tired, overworked, overwhelmed, like I’m not enough, like I’m not producing enough, replying to email fast enough, like I’m not enough. 

And you know what? That’s alright. I’m not the whole body. I’m just a pinky. Or let’s give myself a little more credit, maybe I’m a hand. But a hand needs a wrist, a wrist needs an elbow, an elbow does well with a shoulder and a shoulder with shoulder blades. 

You belong. You are the church. You are needed.

I was going to go on about the challenges of embodiment, and how much our body actually has experienced trauma and how much healing we need. That Ted Talk I mentioned, she said as a passing comment, when she was talking about powerless postures,

“So women are much more likely to do this kind of thing than men. Women feel chronically less powerful than men, so this is not surprising.”

And the reality of how chronically women and people of color feel less in their bodies… but alas I’ve run out of time. You know the whole body metaphor of how much it suffers the whole body when you have one toothache. It’s in the rest of the text, how,

“those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.”

Go back and read it cause I didn’t have time to touch on it.

Let’s heal one another through our church. Let’s not just talk about it or think about it or believe it but let’s really really do it and be it. Let’s be the holy and anointed ones who do everything from the groundedness of knowing that we belong, that we are inextricably connected through the divine love who holds and cradles our aching bodies. And as we figure it out, if we’re not sure how to, let’s fake it till we become it. Let me pray for us. 

Holy and Loving God, you have given us your light in each and every one of us. Give us the eyes to see. Help us to know how absolutely belovedness, that from there, everything we do will derive. Help us drive that deep into our hearts we pray. Amen. 


Deconstruction: Necessity, Tragedy, Opportunity

I’ve got a weird scripture for us today. It’s not hard to find one. The Bible is really old. Different times, different places, different people. So weird is easy to find. But I think this weird passage might be useful to many of us in the context of our own weird moment we’re living in. 

Our big word for today is deconstruction. It’s a big buzz word in the cultural and religious experience of times. And our weird Bible passage is from the end of the letter called Hebrews. I’ll just read three verses. 

Hebrews 13:12-14 (Common English Bible)

12 And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy with his own blood.

13 So now, let’s go to him outside the camp, bearing his shame.

14 We don’t have a permanent city here, but rather we are looking for the city that is still to come.

Nineteen years ago, my dad and I were deconstructing a home we’d just bought and that I live in now.

Long story short, insane work ethic + good luck + white privilege meant my grandpa left a bunch of resources to his one daughter and his three grandsons, and so Grace and I had more money than we had any right to have in our late 20s. 

At the same time, Grace’s parents were aging and without savings and owned a two-family house that needed a lot of work. So Grace and I bought the house from them – gave them all the funds we had to live in her childhood home and raise our family there, and provide a place for her parents to age in place without financial stress as well. 

The catch was the house was old and had not been very well maintained, so we borrowed a lot of money to take care of it. We fixated at first on all the paint and all the windows. We had a baby about to turn two and were thinking we’d have more kids and we thought probably this place is bathed in lead paint. And we didn’t want our babies to be full of that lead. So we were like: we have got to get rid of it all.

Now my dad at the time was in his 50s and was unemployed, but he’d worked as a building contractor most of my childhood and still had his license, and he was like: I will give you a few months of my time to do this thing with you. And that whole winter, that’s what my dad did. He labored on that house. I’d join him when I could on the weekends or in the afternoons when I got out of my job as a teacher but he did a lot solo. So much honor to him for this. All that love and service – so much honor. I aim to be this kind of dad for my own grown kids. 

Anyway, we tore out all the window frames first. And then we were like, these windows are incredibly old – they have got to go as well. 

And then with the windows and the frames coming out, we were like why are we keeping all these walls and ceilings. They’re probably covered in lead paint too, and they’re not all that straight either. 

You can see where this is going. We rented an enormous dumpster to put in the driveway, and frame by frame, all by wall, we deconstructed a whole bunch of that house. 

A few things. Don’t. Don’t do this, please.

But seriously, first, maybe, it was necessary. Grace and I loved our kids. We loved her parents. We were trying to love this house to serve all of us. And the more we pulled apart, the more we discovered that had to go. Like that time the electrician came by and was like – woah, shut everything off. I gotta tear all this wiring out cause we’re about to have a fire. And we were like: we don’t think so, it’s been like that for twenty, thirty years. She couldn’t believe it. But she was right, the wiring had to go too. Deconstructing a ton of that house was probably necessary.

But it was also horrible. So messy, I mean, I didn’t wear a mask almost at all and the amount of plaster and all kinds of other stuff that’s been hanging out in my lungs ever since. Sheesh…. So much headache. And my poor dad, laboring away there day after day, mostly by himself, for no pay, and a not always very grateful kid. I’m sure there were times when both of us wondered why we had done this.

And lastly, we needed a better guide. I mean no offense to my dad, who again, was heroic, but I’m not so sure looking back that we really had to tear down every single wall and ceiling. It was a lot of time rebuilding all those, and there were some other things that we really could have done instead. And if we were going to tear down every wall, like why didn’t we make sure we put up proper closets? This mistake has come up just a few times over the past 19 years. We needed a guide, someone who could help us make better choices, who could help us figure out where we were trying to go, and how to get there.

Deconstruction of all kinds is like this really. It’s often necessary, it’s usually tragic, though, and full of danger. And yet it’s a work of great possibilities if we know where we’re trying to go and can get help getting there. 

The word deconstruction comes from postmodern philosophy, where it means something more technical. These days, though, deconstruction has taken on a broader meaning. It’s a word for what we do when we find that some system we’ve lived in isn’t working any more, and we’ve got to pull it apart and find our way out. A lot of the time this deconstruction is about religion. 

You realize the religious house you’ve been living in is going to poison your kids. Or there’s no room in the house for you or for someone you love. Or the house is too small or shabby or it’s got bones in the basement, and you need to figure out which parts of it you’ve got to tear down and renovate if you’re going to stay, or even if you decide to leave all together.

It’s necessary. When you realize your house is toxic, or it feels more like a prison than a home, you’ve got to do something about it.

Also, though, it’s dangerous, it’s tragic. I mean who wants to tear up their house? So much pain, so much loss. There’s nothing sexy about it. 

But if you can figure out where you want to go, it can be quite the opportunity. But you need help. You need guides.

My religious deconstruction, if that’s what I would call it, started around the same time we were tearing up our house. Our first child, as a toddler, told us: Mommy and Daddy, only men can be pastors. Our little girl, something like two years old, had figured this out. And we looked around our church and it was clear why she had come to that conclusion. 

So we were like: we’re out of here. There were other things said in our evangelical church that we couldn’t abide, so many things, but this was the tipping point. We weren’t going to raise our daughter in a church that had these rigid views of male authority and female submission. No way. 

And on it went. As I got space from some of the ideas and people that had so influenced my faith in my late teens and early to mid 20s, I started reevaluating a whole ton of things I had taken for granted.

Some of it was so great! Like realizing, I mean not just in my head but in my bones that our religion should lead to flourishing, like good faith has got to make good fruit, that was so helpful. So if I had some religious notion that made me more of a jerk, more judgy, less empathetically kind, it probably had to go. It probably was never true in the first place! So liberating. Stuff that John Calvin or some other dead Christian made up cherry picking some bit of the Bible wasn’t gospel truth after all. It could go. That felt great.

