Holy Spirit as Chi: Understanding The Holy Spirit in a Global Context

Acts 1:1-21

Pentecost

2 When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. 

Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting.

3 They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them.

4 They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.

5 There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.

6 When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages.

7 They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them?

8 How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language?

9 Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,

10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism),

11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!”

12 They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?”

13 Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”

14 Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words!

15 These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning!

16 Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 In the last days, God says,

I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

    Your sons and daughters will prophesy.

    Your young will see visions.

    Your elders will dream dreams.

18     Even upon my servants, men and women,

        I will pour out my Spirit in those days,

        and they will prophesy.

19 I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above

    and signs on the earth below,

        blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.

20 The sun will be changed into darkness,

    and the moon will be changed into blood,

        before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.

21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.[a]

Let me pray for us. 

Holy and Loving God, we give you thanks for bringing us here today. However we find ourselves this morning, whether we’re worried about something, anxious, excited, or sad or apathetic, we believe that you meet us here, right exactly where we are. And that you meet us with the exact measure of grace and mercy as we need it. So would you help us to know that, to feel that, that you move toward us and surround us with your presence and love right now, as we listen and speak into the word. Reveal to us, through your Holy Spirit. Amen. 

My talk today has a really long title. It’s called, “Holy Spirit as Chi: Understanding the Holy Spirit in a global context” It’s inspired by a book by a Korean-American theologian named Grace Ji-Sun Kim, titled Reimagining Spirit: Wind, Breath, and Vibration. 

The Holy Spirit has always been a little left out of the Trinity throughout history. Christians believe in a Triune God, God the Creator, Jesus the Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit, three in one. It’s really hard to explain. It’s a mystery. Christians are monotheiest, meaning they believe in one God, but this one God has three “persons” that are interdependent and in interplay with one another. Some say the creation came to be out of the overflow of love out of trinity. Some try to describe it by saying it’s like three different forms of water, like God is ice, Jesus is water, and Holy Spirit is vapor. But even when it’s always been kind of tricky to explain this Holy Trinity, Christians time and time again have come back to this language to describe God because it is central to everything we believe. But like I said, Holy Spirit always kind of gets the backseat. It’s easier to explain God and Jesus and Holy Spirit is, it’s like this thing. It doesn’t even get as much airtime in all of Christian podcasts combined I bet. 

They actually struggled with this in the 3rd century. There were heresies like that the trinity was hierarchical, God was here, Jesus middle, and Holy Spirit at the bottom, called the heresy of Subordination. And actually a whole slew of heresies surrounding the trinity came up again and again. And every time they settled, “hey Holy Spirit is a person too!” Why? Why did the early church, in light of God and Jesus always keep the Holy Spirit in the mix, even when it was confusing and even cause for muddling of their beliefs? 

Well, so let’s talk about the Holy Spirit today. What is it? How can we understand it better? How can it help us understand God and how God works in our lives? And you know what’s a good way to talk about the Holy Spirit? Metaphor! Sorry that was a little inside joke for the weekly attenders because last week I mentioned how every time I preach, I’m just like, “hey it’s a metaphor.” But hey, that’s what we’ve got with God-talk things. And Jesus always spoke in parables. Which parables and metaphors are not JUST a symbol of the real thing, but a thing that reveals the “real thing” sometimes in a more accurate manner than simply defining it. 

Jesus spoke in parables because it was truth set in context. Truth about God told in their own languages, about farming, oil candles, and brides. God-talk, religion, is always like this. It’s always set in context. Out of context, nothing makes sense. We understand one another more often than not because of some kind of shared context. Let me give you an example. 

When I first started learning English, learning idioms was the most difficult thing. That and culture. It made no sense to me to hear that, “it’s raining cats and dogs.” There wasn’t a good explanation for that idiom. I just had to keep living and speak English to understand it. And culture. I didn’t understand, growing up, why The Simpsons was such a funny or great show because even though I knew English, I generally didn’t understand the show. Jeopardy intimidated me, not because I wasn’t smart, because I knew I was smart, but I was just simply left out of the inside joke, or inside knowledge.

I didn’t get the references. After learning English at my grade level proficiency, you know what I did to become “more American?” I read and memorized the Trivia Pursuit that we picked up from a garage sale. Q: What painter is most famous for his series of water lilies? Q: Who played Sally Rogers in the Dick Van Dyke Show? Every card I flipped made me feel more American. 

Okay, why am I going on about this? I have a point I swear. I’ll get to what Holy Spirit is soon. 

Here’s why I’m giving you all this context to talk about the Holy Spirit. Dr. Kim in the book I mentioned says this:

“These debates (about trinity and the Holy Spirit) were largely grounded on Greek philosophy, and they relied on these categories to debate, discuss, and learn about God. This continued into the Medieval period and through the Reformation. European influence has dominated all Western discourse about the nature of God and theTrinity for two millennia. Take the phrase, the “absolute dependence on God,” coined by Friedrick Schleiermacher (1768-1834). It makes sense in a Eurocentric theology, but less so for African or Asian theologies. For example, in Asia, where there is heavy influence and practice of Buddhism, one practices ‘emptying’ rather than ‘dependence’. Schleiermacher’s way of thinking does not resonate or appeal to this Asian ideology as effectively as it may for the European mind. Euro-theology has shaped and molded Christian thinking for the past two thousand years. It’s difficult to shake off this kind of thinking or to allow different types of thinking to have any kind of prominence. Christian theology has too often been an  exclusive club for white, male, European theologians, without the necessary inclusion of minority voices and representation.”

When a person of color says things like this I think, it’s not anything against Europeans. I think Euro-centric thinking has contributed so much to christian theology. It’s “yes, and.” Yes, and. 

Conversations like this also unveil the fact that the American Christianity that many if not most of you have heard about or been in and around, is set in a particular context. One of the first things I learned in seminary that really blew my mind is postmodernism. A fancy way of saying bluntly a really harsh truth that: “there is no objective reality.” And not even in christianity.

There is no objective way to say something. Everything we say about God is set in context. There’s another fancy word that’s used in theology, sitz im leben, which is German for “setting in life.” This phrase was so central, I swear, everytime I had a test question that I wasn’t sure about in seminary, when in doubt, I mentioned this phrase and I probably got the test question right. 

It means that we need to distill everything we hear and learn through their sitz im leben, and then contextualize it to our own setting in life. How do we do that? Well, it’s hard. But there is so much that’s revealed in cross-cultural endeavors that many mono-cultured folks can’t help but have a need for backpacking trips through southeast Asia. It means that when you talk to someone from another country, the conversation slows down, not because they are slow, but because you’re in two different contexts.

You have to listen to things being explained like,

“In my country people….”

For me, being bi-cultural, American and Korean, has helped me so much in understanding Christianity and faith, something about the crossing of worlds between the ancient near east world of Jesus’ time and today’s world. That’s why there’s so many different translations of the Bible. And it can be said, they are all right.

So let me get to my translation of the Holy Spirit in my setting in life that has made a difference in my life. And for me to share it, is not a departure from scripture or “traditional” theology of the spirit because it is the spirit who lives and breathes through me that has given me this thinking. To see the Holy Spirit as Chi, which is the Chinese word for a kind of energy that flows through all of life, may feel like a jump to some but it feels like home for me.

I’m not Chinese but Chinese and Korean share a lot of history, they’re right next to each other. The Korean word would be Gi, but I just used Chi because more Americans are more familiar with Chi than Gi. See, I have to over explain. Asian American theologian Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim has helped me widen my theology. She talked about learning about the Holy Spirit through indiginous shamanism and through the understanding of vibration in science. She gave me permission to widen the box that God was in, that seemed to be bulging out at weird places and not working out for me. 

And actually many people of color, and also many white people these days are decolonizing faith. That just means that they are unpacking faith, translating it for themselves, making it their own. Even European missionaries have come to realize this, that when the local indigenous people embrace Christianity with and through their already existing ideologies and cultures, rather than a complete do-over, it tends to “stick” more. I do believe that this is what happened in the Bible text that I read today about Pentecost. That’s what the power of the Holy Spirit does. It speaks to each of us in our own language. 

The Spirit knows no bounds, no language, no culture. It moves in and through it all. And I’d like to point out that it makes it look like you’re doing something crazy. 

Have you felt this way, for some of us who have been beginning to decolonize your faith? Others think you’re crazy. Concerned that you’re moving away from the faith. That you’re drunk on wine at 9am in the morning. What, women can be pastors? Gay people can be pastors? What!? 

Christianity, I have something to say to you. This is how you survive the pluralistic postmodern world. We have to understand God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in the global context. Let the Spirit speak through all different languages just as it did on that FIRST day after Jesus ascended into heaven, Chapter 2 of Acts, the book that accounts the early history of the church. It’s not as much,

“get with the program”

as much as

“Let’s start at the beginning. A very good place to start.”

when the Spirit of God first blew through that room. 

Do you know how good it feels to get the reference? Something that is familiar. That you resonate with. They did this in classical music, which is euro-centric but really a brilliant time period and place of a music genre. Composers will use a formula that worked so well. At the beginning of a song they will introduce a very simple melody line. And then throughout the course of the song Mozart would play variations of that line, faster, slower, in a different key, but the best part is when that melody line comes back in the pure form, and you recognize it, that’s when the audience ears perk up, and they smile, and relax, and enjoy and feel a kind of resolution, and it stays with them, that original line. 

Seeing the Holy Spirit as Chi felt like that for me. The metaphors that worked at one time but failed to hold up at times – Greek philosophy, legal terms (think Calvin/reformation), and so on suddenly settled into my heart, mind, body, and soul like never before.

The Old Testament referred to the Spirit as Ruach, breath of God, and in the New Testament as pneuma, great metaphors of the life force in nature. Yes, And. Here’s what Dr. Kim said,

“An understanding of the association of chi with the Holy Spirit or identification of chi as the Holy Spirit enables us to learn that chi is divine and is the true healer of bodies. Chi has been and is continually being used in healing. Chinese emperors, philosophers, and physicians have understood healing with the movement of chi in the body. Most believed that illnesses occurred when one’s chi is blocked and therefore it was important to redirect the chi to flow within the body. In traditional Korean practice, these beliefs are still held. Hence the understanding of chi is fundamental to healing oneself.”

And what I needed wasn’t understanding but healing.

When I read Afrian-American Theologians like James Cone, in his beautiful beautiful book “The Cross and the Lynching Tree,” it would speak to me that what I needed wasn’t a savior but a liberator. 

Maybe the Holy Spirit as Chi speaks to some of you in your own language. Or maybe some of you are like, Lydia’s drunk on wine and it’s only 10 am in the morning. But that’s why I speak up, as jumbled as my words get sometimes. As illogical, incomprehensible, and nonsensical I feel sometimes. I hope it’s recognizable to at least a few of you. Because I also know how it feels to be the person who never got the reference. 

Whenever someone says anything in our church at Reservoir I hope, we say to ourselves.

“How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? American, Chinese, and Korean; as well as residents of South America, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil, Africa, Mali, Liberia, and Ghana, Haiti and Caribbean Islands, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the regions of Mexico bordering Texas; and visitors from India, and indigenous people, and Millenials, Gen Z, those who are on the autism spectrum, who struggle with anxiety and depression, who are differently abled, rich, poor, barely middle class, different gender identities—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!”

They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other,

“What does this mean?” 

I pray that we continue to get surprised and bewildered, asking again and again,

“What does this mean?”

together. Let me pray for us. 

Healing Spirit, that is always continually moving in and through us, reveal to us the power of your love and peace that surpasses all understanding, one that speaks specifically and uniquely to each of our understanding and being. Thank you for ever present power of the Holy Spirit, that greets us and meets us wherever we are, wherever we’re from, wherever we’re going. You are faithful. You are love. Help us know receive you we pray. Amen. 

 

 

The Kingdom of God Within

Luke 17:20-21

20 Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation;

21 nor will they say, [f]‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is [g]within you.”

Let me pray for us. 

Loving God, give us the grace to be in tune with you now. No matter where our hearts may be, no matter what’s on our minds, whether broken or scattered, or stubborn or indifferent, soften us through the power of your loving grace and mercy. We seek to create an empty space, a humbling space to hear truth, maybe through or maybe despite my words, that in the hearts and minds of each of us, you speak to us more loudly and clearly than anything I can arouse. Infuse in us the Holy Spirit, our teacher, our guide, who leads us and comforts us no matter the perils. Be with us now we pray and reveal to us your kingdom. Amen. 

I recently watched a film called My Octopus Teacher on Netflix. It was on the critically acclaimed list, so it must be good, and lately I am drawn to the sea, the ocean, the nature of all things that makes me feel small. It’s a documentary about a man, amidst a place of crisis and feeling stuck in life, decides to go back to one of his fondest childhood activities, diving underwater. There he encounters an octopus and from then on decides to go back to that same diving spot day after day, every day. He ends up going for more than 300 days, and the film captures that journey. Oh it’s beautifully shot. Just the wondrous and enchanting place that is underwater. And an octopus is a fascinating creature. Did you know that with its eight legs, sometimes on the ocean floor, it lands two of its legs down and walks, looking like a lady in an extravagant ball gown strutting about? 

I’ve been on a social media break lately and this journey of the filmmaker Craig Foster, intrigued me. The desire to just go underwater. Away from all the problems of the world, away from the busyness, the stress, and the pressures of life. Just dive down deep, and be completely engulfed in silence. 

I think spirituality can have that draw sometimes. In that deep spiritual presence of God in the inner places of my thoughts. That’s one of the reasons that this text today has always had a special place in my heart and in my theology. Kingdom of God within. The Kingdom of God within me! Oh how I longed to know and experience that. I have been so comforted by the knowledge that the name of God in Hebrew are breath vowels, YWHW, too holy to speak, that the Jewish people used a whole another name, Adonai when speaking of God. This breath that hovered over the waters in creation. The Holy Spirit as breath and wind has always spoken to me 

But can I be real with you? I landed on this text with the desire to share this particular idea, that God is inside you. That you can access God right here in your breath, as you look deeply close to your inner being. I wanted to say,

“See! Even Jesus said, God is within you!”

However the spirit of God had other plans and brought me to another place that I need to share with you. It was humbling, as I read and researched the text, that it wasn’t taking me where I was planning to go with it, but also more wondrous and expansive than my own spiritual longings. 

Just like my own spiritual longings, I think the church has also had this obsession with finding and pinpointing to that thing. That thing, that love, that peace, that kingdom of God, that reign of God when all is well and everything is good. While I was trying to find it here, it’s in here!

(When the text clearly says, 

no one can say, “look the kingdom of God, see right here, it’s here!”), 

the church has often pointed to a literal heaven, specifically the afterlife. This apocalyptic language that has been central to American Christianity didn’t come out of thin air, but yes, it was very rooted in the biblical apocalyptic language that existed to describe and talk about God, or the reign of God. Some called it Kingdom of Heaven, some called it Kingdom of God, interchangeably, and yes it was trying to get at that thing, I believe, that we’re all seeking for. The Jewish tradition sometimes calls it Shalom. That state of peace, but not just nice peace, but justice, harmony, interconnectedness. And so actually the rest of today’s text, Jesus does go on using this similar apocalyptic language, talking about Noah’s flood, and Sodom’s rain of fire.

