Re-Membered: Thoughts on the Meaning of Communion and Salvation

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

A few weeks back, I mentioned the thing I remember most from when I started going to Sunday church services on the regular. It was the time once a month when we would take communion together, eating these tiny bits of stale-tasting crackers and drinking these mini-cups of juice that were supposed to represent the body and blood of Jesus Christ crucified.

We were told to confess our sins before communion. And what I loved was that after the whole thing, the pastor would say to us that if we confessed our sins, God was faithful and just to forgive all unrighteousness so that before a holy God, we stood totally free and in the clear.

I didn’t understand what all that meant, but I loved the words free and in the clear. Like a lot of teenagers, I didn’t feel free very often, but I did in this moment. I felt accepted, good enough, satisfied. I also had this highly attuned sense of guilt and shame (probably for some good reasons and a few bad reasons) but I loved this moment of being told to let it all go – that I was in the clear.

Looking back, though, what’s odd are all the things that were never said. I mean, as a 15-year-old, I had bigger problems than my moral guilt. Parts of me were doing fine, but parts of me were lonely and scared a lot of the time. And I carried pain and even trauma in my life that I had no idea how to talk about or what to do with.

Yet here at communion, at what represented to us Jesus’ table, what to do with our hurt wasn’t talked about at all. We were told how this table spoke to our sin, but to our hurt and loneliness – not at all.

That was the situation for me, whose life was pretty stable and privileged in a lot of ways. But what if I was taking communion in a church full of refugees, fleeing persecution or genocide? What if we were in a community trying to rebuild after a devastating war? What if the majority of my faith community suffered under dehumanizing racism or poverty or other indignities? How would this communion table of Jesus’ sin-forgiveness speak to us? Would this message of freedom from guilt be sufficient for our salvation?

I love communion. Some of what feel like my holiest moments in my time at Reservoir have been serving communion to children excited to be part of it, or to adults in tears, feeling the power of God’s inclusion and embrace.

I love that we worship with communion every week in our in-person services. I ache that for those of us worshipping and gathering online, we’ve done this so little the past year and a half. (And at least today we’ll change that, as we remember together with whatever bit of food and drink you have available. Feel free to grab something now real quick – it doesn’t have to be bread and wine or juice – any scrap of food, any bit of drink will do in a pinch.) 

But I’m aware that the whole thing can be kind of confusing. What’s happening in this moment of worship? What are we remembering and doing?

This has been a topic of discussion and even debate among followers of Jesus since people first started remembering Jesus together. So, I don’t pretend like I have the final word here. But as we get close to the end of our fall series on Jesus’ table, today I share my thoughts on what’s going on at Jesus’ communion table – way back at the first one we read about in the Bible, and especially at the table where churches remember Jesus today. I’ll share my belief on what’s mainly happening during communion, which in a lot of ways represents what I consider to be the primary aspects of the salvation God offers humanity in Christ as well.

The call, the purpose of a local church, is no less to be a place where liberation and healing begins. And the communion table is a place of liberation and healing for us all.

It has to do with this word “remember”, two different takes on that word.

Let’s start reading one of the four main passages in the Bible about Jesus’ table, the story of Jesus’ last supper with his students in the good news of Luke. It goes like this:

Luke 22:14-23 (Common English Bible)

14 When the time came, Jesus took his place at the table, and the apostles joined him.

15 He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.

16 I tell you, I won’t eat it until it is fulfilled in God’s kingdom.”

17 After taking a cup and giving thanks, he said, “Take this and share it among yourselves.

18 I tell you that from now on I won’t drink from the fruit of the vine until God’s kingdom has come.”

19 After taking the bread and giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

20 In the same way, he took the cup after the meal and said, “This cup is the new covenant by my blood, which is poured out for you.

21 “But look! My betrayer is with me; his hand is on this table.

22 The Human One goes just as it has been determined. But how terrible it is for that person who betrays him.”

23 They began to argue among themselves about which of them it could possibly be who would do this.

First, at the communion table, we remember the death of Jesus, with its weird mix of tragedy and beauty. And we remember Jesus telling us we are forgiven, so that we can turn to more free and more just lives.

From the beginning, Jesus said this table was the start of a practice. He says to his students, and those of us to come in the future:

Do this in remembrance of me.

Jesus wanted to be remembered.

We remember Jesus’ closest friends falling asleep when he most needs their support. We remember how Jesus’ students forgot or ignored his teaching on non-violent peace-making, and tried to fight, until Jesus stops them. We remember how Jesus’ friends mostly abandon him, in one case betray him, right after sharing a meal at the table with him.

We remember that the most admired human in history was tortured and executed by the state. We remember that the human so many of us believe reveals the person of God to us was misunderstood, rejected, and killed.

We remember Jesus, and we remember the tragic folly of humanity, how whenever we see God, we’re liable to try to eliminate what we see.

We remember the beauty of this all too.

We see Jesus’ kindness toward an enemy who’s out to get him. We see his love and courage and grace under pressure. And I think we see what the self-giving, sacrificial love of God looks like. It’s beautiful.

There’s a phrase in the Orthodox Christian faith that beauty will save the world. And maybe if we kept remembering Jesus, the beauty of his love in the face of death would push us all to stop scapegoating. To stop bullying, to stop arming ourselves, to shut down cycles of blame and shame and revenge and violence. Maybe the beauty of love in the face of hate will save us still.

Part of the beauty of this we remember is God’s forgiveness of us expressed by Jesus too. It’s not the central theme of this Last Supper. Of the four principal passages on Jesus’ communion table in the New Testament, forgiveness is actually only mentioned in one.

Where Mark and Luke have Jesus sharing a cup of wine he calls the cup of the new covenant, Matthew adds that this new covenant includes the forgiveness of sins. Paul’s big passage in I Corinthians on communion doesn’t mention forgiveness at all.

So, forgiveness of sins isn’t the only or even the main thing we remember about Jesus, but it’s important still. Jesus proclaimed God’s forgiveness of sin throughout his ministry, and as he died on the cross, he also prayed:

Father, forgive them because they don’t know what they’re doing.

And like most Christians, I read the “them” there as Jesus’ killers but as all of us too. God forgives us our sin – all the foolish and death-dealing and tragic ways we lose our way and hurt ourselves and one another and this whole world of ours. God recognizes that at least in part, we have no idea what we are doing. And God doesn’t want to hold it all against us. God doesn’t want payback or punishment. Have you ever noticed how many people who are blamed and shamed just get defensive and angry, or shrivel up in despair?

God doesn’t want that for God’s kids. God wants liberation and healing. God wants us to know the freedom of acceptance and a clear conscience, so we can live freely and make amends for the harm we’ve done – make it better – without fear of curse or rejection.