But other stuff, man, it has been hard. Like when I became convinced that gay people had the right to fall in love without being ashamed, that queer people, people represented in the LGBTQIA spectrum deserve the chance to partner and marry if they want with God’s help and blessing. True confession, it took me a while to get there, maybe longer than it should, but when I did, I was stunned by the degree of anger and resistance around that. Small potatoes compared to the suffering and rejection that queer friends and colleagues have faced, small pain compared to what some of you have endured, my friends, but the curses, the cut off relationships and connections, the implications that I didn’t know scripture or wasn’t serious about my faith – are you kidding me? 

There was a time I was supposed to share about our church at a conference – just one of many dozens of seminars, not a main talk or anything, but it was canceled. I, we, were canceled. But in an effort I kept up for years at peacemaking with people that didn’t want me in their lives, I went to this conference anyway with my wife. And in the opening worship session, people were standing up, singing about their love for Jesus and all, and I noticed Grace next to me in tears. 

And I was like: what’s going on? And later, she wondered: why do these people reject us? I mean, when I became a Christian, I thought I was getting a family, a safe and loving community. But it’s not. 

She was so right, and that made me so angry. I felt the pain too, but the pain in someone I love so much cut deeper. How dare people cut lines of judgment and exclusion like this!

Or to have the experience so many parents have had and have your own child say:

you and your church seem pretty good. But most Christians are bad news for the world. They’re bad news for me. I don’t want any part of it.

That makes me even more angry, more heartbroken. 

I could go on: the dug-in defensiveness of most White Christians around how much racism, how much white supremacy – preference for whiteness – is baked into the American Christian experience, inherited from the European colonial legacy. I mean the fact that this is a thing, and that this is a problem, is not subtle, but the defensiveness, the denial, the angry attacks from some corners when this comes up, it can be unbearable. 

I visited one of our community groups recently, one where I knew a number of people were part of Reservoir’s community as part of their own untangling of versions of Christian religion they couldn’t abide any more. I wanted to listen to their experience a little more, and I heard the same.

Moving on, moving forward, tearing down some of the bad stuff wasn’t a choice. It was a must, a necessity. Even though it was hard. Lost certainties, lost confidence, lost churches – no one wants this if they don’t have to. 

But the other thing that came up was this third part, that moving forward isn’t easy.

  • What do you do with your sadness and your anger?
  • What’s left of your faith after parts of it are gone? 
  • When you’ve had to tear down parts of what used to be your home, what do you build in its stead?
  • How do you not freeze and do nothing?
  • And how do you not just rebuild another version of what you had before? 
  • And how do you not end up like my dad, doing most of this by himself?
  • Who are our partners in this big change?
  • Who are our guides?

It’s in this context I’m drawn to this passage of Hebrews I’ve read. It affirms the difficulty of a journey outside a broken but conventional power system. And it gives us a pointer toward guides we can trust.

It’s a weird text. Like half, two thirds of it is obvious and good encouragement. Be more hospitable. Treat your marriage if you have one like it’s sacred because it is. Visit prisoners, pray for them. Be good to your pastors. Basic Jesus stuff, even if we mostly don’t do it. That’s why it’s there.

But then there’s this weird bit in the middle. Some scholars call it one of the more difficult passages in the New Testament. 

It says don’t be misled by strange teachings. But then no one really agrees on what these strange teachings are. Something to do with food and altars, but not much agreement around what this all means. 

Best as I can tell, there’s a general vibe, though, which is don’t get into weird religious stuff. Like you can take religion too seriously, too far. 

But then there’s this bit about Jesus our teacher. The writer of Hebrews points to the animal sacrifices in the temple, and quotes the temple procedure book of Leviticus to draw a comparison. It says the blood of the animals was shed in the temple, but then their bodies were dumped outside the city, beyond the gates. And then the writer is like: same with Jesus. 

Jesus suffered outside the city gate. They took his body outside the camp, so to speak, and shed his blood there. All the ways that Jesus and his shed blood helps us become holy, the ways that Jesus makes us whole – that’s a bigger conversation for another day. For today, though, let’s take Jesus’ blood as a stand in for the self-giving love of Jesus. 

Self-giving love got Jesus thrown outside the gates. The city, the camp, the establishment – both Jewish and Roman – didn’t get Jesus. They didn’t want him. Instead, they drove him out and killed him there. I’ve visited the two places archaeologists think are the most likely spots Jesus was crucified. Both beyond the city walls. And both visible, rocky areas where people traveling to Jerusalem would see what was happening and mock the crucified or be terrified themselves. That was the point. Maximum shame for the naked, humiliated victim. Maximum intimidation for the crowd. 

And the writer of Hebrews is like, let’s follow him there, pilgrims. Let’s go. 

Brad Jersak leans into this verse in this amazing book on deconstruction. It’s called Out of the Embers: Faith After the Great Deconstruction. 

He’s like: friends, the camp has failed us. He writes,

“American Christianity as a colonial extension of European Christendom has run its course and is no longer tenable.”

Most forms of American Christianity, it makes sense to leave behind. They’ve piled up too much crap around the treasure of Jesus. They’ve failed.

This is one gift of this passage. When human power institutions, including religious ones fail you, do not be surprised. Because human power institutions are almost never built upon self-giving love. They’re constructed around the power and interests of the people who built them. 

Take the forms of Christianity we’ve inherited in our times and place. The whole thing started as a Jesus movement. The way of Jesus, the way of trust in a beautiful unseen God, way of receiving and giving self-giving love. But centuries later, the center of the faith was systematized and standardized and rigidified by power brokers in the Roman Empire, and then parts of it passed down and down by European power brokers, people who came to hate Jews, people who got scared of Muslims and battled them, people with land interests and wealth interests to defend, people that got in mind to colonize and enslave the peoples of the earth as part of their project for global domination. 

The faith we inherited in this country, the gift of European colonizers, had gone through centuries of evolution toward patriarchy, white supremacy, and the interests of the powerful, and away from justice, humility, mercy, and self-giving love. How do we know? Theologian Tripp Fuller puts it this way. He says so much of our religion has gone from bearing crosses to building them. From bearing crosses to building them. Nails in the hand, to hammer in the hand. But you can only trust Christians who bear crosses, not build them. 

So friends, if you’ve confronted power systems you realized you could no longer be part of, do not be surprised. If you’ve confronted forms of religion, including forms of Christian religion you realized you could no longer be part of, do not be surprised. If, like my old home I live in, you’ve found that it needs partial deconstruction, I know that is a pain in the neck. It hurts. God sees and knows this too. But don’t be dismayed. With the help of God and friends, you can build back something better. 

That’s my experience in the home I live in, thanks be to my grandpa and my dad and to God. And that’s very much true in the way of Jesus I’m on. I’m still finding my way, but it’s so much better than it was 20 years ago. It’s a road I’m excited to keep traveling. It’s hard sometimes, it takes discipline. But there’s joy here. It’s a road that compels me to more and more receiving and giving of self-giving love. And it’s a way of invitation to ever increasing freedom. 

How do we get there, though? How do we find our way toward some kind of reconstruction of faith? Who will be our guides? 

Well, Brad Jersak and the author of Hebrews encourage us that it’s Jesus and it’s people of self-giving love who bear his love and bear his shame. Follow Jesus outside the camp, bearing his shame perhaps, but welcoming and becoming his self-giving love. 

I want to end by sharing three ways I’ve been trying to do this. They’re my experiences and convictions, but they overlay with what’s in Jersak’s book and I’ve seen them be helpful for others. Three quick thoughts about following Jesus outside of the worst of American Christianity. Going with Jesus outside the camp.

  1.  Refuse to participate in a whites-only club.

This by the way, is a word not just for white people but for all of us. Refuse to participate in a whites-only club. 