Jesus says in verse 34-37,

34 I tell you, in that night there will be two [j]men in one bed: the one will be taken and the other will be left.

35 Two women will be grinding together: the one will be taken and the other left.

36 [k]Two men will be in the field: the one will be taken and the other left.”

37 And they answered and said to Him, “Where, Lord?” So He said to them, “Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.””

Apocalyptic language was a genre. But, well,  it was based on reality. Reality that under Roman’s rule, complete destruction from the enemy was absolutely a possibility for them. That was their impending doom.. 

The notable new testament scholar N.T. Wright says this,

“The passage does not refer to an event in which natural or supernatural forces will devastate a town, a region, or the known world; rather like so many of Jesus’ warnings in Luke, it refers to the time when enemy armies will invade and wreak sudden destruction. The word that means ‘vultures’ is the same word as ‘eagles’ (ancient writers thought vultures were a kind of eagle), and there may be a cryptic reference here to the Roman legions, with the eagles as their imperial badge.”

It wasn’t about the “end times” but it was about a real current threat, speaking to the lived fears of the day. Something that they were worried about, a political, military issue of their time. And Jesus was speaking right to it, about it. 

A slice of Christian theology has come to pinpoint the kingdom of God as entering heaven or hell in the afterlife, understandably based on such apocalyptic literature. Many of you, probably most of you are too familiar with this, even if you are new to faith or didn’t grow up in the church. But if you did, maybe even more so, you’ve heard about the importance of being baptized or converting to Christianity so that you may go to heaven after you die.

Somewhere along the line, a helpful metaphor to describe the current issue of the day, became a literal place that drove people into shame or fear to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. I do think the metaphor CAN be helpful, in revealing the truth, but sometimes I feel like… I preach about once a month and every time I preach, I just want to say, “it’s a metaphor!” And metaphors are powerful but it can be unhelpful and sometimes even toxic and dangerous when taken literally. 

I was talking to a friend who’s left the church for a while. They said,

“why should I care? Who really knows what happens after you die? What matters to me is my life right now? Why is my life the state that it’s in right now and what does God think about that? Why isn’t he doing anything about it? He just wants to be worshiped?”

My heart was sad to hear about their life situation, and worse that they thought God didn’t care. I couldn’t just say,

“But God does care!”

because then what about their life, their current real struggles. I didn’t have an answer to that. So I just sat there, wondering too,

“how do we know that God cares about us, right now, our lives?” 

Do you ever wonder that? If God cares about you? If God cares about your specific situation? 

Thomas Merton in his book Contemplation in a World of Action, addresses the concerns of spiritual contemplation versus participation in the world. He critiqued the Catholic church for

“giving up on the world and retreating into the abstract” (Odell)

He says,

““Is it enough to wall the monk off in a little contemplative enclave and there allow him to ignore the problems and crises of the world, should he forget the way other men have struggle for a living and simply let his existence be justified by the fact that punctually recites the hours in choir, attend conventual Mass, strives for interior perfection and makes an honest effort to “live a life of prayer”?””

Merton’s legacy lies in a turning point for him, a turning from traditional monk endeavors, from asceticism to a holy active participation and integration in the world. Apparently this happened in Kentucky, there lays a plaque that marks this,

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”” 

 

This thinking goes against some Christian teachings I’ve heard. We’re only visitors here. This is not our home. Our real home is heaven, where God has prepared a palace for us. In fact, if we’re last here, we’ll be first there. It has pitted people against themselves, only caring about the spiritual realm rather than the place where “God themself became incarnate”. I think that’s compelling. If it was all spiritual, why did Jesus ACTUALLY come to earth, at a specific time and place. Couldn’t things just be fixed or compelled through some kind of magical powers. Why did Jesus care about the social structure of the day and spoke out against it? Why did Jesus embody a body at all? Why did Jesus literally heal people instead of telling them their pain will be no more in heaven when they die? I believe that a God that decided to not just wave their hands high up in the sky but decides to come, join, live in this world is a God that deeply deeply cares for this material world. This physical world. One who cares about the “sorrows and stupidities of the human condition”. 

The warning, “Behold, the kingdom of God is coming” isn’t, wasn’t what we think it means. You see things get lost in translation. Some languages have a much more nuance to things sometimes, that can be captured through a wide varied way of conjugating a verb. I experience this as an English as a Second Language speaker, I know, you probably think, wow her English is really good, and yes I worked hard to learn English because English is really hard. Learning a new language is really difficult because it’s not just speech, it’s ideas, it’s movement, it’s concept you are trying to understand.

For example in Korean, there are many ways to saying, “She’s coming over. You could say, “she’s on her way.” or “She’s about to come” or “She was about to come” which, you know the difference between the two sentences when the only difference is two letters. Or “She was coming” and then it connotes that maybe something else happened. 

When this text was translated,

“the Kingdom of God is within you.”

Turns out there are many different ways to translate this. Listen to variations. 

One could say, “Within you, within your hearts.” Or “Among you, in your midst.” Which is a HUGE difference because one is personal and individual, whereas the latter is PLURAL and COMMUNAL. And even not pinpoint-able but in the movement within you. Like the Kingdom of God is not here(person) or here (person) but here (the in-between them two). 

I have an old critical commentary of the Bible that my dad bought from a book dealer in Korea when he was in seminary. Its first print dates 1901. And it says that it wouldn’t have made sense for Jesus to say that it’s in your heart, because he was talking to the Pharisees, which he was always making the point that they were not getting the point.

Cyril of Alexandria, a writer from the 4th century, makes it mean,

“lies in your power to appropriate it.” 

The kingdom of God lies in your power to appropriate it. REALLY? N.T. Wright puts it similarly,

“The phrase (in your midst) is more active. It doesn’t just tell you where the kingdom is; it tells you that you’ve got to do something about it. It is ‘within your grasp’; it is confronting you with a decision…”

My seminary professor said, “the Kingdom of God is coming” is more like,

“The kingdom of God is right in front of your nose.”

And my translation would be,

“The kingdom of God is about to be all up in your face. What are you gonna do about it?” 

The kingdom of heaven is not up there, or after we die. The kingdom of heaven is right here and the question isn’t where it is but what are you going to do about it? 

The end of the film, My Octopus Teacher says this, and I’m not spoiling it for you, because it’s impossible for me to spoil the visual magnificence of the film by quoting it, but he closes by saying,

“What she taught me was to feel… that you’re part of this place, not a visitor. That’s a huge difference.”

This has implications not only to the social political problems of the day, but also for us these days to our environment, which I don’t have time to get into now. But the spirit of God, the reign of God includes you, your body, our earth, your problems, the octopus, the war, and everything in-between, all in our midst. How could that be? I don’t know. But that seems to be the invitation here, The kingdom of God lies in your power to appropriate it. Is that too close for comfort? Is that too much power in our hands instead of God or Jesus? That’s what Jesus seems to be saying…

I’ll leave you with another quote from Jesus, from John 14:12. He says,

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”

THEY WILL DO EVEN GREATER THINGS THAN THESE. You will do even greater things than Jesus! Do you believe that? I don’t know. Let’s pray about it. I don’t know, that’s the end of my talk. Let’s pray. 

God how can it be. What are humans that you are mindful of them? Human beings that you care for them? You have given us your spirit to be with us, and have charged us with your call. Help us to see and listen, and participate in the great wave of your power blowing over the waters of chaos. Oh Spirit, compel us to realize that we are co-creators, conduits of your kingdom here and now, on earth as we imagine it in “heaven”, may it be, let us be that. WE pray in the strong name of Jesus Christ Amen. 

What We Need Is A Miracle & Breakdown Lanes

Last Sunday evening I was out to dinner with a group of folks after the Lindsey Sampson concert (which was amazing by the way), and someone asked, what are you talking about next Sunday? And hadn’t thought of what I’d talk about – but off the cuff I said,

“I’m going to talk about ‘miracles and revival’.”

And I surprised myself and laughed – and then many people also laughed….likely at me… but I thought, actually that’s exactly what I want to talk about this morning – miracles. 

So often I hear, and maybe you do too,

“you know what we need in this day and age – we need a miracle,” 

which in part I hear as a dismissive comment – to say things are so bad, too divisive, beyond repair…that all that could possibly work is a miracle. And it rings true. We’ve been through a lot in the last couple of years – and we can feel totally encased by a sense of hopelessness and despair – by the bombardment of all things inconceivable.

And we can wonder in that space,

“Can we really change for the better?”

“Can we grow? Can we keep becoming? Is there any fruit ahead?”

“What will it take to detach from some of the ways we’ve done things, thought of people,  built systems – for years,  decades,  centuries  – and see that they don’t work anymore, that the season is over.” 

AND STILL ENCOUNTER JESUS whatever the season is.

But that comment “we need a miracle” As much as it can sound dismissive – also points to a longing that we have too – for something different – a change – something transformational – new. 

We long for our hearts to be revived, to say unabashedly “YES!” I believe that this world can be reshaped, reguided, created anew…in partnership with Jesus.  I think we long to say,

“ I really do believe in miracles.”

And so today as I talk about miracles – it will be less centered on the miracles of instantaneous change or immediate healing…but the type of miracle it takes to step back at points. And pay attention to the questions that might be stirring in you and gauge whether or not the method, the plan, the spiritual practice, the whatever it is –  is working.  And asking how you can partner with God (not just be a spectator) – but how we can be agents of miracles – of such change, goodness, and life in this world.

So today I’ll get to two ways this summer you can be attentive to your own miracle -making. . . . through a

1) standard of faithfulness – and a

2) community of practice. 

Prayer

God of miracles – the one who loves us just as we are.  The one who tenderly wakes us up each day to the potential and the realness of what might lay ahead. And the one who gently nudges us to to believe for “More” …more of you, more of us, more miracles in our day. Thank you for your presence with us, within us, between us – today. 

STORY

One Mother’s Day before Covid times I organized a special day with my mom. We had agreed to meet half-way and meet each other in Portland, ME.  I’d go up after church services and meet her for an afternoon where she’d get a pedicure (like a once every 10 year event for her) and a nice early evening dinner together.

I was really looking forward to it – mostly because it had been a really long time since I had honored her in any significant way. And we had arranged that Scott would take our kids to see his mom in NH. So I really had this abundance of time, and the potential for all of my attention to devote to my mom.

I left right after church and got about 40 minutes outside of Boston when Scott called and told me that his car had broken down and I’d need to come help.

And I was crushed. But also thought – I can totally still do this. I can still make it to Maine, even if I’m a little late – we can still have a great time together. 

And I plugged into my navigation the address to where Scott was – and started on my way. The navigation pretty quickly led me off the route I was on at the upcoming exit… and had me travel a couple miles of back road, and then get back on the highway.

Initially I was minimally paying attention.

But after a few minutes I had this sensation that I was kind of going in circles.

And as I decided to ACTUALLY pay attention – I realized INDEED I was. Just getting off the highway and then back on .. in the same direction…over and over. 

My GPS was glitching.

AND yet I KEPT “FOLLOWING IT!” for the next few loops – even though I knew I wasn’t going anywhere.  I kept thinking, well maybe this GPS will kick into gear – and direct me the right way. (I mean historically it had been pretty good at this!)  It’s what it’s supposed to do – it’s supposed to be effective at getting me to where I need to go. 

And I thought I didn’t know how to go where I needed to go.

 So I literally stayed with the thing that wasn’t working.  

MIRACLE

Now I’m sure we all have our different thoughts, experiences and associations with miracles. Scripture is a beautiful tapestry of miracles – ranging from parting the Red Sea, to the walls of Jericho falling down, to changing water into wine,  to feeding the 5000, Jesus walking on water, healing the blind man and so many more.

  • Beautiful , inspiring, acts that are not only intended to be instantaneous external displays that change circumstances or physical ailments.
  • But ones that convey a message of greater freedom and connection to JESUS. And disrupt patterns that hinder this… And they show us what to do and how to hope, in the midst of times where our worlds seem to be falling apart.  

So let’s read one of the stories in the gospel of Mark together that I think showcases a miracle – and see what we can glean:

Mark 11:12-22 Common English Bible 

12 The next day, after leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry.

13 From far away, he noticed a fig tree in leaf, so he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing except leaves, since it wasn’t the season for figs.

14 So he said to it, “No one will ever again eat your fruit!” His disciples heard this.

15 They came into Jerusalem. After entering the temple, he threw out those who were selling and buying there. He pushed over the tables used for currency exchange and the chairs of those who sold doves.

16 He didn’t allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.

17 He taught them, “Hasn’t it been written, My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you’ve turned it into a hideout for crooks.”

18 The chief priests and legal experts heard this and tried to find a way to destroy him. They regarded him as dangerous because the whole crowd was enthralled at his teaching.

19 When it was evening, Jesus and his disciples went outside the city.

 20 Early in the morning, as Jesus and his disciples were walking along, they saw the fig tree withered from the root up.

21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look how the fig tree you cursed has dried up.”

22 Jesus responded to them, “Have faith in God!

Now you are probably thinking… “Hmmm… I don’t really remember that as one of the top “miracle” stories in scripture…” 

And I would say (as my teenagers do), “facts.”


In fact, this scripture is often regarded as a symbol of judgment.

  1. Many scholars would concur that Jesus is teaching and warning the disciples that God will judge those who give an outer appearance of fruitfulness but in fact are not fruitful at all. The only thing they are ripe for, is judgment.

  2. Still other scholars take the fig tree to a larger scale and suggest the fig tree is representative of a faithless Israel. Israel professed to be faithful to God and fruitful as a nation, but in fact it was faithless and fruitless. And  Israel was thus ripe for judgment.

  3. And still other scholars see significance in Jesus’ cleansing of the temple …again highlighting that at a distance the Jewish temple and its sacrificial activities looked fine. But on closer inspection it was found to be mere religion without substance, full of hypocrisy, bearing no spiritual fruit, ripe for judgment.

And yet as all scripture can – it holds many layers, and we can have a variety of  interpretations that do not cancel each other out – and certainly don’t compromise Jesus – but perhaps ignite our curiosity and enliven our connection to Jesus as we consider other interpretations.

So I  see this story as a miraculous one – and one that I think offers us a way forward in our current contexts today….  And perhaps is a little less the “judgment vein.” 

 As we read through this scripture Jesus LEADS by example.

He’s teaching the disciples something about themselves…. and all of us – perhaps!

The story starts by saying

“Jesus was hungry.”

We all are hungry at some point, for something. 

Hungry for what?  It seems like Jesus is saying to the disciples –

“Well, of course figs!” 