This forgiveness is an important part of the new deal with God Jesus inaugurates. That with God, we are never defined by our biggest mistake. We are not treated as the sum of our worst acts and biggest lacks. Before a holy and just and God, we are indeed loved and we are free.

So, I think it’s good to confess our sins to God when we take communion and even to do so daily in prayer. To say

God, this is what I’m sorry for.

People and communities that don’t confess sin are more likely to become smug, proud, violent, and entitled. They’re more likely to notice what’s wrong with everyone else, not themselves, and become embattled and embittered. In many ways, this is the drift of our world, certainly the drift of our culture. Confession of sin keeps us humble. And confession, and remembering we are forgiven, is a chance to find freedom and acceptance and to take the energy this brings to do better and make things right in the world.

So, confession and forgiveness are important things that are happening at the communion table. But as I said at the top, they are not the only thing.

At the communion table, a second thing is happening.

At the communion table, we remember Jesus, and the Spirit of Jesus also re-members us: puts us back together, heals us, reconnects us. 

Here’s what I mean.

When I was a teen, I needed forgiveness, but more than that, I needed to know that I wasn’t alone. That certain things that had happened to me were not my fault. And that life could get better. That God, love, people, faith could possibly help.

When I take communion now, sometimes I confess my sin, but sometimes I tell God about who and what has disappointed me, or at the ache I feel from my worries and my hurt and from all that’s wrong with the world.

There’s a Korean theologian whose work I love, who I’ve had the privilege of speaking with – he’s named Andrew Sung Park. And he writes a lot about what he calls han.

Han is the great burden of most of humanity. Not so much the ways we sin and hurt others, but the many ways that we have been hurt.

Han is a Korean word that describes “the depths of human suffering,” “the abysmal experience of pain.” It is the condition of the sinned against, the victim, the abandoned, the oppressed, the harmed. Han can be expressed actively in hatred and aggression, as the will to revenge. Or it is expressed passively, through “self-denigration, low self-esteem, self-withdrawal, resignation, and self-hatred.” It can be unconscious or conscious.

Han is me as a teenager, the abuse victim who’s too distressed over his experience to tell anyone.

Han is the shame of the constantly criticized. It is the fear of the threatened. Han is the ache of those who grieve. It’s the loss of the abandoned.

Han can be collective too – the resentment and anger or the despair and lamentation of the targets of racism or violence.

Han can even characterize collective experiences, as active racial resentment or passive racial lamentation. Even nature itself experiences han. We consider severely befouled landscapes or the state of animals in factory farms.

To people suffering from han, if you say: it’s OK, you’re forgiven, what kind of message is that? That the suffering and hurt was their fault, but God turns aside. No, the suffering and hurt was the fault of someone else, or of some broken or corrupt system, or of chaos or chance.

But where we hurt, where we feel and experience han, we are not guilty, we are dis-membered. We are not at peace in our own lives and experience. And often our hurt pulls us away from loving connection as well so we are dis-membered from ourselves and dis-membered from community.

At Jesus’ communion table, God re-members us.

Jesus says my body is given for you. My blood is poured out for you.

I am with you. You have God’s feeling, God’s attention, God’s resources, God’s life with you.

At the communion table, our hurt is seen and felt by Jesus, the fellow sufferer who understands.

At the communion table, our hurt is validated by God, who has experienced violence and betrayal, who has been the victim of crime and injustice, who has had sneering eyes look at his poor, brown body and mocked and spat upon him. The God who knows these experiences in God’s body is in our corner with our hurt.

At the communion table, our lonely self is seen by Jesus who felt so alone in his death that he cried out loud:

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

Our forsakenness is met by a forsaken God, who remembers us and is listening.

At the communion table, our hurt no longer has the final word. We discover a union, a connection, a fellowship, a friendship with an everlasting God, with everlasting creative redemptive stories of bringing good out of bad, growing in us an everlasting hope that with the help of God and friends, that will be our story too.

And at the communion table, we take and eat and drink together. We’re encouraged to look around, to look at the eyes and the bodies of a community of imperfect, han-ridden, wounded, sinning, beautiful, messy fools who have messed up like us, who have been hurt like we have, and who are loved by a beautiful God and are on the same journey of recovery and discovery as we are.

We are re-membered to a community called the Body of Christ, where we are encouraged to love and accept one another. To welcome one another – our whole selves, just as we are – as Christ has welcomed us, so that we can find our welcome, and our next chapters, and our new and beautiful stories and purposes together.

Sin lessens us and hurts others. Our pride, our violence, our misdirected or uncontrolled desires hurt others, mar community, and diminish people and places. We need forgiveness and freedom to find a better path.

And our hurt rips us apart and diminishes our whole minds and bodies. It can cast a cloud of negativity and doom over our whole lives. We need the power and presence of a loving God who knows our stories, who understands, and who will re-member us to a more whole and hopeful self, and re-member us to loving community as well.

So, here’s what I’m encouraging you to do.

Stay active in a section of the Body of Christ. Take communion as often as it is offered.

And when you do so, bring your whole messy self, honestly to the table.

Confess your sins to the God who is faithful and just, and who is eager to forgive you of all your sins and cleanse us of all that isn’t right – to give us a clean conscience and a new start, and freedom to make amends and do right.

And when you come to the communion table, name your hurts and wounds and loneliness and need to Jesus, the fellow sufferer who understands, and who by the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of God will put you back together, re-member you to one who is more whole and hopeful.

And look around you, at the grace of a community of fellow travelers, and be re-membered to one another. Offer best as you can the gift of your real self and your real story to your community. And offer the welcome and encouragement and love of the body of Christ as well, since that is who we are.

Thanks be to God.

Take a moment and sit with this invitation, as Pastor Lydia comes our way to welcome us to this table.


The Good Life | Full of Wonder

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

One of the (many) things about young kids that I find so breathtaking, is that they really know how to love, and they really know how to be fully alive, present to what is in front of them.  AND if you’ve been around little kids – you know they make this known, by embodying this way of living and loving.  Where none of that looks like perfection and none of it is secured by them – by way of taught knowledge, or by way of being bought or built,  and none of it is rigid, or defined. The way that many kids love and live, is messy, vulnerable, unruly – and yet alltogether compelling…

And also, if we are honest –  totally unnerving … because it means you never really know what you are going to get! But you do know that whatever it is, you’ll likely get it at 100%!

What’s going to come out of their mouths, how close they’ll get to you – what questions they’ll ask – is often unpredictable.
I felt that this last Sunday on Halloween… as a couple hundred kids made their way up our front steps… And, as part of the trick or treat exchange, I tried to ask each kid, “How’s your night going?”