Years ago, I noticed that the great majority of books I’d ever read, ever been encouraged to read that had anything to do with the Bible, with theology, with religion and spirituality were written by white men. Now listen, I’ve got nothing against white men. I love myself. I really do. But one of the failings of the colonial European project is that when it has confronted difference, it has mostly tended to judge and conquer, rather than peaceably and humbly listen and exchange. 

And so there have just been a ton of blind spots at best, violent, narrow-minded rigidity at worst in the echo chamber. 

So when I look at a book on religion and faith, if it’s written by a descendant of Europeans like myself, especially by a white man, I look at the footnotes, and if the only people of color they’re engaging with Jesus and the writers of the Bible, I usually won’t read the book. When I’ve been part of cohorts or communities that study, which is a thing for a pastor, if books like these are assigned, I speak up in protest, sometimes quietly, sometimes not. 

Even here at Reservoir, we are a racially diverse church. We have racially diverse leadership. Our Board is just over half people of color. Our staff just under half. But we’re aware that for our three preaching pastors, two of us are white. So, because it’s who we are, but also in a decolonizing, outside the camp attention, we look to learn from and center voices of color in our learning and speaking around spiritual formation. It’s a way toward constructing something new in our faith with Jesus, outside the camp, something more humble, just, and liberating.

This whites-only club by the way, doesn’t only strictly apply to white voices. More complex here, but colonial Christianity has had such an influence in the world these past hundred years that even people of color can carry on its colonialism. A native American Christian I’m reading says that the Christians these days who most resist the inclusion of certain forms of indigenous spirituality in the way of Jesus aren’t white people any more, but indigenous pastors who inherited an anti-indigenous colonial faith. We just watched several Black police officers, trained in an anti-Black policing system, beat and kill an unarmed Black man. White supremacy dies hard. All of us can make our choices to walk away. 

2.  Find new pilgrimage partners, those who bear Jesus’ shame and self-giving love. 

When I look for authors, friends, mentors, colleagues I can trust in following the way of Jesus, I look not just to people’s ideas, but to people who seem marked by the blood of Jesus, people who have borne crosses, people of deep, self-giving love. 

Not coincidentally, I find that many of them have identities or are part of traditions that have been shamed or marginalized by the power systems of Christianity. They’ve been pushed outside the camp, followed Jesus, bearing his shame. Pretty much to a person, my friends and colleagues and mentors in the faith now are people of color in the way of Jesus, they are queer Christians, or they are allies to them, not just allies in mind but people who have borne some cost from their allegiance. 

It’s not about identity, really, I don’t think, it’s about people that have walked with Jesus in self-giving love, to the point that if they haven’t been forced outside the camp, they’ve walked outside the camp with others, knowing Jesus’ love and joy, but also bearing his shame. 

And lastly, friends, I invite you, I encourage and hope for you to:

3. Engage with Jesus, and the Spirit of Jesus he called the Companion.

If you’ve deconstructed part of your faith and need to figure out your way forward, hey, maybe not just religion, but if you ever finding yourself in any part of your life, needing to reevaluate, to redo, to walk away, to tear down and rebuild, then Jesus knows the way.

The Jesus we meet in the Bible’s four gospels, whose life is self-giving love and whose words are life, and the Jesus who is always with us and within by faith, the Spirit of Jesus, the gift of God Jesus called the Companion. The advocate, the counselor, the person of God who comes alongside. This Jesus knows the way. 

This is why we’re still a Jesus-centered church, anchored in the way of Jesus, the decolonizing tradition of Jesus. This is why I still read bits of the gospels just about every single day. This is why when we can be still and know that God is here, we seek to remember that the Spirit of Jesus is with us, and we seek to pay attention to what the Companion has to say, has to give. 

The way of Jesus is the way of self-given love, of self-giving love. It’s the way of a just mercy, of a wide and beautiful communion, of an entirely liberating love. 

So now, let’s go to him outside the camp, bearing his shame.

14 We don’t have a permanent city here, but rather we are looking for the city that is still to come.

It’s coming, friends. Keep building, keep walking in the way. 

I’ll close in prayer with the words of the Psalm I meant to also include in this sermon.

Psalm 107:33-36 (Common English Bible)

33 God turns rivers into desert,

watery springs into thirsty ground,

34 fruitful land into unproductive dirt,

        when its inhabitants are wicked.

35 But God can also turn the desert into watery pools,

    thirsty ground into watery springs,

36     where he settles the hungry.

They even build a city and live there!

Puhpowee | Life Force

Today I would like to honor and acknowledge the land upon which we worship. The ancestral lands of the Massachusett people – the original inhabitants who still regard this land as sacred and shot through with the force of life. 

Good morning everyone! 

We are in a series called, SEVEN BIG WORDS.  Where Lydia, Steve and I get to talk about any word we are inclined to talk about. This series will run us right up until the season of Lent – so another month – where very broadly speaking we will be centering Lent around the theme of Earth.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research in advance of Lent for a couple of projects that I’m involved in. And so I wanted to offer a word that has surfaced for me as I’ve been reading a book by Robin Wall Kimmerer. It’s a book titled, “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants.”   This book  was published 10 years ago – and I’m just getting to it now – for such a time as this, I guess! 

It’s a stunning book – and it speaks to the lessons we can gather from First Nations people. Robin is a Native American, a mother, scientist, professor and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Her experience at the intersection of science and indigenous wisdom is incredibly rich and spiritual. It’s been an honor to be in the process of learning and (un)learning from her in so many ways.

Her book tells the history of her people and their forced displacement from their lands – which was originally in the southern tip of the Lake Michigan area.  In the span of a single generation her ancestors were “removed” three times, by European settlers, and US federal Indian removal policies. Removing and stealing their names, their land, their knowledge, their children, their people and their language. 

Robin has been trying to learn and revive the language of her people.  Language that holds – not just words – but language that is the heart of their culture, their thoughts, their way of seeing the world. Language that was washed out of the mouths of Indian children in government boarding schools and by missionaries.  And she’s been trying to learn from only nine (!) fluent elders left in the whole world – who speak the Potawatomi language.

As an adult she stumbled across a word as she was researching traditional uses of fungi by her people – and the Potawatomi word is, “Puhpowee.It’s a word that describes the force that causes mushrooms to push up and appear overnight. It speaks to the

“unseen energies, the unseen spirit that animates everything, all of life.”

As a biologist herself, Robin was stunned that such a word existed.

“In all its technical vocabulary, Western science has no such term – no words to hold this mystery.  You’d think that biologists, of all people, would have words for life. But in scientific language terminology is used to define the boundaries of knowing. What lies beyond scientists’ grasp remains unnamed.” (49)

This morning I’d love to continue to engage and learn from this Potawatomi word, “Puhpowee,” and to honor it.  We’ll also take a look at the story of Mary Magdalene and the resurrected Jesus, as they meet in a garden.

For six years before I became a pastor here – I was a teacher in an outdoor classroom at a local elementary school.  I had started a small non-profit called the Planting More Project. Its vision was to build Outdoor Classrooms in schools, and to actively grow food that would benefit the school community and it’s families. As well as to seek partnerships with like minded entities in the town to provide fresh food to say local food pantries, and join forces with nearby farms to up the awareness of community supported agriculture.