It makes sense – figs abound in this region – the disciples would know it as a delicious source of nourishment.

So Jesus does the obvious thing – He GOES to the fig tree and checks it for figs. 
But this move is curious- because of the info that follows,  “But he didn’t find any fruit – because it wasn’t the season for figs”. 


??
? Why then would he go at all toward the tree? If he knew there would be nothing found to satiate his hunger?

I think he does this to say,

“I get it – this is your own natural tendency too – and it’s a strong tug – when looking for nourishment/what you need  – you will be inclined to go toward something that you know – that has given you nourishment and worked in the past.”  

EVEN if it’s OUT OF SEASON.   Even if it’s as obvious as staring at a barren fig tree.

We like patterns, predictability,  even if we end up only going in circles 95 north…. To nowhere.

I think this is why Jesus says to the tree,

“May NO ONE ever eat fruit from you again”

…..and why we see the important piece that

“The DISCIPLES hear him say it”. 

It seems like Jesus is serious about our freedom, freedom from things that no longer bring fruit to our lives – and freedom unto abundant life with him.

STORY

I finally pulled over – that Mother’s day. And sat in the breakdown lane. Wondering what the heck had just happened!  And rather than questioning the functionality of the GPS – or looking at a map, and estimating time I went back to the source and reason for this trip in the first place – which for me was the love of my mom.

The question that grew in me on the side of the road was,

“What does it look like to honor your mother every day? To have a “practice of loving her”

Just where she’s at .. just where you are at… what will bring freedom to both of you? Vitality to your relationship – that can grow and evolve… ?

*Because the thing is .. .life, Jesus, us – we are a medley of stories that are always unfolding, becoming and evolving. 

And our tendency when things don’t work – is to  OVER -ENGAGE or DIS-ENGAGE. (neither of which have the makings of anything miraculous.)

I think Jesus knows we may try to overcompensate for the lack or even disappointment we feel when our methods run dry – and out of season. Maybe we think it’s our failure or responsibility – we lean into those more “judgment” translations of this scripture.  

And we are inclined to stay – to be loyal to the method…  maybe we’ll try to make more figs, re-create what we once knew. Maybe we’ll go get jugs of  H2O and force that SEASON back to life. 

Or we’ll say – it just doesn’t work, I’m done.

And yet – in either of those scenarios the potential loss is that we LOSE sight of what our original hunger was for – which was really connection/ a growing relationship with JESUS.

And maybe the miraculous move of Jesus here is to say …

“hold up, the healthiest thing is to see that this tree has no fruit. It can’t give you what it once did.”

Sometimes you just have to disrupt the pattern.. To find Jesus again. 

Standing right next to you – whole, not worried, open armed…  And that is what opens up all things new. 

STORY

I was so sad that I couldn’t go love my mom in the way that I had planned, that I couldn’t lavish her with some long-overdue attention.  

But sometimes the miracle is simply pulling over and saying this isn’t working.   There’s no movement, no progress. I don’t know what the answer is – but I’m going to exit this pattern.

Because the truth is – it wasn’t about the GPS not working. It was about the pattern of how I expressed love to my mom to some degree – over a long season of time.  Yes a lavish day is amazing but an every- few-year-lavish- day does not make a relationship. 

And this was why I didn’t want to exit

I didn’t want to sit in the break-down lane and regroup, look at the loops I had been in – and realize that’s not how you love my mom. 

We’ve been through what? 2.5 years of pandemic – enough time to see the patterns, the systems, the approaches, the “solutions” that are not working! In our personal lives – in our public lives… all . around. us. .. affecting all of us.

And we stand here – as we did last week, and as we will next week -on the brink of miracles. Not only witnessing them…. but being transformed by them… and being agents of them.

And some of us might think, …

“that’s nice .. I don’t really want to be a miracle agent…sounds like a lot of energy…I’m not really up for that today…”

Jesus says in this scripture and to us today,

“you know what – let’s go for a walk together.. Let’s see what we discover together.”

In the scripture here, they walk – they head to Jerusalem, and Jesus’ object lesson of the fig tree – is now taking a shift – to a more experiential  – practical  lesson.

They arrive at the temple – the place that came to be as an answer to so many people’s hunger – for union and connection with GOD.

“A house of prayer for all nations”

was what it should have been revered as.

But it seems people’s methods to tap into that connection with God seemed to take over. Rituals and  practices became the methods to “connect with God” – which are not bad in and of themselves.

BUT when the method becomes the center from which we expect life and fuel, versus holding GOD at the center. We make a shift to a more “seasonal” approach to love. (which of course, love has no season).

Perhaps this is what occurred in the temple – it seems like people kept mining those methods – long after the nutrients had been depleted.  And when that happens, it becomes toxic – it becomes self-seeking – corrupt and proud, power hungry, ingrown, constricting. 


Right? Then we have money-lenders and dove sellers setting up within a “House of Prayer.”

This is where I think sometimes our tendency is to try to be more LOYAL (which is somehow over-engaging and disengaging at the same time) to the methods – than FAITHFUL to the source (Jesus) and that can lead us  – or the relationship – to being more withered than alive.  

And this slight distinction between loyalty and faithfulness is important I believe… 

Writer KJ Ramsey has noted,  

“loyalty does not produce fruit – it is not a fruit of the spirit. 

Faithfulness is. 

Loyalty as we know it today has its roots in the medieval feudal system. 

Loyalty is an oath or pledge of allegiance sworn by someone with less power – to someone with more power. 

Loyalty is about maintenance of power/dominance/and hierarchy.”

It dries up real relationships, and leaves hearts of stone – creating temples for man’s own gain.

But faithfulness is about love – love with Jesus  first and foremost –  that pursues the good of others. …pursues creating beloved community. (adapted KJ Ramsey, “The Lord is My Courage”). Pursues an ever-becoming faith that never withers not even in the breakdown lanes, but miraculously comes to “real” life. 

Jesus seems to nail this same point home with his disciples. The next morning Jesus and the disciples walk by that “fig tree” –  a completion of his lesson. And Peter pointed out –

“hey that’s the fig tree you cursed – it’s withered from the roots”

aaah, yes – it’s truly out of season.

STORY

I called my mom from the side of the road – the break-down lane. And I said,

“I can’t get to you. I’m so sorry.”  

My mom laughed. The absurd reality of cars breaking down in our family history and messing up plans – is so prevalent…and kind of hilarious.. And then she said, 

“It’s ok, Ivy – just call me tomorrow.”

And I realized for us – to love one another – is to be consistently in connection. And I had been punting that down the road for a long time – and we needed to grow from the roots together again.

I heard in her reply, her longing… and God’s direction, “call me tomorrow.”

And I said, “I’ll call you tomorrow” And the day after that – and the next day after that – and that will be the practice and miracle in action… 

Maybe there are things that aren’t working for you right now.

Maybe it’s something like Scripture – that historically has been central to your grounding and knowing of God.

Or maybe it’s worship music  – the one place you got in touch with your deep emotions.

Or maybe prayer in the ways you’ve always known it – feels foreign or inadequate… or a relationship, a job, a course of study – or a church community…

What does it look like or feel like to you to pull over for a second? To shut off that automatic navigation and see who God says God is to you? (not what a method says God is to you – or a person says God should be to you… but who is God to you?).


VERY quickly I want to jump back to the Old Testament – to the story if you remember it where Moses encounters God in the burning bush… where a conversation ensues about God’s name.

Moses says,

“who should I tell them I saw?”

And God answers, 

“I am who I am”

– or in Hebrew translation,

“I will be who I will be”

It’s as if God is saying,

“I am not giving you a “handle”,

as Avivah Zornberg a Torah and midrash scholar says,

“I’m not giving you a handle to hold on to – to say ‘now I’ve got God’ ,

now I know how to get to God – – because God is always becoming.” God is always becoming …

 And here’s the sheer beauty and wisdom of such a response…. 

God’s answer points to the very nature of how we can know and connect to God – *in all seasons* – that often it entails stepping out of the known and into the unknown – but that which is always allowing the possible and the impossible to happen…the miraculous.  God is saying, “I am who I am”… to you…. 

I am the nexus of wonder….

I am art.

I am scripture.

I am your favorite worship song.

I am a bird’s song.

I am in your drive to see someone in the hospital dying

I am in the hospital corridor filled with your new baby’s cry .

I am in your questions.

I am on the side of the road.. in the breakdown lane…with you.

Where nothing might work like it used to.

I am in the spaces where it seems like there is nothing.

But know that “nothing” is the only essential ingredient of a miracle. 

I learned recently from Rabbi Ariel Burger, that old Hebrew bibles – are organized in such a way that they have the central text in the middle of the page, and then there are commentaries around the sides, and then there’s space around the edges.

This blank space that frames all the words.. .and it’s these edges, these biblical break-down lanes that ultimately are the most important, because that’s where one gets to write their questions, and where one gets to expand and grow and evolve a tradition (and a knowing of God) that, without such participation, would have long since become dormant, rigid, or withered entirely.

I think Jesus in this passage in Mark is saying to us,

“keep having a dialogue with the old ideas and the old wisdoms  – the way things have always been done –  and bringing them forward with our your own voice and your own questions because it’s not only how we survive” 

(Rabbi Ariel Burger)  – but how God survives and is real to us – and this is the miracle we need in our day. God being real to us – reviving us. 

It’s a miraculous way to be really – to not settle into complacency.  And when we are rattled, and despondent and when we endure unimaginable pain – it can feel risky – and like too much energy… but often all that can be found in a walk with Jesus.   

Jesus starts his lesson – by walking and talking about hunger – and ends his lesson by walking and identifying what the real hunger is for….. Not this dry, withered fig tree ..  BUT HUNGRY FOR GOD.    Jesus replies to his disciples –

“Have faith in God”

trust me, turn to me, hunger for me – have faith in me.

The miracles that we get to participate in are recognizing what isn’t working for us – and still being faithful to something bigger than ourselves. This is what calls us into greater community and dedication to repairing and improving  …… even what we know can’t be repaired and improved in our lifetimes.

And this is the standard of faithfulness that I mentioned at the beginning – that Quaker Parker Palmer has taught me over time.

And all the standard of faithfulness entails is to wake up every day and put one foot in front of the other – and have faithfulness to our gifts, (to the things we know & learn about ourselves that impact others in helpful ways)… faithfulness to our perception of the needs of the world, and faithfulness to offering our gifts to whatever needs are within our reach.  This is the standard of faithfulness.

“When faithfulness is our standard, we are more likely to sustain our engagement with tasks that will never end: doing justice, loving mercy, and calling the beloved community into being.”

(Parker Palmer)

And the beauty is – that it is not a standard for our indiviudalselves – it is a standard by which we are held in community.  This is my second point to take away today – this idea of a community of practice.

Which is a group of people who “share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly”  Like us!  It’s how the followers of Jesus supported each other in their own break-down lanes, in grief, and in celebration – it’s how we here at Reservoir learn to love God and be loved by God as a way by which we flourish and value the presence of one another, care for one another, unto liberation and freedom.  

The practices can be very varied – but it’s that we are holding that central vision – Jesus – at the forefront of our community.

Adrienne Maree Brown says pay attention to what you are practicing day to day. Because we are always practicing things. Are you practicing things you would want to practice (that feel helpful and real to you) – or are you practicing what someone else has told you is the right way to do stuff?

“Because,”

Adrienne Brown says, 

“once you start practicing on purpose, then you can actually practice liberation and justice and freedom and — then I think you begin to experience the fruit of the practice – peace, awareness, courage, action.  You might not see the miracles you hope to see in your day – total liberation for all people, but you can feel good knowing that you are practicing liberation every single day and in every relationship.” (onbeing.org)  

How do you personally begin to practice whatever’s in alignment with your largest vision or longing?

For my mom and I, I had to realize that the simple act of calling her often – was the practice I needed to engage. To unfold the relationship full of love that I wanted to see fruit…. That I always want to be in season.

Here at Reservoir our five year vision is to create and grow the Beloved Community we are called to be – it’s a big vision. But the practices of being …

  1. Diverse and anti-racist in our every day lives….
  2. Creating welcome and places of profound belonging. .
  3. The ways by which we consider being radically generous.
  4. How we can empower wholeness, love, and justice for those around us – 

All of these are ours to participate in – in our individual lives and here, as a community of practice.

The miracles we need here and now – are not tied to an outcome – of whether we see these visions fruit in our day or not – they are tied to a good, living, life-giving Jesus – and  the miracle is to keep seeking Jesus and believing that our “becoming lives” with Jesus unfold the possible and the impossible, Even us …as agents and practitioners of such miracles.  

Let me pray for us.

Thank you God for the wonder and beauty that you plant inside of us – for the capacity to create and dream for things different and new. Help us God to hunger for you as we vision for a more just world, as we stand on the brink of possibility… near…. And far… and everywhere in between. 

 

Honor the Sacred

The most important story in the whole Hebrew Bible begins with a sacred moment that could easily have been missed. It’s the beginning of the story of the Exodus – God’s rescue of the ancestors of Israel from slavery, into freedom in the promised land. It’s not really the beginning of the story, I guess, but it’s the beginning of the story for the person who becomes its hero, Moses. 

Moses is a middle-aged refugee living in the countryside with his wife and son, working in his father in law’s business, when God gets his attention. It happens like this:

Exodus 3:1-7 (Common English Bible) 

1 Moses was taking care of the flock for his father-in-law Jethro, Midian’s priest. He led his flock out to the edge of the desert, and he came to God’s mountain called Horeb.

2 The Lord’s messenger appeared to him in a flame of fire in the middle of a bush. Moses saw that the bush was in flames, but it didn’t burn up.

3 Then Moses said to himself, Let me check out this amazing sight and find out why the bush isn’t burning up.

4 When the Lord saw that he was coming to look, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!”

Moses said, “I’m here.”

5 Then the Lord said, “Don’t come any closer! Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground.”

6 He continued, “I am the God of your father, Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, and Jacob’s God.” Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God.

I don’t know how you imagine this story. Some people imagine it big and dramatic, like that bush is just full of fire and heat, unmistakable in the early morning dawn. And then they imagine God’s conversation with Moses happening out loud, with God’s big booming voice coming out of the flames or down from the sky. 

Moses, Moses…. Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground. 

But I picture this scene smaller, more subtle than that. I imagine that when Moses first sees that bush out of the corner of his eye, he wonders if the first light of sunrise is playing tricks on him, as the bush starts to gleam. He starts to keep walking, but something makes him look back again. Is that bush just reflecting the light especially brightly, or is it actually on fire?

And then as Moses walks closer, he doesn’t hear a booming voice in the sky, but he hears God the way almost everyone who has ever heard God does – it’s a voice in his head, like he’s talking to himself or thinking his own thoughts, but it feels more like the wisdom of a loving God than his own daydreams. There’s a gut sense he feels that something or someone good and powerful and beautiful is with him, and he needs to pay attention.