And at varying degrees of social distance violations, I got a myriad of answers:

  • The first with one kid, pulling their lollipop out of their mouth, and pointing it at my mouth – answered by saying: “Why is your tooth so yellow?”
  • Another answering by saying, “Uuuugh, can I sit here – my feet are killing me!?”
  • “Ahhh, my night is mostly really bad, but some good.”
  • “I don’t like Almond Joys – can I have a Twix?”

And there it is – this childlike-ness – this in your face, unfiltered, seemingly off-point, utterly vulnerable, and honest spirit.  A spirit that I find myself longing for these days – because it seems like this way of being – opens our view of  the world, of God – each other – that can hold a lot of mystery and complexity – something that I feel lacking in.

Kids show us that to love, unabashedly. And to live fully (with all the layers of life in view) is actually the “good life” we have all already inherited by God. And yet one that we often strive to still obtain.

So this morning I’m going to talk about childlike faith – and how this instrument of wonder opens our faith, grows our faith, and keeps our faith healthy.  OPENING us into more joy, more laughter, more hope – all while taking in the messiness of this life – that isn’t all sweet.

This is the only way I could imagine honoring Kim Messenger today – to invite us all to reflect & revisit what a childlike faith can offer us – not just the children among us. And so invite you to reclaim wonder – if you feel like you are lacking in it or have lost it as the yeast of your faith.

God – help us this morning, to take in all of life.  Help us to get in touch with where we are at right now, in this present moment – are we feeling open? Shut down? Numb? Disinterested? Full of faith, low on faith?…  Help us to move into this conversation with you this morning…   Thank you, Jesus.

Over the past year and half, I’ve returned to this notion of “child-like” faith again and again. I’ve  looked at it, entertained it, recognizing at arm’s length that it is exactly the invitation of Jesus’ that would be helpful to return to.

But I just couldn’t get there – somewhere in the pandemic, my capacity to hold all the hard – and squint for a luster of wonder, felt like too much.

And that is a little disorienting for me. Because the lenses of wonder and beauty are often more my inclination – but they’ve felt in many ways irresponsible, maybe even harmful – given the scope of chaos, violence, racism, and death in our landscape. Wide-eyed wonder, childlike faith – what place could it take in the midst of overwhelming catastrophe? The answer wasn’t clear to me, and the stakes too high. So I think I’ve just suspended it.  Because I could fall back on the elements of my faith that I KNOW – scripture and prayer –  with some regularity.

Childlike faith, however, seems to be a lot less about answers – and actually all about the “stakes” of life.

A lot about courage – because it asks us to go beyond our set of known “beliefs” about God (who God is), and summons our will to wonder and create with God (as a way of knowing God).

Rabbi Abraham Heschel says it’s

“not that we lack a will to believe – it’s that we lack a will to wonder.”

To be alive in the story of God means daring to wonder as much as we say we “believe.” 

And that’s scary. Because to wonder means we are entering into something that can shake everything up – AND it doesn’t ask permission to grow inside of you. It just goes – and it takes everything in its path with it. Everything we’ve understood, everything we think we know, everything we’ve stored in our hearts, everything we’ve felt in our bodies, everything we’ve once dreamt about.  It’s called into question by WONDER. But it’s also called back to life. And this holds the potential to resurrect us (in ways we’ve shut down and maybe prefer) and break us open into new fields and realms ensuring nothing except the goodness and love of God at our every turn.

Jesus has something to say about childlike faith – here in the scripture of Luke – read along with me as it comes up on slides:

Luke 18: 15 – 23 (Common English Bible)

15 People were bringing babies to Jesus so that he would bless them. When the disciples saw this, they scolded them.

16 Then Jesus called them to him and said, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kin-dom belongs to people like these children.

17 I assure you that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kin-dom like a child will never enter it.”

18 A certain ruler asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to obtain/inherit eternal life?”

19 Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except the one God. 20 You know the commandments: Don’t commit adultery. Don’t murder. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Honor your father and mother.”

21 Then the ruler said, “I’ve kept all of these things since I was a boy.”

22 When Jesus heard this, he said, “There’s one more thing. Sell everything you own and distribute the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.”

23 When he heard these words, the man became sad because he was extremely rich.

Now, I wonder, as you hear this story, what part of this story is the most important to you? 

The most important part to me (today) is this question that the ruler asks Jesus,

“How can I inherit the “good life/eternal life”?”

It’s an honest question perhaps.

.And an interesting question – because it seems like the young ruler might have missed the answer that Jesus already offered….He says,

“Let the children come to me.”

This answer though of Jesus’ to the young ruler is probably similar to my Halloween experience  “wait, what?” Did you even answer that question?

“Little children – eternal life?” WHAT?

What “good thing(s)” do I need to do? To SECURE & obtain my spot in the kin-dom of heaven?

Jesus is generous here and calls out what the young ruler does know these  commandments that encapsulate loving your neighbor:

Don’t commit adultery. Don’t murder. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Honor your father and mother.”

The young ruler, is like

“yes – yes – I’ve known these commandments, I’ve kept them since I was a child. Since I was these kid’s age. I have scrupulously observed these duties.”

“Then what do I lack?” (in Matthew’s version)

Jesus answers by showing – calling his attention to what is in front of his face… these children…

“Watch them,” “See how they approach me,”. .. “Come directly to me”

  • With their messy, sticky selves
  • Their toddling steps…
  • With their curiosities and excitement about the dog they met on the way..
  • The pain in their stubbed toe

They come to me with all of it..

“They know love when they see it. They know they belong to me. 

They have already inherited the kin-dom.

They embody the commandments. The ones you have known since you were a boy – and they embody the ones you have yet to “wonder” your way into – “That’s loving me – loving your God with all of your heart, mind and soul…”

“You don’t lack the will to believe – you lack the will to let go, (yes – of your possessions , your privilege, your training, your disciplines)  AND You lack the will to let go unto wonder.

Wonder – the instrument that brings these commandments, these lessons – into your real life. With real people.

Two weeks ago as part of our staff meeting, Kim invited us to sit in tiny kid chairs and on the floor, of the 2nd floor MC. To hear her tell a Godly Play story – the story of “The Great Family”: of Abraham and Sarah and God, And all of us – the lineage & the beginnings of our faith….which actually are about childlike faith…

These Godly Play story’s hang on the platform of “wonder” as the means by which spiritual formation takes seed.  However, this wondering doesn’t sugarcoat or skip any of the reality of life. In fact, it dives right into it all – trusting the power of childlike faith can hold. A faith that can stand in this gritty life, and look up at the sky – and still feel

“God come so close to us, and us so close to God – that we know God is with us, (blessing us) in this place,”

wherever and whatever we are standing in. 