The first year – I was so ready. I had every ounce of our class time detailed,  the perfect growing plan to maximize how many plants we could get in the ground – when we’d start seeds inside, and when we’d rotate and put new stuff in the ground – to ultimately feed the most people… 

My students were initially kindergarteners and first graders – which meant that within minutes….. 99% of my best laid plans were absolute trash.  Our classroom was situated in between two playgrounds which meant the allure of running off and seeing how many of your classmates would follow you – became the foremost activity. 

I did discover however that “watering” the gardens was a highlight for kids. And I could send a team of kids to one raised bed to water, and be teaching and planting in another simultaneously. 

EXCEPT I couldn’t.

That plan actually meant that all the garden beds became flood scenes. 

Where newly planted seedlings soon were floated on the top of water. 

Tiny radish, beet, and lettuce seeds  – no longer in their rows.  Not even in the boxes anymore.

Every.single.kid covered in soil which was super fun for a second – but quickly led to them crying and wanting to go inside.

These gardens meant to promote growth, fruit, life – went sideways in the strong stream of a hose – and appeared to be swamps of mud and tears.

The image of life as a garden is a rich one.  One that we often align with verdant flora and fauna. Working in the patterns and behaviors that promote harmony and flourishing. . .  a natural way of being… with our partnership and tending and attention and cultivation..  And how true it can be.

And we also know that our lives are often side-swept – by pandemics, violence, tragedy, where all the best of our “tending” couldn’t have changed or prevented the course.

It’s why this word ‘Puhpowee’ gives me hope. Not hope that just floats above the harsh realities of our days,  but hope that is grounded in the histories of people that have endured being in the mud and grit  – and still hold onto the mysteries of our faith, of the Divine –  of that force of life that will not give up even in our darkest, dankest, moldy places.

It points me to the life force that Scripture starts with… that life starts with… 


In the first garden of scripture, in Genesis 2:7 it says that,

“YHWH God formed an earth creature out of the clay of the earth, and breathed into [their] nostrils the breath of life; and the earth creature became a living being.” (The First Egalitarian Translation).  

Some scholars think that this first human breath of life – was more like a “gasp” as this life force filled its lungs. A sudden appearance of the unseen – now felt and living within skin.

I can tell you that the experience of returning to that outdoor classroom the following week (after the great flood) and finding that indeed some seedlings had found their roots in the soil again and uprighted themselves – and that some seeds were already sprouting and offering their first leaves to the sun… was *gasp-like* Not only to see such life emerge – but to remember, to return to a knowing that there is a life-force that continues to work on our behalf – even when we can’t.

The Old Testament shows the Spirit—this life-giving Spirit of God—as the divine power that creates, sustains, and renews life 

(Genesis 1:2).

“This power of the Spirit is found in the prophetic books of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Joel. Where God brings breath to dry bones  –  showing the power of the Spirit to give life, always. Even in situations of death, sorrow, despair, and hopelessness, the Spirit can move – and move us”

…it can come in the night and show up in the morning, it can bring back to life what was dead…Korean-American theologian Grace Ji-Sun Kim 

The image of life as a garden of course holds the pattern of life and death and life and death and life and death again. But in the seasons of life that are so fallow – rife with hard, frozen ground – where there isn’t even the tiniest mushroom of hope – they are real and hard and long seasons.

It’s in part why I want to look at the story of Mary Magdalene and Jesus meeting in the garden after his death, here it is in John 20.

John 20:11 – 17

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb

12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”
14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

*And she went on to tell the disciples  – as he asked – that she had seen “the Lord!”  

Among the many striking things about this passage – is that Mary doesn’t go anywhere else to tend to her grief.

The tending she needs – somehow intuitively she knows – is going to be found in the garden – where her friend, Jesus is supposed to be. 

Grief is one of those “big words”  – that holds a world within itself. A word that none of us ever wants to encounter fully – because when it becomes part of our story – we know there’s little we can do but let the flood come, and give way to it. 

Grief can feel like a world ending without our permission.  For the disciples and Mary – the world had died in the night as they knew it… As Jesus was crucified.

For the Potawatomi people – their world as they knew it died as they marched by gunpoint along the Trail of Death – losing half of their people on that journey.

Grief doesn’t wait for us to be ready to receive its weight.  It floods our familiar paths.  It ambushes, it takes over, it bullies its way into our thoughts, our bodies, our hearts.

And grief is unwieldy, it’s not picky… It hovers over the space where we’ve lost what’s precious to us or where what is good and right in us has been trespassed…  And it attempts to take root right in that most tender spot.  It has the ability to disorient and disrupt our way of living.   

Grief is a force of its own.

An invasive one.

And Mary walks into this garden draped in strips of grief.

And yet, finds a tomb of grief draped in linens that pointed to life. 

And as she turns from the empty tomb toward the garden she sees the gardener.

*I imagine her gasping here – as the earth creature in the first garden did…*

That gasp that holds a zing of life, of hope – of deep knowing – that has been covered for a bit… but now pushes through – puhpowee.

An awareness of the unseen spirit of God that animates the world around us, our breath, the wind..  The mist in a garden at dawn.

“There’s my friend Jesus, the gardener –  the one who planted the whole garden since the beginning of time.”

Mary is often regarded as making a mistake here – mis-identifying Jesus as a gardener…

But I don’t think it was a mistake – I think in her turn and gasp – she has listened to the spirit, the breath, the wind of God. .. and knows he is indeed a gardener, as well as Jesus.

Robin Kimmerer says that in the Potawatomi language there are very few letters in their alphabet…so the clusters of consonants that come together sound like wind in the pines and water over rocks – sounds that her ears may have been more delicately attuned to in the past, but no longer.  And as she began to invest time in learning again she said,

“you really have to listen.” (53)

Our words try to name and describe what we see. It’s why science terminology polishes the way of seeing. But it falls short of fully capturing the way of listening that also allows us to detect life, to perceive the Spirit – that runs so invisibly  – yet so thunderously through all things.

I was constantly correcting kids of their perceived mistakes in the outdoor classroom.  Plant here, use this much dirt, space so many inches between plants. At one point I saw a kid ripping up all the radishes that were primed for delivery to the pantry in a couple days… and trying to plant little sunflower seedlings they had started inside … I literally picked him up under the armpits and relocated him away from that raised bed. No no no this is a mistake…

And the teacher was like, “…um… you can’t move kids.”

And the truth is, this child wasn’t making a mistake, he had actually  been listening all along – NOT TO ME – but to the source of all life –  he had noticed that the soil was most sun-soaked in that particular edge of the garden.. A place prime for sunflowers to stretch.  . . . And a not so great place for radishes that appreciated cooler temps.

It’s so natural whether in times of grief, or determined vision, or exhaustion to shrink our words down for safety… to limit – define God to a realm of knowing. 

What we lose though as we do this is space to listen –  space to gasp – the sense that the word puhpowee points us toward… to life, to movement, to growth… to dirt, to mystery, to miracles, to mess…. It’s hard for so many of us, we like to have the right name – terms for things. We don’t like to rip stuff up out of our lives even if we know it’s been waiting for a long time. 


I had joked with Steve & Lydia when we were considering what this series about words would look like – and I suggested,

“how about we do a series on the 4-letter words of Jesus?”

You know like – hope, love, gift, rest, LIFE.

That conversation happened over email – so I couldn’t really read the tone in the replies – but needless to say it was a no-go.

But it is these words that root our faith – hope, love, life – which are in jeopardy, if we don’t let them breathe – they are shot through with this life force – alive.… if we continue to let them be free… to let them be lived, embodied. That’s what makes them BIG, right?  It’s how we engage with all of creation – the natural world around us – without worrying that we are comprising Jesus or God in any way – but hold our hands open to the sacredness of it all.