However you imagine this story, though, Moses’ meandering life of despair is interrupted when he notices and pays attention to the sacred. His rise as a leader, and the rescue of his people move forward when Moses sees that God is with him and has purpose for his life. Maybe God’s always been with him, but just now Moses sees it. So he takes off his shoes and honors this sacred moment, this sacred ground, and his life, and the life of the people of Israel, and in some ways the life of the whole world is never the same. 

In my faith in the God revealed in Jesus Christ, I think God is always with us, everywhere we go, that there’s a sense in which everything and everyone is sacred, that there are nearly constant opportunities to notice the beauty and kindness and purpose and hope of God around us, if we can train our eyes and hearts to pay attention. 

So today I share this sermon on noticing and honoring the sacred, to help us experience God in all things and to help us know the goodness and purpose of partnering with God in everyday life.

Let me take you back for a minute to a sad day in my life over two years ago.

In spring of 2020, it didn’t feel like much good was happening. COVID had arrived in a big way in our city, and our whole country was shut down, wondering how many people would get sick, and how many people would die. 

I was home all the time with my wife, and my three teenage kids, and everything was canceled. My kids were trying to do a fake, boring version of school online, and none of us ever went anywhere. Except we were all taking a lot of walks and bike rides to get out of the house and stay active.

On one of those days, we got a call from one of our kids that he had had a big crash while out on his bike ride and needed help. So I rushed out the door, got in the car, and drove to pick him up and bring him and his busted bike home. And while we were coming back into the house, and trying to patch up our son and figure out if we needed to go to the hospital, I left the door open. And our old cat who’d lived with us for more than 10 years ran out. 

I hardly noticed at first because there was so much going on, and our cat running outside just didn’t seem very important. He’d run out a lot before too and usually came back to the door within an hour, meowing to be let back in. But this time he didn’t come back – not that day, not the next. We put up some signs around the neighborhood with his picture. I walked around the block calling his name. But nothing. 

Until a few days later a neighbor called and found a cat that looked like ours, except he warned me over the phone, this cat wasn’t alive anymore. Well, I went out to check and sure enough, it was our cat Azuma and he had died. 

Now at this point, I had no idea what to do. Part of me just wanted to move on as soon as possible. So many sad things were happening in the world, that I was just tired and maybe a little numb, and I wasn’t ready to feel anything or do anything about one more sadness.

But when I told the rest of our family that Azuma had died, one of the very first things one of our kids asked was where we were going to bury his body and how we were going to have a funeral for him.

And part of me thought: really? We live on this tiny plot of rocky land, with very little space to grow or do anything, especially a burial. And I know a thing or two about funerals, but I just hadn’t planned on leading one for our cat Azuma. 

But the other part of me knew that my kid was right and that it was a good and beautiful and necessary thing he was suggesting. So I found a little patch of mostly bare earth a few feet outside our door, got a shovel, and dug a hole. And then we placed our cat’s body inside an old pillow case and laid him in there, and had our family funeral. We all said a few words about what Azuma meant to us and how we’d miss him, and I said a short prayer, and then we filled in the hole.

And then later Grace planted a very small tree on that spot, more like a bush really. And a little over two years later, it’s a small and flimsy, but beautiful tiny little two or three foot tall tree, whose leaves when they first come out in May look like little origami, green and yellow birds. It’s beautiful really. 

I look at that tiny little tree a lot. Sometimes I sit by it for a little bit and remember our cat and look at the way that his body is literally nourishing a beautiful new life in our garden. Not so much any more, but in that first year after Azuma died, I’d sometimes look at that tiny little tree, with the ring of rocks around it, and I’d tear up for a minute, thinking about the good parts of our cat’s life, and the pleasure and companionship he gave us, and the times we tried our best to make him happy and feel at home too. And that helped me say goodbye, and helped me appreciate his life, and helped me feel better about moving on without him too.

You see, grief is sacred. All grief. Because life is sacred and we are sacred. So to stop and feel bad and say goodbye when someone you care about dies, or when you lose something you care about, or you lose a pet or a dream or a friendship or anything that matters to you. To grieve that loss is sacred. It honors the importance of what you’ve lost, it honors the importance of your love and attachment, and it helps you let go and move forward. 

Grief is about feeling sad feelings, because if you don’t do that, it’s harder to feel any big feelings, even good ones.

And it’s about honoring the memory of the people and things we’ve lost by thinking about them and talking about them, because if we don’t honor the memory, we lose out on all the goodness there. My Jewish friends, when someone they love dies, they don’t say “Rest in Peace,” so much as they say, “May their memory be a blessing.” It’s an encouragement to remember and talk about the people we’ve lost, so that their memory can live on and keep encouraging us. 

In our culture and times, we don’t really know how to talk about and deal with death very well – death of people, death of animals, death of most anything. So we mostly avoid it when we can. But not dealing with death well makes it hard to live well, so the first example I wanted to give of honoring the sacred is to pay attention when someone or something you know is dying or has died. Don’t avoid your feelings. Certainly don’t stop talking about it with your friends and family. 

Because life is sacred, and so death is sacred, and grief is sacred too. 

Look at Jesus. There was a time when one of his friends named Lazurus was sick and about to die, and at first Jesus didn’t act like it was a very big deal. Everything was in God’s hands and everything was going to be fine. But when Lazurus did die and when Jesus went to his house and saw his good friend, Lazurus’ sister Mary sad and crying and angry with God really, Jesus felt all the big feelings too.

In the very shortest verse in Bible, we read:

John 11:35 (Common English Bible) 

35 Jesus began to cry. 

A lot of the time, this verse is just two words – Jesus wept. But I like this translation, Jesus began to cry. Because it shows us that Jesus might have kept crying still. We don’t know how long that moment lasted, before Jesus was ready to do the next big thing he was going to do to help Lazurus’ family – story for another day. And maybe it can remind us that every time all of Jesus’ friends, including you and me, are sad and have reason to grieve, Jesus is ready to cry with us still. 

Because all of life is sacred, and so all of death is sacred and all our loss is sacred, and it’s OK, it’s good to feel a lot of things with every loss, and good to talk about our sadness and our gratitude and our memories – all the things we call grief. Because that’s sacred. Grieving well is part of how we love well and part of how we move forward in life most freely too. Don’t rush past your own grief. And don’t ever rush anyone else’s. 

Jesus, though, wasn’t sad most of the time. He was sad and angry with big feelings when he needed to be, but he also noticed all the amazing sacred people and things going on around him that made him feel alive and joyful. 

Because our world is so full of people and places and things that really matter, noticing them and treating them like they are really important is sacred too. 

One way Jesus did this that a lot of adults don’t is that he always noticed all the children around him. He was sure that children are sacred and that they deserved his time and attention, his love and affection. Take this moment: 

Matthew 19:13-15 (Common English Bible) 

13 Some people brought children to Jesus so that he would place his hands on them and pray. But the disciples scolded them.

14 “Allow the children to come to me,” Jesus said. “Don’t forbid them, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to people like these children.”

15 Then he blessed the children and went away from there.

Jesus always had time for children. He liked them. They like him. They found him safe, interesting, kind – kids were drawn to Jesus, it seemed. And he felt the same way. Here it says he would place his hands on them and pray.

I’ve known too few adults I’m not related to who were really interested in my kids. But the ones who have been, and whose interest was healthy and positive, have had this kind of impact, what’s called blessing them. They’ve asked my kids questions about their life. They’ve talked with them over food. They’ve applauded them for the good they see in them. In more than one case, they’ve literally – like Jesus – blessed them.

North Cambridge used to be home to a larger than life community leader named Justice Ismail Laher. He was born in colonial India, lived several places internationally, settled here in the 1970s and spent the last four decades of his life as a community leader here. With our church’s and many others’ support, the city of Cambirdge named a square on Mass Ave. after him. He was a devout Muslim, a friend to this church, and in his last years, a friend to me and my family as well.

We visited with each other occasionally, always praying for each other. And when he met my children, he placed his hands on each of their foreheads and blessed them – telling them the good lives they would live and whether they would become a doctor or a lawyer. 

Maybe the details said more about him than them, but the gesture was clear to all of us. He was telling them and telling us, their parents, that our children have a hope and a future, that they matter to him, they matter to this world, and they matter to God. And we loved him for this, I think my kids did too. 

Jesus always recognized that kids are sacred, worth blessing and care and attention, deserving of safety and protection too. Once he said out loud to all his students, and it’s preserved in our Bibles still, that as far as he’s concerned people who do harm to kids would be better off if they’d never been born. People who do harm to kids, he said, would be better off if they’d had a big stone tied around them and thrown into the sea. 

Because God knows kids are sacred, and people who hurt kids dishonor kids and they dishonor God. Jesus is not subtle on this point. 

Kids, you are sacred. Your voices deserve listening to. Your safety deserves protecting. Your bodies, your dreams, your time matter to God, and they ought to matter to everyone else too. God knows this, even if other people don’t. I know this too. I hope you know how much you matter. 

And grownups, your kids if you have them, but not just them all kids are sacred. Their voices deserve listening to. Their safety deserves our protection. Their bodies, their dreams, their time matters to God, and they ought to matter to us too. 

One more example before we close, as we tour our way through honoring the sacred.

We can honor the sacred not just in kids but in every human we ever encounter.

We honor the sacred by doing what Justice did with my kids, by blessing them. 

One more moment with Jesus.

John 1:45-48 (Common English Bible) 

45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law and the Prophets: Jesus, Joseph’s son, from Nazareth.”

46 Nathanael responded, “Can anything from Nazareth be good?”

Philip said, “Come and see.”

47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said about him, “Here is a genuine Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

48 Nathanael asked him, “How do you know me?”

Jesus answered, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”

A friend of mine who’s a friend of this church, but not part of it, once said to me that your church’s Bible character is Philip. And I was like what do you mean? And she said, well, Reservoir is a place that invites people to see for themselves what is compelling about Jesus. You’re not pushy or dogmatic, but you’re winsome. You’re like: come and see.

I liked this. I hope we’re like that, friends. 

And here, Philip does that with his friend Nathaniel, who’s basically a hater. He hates on this little backwater town called Nazareth, and he hates on Jesus because Jesus is from that place he doesn’t like.

But Jesus, when he meets him, isn’t guarded or cynical or critical at all. He’s like: hey, Nathaniel, you seem like a good man. A straight shooter, a true Israelite, like calling him a good American or something, if he’d been here.

And even though this seems kind of general, Nathaniel resonates with this and he’s like:

How do you know me? 

And then Jesus says:

I saw you under that fig tree earlier. 

Which seems random, but there’s a film version of this moment I like. And the way it interprets the moment is that not only was Nathaniel seemingly all alone under that fig tree, but while he was resting, he had his own kind of Moses and the burning bush moment.

The way that the sunlight was playing in the leaves of the tree, he felt like God was with him, and life was good, and the whole world was kind of shot through with love and meaning. And so when Jesus is like:

I saw you under that fig tree,

he hears Jesus saying that he was part of that moment with God, and that blows him away. 

Jesus was just like this with people – unusually attentive, totally present, and as a result, weirdly insightful. And what he liked to do with that insight was ask people great questions, and be really helpful, in this case really encouraging, to speak what we call a blessing – to say true and encouraging words to someone. 

Friends, it’s a sacred thing to notice one another and it’s a sacred thing to bless one another, to say:

I see this good quality in you. I see this awesome gift in you. I admire your resilience.

Even stuff on the surface: my wife, who’s really introverted, still likes to approach women she’s never met in public and tell them what she likes about their hair or their clothes or their shoes. Everyone always loves it, because she’s blessing them. She’s saying:

I see you, stranger, and I appreciate you. And we all need more of that in our lives, don’t we? 

So I don’t know, that’s not it, but it’s a start.

Grieve well, and don’t rush it. 

Love and protect kids. 

And bless everyone you can. Be an encourager. 

That’s hardly all the ways to honor the sacred. There are ways we can relate to the land we live on and the air we breathe, and honor the gift of this earth God has created. There are ways we can honor the sacred in our work and in our art, by doing and making beauty. There is honoring our sacred need to not be so dang distracted and busy, and doing what the scriptures call sabbath, honoring our sacred need for collective rest and restoration.

So many ways to honor the sacred. But this is a start.

When we can be more present, when we can be more safe, when we can pay attention, when we can speak some true and encouraging words to the people we know and encounter, we are sharing and embodying the good news that we all matter, that God is profoundly invested in us all. We are all worthy of honor, attention, and care, just as we all can be God’s vessel for showing that honor, attention, and care to someone else. 

When we honor the sacred, we start to notice just how sacred everyone and everything is. And life gets better and bigger and more beautiful all at once.

The Power of Christ. Strength in Weakness.

Good morning. My name is Lydia Shiu, one of the pastors here at Reservoir Church and I’m going to share some words with you for the next 20 minutes or so about how God relates to us when we are feeling weak. 

But first, I want to take a moment to invite ourselves to the here and now and give you a chance to bring yourself fully to this moment. Maybe close your eyes if you’d like, take a few deep breaths.

How are you landing here today? What are you bringing in here with you to this moment? 

Now imagine walking up to a bookcase. Feel free to place some things on the shelves, maybe worries you have, to do lists, relationships or conflict to resolve, for now, whatever you can let go, place it in the empty bookshelf to give yourself the space to be present to now. 

Let me pray for us. 

Holy and Loving God, who is the source of all things, creator of all things, the beginning and the end. We have come into this space today, I think for a reason. Maybe for an encouragement. Maybe for some light to be shined on to some messy things going on in our lives. Maybe for refreshment. Or maybe we’re not sure what or how we’re doing. But however we find ourselves this morning, you know us, you know where each of us are in our hearts. I pray that you will meet us, by the power of your Holy Spirit that gently and firmly holds us exactly how we need to be held today. Would you meet us here and reveal to us the power of your love. That no matter what we may be going through, that you see us and you know us and move toward us with grace and compassion. We pray in Jesus name, Amen. 

Our Scripture reading today comes from 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. This is Paul writing about a thorn on his side, in the midst of his suffering, what Jesus said to him. 

9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

What do you think of when you think of power? Power to do good. Power to do bad. 

I can’t help but wonder, on this Fourth of July weekend celebrating the Independence Day of the United States of America, how much powerless America once was, as a mere  colony of the British gaining independence, and how that young and scrappy country over the centuries have come to annihilate whole people groups that were natives to the land of North America, enslaved various large people groups from Africa, and some South America, and Asia, and wielded military, political, and social power around the globe in various form to influence for both good and bad in many situations throughout the years. 

And so power can be a tricky thing to define. 

It’s like money. Another one many of us have a complicated relationships with, maybe. I’ve heard a Christian say, “You know, it’s like the Bible says, ‘money is the root of all evil’.” To which I didn’t want to come off annoying as a pastor to correct inaccurate Bible quoting and did not respond with, “Actually it says the “LOVE of money is the root of all evil.” Money and power, often so misunderstood. And so how are we to understand this text about power and weakness? I’ll give you a hint. It’s not a dichotomy, one or the other. It’s an oxymoron, seemingly contradictory but perhaps quite true. 