The story Kim told of this Great Family’s journey – and of them getting to know God – is QUITE A STORY.  It embraces humility, uncertainty, suffering, scary stuff.

In fact, the starting point of this story, as she told it, is in the setting of a desert. And the words to follow are not a light rendering-

“The desert is a dangerous place, there is no water in the desert, and people cannot live without water or food for very long.. .no one goes into the desert unless they have to…”

This is the landscape of faith that kids get to wonder about.. (It’s not a cozy cabin with Jesus in front of the fire). 

And kids are like,

“ ooo yes – I get that. Sounds a lot like life.” 

And then as Kim continued she outlines that Abraham & Sarah were “this one family that believed that there was

“one God, and that all of God was in everything”

– and she goes on to say,

“they didn’t know if this was true” – but that is what they believed.”

“And soon the time came for Abraham and Sarah to move from a KNOWN land to an UNKNOWN land, and “they didn’t know if God would be with them in this new place or not.”   

The stage of faith – as kids will hear it – encompasses messy unknowing – not “absolutes.”

And kids are like,

“Yes – I get that. A lot of what I’ve had to do in this life is new, and unknown to me.”

And then as Kim continues and we follow Abraham and Sarah on their journey with God – from Or to Hebron.. We journey along too – into unexpected friendships, to promise, to loneliness, to laughter, to death, to burial in caves. To GROWTH , to NEW LIFE  – and as the story goes – WE SEE generations and generations of faith TAKE SHAPE AS many “as there are stars in this sky, and as many as there are grains of sand in the desert.”

This is the inheritance of our faith.  IT’s BIG.

And kids are like – oh, yah I get all of that…I’m sad sometimes, people die, things are funny, *and I especially like caves!*

Childlike faith can hold the paradoxes that come along our journey with God. It may be WONDROUS. It WILL BE MESSY. It is MEANT TO leave us humbled saying “I DON”T KNOW!”

Full of questions – about everything –  God,  ourselves, and our world. We are meant to ask like kids do-

“Why?” “But why?” “How come?”

Because this world is a wild, and dangerous place – just like the desert – and there’s a lot to wonder about.

God seems to say,

“come to me.”

Climb up into my lap, whenever you want – and I will kiss your head and bless you. And we can find each other anew – again and again and again..

This story reminded me that Abraham and Sarah’s faith – the Great Family’s faith – our faith

“has nothing to do with believing the right stuff or continuing to learn new, esoteric things about theology until we die.” (Dave Schmelzer) 

It all boils down to

being open to wonder –  to hold the mystery that God isn’t just in this place, or that place, or in this set of rules, or these particular commandments, or for just these “mature” Christians –  but ALL of God IS everywhere.

Abraham never did become a wealthy landowner in the new land, right – his journey with God wasn’t about OBTAINING the good life? It was about embracing his inheritance as one blessed by the presence and goodness of God at every turn along the journey.

Each Godly Play session ends with wondering questions… like,

I wonder where you are in this story?

I think Jesus is posing this same question to the young ruler,

“I wonder where are you in this story? This story of faith, and love and of God? And of growing the kin-dom?”

Are you dipping your toe in? Are you drooling and sticky with vulnerability and wonder on your face – fully immersed?   – or are you hidden behind your racks of money, and trophies of righteousness and power?

From a very young age, this young ruler had stayed the course. He had read the directions, followed them to a T – he had built his faith.  He was so “good.”  But he had never moved. He hadn’t started the journey,  moved into the wilds of life – where faith comes fully alive – nor had he moved closer to God.

Our spiritual growth depends, paradoxically, on regaining a child’s perspective. We have to regularly start anew with wonder  –  we have to return to God, again and again – and say, “can you bless me?”   I just need that touchpoint – can you bless me?

Growth in faith – isn’t about obtaining more  or certain knowledge that ensures the good life – it’s about imagining that God loves you so much that the inheritance of the good life is available here and now.

Growth in faith – isn’t only to do the things you think God wants you to do – it’s about wondering if there are things that you and God might like to do, create, be, unfold, question, upturn – together. 

The barometer of our faith is not our MORAL UPRIGHTNESS – it seems like that as a focus separates us from the real life – and from a real God.

The barometer of our faith is our willingness to ask whether the messiness of our faith and the messiness of our life can really be the good life – and whether or not we can cling tightly to God as we let go of the need for a direct answer – and instead live out the answers as we grow & open ourselves to wonder.

Childlike faith allows us to see everything that is in front of our faces and draw close to God in the midst of it all.


Last weekend, I went to my 13 year-old’s soccer game.  At this age the team & coaches are on one side of the field – and parents are on the opposite side.  At halftime my son started jogging to the parent side of the field- and I was curious.  And as he got close to the sideline, he said “hey mom come here.” So I just took a couple of casual steps in his direction.

Which wasn’t enough for him, and he waved me closer,

“saying come here – come here…”

So I got really close to him – and he said,

“Can you pray for my hamstring?”

*Reed knows what to do if he has a tight hamstring – it’s not new territory – stretch, drink water, keep your muscles warm.

So I knew right away that the request for prayer was less about the expectation for a loosened hamstring as an answer  – and was more about being close to love. Following the draw of love for just a touchpoint, going to the love that is in front of his face.. And seeing that in and of itself is the answer to prayer. *the wonder of love and the wonder of God everywhere.

I heard his request as,

“Can you just bless me at this moment?  Can you just love me?”

*And this moment was less about Reed – and more about me & God. And returning to God anew with childlike-ness.

“Come follow me”

Jesus says to the rich ruler. Come follow me into love and wonder.

This is the sheer wisdom of what Kim has implanted in the youngest of kids here at Reservoir. She has offered not just a program of Godly Play, but she’s offered to these kids an inheritance, a sense of profound belonging as a child of God. And she has placed in the laps of every child their birth rights – of wonder & of love – which seems to be all of our greatest ways forward in this beautiful and messy life.

When Kim finished sharing the story of the “Great Family” she ended by blessing each of us by name – One by one, by one, returning us to childlike faith

So I’d love for us to end by blessing Kim Messenger  – raise your hands toward her if you’d like …

“Jesus in your goodness and wonder.  would you bless Kim Messenger. The life that she has led and the life and journey that is still ahead, the known & the unknown and foster the deep childlike wonder within her. 

We bless you – Kim Messenger.

I can’t bless you all by name right now.