We can know how, where, when, who to love – but we can’t always fully understand how the force of love, the spirit of love – continues to keep our hearts beating – for one another… in disagreement, hurt, distress, or grief.

We can grasp and try out practices that help ground us and offer us hope. Meditation, prayer, gratitude – but we don’t quite fully understand why an early morning bird’s song, like the Carolina wren’s – or why the burst of green from a pine tree in winter, or why the owl’s call at night makes us gasp and fill our lungs with hope.

We can know that a nap, or a refusal to hustle or a good night’s sleep is the rest we need… but not fully understand how such rest can return so many of you to your ancestors – can heal your aching bones and spirit – that have been crying out for centuries.

Love, hope, rest are not only concepts -they are of spirit.  And that spirit – as evident in nature, as evident in us – will not relent. Will keep pushing up –  as this word, puhpowee offers us –  seemingly overnight, and in the places that will demand us to perceive with greater listening the freedom and expanse – the space it requires.

Robin talks about the English language – how it is a noun-based language – somewhat appropriate to a culture that seems to be obsessed with “things”. (53)

Only 30 percent of the English words are verbs, but in Potawatomi the proportion is 70 percent – which means that 70 percent of words have to be conjugated and have different tenses and cases…making it an incredibly hard language to learn.

European languages assign gender to nouns – but Potawatomi does not divide the world into masculine and feminine.

As Robin was learning the Potawatomi language she was frustrated finding it so complex,  cumbersome, the distinctions between words for a beginner so subtle –  And because it is such a verb heavy language – nouns used in English become animated, often with the verb, “to be.”  So something regarded as a person, a place, a thing – suddenly takes on movement….

“To be a bay, to be a Saturday, to be a hill, to be red.” (53, 54)

“To speak is those possessed with life and spirit in Potawatomi one must say, yawe. To be. Isn’t that interesting – Yahweh the unspoken name for God of the Old Testament and yawe of the New World both fall from the mouths of the reverent.” (56)

To be.

To have breath of life within.

To be the offspring of Creation.

The use of so many verbs gives credence to a culture that believes everything is alive. 

The life that pulses through all things – that animates all things. 

That allows rocks to be animated, mountains, trees, birds, etc.. 

And it is the same life force that frees/ liberates us from the demons of being “right,” or having to dominate, of being trapped, of being dead in spirit.

It is the same force as Luke tells us that  freed Mary Magdalene when Jesus cast out seven demons from her.  Mary walks into the garden knowing what it is to be imprisoned in a tomb…and yet she also knew what it was to be called to life again.  The *hope* the *love* the *faith* that called her back to life – was not of her own doing.  The heart of this word, Puhpowee, is what called her name even before Jesus did. 

It’s what tended to her grief in a dark garden alone … the spirit … even before the gardener came into view.  

The spirit ….. maybe it’s meant to keep us connected to life – by all means possible. In surprising, undefined, “un-termed” ways..

Maybe it’s how we see angels – in a room soaked in death.

Maybe it’s how we find Jesus in the morning -after a night of insomnia.

Maybe it’s how we hear our name – in the silence we find at the end of our ropes.

Maybe it’s how we find a new idea for a project after a conversation with a neighbor.

Maybe it’s how we find peace in leaving a job that defies all logical choice.

Maybe it’s how we find the courage to say sorry.

Maybe it’s how we find the courage to not say sorry.

Maybe it’s how we find freedom from all that tries to trap us.

*Maybe it’s how we keep living when it seems like the world is full of only dank, dark, mildewy tombs at every turn… 

*Puhpowee* – the life force that is in all of creation – that frees us to encounter Jesus – by whatever name we might call him.

God breathed into Mary, God breathes into the little kid in my outdoor classroom, God’s life force is in those sunflowers that still fill the school garden bed, God is breathing in me and in you – so that we can breathe the life of God back to the world…this is the pattern of life and growth – 

“Do not hold on to me,”

Jesus says to Mary [go breathe – go gasp] 

“go tell my siblings.” 

Nobody thinks that one small kindness is going to change a life – but it might change a moment, and in that moment something small can grow – and can even grow overnight.

It could be the smallest movement, the calling someone by name across a parking lot, an extra 2 minutes after service to intentionally say “hi,” and learn someone’s name, a small text,  a “thank you”… Robin’s  language teacher – gives her small class of 10 people –

“thank you’s” to everyone for breathing LIFE into the language, even if it’s only a single word they speak.”

A single word.

This is the life we have to offer one another – by the Spirit – a single word, a single moment, a single action – it holds the life force of the Divine – it’s how we can show up, appear to one another with creation in our hands and breath.




Matthew 19:16-30

16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

18 “Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony,

19 honor your father and mother,’[a] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]”

20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.

24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife[c] or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.

30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

The pastoral staff, led by our senior pastor, often decides the theme or series for preaching sermons together. For this season between post-Christmas and Lent, Steve suggested Seven Big Words, because I think he had some words in his mind that have really shaped him, like he shared last week. 

And as I tried to think of a word, it was hard to think of just one word. Because living in a binary world, and being a Libra (which I’m basically joking about because I’m not that into astrological signs, but I will scroll to Libra if I see a horoscope post on Instagram), but Libra is the one that is holding the scale.

It craves balance, and if it tips one way, my desire is often to also go, ‘well on the other hand.’ So when I think of one word, immediately, I think of the opposite, the other side of that word, that in my mind, is equally important. But the first word that kept coming to me was, not a big word, but a simple word, follow. And it comes from a place of privilege. I’ll explain. 

Lately my life has been taken over by a new and exciting campaign from the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, GBIO. I mention this organization a lot, often in my sermons, because it’s honestly been one of the most impactful and interesting parts of my work, since I’ve started working at Reservoir Church as a pastor five years ago. January 2023 marks my five years here, can you believe it? 

GBIO is a community organizing institution. It’s made up of 60+ institutions and if every single of those members came together, it would probably be 3,000 people + strong. And the fact that Reservoir is involved in this work is really interesting.

Because traditionally churches have done ‘mission’ or ‘outreach’ as a means of service-providing or charity-giving. Doing things for others. To help. And so the community organizing model for doing justice is a unique one that many churches might not be used to, that might feel different from… say providing meals for the homeless, a traditional picture of “serving.” There’s a time and place, of course, for service and charity. Churches through generations have played an important role in providing for the widows and the orphans, aid. I mean many hospitals are named after those that started out as ministries. But it also is often from a place of power, and yes, wealth, to be able to give aid or help or charity or service. 

Community organizing is not new to all churches. Black churches in America were doing it during the Civil Rights Movement. And it does have roots commonly engaged with the political spaces. But the way I see it is that it’s a method of moving away from the individualized way of looking at this, but working as a community, as a unit of multiple people, working together as a system. And what’s different about community organizing from traditional charity and service from the church is that–one of the central mantras of community organizing is,

“Don’t do for others what they can do for themselves.” 

“Don’t do for others what they can do for themselves.” 

And so right now, GBIO is kicking off a big campaign called the Housing Justice Campaign. It’s tackling the issue of housing from many angles, from MBTA zoning, to public housing funds, to real estate tax, etc. I’m specifically involved with the public housing fund and we’re working on this tenant (tenants of public housing) and ally organizing and since I don’t live in public housing, I am an ally.

For this work to be done well, effectively and genuinely, the only way this campaign’s going to be a success, is not if a bunch of “allies” come together to rally and speak on behalf of the people that are not in the room, to say that they’re speaking on behalf, in front of the Governor or State Legislatures. That just would not work.