I love these two verses because it’s so hard to understand. It doesn’t make any sense and yet it makes all the sense. 

You see, I have this question that’s been nagging at me. It knocks and knocks as I scroll through stories of politics under the disguise of Christian values, that’s the same religion as mine, enacting laws that oppress women, known to impact more women of color and more women without financial means. It raps harder and harder as I read any history books on the Christian power that have been at the center of colonialism, erasure of indigenous people, slavery and conversion of nations, mass killings of Jews–This is what I struggle with about my own faith, a faith that has given me such hope and life at most difficult times in my life. But my religion, this question NAGS at me when I pray, when I read the Bible, when I think about God and my world. How do I reconcile with the religion that has been the center of power for oppression, violence, and abuse?

How do we reconcile with the religion that has been the center of power for oppression, violence, and abuse?

How do I make sense of this when I have seen people, powerful people, use “Christ’s Power” to further insult people, keep people weak, persecute the LGBTQIA community, lock people into poverty and the criminal injustice system, instead of liberating them and raising them up, and loving them and embracing them, including them at the table? 

It doesn’t add up to this 2nd Corinthians chapters 10 verse 9-10. 

I don’t see weakness, and gentleness, and mercy, and grace under the banner of Christianity in America today. I see gun clenched hands that insist, “don’t take away my right and my power to kill if I need to at any time.” 

And I’m sorry but it does not make me feel good to see the sweet face of Jesus, bulked up in muscles and wrapped up in guns and the American flag, because that name Jesus is so sweet and tender to me. The Jesus I know?

Jesus came for the sick

Luke 5:31

Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”

He said that’s why he came, for the sick. 

Feminist theologian Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza reminds us that all the parables speak of this, in her book called, “In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins.” 

She says,

“The parable of the creditor who freely remits the debts of those who cannot pay… Or the gracious goodness of God by stressing that women, even public sinners, can be admitted to the Jesus movement in the conviction that “they will love more”.”

Cause Jesus said in

Luke 7:47

Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.

Jesus came for the sick. The debtor. The sinner. 

Yes, listen to the parable of the Lost Sheep.

Luke 15:3-10

3 Then Jesus told them this parable:

4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?

5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders

6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’

7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

Jesus came for the 1 lost one. 

And Jesus goes on to say in The Parable of the Lost Coin

8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins[a] and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?

9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’

10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Dr. Fiorenza says this,

“Jesus thus images God as a woman searching for one of her ten coins, as a woman looking for her money that is terribly important to her. In telling the parable of the woman desperately searching for her money, Jesus articulates God’s own concern, a concern that determines Jesus’ own praxis for table community with sinners and outcasts. The parable then challenges the hearer: do you agree with the attitude of God expressed in the woman’s search for her lost “capital”?”

Do you? Are we?… Concerned with power, strength, security, prosperity, of our own, or are we boasting, prioritizing, and centering the stories of those who are weak, insulted, facing hardship, persecutions, difficulties? Where do we put our attention? 

You know what’s really powerful? 

In the book Know My Name by Chanel Miller, a memoir of the Stanford rape victim that happened in 2015 talks about power and the courage of rape victims. 

I couldn’t find the quote because the book was on hold for like 25 weeks on the library app. She was the Emily Doe behind the viral Victim Impact Statement that was viewed 15 million times within five days of its publication in 2016. Years later, she wrote a memoir and in it she said that it doesn’t take anything to scoff. It doesn’t take any energy or effort to unleash mean, snarky, sarcastic comments. It’s easier to do that.  It does take so much strength and courage, lots of patience and will power to withhold one ‘s pain and anger, especially when it’s instigated or when you’re cornered.

Miller talks about the unmitigated sneer and anger of men in the courtrooms versus the withholding of emotions of women victims that’s churning a sea of distress just underneath the witness stand’s surface. And how that courage is often not credited but instead questioned as, “see it didn’t impact her at all.” or “why is she talking about this so many years later” rather than seeing the strength it takes to tell the story of her possibly worst moment at all. 

You know when you’re in an argument, not saying the most hurtful thing is the art of peace that I have not mastered. It takes every ounce of me connecting myself to my breath in and breath out to not react out of fangs of my teeth when someone really hurts me. When something really upsets me, I have to try my hardest to not take it out on the people closest to me because it’s not their fault. It’s easier to take it out on them. It’s harder to not react. 

Do you think God was weak to let Jesus die? You think Jesus let them beat him and hang him on the cross because he was a coward? No, many of us who have been won by the love of Christ know the power of the cross already. God was able to do that because of God’s power of love. I think God’s power of love led Jesus to a place of aligning himself with utter vulnerability, one who is pushed out by the people, tried as a criminal by the state, and executed publicly. 

Social researcher, Brene Brown has taught us about the power of vulnerability, she says,

“Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our most accurate measure of courage.”

She also said,

Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

Isn’t it weird? How it works? That to experience difficulties, and to be weak, is when actually we are strong? Paradox is such a funny concept! 

It’s like when you’re white knuckling through life, you’re actually trying too hard to be in control that your body is stiff and you’re just working so hard and trying to get everything in order only to find yourself in the middle of 10,000 plates spinning, and they’re all about to fall apart. Whereas if only, you had taken the time, slowed down to take deep breaths, being mindful of what’s really important and what’s really happening, that the one plate you spin is giving you flow in ease in life that you even begin to relax and rest and smile. 

So I’m starting to get to the age where I’m reading articles in The Atlantic titled, The Two Choices That Keep a Midlife Crisis at Bay. The first choice I didn’t really get but the second, the writer Arthur C. Brooks said this:

The second decision: Choose subtraction, not addition. Early in life, success usually comes from addition: more money, more responsibility, more relationships, more possessions. Life in early adulthood is like filling up an empty canvas. By midlife, however, that canvas is pretty full, and more brushstrokes make the painting worse, not better. This explains why studies find that the most common concerns reported by middle-aged adults involve getting everything done in their busy life, their energy level, job complications, and insufficient sleep.”

Subtraction not addition. Another way to put it, maybe more letting go. More surrendering. Not powering up but maybe taking the backseat, slowing down. And with life, sometimes it forces you to take the back seat with setbacks or hardships or health problems. 

Last week I was driving my daughter to gymnastics. Which apparently is watching Jungle Book together on a bouncy mat. Anyways. I was struggling to get out the door, wanting to feed the little brother as much milk as possible, cause he needs to grow, and wanted to do her hair so it doesn’t get in her face when she’s doing her tumble on the bar, wanting to make sure she had the right outfit so she’s not the only one in a big tshirt and pajama pants when all the other girls had rainbow color leotards. I buckled my seatbelts and pulled out of the driveway and may or may not have breathed out a quiet curse word as I saw my eta on the gps. 

I was on that one street in Belmont, you know the one right at the bridge, after all the shops, omg I hate that intersection. It has no stop signs, no lights, and people are coming from all different directions and turning into the street. 8:30am. Rush hour. We’re bumper to bumper, all inching forward, and I’m gonna turn left at the next street, and I see that that lane, it’s wide open. I’m so swift, I see it, no one else sees it, everyone else is just stuck right here in this lane, and I’m like I’m going for it. I change lanes and I’m free and BAM the car in front of me thought the same thing right after me and hit me. 

We were okay. Just a little side swipe. I ended up being 30 minutes late instead of five. Poor girl Sophia was crying going, “when are we going to gymnastics?” 

Setback. I was so humbled. I thought I was a super mom, trying to get everything and rush. Instead I was a mess. It would’ve been better if I was just a little less in a rush, going a little slower, and not white knuckling my steering wheel the whole drive. 

How can we turn this *white knuckling* into this *open hands* or this *hands on heart*. That Christ’s power may REST, it says REST, not rise up and broadcasted , but Christ’s power may rest on us. Let’s not man up. Let’s be vulnerable. Let’s not be cool, let’s be warm. Let’s not be super moms but late to gymnastics mom driving slowly. Let’s let Christ’s power rest on all of our limitations, shortcomings, struggles, difficulties. Because God’s grace is sufficient for us. God’s grace is enough for you, yes, even you. Will you let God pour into your empty cup and overflow their abundant gracious merciful love? Especially when you’re weak, God will meet you there, and make you strong. For when I am weak. I am strong. For when I am weak. I am strong. May that be true for us my friends, may you be strengthened in your weakness. 

Let me pray for us. 

God, author of our lives. As we stumble through our chapters, would you remind us of the big throughline that runs through it all. Your love. Your grace. Whether in the heights of our career, place in life, love life, influence in community or whatever, or in the depths of our own addiction, struggling in depression and loneliness, battling through a difficult marriage, watching our parents or children in pain of their own lives, whatever may befall, God will you humble us and lifts us up? Will you comfort us and give us strength? We’re such beautiful messes, but through your power, make us perfect. Really? Yeah make us perfect, we ask you this in your precious and holy name, who was crucified and resurrected, Jesus Christ, Amen. 

No More BHAGs: The Glory of Being a Person

Hello, Reservoir friends of many ages, so glad to be with you. 

Last week on Juneteenth I talked about freedom as one part of the Christian story of salvation. I want to follow up this week inviting each of us to get a little more free personally, maybe to get free from some dreams that aren’t a good fit for us, to get free for the glory of just being a person, a good person. 

To help us stay alert and awake, I’m going to have a few call back lines, where I ask you to repeat after me. And kids, I’m counting on you to lead the way in this, since adults sometimes are too shy with our voices, alright?

So let’s practice with the first one. Can you say: Let’s get free

And can you say? It’s good to be a person. 

Alright, we begin with the Bible’s story of Ruth. 

Most Saturday mornings I have a group with some of you and we spend part of the time studying the Bible together, being honest with our questions and reactions and seeing how it speaks to us today. A few weeks back, we were ready for something new, and someone suggested the four chapter story we call the book of Ruth. We finished it yesterday, and mostly we loved it. So I’m going to start the sermon telling you all about it. 

In the first chapter, we meet three women having a really bad day.

Sometimes, everyone has a bad day. Can I hear you say that?

Well, Ruth and her mother in law Naomi and her sister Orpah had had a lot of bad days. Their husbands had all died – all three of them. And it hadn’t rained enough all year, and there was very little food growing, and they were very hungry. So Naomi, the mother in law, decided she would go back to her homeland called Israel. And her two daughters in law would go back to their homeland called Moab. Maybe the two of them were young enough that they could start over with their lives. And maybe Naomi was old enough that people would feel bad she was all alone and take care of her. 

And so Orpah went home, but Ruth said this:

Ruth 1:16-17 (Common English Bible)

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

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

We don’t know why Ruth said all this. Did she really, really love her mother in law Naomi? Was she afraid of being alone without her? Did she not like her sister, or her hometown very much? Did she find Naomi’s faith and Naomi’s God especially inspiring? This was the God Jesus loved and talked about too. 

We don’t know. 

But we know there are times in life when we decide who we’re going to be loyal to, who are our ride or die, in it for life people. Sometimes those are spouses, parents, kids. Sometimes they are friends. But we need at least one or two of them. 

Our dreams in life can’t ever just be about us.

No one does well alone. Can you say that with me? No one does well alone. 

The story continues. Ruth and Naomi go back to Naomi’s hometown and they get by picking leftover crops at a farm owned by Naomi’s cousin Boaz. One way faith in God was present in their public life was that farmers of Israel weren’t supposed to pick all of the crops at harvest time but leave enough left so that nearby people who didn’t own land could come and pick the extras, people like Naomi and Ruth. Because every society needs to make sure that there’s enough for everybody. And that everyone has the chance to work and feel proud of themselves, and everyone has the chance to eat and be healthy.

Well, when Boaz saw Ruth picking in the fields and heard people telling stories about what she was like, he decided he liked her very much. And when you like someone very much, you’ve got three choices.

You can be too scared to make a move. Which happens, no shame in that, but you don’t usually make a new friend that way. You certainly don’t start dating or get married that way, and Boaz is looking for love, looking for a life partner.

Another choice is you connect with the person but not build a good relationship. You can think only about yourself and only about tomorrow, and just try to get what you want from the person and move on. Or you can think only about the other person and be nice and serve them but not look after yourself and your needs. This doesn’t make for good relationships.

What Boaz does, though, is the third choice. He gets to know Ruth, tries to grow a relationship that will be good for both of them. We read this.

Ruth 2:14 (Common English Bible)

14 At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come over here, eat some of the bread, and dip your piece in the vinegar.” She sat alongside the harvesters, and he served roasted grain to her. She ate, was satisfied, and had leftovers. 

They share their first meal together. They talk. They keep getting to know each other. The details of how they do that are kind of interesting. You can find them in Ruth chapters two and three if you want. But both Ruth and Boaz look after themselves and their needs, and they also really get to know and care about the other person. This is where good relationships come from. In good relationships, both people always matter.

Can we say that? Both people always matter. 

As the story continues, Ruth and Boaz decide they want to get married, and eventually they do, and they have this baby who has another baby who has another baby, who becomes the most famous king ever in the history of Israel and an ancestor of Jesus. So all along this has been the story of the great-grandparents of one of the most important people in the whole Bible. 

But the way all this happens is really old-fashioned and complicated. Too old and complicated to get into today except to say that it all revolves around this word “redeemer,” which is used seven times in the third chapter of Ruth and 13 times in the last chapter of Ruth. 

Redeem, redeem, redeem, redeem, redeem, redeem, redeem. 

There, that was me saying redeem seven times, but Ruth says it 13 more times, like here:

Ruth 4:14-15 (Common English Bible)

14 The women said to Naomi, “May the Lord be blessed, who today hasn’t left you without a redeemer. May his name be proclaimed in Israel.

15 He will restore your life and sustain you in your old age. Your daughter-in-law who loves you has given birth to him. She’s better for you than seven sons.” 

Why is she so blessed? Why is daughter-in-law Ruth better than seven sons? Because grandma Naomi has been redeemed.

What that word redeem means is to see and honor the value in a thing or a person that other people are calling useless. It’s to treat a piece of land or a person, but especially a person, like they matter, like they’re valuable, like they are worthy of a hope and a future and a legacy.

Ruth matters. She is worthy of a future and a hope and a legacy.

Naomi matters. She is worthy of a future and a hope and a legacy.

We all matter. Everyone matters. Can you say that with me? 

And what is so beautiful to me in the story of Ruth is everyone realizes just how much they matter. Ruth and Naomi’s circumstances have told them their lives don’t matter very much, but they find out that they do – they have just as much value!

And Boaz has kind of been told by the world that his life matters more than other people’s – that he can have more wealth, more stuff, more dreams than others. He realizes that his life matters, but it doesn’t matter more. His good is bound up with other people’s good. Everyone deserves to experience the glory of being a person – no more and no less. 