But I invite you to put your hand on your heart, as a way to close in prayer.
With all the wonder in your heart, imagine Jesus near you – calling you by name,  blessing you, loving you…



Bringing What We Need to the Table

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

Luke 10:38-42

New Revised Standard Version 

38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.

39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to what he was saying.

40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.”

41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;

42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”



The Christian churches, camps, and conferences that I grew up attending loved this story. If intimacy with God was our highest aspiration, which in these communities was often the case, this story confirmed our call: to sit at Jesus’ feet. To listen closely and to gaze adoringly. To be like Mary. As close as we could be to Jesus.

Here is Martha, busy and distracted, wanting Mary to come help her with the hosting tasks, and she pulls Jesus in to get him on her side. But Jesus admonishes Martha:

let your sister be. She’s sitting at my feet. She cares less about serving, more about connection . . . love, nearness, attention: she has chosen the better part.

Songs about Mary filled our gatherings. Even if I don’t read the story in the same way anymore, to this day, at least once a month, this song from my teenage years will pop into my head:

Let it be said of me, she chose the better part / let it be said of me she loved with all her heart.

I was asked recently to think about what I would want on my gravestone and immediately – she loved with all her heart – popped into my head. My quick second thought was that wouldn’t actually be what I want, but dang, that refrain “let it be said of me….” is a really sticky one for me!

For much of western, Eurocentric Christian history, this has been a common interpretation. My communities were revamping interpretations as old as those of Church leaders like Origen, an early theologian who wrote in the second century that this story represented two ways to approach a life of faith: the life of action, like Martha, or the life contemplation, like Mary.

Service or love. That which is temporary or that which is eternal. I have come to see some not great consequences of reading the story this way. For one, it reduces the two women in these stories to spiritual tropes about how to live in the world. Or, even when we see the sisters as full people, it pits them against each other to make a good woman/bad woman to teach people a lesson on right living—one who makes a good decision with her life and one who makes a bad one. And then there is this whole triangulation that happens . . . a reporting structure that draws in Jesus, which seems a bit weird and diminishing of the sisters’ relationship, too. Is there a more liberative story we can find in the words and actions of Mary, Martha, and Jesus?

Today, I wonder if we can reimagine some of the dynamics of the story, to understand a different way of coming around the table.

Choice & Need

A couple of years ago here at Reservoir, at the end of a service when folks were hanging out and talking, someone offered me an interpretation of this story that has been in my imagination since. This is among my favorite interactions in this church because it came out of nowhere –  we hadn’t been talking about the passage during the service or anything like that. After service, as I was walking back behind the sound desk, I bumped into a wonderful friend I look up to, who always has a good word. With no context and no greeting, she looked at me, eyes big and bright:

“Katie, about Mary and Martha. When Jesus says Mary has chosen the better part, it’s not about the better part, it’s not about what she was doing. It’s that she CHOSE! She made a choice!”

I was so caught by this. I was in a season of understanding what it meant to come into deeper choice. To exercise my agency, my authority…. and in the span of 20 seconds, this friend took a familiar story and gave me a whole new way to see it. It’s not that the better part was Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet. It’s that she chose what she needed.

This brings us into the heart of what we are talking about today. That the story of Mary, Martha, and Jesus is an invitation to consider what we need.

“You are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing,”

Jesus says. Few things are needed, and really only one. There is need of only one thing. Only one thing is needed.

And this is where I sense choice and need meeting each other. We get to choose to pay attention to what we most need. In these lives we live where so many of us are overextended and frayed and stressed beyond our means, where we are worried and distressed and distracted by so many things that it may feel like we need a million things. Could it be that what we need is as simple as one thing? Is it possible to choose what we need?

There is a powerful and simple question I have discovered to help in this process:

“What do you need today?”

It’s a question that invites us to quiet ourselves enough to ask the question of our self and another, to listen to another’s response, to respond our self.

I know two folks who are colleagues who ask this question of each other every day. Before they get to work, they look at each other and take a turn asking:

“What do you need today?”

They come into voice. They listen to their own self, what is arising within or around them, that they need for the day. They listen to each other. They listen to what the other needs. It is not so they can supply or provide what the other person needs, but to have a place to practice asking and naming what they need.

One of my loved ones and I ask each other this question a couple times a month. It takes a couple beats to quiet down, to sense what we may need. When the question first hits the air, I usually first think through my to do list for the day: I need to call this person, prep for this meeting, read this article, write this paper, check in with my parents, pack food before I go. But the question isn’t ‘What do I need to do today?’ It’s ‘What do I need today?’

I need focus for the work at hand, grace for the thing that I am nervous about. Sometimes when things are feeling really crammed and piled on, I sense I need spaciousness. Three really good meals and some snacks in between. Part of the quieting is that our needs are often felt in our body, in our spirit. In the midst of the chaos of our days, it’s so easy to live out of touch with our needs—but our bodies and spirits have a lot to say when we can pause to listen.

It’s meaningful to articulate what we need. Tapping into what we need may come naturally for some, but for others it is a challenging task. Perhaps, for reasons of race, gender, age, birth order, our family system of origin, or personality, we have been socialized to spend our days responding to the needs of others. Some have developed a hypersensitivity to other’s needs and are admired for having a gift of anticipating what others need. For folks who have a tendency to take care of the needs of others—coming into our own sense of what we need might be a challenging task. Others may be so focused on something external, that coming to the internal place of sensing your own need be unfamiliar.

What if Mary and Martha were able to sit at the table together and ask each other:

What do you need today?

What if they invited Jesus to join them at this table, and anyone else who was in the house that day.

What do you need today?

I like imagining that together, there at the table, they could trust an Abundance that could provide for each one’s needs. That they could bear witness to what the other was holding—needing—in love and care, without having to become the means to have that need met. What if they could creatively speak into each other’s lives, to imagine together how they could take care of what was needed to do, so everyone could have what they need? What if they encouraged each other to choose the thing they most needed? Because the demands of the world will always push up against what we need. Can we help each other choose what we need? How can we invite Jesus and each other to join us at this table?


I think of a friend who has made a decision to operate in new ways, sensing need for new directions. I think of the Beloved Community Fund here at Reservoir, where, for the last year, people have taken a moment of quiet and pause to sense their practical needs – for shelter, for therapy or spiritual direction – and shared what they need with the fund, which has been able to witness and offer connection and support. In these places, people are sensing the thing they need, bringing it to the table, and naming it to the ones they trust.

Needs are not distinct to individuals alone, but also for units of people, to communities. While we are asking the question “What do you need today?” can we get in the habit of also asking together:

What does our family need today? What does our household need in this season? What does our community group need? What does our work team need? What does our church need?