It HAS to come from the power and the leadership of tenants and the people that are directly impacted by this. That’s why the word FOLLOW has been coming up for me. FOLLOW. I need to follow the leadership of others in this work. Even though I’m a pastor and chair of a committee on GBIO, and I have time and energy, and honestly privilege, and that’s exactly why I need to follow. 

And then I realized, the word for many of us is follow in a lot of areas, but the word for some of us is actually the opposite. DON’T follow. Rise up. RISE is the other word that came up for me on the other side. It’s actually time for you to stop following blindly and rise up and lead, like we’ve never seen the way you lead before. 

Okay, I spent the last 10 minutes talking about GBIO, housing, politics (oh there she goes again) talking about politics and privilege and race from the pulpit instead of talking about Jesus, the cross, or grace. Let’s go to the Bible. 

Jesus says to this man,

“go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

You see, this is the thing. We are, yes, curious about spiritual things. And that’s fair. Religion, spirit, our faith. We’re thinking about prayer and Bible and theology. And what does Jesus do? The guy asks about eternal life and Jesus talks about loving your neighbor. Jesus talks about possessions. Jesus talks about the poor. The rich guy asked about eternal matters and Jesus answered him with very earthly matters. 

And really I think that’s when our faith gets hard for many of us. When our faith or theology actually starts affecting our bank accounts. Our time. Our family. Our children. Our lifestyle. Our town.

Can I be honest with you? Can we be honest together? There’s a lot of privilege in this space. I’ve never met so many people that went to Harvard until I got here. It’s like everybody and their mamas went to Harvard here! Now it’s a diverse room. And don’t judge a book by its cover, people have been through stuff you don’t know about. But on the real, in many ways, there is lots of privilege in this room. So what is the word that Jesus is saying to those of us who are privileged? Because the reality is Jesus did have different words for different people, and so context and the audience matters. 

To Zaccheus , a chief tax collector, this is the whole of their interaction:

Luke 19:5-10

“When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”

6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.

10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Jesus’ response to Zacchaeus’s commitment to give half of his possession to the poor and paying back four times back was,

“Today salvation has come to this house.”

You know, that’s really uncomfortable for me. That’s all the dialogue we have between them in Luke. That’s it, they didn’t talk about anything else. Or they did, but this was what was important and recorded and kept for thousands of years. Really? Yeah, Jesus talked about money quite a bit.

But it wasn’t about just money of course. It was about the systems of injustice. About loving and caring for the poor. About inequity. About honesty. About leveling

Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.”

Isaiah 40:4.

About the last being first and the first being last. 

To Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a leader of the Jews, Jesus tells him

“to be born again.”

To be completely naked, stepping into a whole new world where you know nothing. 

I recently joined an online learning community called the Faith and Justice Network, you know, new year, new me, new learning platform (it’s my equivalent of signing up for a gym). Let’s see if you hear about my readings from this teaching platform a few months from now.

But in week one, I had two reading assignments, John three the story of Nicodemus, and a short nine page copied PDF excerpt (it’s so fun to read things like this, a professor’s handpicked pages of a book) titled, Philippine Woman in America by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, written around 1983. And the reading prompt question that was posed was

“How might the experiences of immigrants help us understand what it means to be “born again?”

With such prompt and lens, one could imagine Jesus inviting Nicodemus, someone who knows the land, knows the people, has the power, has influence, to be born again to someone who is new to the place, who knows not the culture, who has no influence or even knows the local language. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt like that, either through an immigration experience, or being an outsider, maybe in a new city, or the newbie in the workplace or a new team. But being born again is not an easy or an uncomfortable thing. 

The invitation of Jesus is for us yes, ultimately that you’d experience joy and flourishing, that you may find rest, but to get there from where we are, actually it’s not necessarily a very comfortable thing. I mean, Jesus did say,

29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:29-30,

but you know what a yoke is right? It’s

“a frame or bar that can be placed on one or two people or animals pulling or carrying a heavy load.”

The yoke’s lighter because Jesus is carrying it with us, but the load we’re pulling is still, you know, life. Life is hard! 

And the message of Jesus is often called the Good News. But why is it that for this rich man in our text today, that when he heard it, it made him deeply sad. You know why? Because the message of Jesus is good news to the poor! At a pinnacle point in Jesus ministry quote this verse from

Isaiah 61. 

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,”

It’s good news to the brokenhearted, to the captives, to the prisoner. 

How are you hearing the message of Jesus?

Does it conflict you?

Does it challenge you, bring up stuff for you?

If it does, that’s okay. Many of us are probably not far from the demographics of Zaccheus, Nicodemus, and this rich man in our text today. And to you, Jesus says follow me. Follow a baby of a God, that came from nowhere-Nazareth, son of a carpenter, adopted child, conceived out of wedlock. A not Rabbinic school educated. Do you dare follow this Jesus? 

And also, if you at all feel uncomfortable or sad, like this rich guy, not to worry. The guy walked away sad, probably into contemplation, which is perfectly alright and good. Discern. But this is not the final word for him. For when Jesus said that,

“it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

And the disciples asked

“Who then can be saved?”

Jesus said,

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

It reminds me of a beautiful picture I saw once, where there’s a fantastical almost sci-fi looking image of HUGE needle, and right at the eye of that needle is Jesus, pulling rows and rows of camels as far as you can see. Yes, with God all things are possible. 

That’s what I’m going in with, to this Housing Justice Campaign. We started with a $50 million dollar ask to the Mayor Wu’s office for Mildred C Hailey public housing in Boston for maintenance and we got it last year. A GBIO team in Brookline built relationships with tenants in their local state-funded housing and the Brookline Housing Authority, and amidst all their conflict, have found a common goal. Which is the opportunity to ask and demand at a state-wide level, funding for all the public housing who are in a state of living conditions that are sometimes truly unbelievable, based on research 8.5 billion dollars. Yes, that is GBIO’s targeted ask to the state government. 

Could a broken system, disparate people, folks with opposing political views, across socio-economical lines, across different religions and faiths, possibly come together to pull $8.5 billion dollars through an eye of needle to a place where we imagine, a heavenly place where its describe in

John 14 “In My Father’s house are many mansions” 

Or in

Revelation 7

“They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; (this makes me think of the homeless) for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters (clean water!). And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” 

Pearl Gates. Streets of Gold. (How about at least gates that are maintained and streets that you can walk on safely without falling and hurting yourself?) 

It too is a vision I have, like Apostle John who wrote the book of Revelation. On earth as it is in heaven. On earth as it is in heaven is my prayer. 

My faith is not apart from works and this is the work we have before us. 

And if you’re not rich or privileged, don’t be like Peter either. Peter answered him,

“We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

I’m kidding actually. I think it’s fine to expect things from Jesus. In the theology world they call this Protest Theology. I call it Tuesday afternoon prayer. The Bible called a Psalmist’s prayer.

“God what are you doing? Are you actually even awake, listening to the cries of your people?” Psalm 44:23 says “Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.”

God what you gonna do for us? When’s it gonna be our time? 

I say to you, Rise up. Lead. Lead like Peter did, and boy did he, when we read the rest of Acts and the early Christian church. To him Jesus said,

“Truly I tell you, renewal of all things”

Renewal of all things. May that be so, not just after we die in heaven, but now, in real ways, in people’s homes. Renewal of all things. 

But I gotta say, some people really do hope that the whole

“last shall be first and first shall be last”

only happens after we die. What do you think about that? Where are you right now? Does this paradigm work for you? Is it good news to you?