And we all experience the beauty and freedom of being a person when we are all sharing that experience together. 

I want to bring this home in the second half of the talk with one no and two yeses. 

Here’s the no. 

The NO: Enough with the Bee-Hags…. (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals)

A Bee-Hag is a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal. A while back, Jim Collins, a business writer, said that to be successful, companies need big, hairy, audacious goals – they inspire focus and loyalty and enthusiasm and all. And maybe this is true – our church has BHAGs, like representing Jesus’ beloved community for us all, or helping reform Chrisitan teaching and practice for our generation. And All.

But in our church, a couple decades ago, we were sometimes encouraged to come up with our own BHAGs every year and pray they’d come true. And for some of us, sometimes, that was awesome. But for others of us, not always.

A story.

Twelve and a half years ago, I’d been praying that I would become a public high school principal before I was 40. It was part of my sense of life mission around being an educator and a leader and all. And then a few years ahead of time, I applied for one of these jobs and I got it, on my first try. 

And because I had this BHAG about what this would mean for me and others, and because other people in my life and heard me talk about this and prayed for it or were at least supportive of the idea, when it happened, I was like:

Look, God has opened the door. My dream is coming true! 

And in some ways it did. I became a high school principal at age 36, I did a few good things in my stint at that school, it prepared me in some new ways for my current job and calling as well.

But the move into that job while my kids were just three, five and eight years old pulled a lot more of my energy away from my family’s life. There were ways that both they and I and my wife suffered from that. And I didn’t see that coming, at all. 

My BHAG got so large for a minute that it overshadowed the needs and priorities of the people I love most in the world, the people to whom I most owe my time and attention and integrity. And that hurt them and it hurt me too. 

So I’ve been on a journey of repentance ever since then, making sure my kid’s and my wife’s dreams matter at least as much as my own. 

Our society is full of narcissists who get rewarded for their big egos, their big, hairy, audacious goals they have for themselves. While they live with too little accountability, too little integrity, hurting the people around them. Truth is getting called on more and more of them these days.

Last month I heard for instance about another influential Christian leader I knew who was admired for his big personality and big gifts and big, hairy, audacious goals even while he was hurting people and not being held accountable. 

These days, I’m like enough with the BHAGs. We don’t need so many personal big, hairy, audacious goals that center the needs and interests and power and dreams of the one with the goal.

Life’s not all about me. Can we say that together? 

Here’s a better path toward being a person, better than more and more striving toward personal goals. Two yeses for us. 

The 1st YES:

Dedicate your life to redemption stories. Stories of your own redemption. Stories of other people’s redemption. Stories of the redemption of people and places and all of creation. 

Dedicate your life to redemption stories.

Redemption again is where value is uncovered, honored, and preserved. 

When you redeem a can for the five or 10 cents you can get back for it, you’re not rescuing the can, you’re not making it valuable. No, you’re taking the value it already has – it’s worth five or 10 cents, and it can be turned into another can at the recycling center – and you are honoring and preserving that value, rather than just throwing it out, despising its value, and hurting the earth. 

Ruth and Naomi bond together in this story in scripture because they are determined to preserve the value of their lives and legacy. They matter. They have the right to survive even after all their bad days and maybe even to flourish again. And they know they can uncover, honor, and preserve their value best if they stay in it together.

And Boaz, unlike another character in the story, realizes life is not just about the maximization of his own value. It’s not about maximizing the profits off his farm or about pursuing his needs or his goals apart from the value of the land and people and creation all around him. So Boaz focuses a lot of energy on honoring and preserving Naomi’s value and Ruth’s value, deciding that his good is going to be connected to their good. 

We all get free together. 

People who dedicate our lives to redemption stories don’t ignore our own needs, our own worth, our own rise in the world. Because we know we have value, we have stories that need telling, worth that needs uncovering and sharing.

And people who dedicate our lives to redemption stories don’t really have too much time for personal BHAGs, at least the ones that are all about ourselves. Because there’s too much beauty, too much worth, too much value in all the people and places around us – value that’s worth celebrating and protecting and honoring. 

So the first yes is redemption stories. And here’s the second yes:

God sees the depths of you.

And who you are and who you are not is more than enough. 

Can you say with me? I’m more than enough for God. 

Yeah, that’s hard for some of us today. Because we’ve been criticized again and again. Or maybe some of you are like me, and we were taught that God is always frustrated with all that we aren’t, or that God will really love us or be proud of us some day in the future, when we’re better than we are today.

But that’s not true.

This spring, I was carrying some heavy burdens, feeling a lot of stress around some things going on in my life. And I was speaking with an older, wiser friend of mine who suggested we pray. 

And he had a prayer book with him called the Book of Common Prayer, and he opened it up to where you see two Psalms from the Bible – Psalm 130 and 131. And in that book, the titles of the psalms were from their first words. 

So one psalm was called: Out of the Depths. It beings: 

“Out of the Depths….”

Psalm 130:1 (New Revised Standard Version)

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.

And praying just that one line kind of opened things up to me, like God sees me, God hears me right here, right now. All my depths – my deepest thoughts, my deepest yearnings and hopes, my deepest stresses, all seen and known by the living God. 

And then the next Psalm was just called “God, I am not.” It begins like this: 

“God, I am not….”

Psalm 131:1-2 (Common English Bible)

131 (God, I am not) proud;

        my eyes aren’t conceited.

    I don’t get involved with things too great or wonderful for me.

2 No. But I have calmed and quieted myself

    like a weaned child on its mother;

    I’m like the weaned child that is with me.

“God I am not….”

I am not wise enough to know all the answers.

I am not strong enough to fix everyone’s problems. 

I am not compassionate and dedicated enough to be the perfect dad or husband or pastor or friend.

God, there is so much that I am not.

But guess what, as that very person – not so many things – God welcomes me to calm and quiet myself with God, to let God be a loving, attentive mother who says,

It’s OK, Steven. You can just be with me. It’s OK. I’m here for you. I can help. 

Friends, for the parts of ourselves that are hurt or stressed or overwhelmed, this is our salvation, to know that we’re not enough to be in control and we’re not enough to be independent and we’re not enough to fix everything, and that’s the way it’s meant to be.

We are creatures, not creators. We are children of God, not God. And that’s just the way God meant it to be.

Our little old, incomplete selves are more than enough for God. 

So we can let go, and settle down, and live our little lives best we can in peace.

Say with me one more time:

I’m more than enough for God.

Life’s not all about me.

It’s good to be a person.

We all matter. 

Let’s get free.

Salvation and Liberation: A Juneteenth Sermon

The other day, I was meeting with some rising leaders from throughout the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO). Reservoir’s one of dozens of communities that work together in GBIO to promote healthy interfaith relationships and secure social justice together. GBIO is also one of the organizations our church funds through our shared financial giving as a community. Every $10 you give to Reservoir, a dollar goes straight back into the community through GBIO and other means. Anyway, right now one of the things we’re working on in GBIO is better treatment and services for returning citizens, residents of Massachusetts who have done jail time and are returning to civilian life. 

I had a chance to speak with one of these returning citizens last week and there were two things going on in his life that he was excited about. 

One was that he was moving. Which, I don’t know, when I talk with folks moving into a new rental around here, they’re not always thrilled. Because, one moving is a pain, and two, these days when we move, our rent is often more than we can afford. But he was happy because he had found a landlord willing to let him sign a lease on an apartment. Landlords, you may or may not know, can run criminal background checks on potential tenants. Private landlords, government housing, apartment complexes, they can all legally deny rentals to someone with a criminal history, regardless of the nature of the crime or the punishment. So my new acquaintance was happy he had found a place to live, any place.

The second thing he was telling me about was the committee he was co-leading at his church. It was an important planning committee, it involved a ton of volunteer time and responsibility, and he was just thrilled to be doing this work for his church. 

And I’m thinking to myself: who’s thrilled about spending more time in a church committee meeting. One of you has literally told me: Steve, I’ll do anything for the church as long as it doesn’t involve going to any meetings. But then it struck me, oh, what these two stories have in common is that in both situations, the lease and the church committee, what’s going on is this man is being treated like a person.

He’s not the sum of his worst mistakes anymore. He’s not a failed CORI check. He’s able to move freely and choose where he wants to live, to whom he wants to pay rent. He’s able to lend his voice and talents and body to his church community and have that be valued and respected. 

He’s being treated like a person. 

This is what he hoped getting free again would be like for him, even if it’s not the case in many areas of his life. 

Let me put this in Christian theological terms for just a second. What is salvation for fellow GBIO leaders? Is it being forgiven for his past sins? Well, yes, sometimes, in part. But he’s paid dearly for his past already. At this point, a lot of salvation for him isn’t just about forgiveness, it’s about healing and it’s about liberation.

It’s after being diminished and dehumanized again and again, finding the treasure of being recognized as a person.

This week and next, partly inspired by Juneteenth, I’m going to speak about the struggle to become persons, the struggle to treat others as persons, and the important struggle to just be a person ourselves. Today, we look at how this word that is so important in the Christian story, salvation, has taken on too narrow of a meaning. Salvation is not merely the forgiveness of sins. Salvation is also liberation and healing. It’s getting free and getting well. And salvation is God’s work, and our work in partnership with God, of treating one another as free persons who deserve the chance to be well. 

We see this range of salvation in the framing of the four gospels.

Take Matthew, for instance. In the first chapter, Mother Mary has the dream about Jesus, who is to be a savior, and it says

he will save people from their sins.

But then in Matthew 2, Baby Jesus is cast as the new Moses, Moses being the great leader of the past who led people out of slavery in Egypt into the promised land.

And the gospel of Matthew sticks with this theme of Jesus as the new Moses persistently, for many chapters. So we see that the salvation God is working through Jesus, the being saved from sins is more than just forgiveness, it’s a work of freedom and a work of healing, both personally and for a community or a collective as well.

The gospel of Luke is even more specific.

Luke doesn’t frame Jesus as a new Moses, if anything he paints him as a kind of new Caesar, a better, more just leader than the head of the Roman empire. 

And in Luke, when Jesus announces his mission to his hometown, he quotes – and edits as he does so – lines from the prophet Isaiah about freedom, healing, and justice. From the fourth chapter, Jesus says:

Luke 4:18-21 (Common English Bible) 

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

    because the Lord has anointed me.

He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,

    to proclaim release to the prisoners

    and recovery of sight to the blind,

    to liberate the oppressed,

19     and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

20 He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the synagogue assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed on him.

21 He began to explain to them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.”

Jesus says:

This freedom and healing, this experiencing of God’s favor, is what I’m here for, what God has given me power to do.

And for a hot second, the hometown crowd is kind of pleased – healing, freedom, this year of liberation, sounds good, bring it on. Until Jesus says he’s going to start with their enemies, until he tells them it’s not just for them, but for the whole Roman Empire, their enemies and oppressors included, and then they drive him out of town, because they don’t like that so much.

That’s alright with Jesus, though, as in the next several chapters of Luke, we see him steadily going about this work, first to his fellow Jews, and then to the Gentile outsiders, Romans included. 

He starts the work of freeing, healing, liberating those the world has diminished and held captive.

He offers working class folks struggling with their jobs, laboring under immense tax burdens a more fulfilling vocation.

He meets with someone who is estranged from community because of a disease that carries stigma, and he heals the disease and restores him back to community as well.

Jesus meets a person whose disability isn’t accomodated in his time and place and treats the person not just as disabled but as a whole person, with a complex set of spiritual and emotional and physical needs, and he tends to them all, empowering a fuller life in community for this person.

And then he attends a dinner party of social and spiritual outcasts, helping reshape their lives, showing them they matter to him and they matter to God. 

That’s Chapter 5 of Luke.

In Chapter 6, Jesus reteaches the customs and law of his culture so they’ll be transformative for freedom, life, and justice, rather than a burden to bear or tools for self-righteousness.

And then in Chapter 7, he meets with the messengers of his enemy, a Roman military leader – the kind of person who had the power to harm and harass Jesus, the kind of person who would eventually arrest and execute Jesus, and he too Jesus treats like a person in need of freedom and healing. He sees him not only as an enemy but as a helpless, grieving father, and he restores hope and life to this man’s family. 

And on it goes, for several chapters, Jesus working a mission of healing and freedom throughout his hometown region, until in Chapter 9, he decides to travel to the big city of Jerusalem, to do this work on a larger scale. 

Let me some up what I’m saying theologically and then close with a few implications.

What I’m saying about God is that God loves to forgive sins, and God also loves to set people and communities free. God loves to help people and communities heal and become well.

Here’s how a theologian whose work I study, Andrew Sung Park, puts it. The gospel of Jesus, the good news of Jesus is repentance and forgiveness for the sinner. People and communities that harm, hurt, and oppress are told by God they can be forgiven. And free from the burden of guilt, with the help of God and friends, they can choose better, more righteous and just ways forward for their lives, their communities, their culture, their country. 

So the message of Jesus for a tax collector who is ripping off his own people is to tell him,

You too are a child of God. You are seen and valued.

And that tax collector rejoices in his forgiveness and acceptance and also makes amends – he either quits his job or learns to do it more justly and he restores the wealth that has been taken, not just by him but by others too. He does reparations. I preached on this earlier this spring. Forgiveness and amends is part of the gospel for people and communities.

But then Andrew Sung Park says, the gospel of Jesus, the good news of Jesus, is not just repentance and forgiveness for the sinner. It is also healing and freedom for the sinned against. People and communities that have been harmed, hurt, and oppressed are told by God that they deserve better. They are empowered with the help of God and friends to seek healing and freedom. 

Let’s play this out for the returning citizen I told you about at the top.

The gospel of Jesus is for him forgiveness of sins. I’m not getting into the details today, but he did something wrong, like most of us, he probably has done a lot of wrong in life, a lot of harm. But for one set of these wrongs, he also broke the law. He was caught, arrested, tried, and convicted and did jail time. Some attempts at amends and restoration were made as well by the system.

He also is forgiven by God in Christ. God doesn’t hold his sins against him anymore, he is released from his guilt and encouraged to do right in the world in the ways he did wrong before.

But as a person who was diminished and demeaned by the criminal justice system, and who again and again as a returning citizen, is treated like a blemish on society, not a person, he is also invited with the help of God and friends to seeking healing and wellness, belonging and meaning, to have a good and whole life restored to him, and to have the cooperation of his community in doing so. 

Forgiveness and repentance for sinners and oppressors, healing and freedom foro the sinned against and oppressed, all part of the good news of Jesus.

Let me dial into three implications of this holistic gospel for a moment, how this teaches us how to read, how it gives us a compass, and how it answers our prayers.

One, this holistic gospel teaches us how to read history.  

This gospel tells us that the least Christian parts of history have nothing to do with the rise and fall of the church. They have to do with where people and communities don’t cooperate with, but actively resist, God’s longing for people’s healing and freedom.