Systems have needs too, and if we can start listening to what our group body needs, what we need collectively, if we can discern this together, we might be able to come into more life-giving ways of being with each other, of choosing our movements forward and also our rest.

My hope for us is that our tables can be a place where we ask each other:

What do you need today? What does our table need today?

Where we can encourage each other to choose what we need. That we can sense the companionship of Mary, Martha, Jesus bearing their needs before each other. Priest and writer Henri Nouwen reflects that the table is a place of profound intimacy— it is a place we bring and bear ourselves, and naming our needs can be deeply intimate. And because of this very intimacy, the table can also can be a place of experience a profound absence of intimacy, when tension, disconnection, or loss is present.

So, for any whose tables feel like they don’t hold enough trust or enough connection or enough presence to ask and be asked “What do you need today?” I pray that Jesus would meet you at your table. I pray that Jesus would be preparing you a table in the presence of all that is painful, in the valley of the shadow of death, in the presence of your enemies, and that in time you would find a table – maybe at a community group, or among neighbors – where you can be present to each other’s needs.

I pray this for all of us. That we all find this place to share with others our needs. Not to fix them, or to solve them, but to participate in the human, divine act of naming what we need, and to practice and encourage each other to choose – to choose what we need. To sense Jesus near us, coming close to us in our need, perhaps even just the one or few things we need today.

Jesus, would you be with us today in what we need. May your spirit help us sense and tend to what we need. May we lovingly listen to one another’s needs – and may we trust the Abundance of your love to supply what we need.


Friend, Move Up Higher – God’s Hospitality and Ours

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

When I was 14, I was lonely, pretty sad, full of shame, and – when it came to the big things in life, really didn’t believe in myself.

Double those years, and by the time I was 28, I had love and purpose and confidence. I mostly felt good inside, and I was ready to greet my first child as a man I couldn’t have imagined becoming with a life I hadn’t dreamed of having.

What happened?

Well, there was Sonny Pryor, my high school chorus teacher who told me in front of others, Hey, this guy can sing.

There was Pastor Harold Bussell, who baptized me and after communion would remind me that before a holy and just God, I am totally free and in the clear.

There was my PopPop, Bill Elliott, who when I was a singer told me I’d be the next Luciano Pavarotti. And then when I was thinking about being a pastor some day instead, told me I’d be the next Billy Graham.

There were Ken and Jean Jones, my high school English teacher and class advisor. One I’d seen get slammed by life’s greatest sufferings and held on to hope. The other was one of the kindest people I knew. Together they were on their second marriage, rebuilding a life together.

They invited me – a high school senior and my girlfriend, over their house for dinner. And when for a moment, Mr. Jones and I were alone in the living room, I had the temerity to ask him what it had been like joining someone else’s household, moving into her house with her kids. He didn’t take offense, but looked around and then looked into my eyes and said: Sometimes I can’t believe this life I’m in. All this, it’s so good. It’s so good.

I could go on. The college professor who offered to pay for my voice lessons when I was going to quit because I didn’t have the funds. That voice teacher who invested her time and talents in me, even when I didn’t appreciate her. My greatest ever boss, Bak Fun, who took a chance on me.

In my late teens through my late 20’s, I had this crazy-abundant string of people in my life who made room for me in their lives, who maybe saw some of the ways I was lost and hurt, and definitely saw hope and promise in me I could not see in myself.

They were the hands and feet of the hospitality of God, saying to me:

Friend, move up higher. Friend, move up higher.

Helping me embrace the love and hope of God and grow into a life where I could look around and say: this is so good.

You could say this is a story of privilege. A young, white, straight man – pretty working class but living in high resource communities – has person after person give him time and attention and opportunity, pushing him toward success. A story of privilege.

And you could say this is a story of grace. An outwardly fine but inwardly troubled kid finds grown-up after grown-up giving him time and attention and encouragement, with a couple of them helping connect the dots so he could see that these are the hands and feet of God. This is what a good and loving God is like. Until he’s gripped by the kindness and possibility of that God knowing his name and having room for him.

A story of privilege and a story of grace. Both are true.

Because this is a story about hospitality, where privilege and grace and status and shame and food and freedom and love and cost are all part of the conversation.

A conversation I hope to provoke with today’s sermon.

When we think of the qualities of God, stuff like love and power and mercy and justice all come to mind. But I’d say that one of the top 10, maybe top 5, qualities of the God Jesus worshipped is hospitality. 

And when we think of the qualities of a faithful follower of God, maybe we think of other things too, but I think hospitality ought to make the top 10, or top 5 list there as well. 

So as we spend this fall reading and talking about Jesus at the table and how Jesus gathers people, let’s read and talk about a little story Jesus tells about hospitality.

It’s from Luke’s 14th chapter, and it goes like this:

Luke 14:7-11

Common English Bible

7 When Jesus noticed how the guests sought out the best seats at the table, he told them a parable.

8 “When someone invites you to a wedding celebration, don’t take your seat in the place of honor. Someone more highly regarded than you could have been invited by your host.

9 The host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give your seat to this other person.’ Embarrassed, you will take your seat in the least important place.

10 Instead, when you receive an invitation, go and sit in the least important place. When your host approaches you, he will say, ‘Friend, move up here to a better seat.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests.

11 All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”

Friend, move down lower for a time.

Friend, move up higher for a change.

This is one of the great social themes of the Bible – to exalt the humble and humble the proud. It’s one of the most frequent statements about what God is seeking to do in the world.

To exalt the humble, and humble the exalted.

God has an interest in freeing God’s children of the oppressive sin of pride – of the kind of too large vision of ourselves and our kind that leads to arrogance, to the hoarding of wealth and resources, to underpaying workers and overpaying ourselves, and to colonizing people and endlessly extracting from the earth. That the proud could be humbled.

And God has an interest in freeing God’s children from the burden of abnegation. Being reduced by ourselves or by others into a too small vision of ourselves and our kind that leads to humiliation and poverty and self-loathing, self-doubt, and self-harm. That the humbled could be exalted.

Jesus tells a little story, a parable. It’s a folksier, earthier way of getting at these grand, just intentions of God. This is Jesus’ way of telling stories that opens up conversation about what’s most important rather than closing it.

And here it’s a conversation about the just and kind hospitality of God Jesus urges us to welcome and imitate.

You friend, take a lower seat for a change. You, friend, come up higher.

My friend Dan likes to tell a story about the late Peter Gomes, who was for decades the in-house preacher and pastor of Harvard University’s Memorial Chapel. Dan says Rev. Gomes was the greatest of hosts. He’d throw these lavish gatherings of diverse guests, with carefully designed seating charts. And as people sat down, he’d remind them:

Don’t forget, the person sitting next to you is the most interesting person in the room.