Maybe some of you might be saying, I don’t know how to take this “good news” because I’m not poor. Yes you are. Maybe you have lots of money, stocks, savings, properties. But you’re poor in ways that might not be apparent to others around you or even to your own convincing. Whether it’s addiction, spirit, depression, anxiety, numbness, or whatever. There is good news for you too. Don’t be sad. To you too, God says

I will pull you through the eye of the camel. Follow. Follow the humble one through it. 

And to those of us who are poor. Maybe you’ve been struggling financially. Maybe you don’t come from money and money is such a struggle. To you I say,

you are rich and you have power. You can lead. Rise up. You can be the ROCK, just like Peter, that church can be built on. You too though, follow Jesus and he will lift you from the depth, lift you up to new life. 

Last shall be first. First shall be last. Jesus turned everything upside down. What’s Jesus turning upside down in you now? 

Let me pray for us. 

Jesus, you’re always turning things around for us. Help us to know and follow you, to the depths of despair, to the heights of new life. Help us to find you no matter where we find ourselves this morning, we pray, and know that you are with us, that you love us, and that you’ll fight for us that we may find life. Help us we pray, in your name. Amen.

Proleptic: The Significance Of Our Desires

I meet with a retired priest about once a month: a confidant and guide who listens to me, asks me questions, shares perspective, and prays for me. It’s a conversation called spiritual direction. 

We open our times with silence and a time of prayer, before I begin. And one of the times we met last year, during the silence, what came to mind was that I was so unhappy with the state of two important relationships in my life. 

I hadn’t expected to talk about these folks. I hadn’t even realized they were on my mind. But when we sat in silence, this is what came, so I told my spiritual director about these people and about my disappointment with where things were in our friendships. 

And as I told him about this, I found myself tearing up. I was noticing how much this mattered to me. But I also found myself saying that I not only didn’t know what to do next, but truthfully, I didn’t want to do anything at all. I wanted better relationships, but I was tired of trying, so where did that leave me? 

And my partner in this conversation just listened, asked me a few questions, let me know that he could see how important this was to me, and reminded me of a couple other burdens I’d shared with him before, let me know that he could see I was carrying a lot and he felt with me in this. 

It’s so good when someone listens to you like this, isn’t it? What a gift to receive, what a gift to give to listen like this. It’s part of what love looks like, this careful listening.

Yeah, so then my spiritual director asked me:

Could I share a thought with you? 

And I told him:

Of course, please do. 

And he told me,

I think your desires here are proleptic. 

And I was like:

You’re going to have to remind me what that word means.

And he did, and it has made a big difference to me.

A difference I would like to share with you. 

More in a minute, but I’ll say for now that prolepsis has to do with the things we really want.

Maybe not necessarily the little wants, but definitely the big wants underneath those. 

I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t necessarily taught that what I want matters very much, at least not to God.

But if that’s the case, it’s funny that Jesus asks people about what they want, even when you’d think it would be obvious.

There’s the time when Jesus is first taking on students as a rabbi, and two young people ask if they can join him. We read:

John 1:38a (Common English Bible)

When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” 

Jesus doesn’t start off with a syllabus or an interview or an introduction. Actually, he doesn’t start his relationship as a rabbi by saying anything at all. He listens. And what he’s listening for is what they are looking for. He wants to know what they want.

Another time, maybe a couple years later, Jesus is leaving the town of Jericho, on his way to Jerusalem. Tensions were rising around Jesus’ work. He had more fans and followers than ever before, but also more powerful detractors. All the good, bad, and ugly around his work the past couple of years seemed to be coming to a head. This is an important time for Jesus, a stressful time, and as he’s leaving Jericho, amidst a crowd of people, a beggar who’s blind keeps calling out, trying to get Jesus’ attention.

It’s a hassle, an inconvenience, or it would be to me. But to Jesus, it’s a human being, a brother, a fellow image bearer of God. So Jesus stops and calls him over. And he says this. 

Mark 10:51 (Common English Bible)

Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Maybe it seemed obvious to everyone else. This is a beggar, of course he wants alms, he wants money. And he might expect that Jesus would give some. He’s a religious leader of sorts, with a reputation to uphold. 

But Jesus doesn’t assume anything, and as usual, he doesn’t speak first, he listens. He wants to know what we want. 

And the man who was begging goes bigger than maybe anyone was expecting. He says:

Rabbi, I want to see. 

And Jesus says:

OK, go, your faith has healed you.

And the gospels tell us he regained his sight and joined Jesus’ students following him to Jerusalem.

What a story, very dramatic, but again, it starts with Jesus listening for what we want. 

Why is this? 

Why does Jesus care what we want?

I think one, he’s a good listener. And what we want is important to us, so a good listener will want to know.

I think Jesus also probably knows that we don’t always know what we want, or at least we don’t pay attention to it.

This was the case for me when I went to meet with my spiritual director. I had these griefs and these hopes regarding a couple longtime, important relationships in my life. But for a number of reasons, I’d stopped noticing how much this mattered to me, until in the silence before a very good listener, and I think likely with the prompting of God’s spirit too, the want reemerged for me to pay attention to. 

This happened to me last fall in a more public way, in my work here as a pastor. I was engaged with our church Board in some planning. We’d been aware of a few financial needs for the church, which is why going into this winter, we were praying for and asking people and households to consider or reconsider giving regularly. Thank you again so much for those of you who sustain this community with your giving. 

We were also looking at a couple of old, delayed maintenance issues on our property that if we didn’t take care of in the next couple of years, would become more of a problem, and wondering how to pay for that. 

And it seemed like maybe we should try to raise a little bit of extra money this year, our church’s 25th anniversary year. So I came to the Board with a plan for a very modest sized fundraising campaign. But later, when I talked to one of our Board members, they said to me:

Steve, you know what you’re doing is fine, but why is it so small? It’s not really inspiring to me at all. Have you forgotten about what you really want? 

And he reminded me about some bigger plans and hopes we’d talked about in our Board for the church, plans and hopes that were important to me, had become important to this Board member. 

And I realized, one, I hadn’t prayed about this area of the church recently at all. I was responding to my fear that we wouldn’t have enough money to take care of the church property, and just urgently putting a plan together. So I decided to take a few days to pray about this again.

And then two, when I prayed, I felt like the Spirit of God came to me as a kinder, gentler version of that board member. I felt invited by God to consider this question of Jesus:

  • What is it that you’re looking for?
  • What do you want me to do for you?
  • What do you want?

And as I prayed, I remembered what that Board member was reminding me of, that for years, I’d wanted the church to be freed of our debts and fully released to powerful generosity around all our mission and vision. 

See, when we first acquired this building back in 2004, it was through a powerful, two year period of immense generosity from the congregation at the time. A young congregation, several hundred people in their 20s and 30s, had raised almost four million dollars in a very short amount of time to purchase this property. There were a lot of stories of great financial provision, and enthusiastic and joyful giving. 

And so here we are, in a property that has been a huge gift to this church, to a public school we share it with, and to the community at large. 

But we also took on a fair bit of debt to make that happen, just as any of us do if we’re able to buy a home. But unlike a home mortgage, commercial debt is generally a less friendly thing to carry. So our church has had a great run these past 18 years since then, but we’ve had to divert a fair bit of funding toward debt payments as well.

And I’ve dreamed of the day when we’d be free from all that debt and be able to do some special things together with all that freedom. 

When I came back with that desire I felt encouraged to pay attention to again, our Board members agreed and it seemed like this 25th anniversary would be a great time to see this dream into being. 