This seriously reframes the founding of the United States, for instance. Many of its Chrisitan founders told the story of America as pilgrims of God seeking prosperity and freedom in the promised land that God had destined for them to control.

But when we know that they went about settling here and achieving that prosperity by spreading disease and death to the first peoples of the land, through trading and enslaving descendants of Africa and working them to the death without pay or rights, and through trying to block non-Christians (Asians in particular) from living in this land, the story starts to sound more anti-Christ than Christian. 

So the gospel tells us that the most Christian parts of history also don’t necessarily have to do with the rise and fall of the church. They have to do with where people and communities cooperate with God’s longing for healing and freedom, enacting God’s vision for liberation into the Beloved Community of God.

On these terms, the most Christian holiday in our calendar certainly isn’t Independence Day, the 4th of July. It just might be Juneteenth! Celebrating the beginning of freedom in this country for the descendants of Africa becomes a holy thing.

It’s the stuff of Jesus in Luke 4 – proclaiming release to the prisoners, setting captives free, and proclaiming the year of God’s favor for those who only knew heartbreak, injustice, and suffering. It’s celebrating, and moving forward,. God’s favor to again honor the personhood of people – the personhood that was always there but that others failed to recognize.

So celebrate Juneteenth, my friends, today or tomorrow on the actual day. And celebrate remembering that the good will of God is more Juneteenth in our country. It’s restoring personhood and justice, healing and freedom, to those who have it honored least. 

Two, reading history, but also a compass for the work of God.

God’s work God wants to be doing in the world is forgiveness and repentance and freedom and healing, making people and communities well.  

I think this inites us on Juneteenth to a quick inventory of the journey of healing and freedom in our lives. 

Is there anywhere that you are complicit in others’ lack of flourishing? Any ways that as a parent, a spouse, a friend, a manager, a citizen that your actions lead to less healing, less wellness, and less freedom for others? If so, God longs to lead you into change for the healing and freedom of the people and communities in your life. 

This kind of reflection for me, for instance, means that when I recognize that as a dad, my words or actions mean less wellness for one of my kids, I’ve got to apologize and try to change my ways as quickly as possible. 

It means for me as a pastor and resident of Greater Boston too that it’s critical for me to engage parts of my time in speaking and action for a healthier, more just Chrisitian faith in this country, and for healthier and more just communities. 

And the flip side of this is our compass for the work of God in our lives too. Is there anywhere that others are complicit in your lack of flourishing? Any ways that as a child, a spouse, a friend, an employee, a resident of this country that other people’s actions lead to less healing, less wellness, and less freedom for you? If so, God longs to empower you, with the help of God and friends, to find more healing and freedom in your life. 

That stubborn work of therapy to get free from childhood wounds – that is the holy work of God.

That setting up clarity and protection for yourself when you work under an abusive manager, as some of my friends do, and that time you spend looking for another job – that is the holy work of God. 

I talked about Jesus in Matthew as a new Moses, inaugurating a new journey of healing and freedom. Well, it’s said about the Exodus, Moses’ deliverance of Israel, that it took 40 days to lead the people out of slavery, but 40 years to get the slavery out of the people. Think about our country, a war of four years to free African Americans from slavery, but 157 years ago, and we’re still trying to get the oppressive ways of American toward the descendants of Africa out of the this country.

40 days to secure the birth of healing and freedom, but 40 years to have that healing and freedom really become a way of being in the world. 

That’s true for every good work of God for healing and freedom. It takes time and process, but it’s worth it. Because the promised land is on the other side!

Lastly, this gospel of healing and freedom is an answer to our prayers regarding the will of God. 

God’s will for our lives is forgiveness and repentance toward goodness and life, and it is freedom and wellness for us and our communities. It’s the work of justice, the honoring of personhood. 

Let me close reading how the letter of James puts this.

James 2:14-18 (Common English Bible)

14 My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it?

15 Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat.

16 What if one of you said, “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!”? What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs?

17 In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity.

18 Someone might claim, “You have faith and I have action.” But how can I see your faith apart from your actions? Instead, I’ll show you my faith by putting it into practice in faithful action.

Faith means justice. Faith means action. Good news faith means joining God in seeing all God’s children as bearing the image of God. Doing this, day after day, year after year, getting more whole and more free together, is always the will of God for each of us and all our communities, every day.

We’ll pick this up next week, as we talk about this on a more personal level, getting free, getting just, living into our humble, beautiful lives in the struggle to live like persons.

Let’s pray.

LGBTQIA Service

History of Pride

  • Hi, I’m Becki. I’m glad you’re here this morning. Today’s service is celebrating Pride. It will vary from our traditional service format. Members of the Reservoir community who are also part of LGBTQIA+ community will be leading this service and I’ll let them introduce themselves. This service will consist of prayer, reflection, liturgy, and spiritual practice. We are glad you’re with us here today. 
  • I want to offer some context behind pride. Pride marches commemorate the seven days of the Stonewall riots, an uprising during a police raid on June 29th, 1969 in Greenwich Village. The riots were led by queer and trans people of color like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy. At Pride each June, we celebrate how far we have come and we protest for how much farther we have to go. Our society is nowhere near perfect in terms of inclusion and acceptance.  
  • But we have a social and cultural view of “perfect” that we assume matches God’s view of “perfect”. But God’s view of perfect is so much wider than ours. I believe that God sees perfect when he looks at people celebrating and protesting at Pride, God sees the fullness of themself in the margins of society and says “this is good” at people being wholly and beautifully themselves and among community. We don’t even have the capacity to fully understand God’s depth of love and capacity for inclusion but we can awe and wonder at it. 

Now we will have a spiritual practice led by Emmett. 

If-firmations  

  • Hi, I’m Emmett, my pronouns are they/them.
  • Sometimes, when there are reframes in perspective like God’s view of perfection, we lean into affirmations to try to convince ourselves of truths we don’t yet fully believe or remind ourselves of truths we tend to forget. For example, pay attention to what you feel in your body when I say affirmations like the following: 

“I am enough”

“I deserve love”

“I am wonderfully and beautifully made”

“I have everything I need”

  • Notice what you felt in your body and your initial gut reaction. Was it comforting, anxiety-producing, annoyingly over-used, or did it make you a little defensive. All of those reactions are valid. I learned today’s practice from a TikTok account by Christine Gibson. She called the practice “iffirmations.” You add the phrase “what if” to the beginning of an affirmation. Pay attention to your body again as those same affirmations become iffirmations: 

“What if I am enough?”

“What if I deserve love?”

“What if I am wonderfully and beautifully made?”

“What if I have everything I need?” 

  • Notice again what you felt in your body and your initial gut reaction. That shift in language for some of you may plants seeds of possibility that feel true while affirmations sometimes feel like you’re trying to trick yourself into believing something. That flexibility of mental response can be very healing. Other phrases that people like using are “Imagine that” or “I am open to the possibility of.” I invite you to (respond in the chat) and try writing an affirmation from a favorite source of wisdom, God, the Bible, or others that you could try as an “iffirmation”? Notice how the shift in language feels in your body. You may like affirmations more and that’s totally okay. But What if an iffirmation engaged your curiosity? I invite you to (respond in the chat). 
  • Chat question: What is an affirmation from a favorite source of wisdom, God, the Bible, or others that you could try as an “iffirmation”? 

 

  • Thank you so much for sharing your ‘iffirmations’ and I encourage you to keep playing with this practice. 

Rainbow Prayer 

  • Now I’d like to share a prayer that has excerpts from the Prayer for Pride Flag Raising by the Rainbow Pastor and the Rainbow Christ Prayer by Patrick Cheng and Kittredge Cherry as well as my own prayers. I’ll share an image of the pride flag for reference. Pray with me. 
  • Rainbow Christ, you embody all the colors of the world.  Inspire us to remember the values expressed in the rainbow flag of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual community.

 

  • Red is for life, the root of spirit.  Living Christ, you are our Root.  Free us from shame, and grant us the grace of healthy pride so we can explore, question, and follow our own inner truths. With the red stripe in the rainbow, we give thanks that God created us just the way we are. 
  • Orange is for healing, the mending needed desperately in individuals and our community as a whole. Let us heal one another through love, radical acceptance, and coming alongside each other in our hurts, losses, and burdens. Lord, may we lay those hurts and burdens at your feet and allow the wholeness of community and self to be reconciled.  With the orange stripe in the rainbow, be a balm to our wounds and sorrows. 
  • Yellow is for sunlight, the brilliant light of queer joy. The smile on Your face shining down upon us. Interconnected Christ, you are our Wisdom, creating and sustaining the universe. With the yellow stripe in the rainbow, may we feel Your radiant light reflected in our innermost beings. 
  • Green is for nature, the grounding of life. May we seek nature to commune with you and all of creation. May we see ourselves reflected in the beauty and purposefulness of every rock, raindrop, and leaf. With the green stripe in the rainbow, connect us with others and with all of creation.
  • Blue is for serenity, the sense of tranquility and calm that comes with knowing you are exactly as God made you to be. God knew your true name when you were in the womb and They smile as you come into your own. Serenity is also inviting the most marginalized into an open and welcoming community. Liberator Christ, you are our Voice, speaking out against all forms of oppression. Free us from apathy, and grant us the grace of activism. With the blue stripe in the rainbow, let us find peace within our Body-Spirit and motivate us to call for justice. 
  • Purple is for spirit, the union of one’s spirit with the Holy Spirit and the spirit of community. Lord, may we find connection with you and one another. May we offer love and compassion and encourage those around us to live their authentic lives. Fill our hearts with untamed compassion for all beings. With the purple stripe in the rainbow, may our spirit find rest and encouragement in our truths, one another, and the Holy Spirit. 
  • These colors come together to make one rainbow, one symbol of Pride. Free us from rigid categories and grant us the grace of interwoven identities.  With the rainbow, lead us to experience the whole spectrum of life. 
  • Bless our pride in who we are, in all our diversity, as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, two-spirit, and questioning people, as an expression of your creative love. Bless our differences that we may draw strength from them. 
  • Bless our celebration that it may show our joy in living and hope. Bless those for whom it takes great courage to be present, that they may not feel alone. Bless those for whom this is one in a long series of Pride celebrations, as they continue to teach us about courage and wisdom. 
  • Bless our calls for equality as we seek justice for all your people. Bless those who support us and are also working for freedom and justice. Bless each of us here with your presence, and our presence, one with another. 
  • Amen. 

I invite you to join me in a breath prayer. We will do it twice together.

Breath Prayer

Inhale: I am enough

Exhale: God blesses me. (2x)

I’ll pass it over to Noelle for a time of honoring queer ancestors.

Remembrance 

Tom is also going to sing a song he wrote as we reflect on those who came before us. 

 

Know me. Know me.

I am all that you are longing for.

All that you desire, everything you need, and so much more.

I am the God who called you. I am the God who rescued you.

I am the God who sets your heart on fire.

I am the God who walks with you.

I am the God who talks with you.

I am your God, and this is my desire,

that you will know me, know me, know me. I am your God.

Know me.

 

Breath Prayer 

Inhale: We are of our ancestors.

Exhale: May their stories speak through us. (2x)

Prayer: https://sojo.net/articles/prayer-my-lgbtq-kin-community

I’d like to share a prayer from Rev. Megan Rohrer called “A Prayer for my LGBTQ Kin.”

Shepherding God,

Be palpably present with us when we dance,

                                                                 snuggle,

                                                                        and enjoy the sensations

                                                                             of the creation you declare good.

Help us to name, define, redefine, deconstruct, claim, and properly pronoun our fabulousness. We commit to properly naming and pronouning the fabulousness of others.

Dwell with us,

     both when we are able to articulate our pride for ourselves and others

     and when we get stuck in a cacophony of negativity, bodily shame, or unjust laws.

When we are tired, weary, and exhausted,

     grant us the rest and renewal we need to keep on marching, advocating, and living openly.

When we have all that we need to live fully,

     help us to share with others who lack.

And when it feels like time is moving too slow,

     or change is not possible,

     take the lead

     block the wind

     refresh our hearts

     distract us with passionate love

     give us purposeful work

     anything that helps those on the edge to choose life

          to get through the month, the week, or the hour

          to move time a bit closer

               to the safety, acceptance, and love we all need and deserve.

When we cannot hear you,

     scream louder,

     love more tangibly

     silence violent voices of opposition

     whip advocates into a frenzy

     fill us with memories of times when we felt closer to you

     and love us anyway

          as we were

          as we are

          as we are becoming

          as we wish we could be in a safer time and place

          as you know us

          as we seek to know ourselves.

Remind us of the victories our ancestors won,

     with their storytelling and coming out,

     with their lobbying and work from the inside,

     with bricks and sugar shakers thrown through windows of oppression

Help us to live and act with bravery,

     working within and without,

     educating ourselves and those around us,

     so that we can do the work generations to come need us to do.

Stir up our hearts,

     so that we always remain on our tiptoes

     looking for additional ways

     we can remove the barriers unjustly placed in front of our LGBTQ kin,

     especially those embodying multiple intersectional identities.

Make us plumbers,

     capable of unclogging all the places

     where the ever-flowing stream of justice has been dammed up or clogged.

Shepherding God,

Be palpably present with us when we dance,

                                                                 snuggle,

                                                                      and enjoy the sensations

                                                                            of the creation you declare good.

 

Amen.

Cole Arthur Riley 

In the words of poet and writer, Cole Arthur Riley:


“For those who were taught to hate their queerness:

For those who still have to hide to be safe:

If you still haven’t said it out loud:

If you already know your beauty:

God is proud of you.

God is proud of you.”

Murray will now be leading us in a scripture reading

Ephesians 3:16-19 (New Living Translations) 

16 I pray that out of God’s glorious riches that God may strengthen you with power through God’s Spirit in your inner being,

17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,

18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,

19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

The love of God is abundant, multi-dimensional, and it is what has given you – your fullness, wholeness and uniqueness. God is so proud of who you are. 

Breathe with me two times,

Inhale: God is proud of me.

Exhale:  God is proud of me. (2x)

Now Lee is going to lead us in a time of communion.

Communion 

We will now move to a time of communion. 

Where we give thanks for the presence of God  – God’s presence that is not at a distance –  but intimately in our lives – as intimately as our own flesh/skin.

God gifted us with bodies and through them we come to know God:

Through touch.

Through taste.

Through struggle.

Through rest.

In God’s love for us and for all creatures and creations, God took on skin like ours, entangling, forever, the Holy with our flesh. God showed us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that we love through our bodies, we seek justice for bodies, we live out our faith in these bodies – not despite them.

Jesus took care and rest of his own body – he fed people, healed people, ate with people. 

He met the physical and spiritual needs of bodies.

And when his own body was threatened by political and religious execution, he turned to the Table. He sought, first, in his hour of need, to share in a meal with his friends.

On the night of his arrest, he gathered around a table with his companions.

He took bread, blessed it, broke it, gave it to his disciples and said,

“This is my body which is given for you.

Do this in remembrance of me.”