In just a word, reminding the exalted to look and see who else was there, while reminding the humbled of all they brought to the table as well.

Sitting next to you is the most interesting person in the room.

Friend, come up higher.

I think the first word here is deeply personal. No matter who you are and no matter how high or low you are in your own eyes or anyone else’s, the first word over your life from God is:

I am here. I see you. I love you. You matter to me, child. Friend, come up higher.

In the scriptures, gatherings of food and wine and people are over and over again metaphors, images of the Beloved Community of God. And at the center of this community is God our host encouraging us:

“the person you’re sitting next to is the most interesting person in the room, to be sure. But also, to me, you are also the most interesting person in the room. I see you and I love you. I am here.”

The story I told you of how I was saved coming out of my teenage years is a story of people representing to me God’s loving interest in me and encouragement that my life matters. It matters to this world, and it matters to God.

Sometimes in the Christian faith, the heartbeat of it all – love of God with our whole being, and love of neighbor as ourself – has been twisted to imply the utter erasure of ourselves. As if faith in God leaves us empty or invisible. In Christian teaching on Jesus’ love ethic, and frankly especially in male Christian teaching to girls and women, the meaning and worth and dignity of our own selves has sometimes gotten lost. But self-love, welcoming God’s love for us, is part of this faith too. To believe that God is saying to each of us:

Friend, come up higher. Friend, sit closer to me. Friend, notice your worth. Friend, own your strengths. Friend, see your beauty. Friend, come up higher.

Welcoming this message is central to living as a child of God.

And alongside that, when life seems to give you a back seat, maybe even a seat outside the room entirely, where you can’t eat the food and can’t hear the laughter, I think this teaching gives us a way to make meaning of those personal experiences too.

I’m not saying God necessarily causes these experiences. I think mostly, God doesn’t. But when we hit a hard patch in any area of our life, it helps if we can say to ourselves:

this is a moment of suffering. It’s not my whole life, it’s a moment. It will pass.

And it’s maybe a chance to know a little fellowship with people whose whole lives are full of suffering. It’s a reminder that the meaning of life doesn’t come from endless success and non-stop victory.

Maybe someone else is up higher right now and I’m in a lower seat, and there are times for that too. I’ll be OK.

I was saved mostly through the ways God and friends and mentors saw me and loved me and helped me start to build a life for myself. But I landed where I did also because of things God helped shape in me through suffering too. Years of work dealing with some childhood hurt, an early career failure, a scary patch of unemployment, a need to rework some over-rigid aspects of my faith. All this helped humble me, keep me from becoming a too-big-in-my-own-eyes force for harm in the world.

The “friend take a lower seat for a while” message can come from a lot of places. Sometimes it’s a posture we have to choose for ourselves. But this too is part of God’s hospitality – God’s making room for us all.

So the first word in this teaching on God’s hospitality is personal. We each matter to God and this world as much as anyone else does. But we also don’t matter more than anyone else does either. There’s room for all God’s children.

I think the next word in this teaching is social. In fact, it’s the most obvious, literal meaning of Jesus’ parable. After all, he told this story after watching some obnoxious jockeying for the best spots at the table.

He might have been in the Senate. Maybe the Board room. Or maybe any ordinary workplace or social scene.

Back in the 90’s, when Grace and I were working for the same organization, our team read this great article on workplace communication and what the authors called one-up and one-down communication. The piece was from the 80’s, and I couldn’t track it down last week.

Anyway, the article – or at least what I remember of it – stirred a lot of thinking in me, in Grace’s and my relationships, and in the team that we were on.

The authors discussed two different types of communication people use in the workplace. One down communication, favored more often by women, seeks to build consensus, to share credit, and yield authority to someone else while talking or making a decision. Statements like, “I really like Mark’s idea.” Or “I don’t know. What does the rest of the team think is a good idea,” would be examples of one-down communication? It’s taking the lower seat, so to speak.

One up communication, favored more often by men, seeks to establish expertise or authority, and get a decision made and maybe to get credit for oneself. So maybe Mark says, “Based on all my time and experience, I think we should do so and so,” even if Mark is partly repeating the ideas that Mary first had.

The authors thought that both one-up and one-down communication sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t, but our team’s take away was to notice how much more often the men used one-up and the women used one-down communication, with the invitation to do something about this.

To, as a man, take a humbler, more gracious communication posture and seek to credit and involve others. And as a woman, to be free to assert one’s own experience and views, and have an eye out for a man not grabbing credit for those.

It was a really helpful insight. But not just about gender dynamics. Because my wife and others on our team pointed out that this isn’t just a gendered dynamic, it can be a racialized one too. They noticed that Asian-American members of our team tended toward more one-down communication styles, and White members of our team toward more one-up ways of talking. And this is just one of a hundred or more ways that sex and gender and race dynamics in American workplaces end of leaving white people and men with more credit, more power, and more pay.

Side note by the way: being married to a person who has the kind of insights and passions on feminist and racial justice that my wife does has been a transformative, critical influence in my life. Grace, you’re the best. I’m not who I am without you. And the rest of y’all, if you partner, partner well. Partner with people you’re glad to have influence you, because they will.

Speaking of Grace, though, and this whole social hospitality element of today’s passage, it’s not just communication where you can see these dynamics at play. It happens around literal meal tables too.

Where I grew up, if you went out to eat, everyone ordered their own dish, and you only shared with someone else if you personally agreed to that, or you know, if it was your kids and you had the right, or you were cleaning up what they couldn’t finish. I mean, stealing like a single french fry from your brother’s plate was a major crime.

But during college, after I started hanging out with Grace and then going to church with her, we went to a Chinese church right in Boston’s Chinatown, and we’d go out to eat after events in these big groups – 8, 10, 12 people crowded around a single table.

And every single time, we ordered family style. Everyone shares everything. And I figured out fast stuff like: don’t hog all the best pieces from a dish. And don’t take the last thing off a plate unless you’ve offered it to everyone first.

And even social things like: ask other people questions more than you talk about yourself. And slowly, these practices of hospitality became mine too, because they seemed like more generous, socially connected ways to live.

If Jesus is the best human revelation of the nature of God that we’re ever going to get, and I think he is, look what we learn about God from him. Jesus didn’t dominate groups and make everything about himself. He took a genuine, curious interest in everyone he met, and how he could know them just as they could know him. Jesus asked more questions than he gave advice. He didn’t insist upon the best seat at the table wherever he went. This is someone who was born in a feeding trough in a barn after all, because his hometown didn’t have room for his folks anywhere else.