See, I’ve said that our desires matter a lot to us. They are by definition important to us, so they’ll be important to any good listener too, God included. 

I’ve also pointed out that it’s easy to forget what we really want, or to stop paying attention to it, even to bury it, especially if it doesn’t come true right away.

But three, I believe that our desires always tell a story we need to pay attention to, and sometimes that story is the truth. 

The community group I lead that meets on Saturday mornings studies the Bible together every week, and we studied part of the book of Hebrew poetry called Ecclesiastes this fall. It’s mostly pretty gloomy, and it was depressing enough that we basically voted to move on after 3 or 4 weeks.

But before we did, we read the chapter with this beautiful line in it. 

Ecclesiastes 3:11 (Common English Bible)

11 God has made everything fitting in its time, but has also placed eternity in their hearts, without enabling them to discover what God has done from beginning to end.

God-sized eternity in our hearts, but a lack of God-sized knowledge or abilities. The glory and the humility of being a human, this gives a sense of that. 

In our center, call it heart, gut, mind, spirit, whatever, in our core desires, is a longing for what’s good, what’s true, what’s beautiful. 

Ultimately, that’s a longing for God, I think. The ancient North African theologian Augustine thought so. He famously wrote, 

You, God, have made us for Yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.

But in saying we long for God, it’s not just God in a narrow sense, like longing for prayer and worship. Ecclesiastes immediately talks about the gift of great meals and enjoying the fruit of hard work. I think this verse speaks to the desire we have for things we could call lasting, eternal, maybe spiritual. 

Sometimes our desires tell the truth, not just about what we want, but about what is yet to come, about what God is longing to bring into being as well.

This is what my spiritual director meant when he told me he thought my longings were proleptic. 

Prolepsis is the representation of a thing before it’s actually so. It can be a figure of speech, like when you see a doomed person and you say: he was a dead man when he entered. People on their way to their execution can be called “dead men walking.” That’s a proleptic figure of speech. The future represented as true in the present.

But prolepsis isn’t just a figure of speech. It’s any time we treat the future as if it’s real, like it’s already on the way to happening. 

So maybe, just maybe, our desires are also important because they’re a window into future possibilities God wants us to see or hope for.

Let me give you two places where we think this way, both of which have their strengths and their problems.

One is in vision and goal setting, like in business or organizational planning. Often when organizations think about their future, they listen to the desires people have for what that future will be like. And they try to translate those desires into words and pictures people agree upon and find inspiring. And then they treat those desires as real and try to make them happen.

Another place is this idea of manifesting. Manifesting is this idea of thinking your dreams into reality. Like: I manifest this new job, or this prosperous life, or I manifest this beautiful, agreeable partner into being. It goes back to an idea in a book that got really popular right after we moved into this building, The Secret, that argues the secret to success is this positive attitude and positive visualization that attracts the good things to us that we imagine. You could trace that back to a 1952 book by the minister Norman Vincent Peale, called The Power of Positive Thinking. That book had a huge impact on Donald Trump’s daddy, and on Trump himself too – who liked the idea that you could get whatever you want if you just want it enough. 

I’m not actually pushing for either of those things at all. I mean goals and planning have important places in life, and positive, optimistic thinking and visualizing can be useful too. In some cases, it probably does make it more likely you get what you want. Optimism and confidence can help. 

Both of these things, though, can be idolatrous. They can exaggerate our abilities, as if we can control the future just by wanting it badly enough. And so they can bring shame to people who don’t get what they want. Like if I get sick or if I have financial problems, is it always or even usually because I just didn’t want to be healthy or wealthy badly enough?

No way!

Prolepsis – treating our desires as important, as worth paying attention to, even as telling us a story that is at least partly true – isn’t magic, and it doesn’t give us control of the future.

A proleptic take on our desires is simply to trust that in our wanting, or maybe sometimes in the deeper want behind the want, there is a truth about the Spirit of God’s moving. There’s truth about possibilities for what both we and God long for. 

So as I talked with my spiritual director that day, and fleshed out what I longed for in these two strained relationships, even though I wasn’t motivated to do anything, I found myself asking my pastor:

So what should I do?

And he was like:

Respectfully, I think that’s the wrong question. You’re not God after all, are you?

He affirmed for me that I’ve come honestly to my lack of motivation. I can’t control the other people. I can’t control the future. I can’t even fully control myself.

Sometimes we’ve tried and tried, and it’s time to stop trying for a little while.

He was like maybe this is an invitation to pay attention, to hold your desires before God, to be open to discernment, to let these desires sit for a while and see what I learn about them – see what’s in the end good and true and beautiful about them, and see maybe if there’s parts I want to let go of as well.

I think this is what the scripture that is most famously negative about our desires has in mind. The prophet Jeremiah says: 

Jeremiah 17:9-10 (Common English Bible)

9 The most cunning heart—

    it’s beyond help.

        Who can figure it out?

10 I, the Lord, probe the heart

    and discern hidden motives,

        to give everyone what they deserve,

        the consequences of their deeds.

Our desires are important. They deserve our attention. They tell stories that are true. But they’re complicated. Not everything we want would we do well to have. I’ve wanted to take things that aren’t mine. I’ve wanted revenge, I’ve wanted to change the past. I’ve wanted a lot of things I’ve been encouraged to let go of. 

Our hearts can be cunning, complicated, full of mixed motives and all. But God probes and sees and discerns. God has a sense of what is really good, true, and beautiful, and what’s worth letting go of for each of us. 

So sometimes not just to not try so hard, but to wait too. 

And to trust that God sees and hears our desires, to get real curious about them, to not just let them go, however likely or unlikely they may seem today, and to humbly see what God and what life can help you learn as you watch and wait.

Eventually, with this kind of humble paying attention before God, you’re likely to know when the time is right for you to do something.

I think this is what the psalms mean, or at least part of what they mean when they say:

Psalm 37:4 (Common English Bible)

Take delight in the Lord,

    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Trust the God that listens to you. Trust the God that inspires everything good and true and beautiful. Trust the God that will cooperate with you in seeing good futures into being. 

And see how your desires change, and how life around you changes over time. 

For me, with the church project, there was an immediate reaction to my re-noticing my desires and holding them before God. Almost immediately, there were opportunities to ask a few people if they share this desire, and some significant funds have already been pledged and given toward Reservoir’s debt free, generous future. We’ll share more about this exciting opportunity for our church in two or three months. For now, though, it’s been amazing for me and for our Board to be fulfilling the desires of this church as we delight and trust in God.

With those key relationships I talked with my spiritual director about, things have been moving more slowly. It’s been nothing like an instant change. Months later, things are mostly still disappointing. 

But I know what I want. And I pray about it. And I’ve had a few opportunities in past months to do something about it with these folks, which have helped a little. And just knowing that God holds my hopes and that I’m doing the little that I have it in me to do, feels good to me. 

Friends, God cares about what you want. 

The Spirit of Jesus is with you, whispering to you in this new year:

What is it that you’re looking for? What do you want me to do for you?

Neither me nor you have the power to see all that junk into being, which frankly, I’m grateful for! We are not gods, and it’s not always time for us to do something.

But over time, our loving God will help us see what’s good, what’s true, what’s beautiful, and what’s possible in our desires, and if we pay attention, we’ll find the moments when it’s our time to do something about it too. 

Pray with me:

God of Creation, God who made and loves us all,

Help us not despise or ignore our desires, but to notice and value them, 

To hold them before you with openness and curiosity, that in time, you and we can make what’s good and true and beautiful possible together.