He did the same with the cup after the supper, saying,

“This cup that is poured out as a sign of the new covenant.”

A new way forward with love. 

The body of God was crucified.

And the body of God was resurrected.

Not only in spirit, but in flesh.

God has shown us that our bodies are good, holy, precious, and full of possibility.

Let me pray for us:  

Spirit of God, Come, bless this bread and this cup, so that we can encounter your presence as we touch, and we taste, and we feel. As we come to the table, may we become one body. And may we be relentless pursuers of your Kin-dom, until every body has its needs met, every body is recognized as beloved, and every body is treated with dignity and care. Amen.

Invitation to Communion

Right now, wherever you are, grab something to eat and drink as you are ready. 

Know that even digitally everyone is welcome to the table. There are no prerequisites at Reservoir for participating in communion. 

Come to the table. 

Closing Moment– Breath Prayer  

Inhale: God, you know my name.

Exhale:  God, you are proud of me. (2x or 3x)

Four Dimensions of Prodigal Love

Well, what a gift to welcome these children into our church, but not just into our church but into the global fellowship across time we call the Body of Christ.

To me it felt like a day to talk about the love that is at the very center of our faith. God’s lavish, extravagant love. And Jesus’ vision for us to be the Beloved Community – people who learn to love God with our whole being, and people who are formed to love one another as ourselves. 

Our scripture today is from Luke 15, the famous story Jesus tells which we call the parable of the prodigal son, because there’s a kid in the story who is kind of extra, kind of extravagant and lavish in the way he spends down his inherited wealth while his parents, or at least his dad, is still alive. 

But the main character of the story isn’t either of the grown children in it but the father, who is really the most prodigal character of the story, the most lavish, the most extravagant one. 

So today I’ll read the story of the prodigal God/parent in four parts, and our message is about the lavish love of God for us all, and the extravagant love of God, of self, of friends, lovers, children, even love of causes, love of justice to which we are all called. Four Dimensions of Prodigal Love. 

Here we go:

Luke 15: 11-12 (Common English Bible)

11 Jesus said, “A certain man had two sons.

12 The younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the inheritance.’ Then the father divided his estate between them. 

Love invests.

When I was a teenager, I dated this girl for a while, and one time she went somewhere with my family – the details are pretty hazy since it was over three decades ago. But here’s the one thing I remember. My girlfriend got sick and threw up on the floor, and before I even knew what was happening, my mom sent her to the bathroom to go clean up and I think I waited for her to walk her outside afterwards, but my mom stayed behind to clean it all up. 

And I remember thinking: what is going on here? Because my mom had done this kind of thing again and again for me and both my brothers. But now here she is cleaning up my girlfriend’s puke as well, looking after this girl who isn’t even hers, just because I cared about her, and my mom was there.

I think part of me took that for granted, like most kids take their moms for granted a lot of the time. But part of me registered what was going on and thought, wow, this is what love looks like. 

Love invests.

Think about all we give our kids if we have them: for 20 years, in the prime of our lives, they become a huge part of our finances, our time, our attention, our emotional lives, our labor, our contact with other people’s bodily fluids, sometimes the center of all those things. And mostly until we die, they stay right near the center of our hearts and our longings. We invest everything we can in them, or at least we try. 

God as parent is like this too. God has invested such brilliant creativity in the creation and expansion of this universe: such a wildly complex and beautiful place. And one in which the freedoms and chaos required for all that complexity and beauty mean all kinds of things go wrong in the universe all the time. It’s such a chaotic and violent place too, our universe, certainly our earth. 

And if there’s one baseline quality the scriptures attribute to God in relation to all this is that God really cares about it all, more than you’d expect really. God takes enormous pleasure – the word is usually delight – in everything that goes well in the universe. New species evolve, new life grows, new love blossoms, new relationships bond, new justices are achieved, and God beams with pride and joy. This matters to God.

Just as when species go extinct, life dies, love is shattered, relationships severed, injustices fester and God is angry and heartbroken. 

Great investment and great risks are the hallmark of love, and God is no exception. The father in this story, who certainly could be a mother too, seems to be an image of God for Jesus and certainly makes a great investment and takes great risk. 

This parent has accrued land and wealth, saving and preserving it carefully for his children. And when the younger one asks for his share, which would have been a third of his family’s wealth, the father takes an enormous risk and says: I’ll do this. What the younger child does here, to ancient near eastern ears, is a horrifying dishonor to his family. He’s more or less saying:

Dad, you’re old. Get on with it. I wish you’d just be dead and gone, and I could get what’s coming to me.

Well, the father doesn’t die, but he takes a huge risk in trusting his kid with an early inheritance, with holding back none of his investment. 

More often than not, God is just like this with God’s creation – mostly letting us have our way, however foolish our intentions. Because God created like this – making huge investments in all life in the universe, but for the sake of beauty and freedom and abundance of dignity and life for us all, taking a huge risk as well. 

And baseline, this is what love looks like for us all as well – making investments and taking risks. And for us as with God, our investments aren’t mostly about money, but about all the resources we have, money only being only one of them. Love is about the lavish investment of our attention, our time, our wisdom, our affection, our encouragement. Love is mostly about showing up again and again with all of that for the people and communities and causes we choose to love. 

Love takes the risk to again and again say and show that what’s mine is yours. Whether I love my children or my wife or my friends or this community of Reservoir Church or even when I try to love my enemy, as Jesus commands, I’m making available the resources entrusted to me – money, time, attention, care, and more – and making them available to others, in their interest, and in the interest of our shared relationship and well-being.

Love invests. 

And love lets go. We pick up the story of the now broken family. 

Luke 15: 13-20a (Common English Bible)

13 Soon afterward, the younger son gathered everything together and took a trip to a land far away. There, he wasted his wealth through extravagant living.

14 “When he had used up his resources, a severe food shortage arose in that country and he began to be in need.

15 He hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs.

16 He longed to eat his fill from what the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything.

17 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough food, but I’m starving to death!

18 I will get up and go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.

19 I no longer deserve to be called your son. Take me on as one of your hired hands.” ’

20 So he got up and went to his father.

Did the father in this story know what would happen? I mean, it’s fiction, it’s a story Jesus told, so it’s not like we can answer that question. But I’m quite sure that God is like most parents. God doesn’t control the future, so God can’t predict it entirely, but good parents know their kids pretty well, so they often have a sense of what’s going to happen next. And they let go when it’s time anyway, because love lets go.

I think knowing their kid, the parent in this story probably didn’t think that the younger son was going to make a series of wise and generous choices. This kid just doesn’t seem like that kind of person. And they aren’t. Things go really badly. Until he’s working a dead end, demeaning job, living in poverty, and wondering if he can scheme his way back into the family he so flamboyantly left not long ago. 

One of you, a psychology professor, used to tell me when my kids were all just entering the teenage years, that in modern, Western culture at least, the teenage years weren’t just about growing up but the beginnings of the dissolution of the family unit. God, I hated it every time you said that, because it’s kind of true. I mean, maybe not only dissolution, maybe more like reconstitution, but things for kids and their parents and their family change as the kids grow up. And a big part of that change is on the parents’ behalf, starting to let go. 

I was talking with an older friend of mine recently, whose kids are all older than mine too. And he was telling me about one of his grown kids, whose life is at least from the parent’s perspective, of course in a number of ways. And my friend was talking about the pains that were likely ahead of their child in the years to come – divorce, heartbreak, some other struggles – and my friend was like:

I’m making my peace with this, though, because there is nothing I can do about it. I’ll keep engaging, I’ll keep showing up for this grown child of mine, but I can’t stop any of these things.

It’s so awesome to be a parent of growing teens and young adults, but it’s so heartbreaking too. Because love lets go. Parents need to let go of control over their children, more so every year. Friends let go, when friends grow distant, or when they stick around but they just move on from us. Lovers let go, when our beloved breaks up with us or divorces us or even when we stay together, or when our beloved changes and we need to let go of old expectations we had or an older form of a relationship that has changed. 

God’s like this too. In God’s uncontrolling, vulnerable love, God doesn’t always insist on God’s way. When we reject wisdom, when we reject what’s best for us, when we reject God, God keeps caring, keeps invisibly wooing us to the best, but God lets us have our way. God lets go.

Because love lets go. 

But that doesn’t mean love gives up and packs it in. Love keeps showing up in the ways that are appropriate to do so. Like my friend with the grown kid, love keeps engaging in ways that honor the beloved. Because while love lets go, love also protects.

We pick up our story. 

Luke 15: 20b-24 (Common English Bible)

“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion. His father ran to him, hugged him, and kissed him.

21 Then his son said, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.’

22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Quickly, bring out the best robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet!

23 Fetch the fattened calf and slaughter it. We must celebrate with feasting

24 because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life! He was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

The other month I was talking with Vernee Wilkinson, a member at Reservoir. She and Laura Everett, a pastor who’s a friend of our church, are doing some work for local churches around practices of mending and repair, and Vernee was helping me talk through the series we just concluded on healing and mending.

And Vernee told me a story about her son, and the holes and tears in the knees of his pants, and what she’d do about that. 

See, in this work of mending, Laura and Vernee will talk about throw-away fast fashion, and the harm to our environment and our economy and our souls really that comes from throwing so much away, and mending and fixing so little. 

But Vernee said, when it comes time that the knees of my boy’s pants tear, I do not patch those up. I buy him some new pants. Because Vernee’s son is Black, and as a Black woman in America, Vernee is painfully aware of the ways people and whole communities judge Black children, and her mother’s heart is fiercely and appropriately protective of her son, still young and under her care. And so like her parents did for her, she is going to make sure that her son goes out into the world with clothes that aren’t torn and that aren’t patched up in ways that judging, discriminating eyes could view as signs of poverty or neglect.

Because let’s face it, for all our talk of progress, we still live in a world that is too often fiercely anti-Black in our hearts and our judgements and our violence, and Vernee is going to do what is in her power to protect her son from the worst of that world for as long as she can. 

Much honor to Vernee and to every parent who’s protected their children as best as they could. And much honor to parents of children of color, who are doing double and triple and quadruple work on this front in a racist, dangerous world, fully knowing that their protection is limited. 

Our world is unsafe, and given our sin and injustice, it’s less safe for girls than boys, less safe for queer than straight, less safe for BIPOC than for white people, less safe in neighborhoods and countries with more poverty. And none of us can fully protect our beloved. 

But in the ways that we can and are appropriate to our beloved’s age and agency, we’re dang sure going to try. 

In this sense, we’re less different from God than we tend to think. God also can’t fully protect God’s kids from harm. Chaos and violence are part of our world of freedom, and awful things happen. God can’t micro-intervene with every danger, just like a good parent isn’t a helicopter parent, trying to shield kids from every possible harm, trying to have them avoid suffering entirely. So it is with God.

But God has limited chaos and disorder in the universe. If nothing else, no violent creature, no matter how evil or powerful, can escape their own death as well. God has also commanded and inspires the protection of the dignity of all creatures. God has in most religious traditions and abundantly so in the teaching and person of Jesus Christ, put out a teaching grace into the world too, always waiting and always welcoming our return.

Look at the father in this passage, not moving on from his wayward kid in anger or disappointment, but out on the porch night after night, scanning the horizon, checking his texts, just waiting for his son’s return, and running down the street to embrace him and welcome him home when he comes back. This kid who has squandered a third of the family’s wealth is so welcomed home, so loved upon his return, that a feast is thrown in his honor.

It’s like the wedding day his son never had, all at the father’s expense, but part of how we protect our beloveds in a vulnerable world is we never stop loving them, we provide a kind of relational, emotional, spiritual canopy of safety through this willingness to say: as long as I live, I’m still here for you and what’s mine is shared with you. 

There’s a lot of tension in this dimension of prodigal love, how love protects even when we can’t fully protect, how love protects while love also lets go. So these dimensions of letting go and protection take prayer, and growing wisdom and discernment. 

But sometimes at least, it’s not complicated. 

We protect our kids when they’re young by not neglecting them, and looking out for their wellbeing.

And we protect the kids of our communities by doing the same. Or we ought to. Our country is shamefully neglectful and wicked in this regard, in open rebellion against the ways of love. A couple years back, death by firearm passed death by traffic accident as the leading cause of death for children in America. 

We’ve worked hard on the traffic accident stuff, lots of laws, billions of dollars in safety engineering so that fewer of our kids will die on the roads. But at the same time, we’ve been loosening our gun laws more and more, guaranteeing another Columbine and Sandy Hook and Parkland and Uvalde, Texas will happen again and again. I am so angry. 

Before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King Jr’s last sermon he was working on was titled, “Why America May Go to Hell,” and times like this, I am sure he was right then. And there are quite a few reasons that’s so but failing to protect our children and failing to do the collective work so that we don’t have to protect our children so much, so that we don’t have to worry if their school will be next, or we don’t have to worry if our beautiful Black child will be judged by the patches on his knees, is a big part of this. 

Love protects. Y’all, parents or not, please keep an eye out for the welfare of all our children. There isn’t much more sacred we can do in following Jesus than this. 

And love pursues. For the sake of time, I’ll be ever so brief on this point, just reading the end of the story mostly, but it’s the climax Jesus is driving at. 

Luke 15:25-32 (Common English Bible)

25 “Now his older son was in the field. Coming in from the field, he approached the house and heard music and dancing.

26 He called one of the servants and asked what was going on.

27 The servant replied, ‘Your brother has arrived, and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he received his son back safe and sound.’

28 Then the older son was furious and didn’t want to enter in, but his father came out and begged him.

29 He answered his father, ‘Look, I’ve served you all these years, and I never disobeyed your instruction. Yet you’ve never given me as much as a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.

30 But when this son of yours returned, after gobbling up your estate on prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’

31 Then his father said, ‘Son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.

32 But we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive. He was lost and is found.’”

Love pursues.

The father looks at his entitled, bitter, judgy oldest child and says:

son, I love you too. This kid is furious at this dad, and the dad says: everything I have is yours as well. Everything I have is yours.

Love might let go, and love might need to change and adapt, but love doesn’t stop loving. God hasn’t given up on our violent nation or any of God’s troubled kids, you and me included. And as people of the beloved community, that call is ours as well. 

Love keeps engaging, keeps protecting the dignity even of exes and enemies. Love dreams of reconciliation, and when that’s impossible in this life, releases the beloved with blessing. Love puts up with things, loves trusts in all things, love hopes for all things, endures all things. Which is why, the scriptures dare us to believe, love doesn’t fail. 

Love works. Love wins.

Not always how we think it will, not always today or even tomorrow, but eventually, we hope. Love has its way.

Jesus hopes that the judgy elder children of his time will lay down their judgements and join God in welcoming the love of all God’s children.

God hopes that Americans will stop letting people shoot our kids and trash our earth but find our way towards Jesus’ beloved community together. God hopes we’ll love better, love more because love heals, love doesn’t disappoint, love never fails.