God’s hospitable with us all. God doesn’t need to take the best of everything. God doesn’t dominate or use us. God takes interest in everyone and everything outside Godself and integrates that into God’s being and intentions. And Jesus is like:

try it out. Life’s going to go better for you if you share credit and build consensus, if you take a humbler spot if you’re the kind of person used to being first. And if you’re the kind of person who’s been at the back of the line, you know, go ahead and take your spot at the front when you can. That’s good too. Friend, come up higher.

I think the last word on this is global, but I don’t really have time for that.

So I’ll just ask:

what does it mean for our consumption and our economies, if we were to practice global hospitality?

If we were to take Jesus seriously and think, the proud need to be humbled. And the same people shouldn’t always have the most wealth, the highest consumption, the most cheap consumer goods, the highest carbon footprint, and all that. Those people – which would be a lot of in this room today – ought take a lower seat so we don’t get embarrassed when our grandkids’ oceans flood the coastline and when this world runs out of clean oceans or clean water or habitable climate.

I could name other examples, but you get the idea. Personal, social, and global hospitality isn’t just a nice idea. It’s not just a way to have more friends or be more connected to each other. At stake in these questions and practices of hospitality are the biggest questions of relationship with God, justice and equity, global flourishing, and the future of our species.

So friends, let’s live in this story some more.

Where can we be saying:

Friend, come up higher to other people in our lives?

Where do some of us need to take a lower seat for a time? Where do some of us need to take that higher seat for a change?

Where is God saying to us,

Friend, come up higher? Seeing, encouraging, and saving us into lives of meaning, confidence, and purpose?

Or saying friend,

I see you, kid that I love, but you can chill out on your elevation for a while. Let it be. Let it go.

Being a Safe Person, With a Safe God

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

When I was a teenager, one of the quotes I heard most about God wasn’t from the Bible but from a fictional woodland creature. The line was:

“Course he isn’t’ safe, but he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you.” 

Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.

These words were from the story The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. They’re spoken by a talking beaver to a preteen girl named Susan who has wandered into a magical land called Narnia and is first hearing about the rightful king of that land, a lion named Aslan. She wonders:

Oh, I’d thought this king was a person. But he’s a lion – is he safe? 

And that’s when the beaver says:

Course he isn’t safe, but he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you. 

In the Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan is an allegory for Jesus. And it’s no wonder I thought about this line a lot. I’d read this story as a child, and when I was coming into my own faith in God in the very late 80s, C.S. Lewis was really popular. You could do worse. Lewis had many interesting and helpful things to say about God.

But this line – that God is not safe, but good, I no longer endorse. 

I get the idea. Jesus, and the God he reveals, is unpredictable, uncontrollable, unconventional. Yes to all that. But unsafe. I don’t accept that anymore. 

I’ve spent my whole adult life working on being a safe person. I can’t say I’ve succeeded in every circumstance, but it’s really important to me. 

Because I think that goodness starts with safety – the goodness of God, and any goodness we have to offer or find in others too. Too many of us have had our experiences of God clouded by unsafety. Threats of hell, toxic shame, feeling like a burden or disappointment to God. Or simply the terribly unethical, dangerous behavior of church leaders who in some sense represent God to others. 

Safety doesn’t by itself get you to goodness. You need more than that. But it starts here. 

So today, we explore how Jesus is safe. At Jesus’ table, people are safe. Jesus shows us how God is both safe and good. And I think Jesus can also teach us about spotting safe and unsafe people and about becoming a safe person ourselves.

Let’s read today’s passage from the good news of Luke. 

Luke 7:36-50

Common English Bible

36 One of the Pharisees invited Jesus to eat with him. After he entered the Pharisee’s home, he took his place at the table.

37 Meanwhile, a woman from the city, a sinner, discovered that Jesus was dining in the Pharisee’s house. She brought perfumed oil in a vase made of alabaster.

38 Standing behind him at his feet and crying, she began to wet his feet with her tears. She wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and poured the oil on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited Jesus saw what was happening, he said to himself, If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. He would know that she is a sinner.

40 Jesus replied, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”

“Teacher, speak,” he said.

41 “A certain lender had two debtors. One owed enough money to pay five hundred people for a day’s work. The other owed enough money for fifty.

42 When they couldn’t pay, the lender forgave the debts of them both. Which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the largest debt canceled.”

Jesus said, “You have judged correctly.”

44 Jesus turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? When I entered your home, you didn’t give me water for my feet, but she wet my feet with tears and wiped them with her hair.

45 You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but she hasn’t stopped kissing my feet since I came in.

46 You didn’t anoint my head with oil, but she has poured perfumed oil on my feet.

47 This is why I tell you that her many sins have been forgiven; so she has shown great love. The one who is forgiven little loves little.”

48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The other table guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this person that even forgives sins?”

50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

So, as always with Jesus, there is a lot here. This is a story about forgiveness. It’s a story about acceptance. It’s also a story about shame and judgment. It’s a story about a lot of things. But, as I said, it’s also a story about being safe and unsafe, and whether or not God is a safe God, which is where we’ll focus today.

Usually, our curiosity is drawn to this unnamed woman. And for good reason. She is passionate and provocative. We wonder: where did she get her wealth? And also: where did she get her reputation? Male readers over the years have put these two things together and imagined this woman had been a prostitute. I have no idea whether or not this is true, but I know this passage doesn’t say that about her, so I won’t either. 

Jesus says she’s been forgiven much and that she loves much and that (unlike Simon, the man that invited Jesus over for dinner), she is the ideal host. We could say a lot about this extraordinary woman.

But first I want us to notice the difference between the two men in the story. 

Simon, the owner of this house, is not safe. He doesn’t see this woman, he stares at her. He calls to mind the worst of her reputation – true or untrue – and looks down on her. Perhaps some part of him is jealous. Perhaps a part of him wants this woman to be so close to him, kissing his feet, and not having this, he’s even angrier with her and with Jesus. I’m imagining that part, but it rings true to me. 

For the woman and even for Jesus too, he is not safe. It must have been a big risk for the woman to even enter his house, knowing how she’d be seen and treated. 

Jesus’ presence changes the atmosphere of the table. The Ancient Near East was a dirty and smelly place like all ancient places, and it was a dry one too. It was a gesture of kindness and honor to wash someone’s feet and to put a bit of sweet smelling oil on the head. This woman aims to do this for Jesus and finds herself losing control of her tears as she does so. 

Being really seen, being really loved sometimes does this. So do relief and acceptance and deep connection. They can release deep feeling. Deep feeling is being released from this woman, and she’s safe enough to release that in ways that have a kind of erotic intimacy. The kissing of the feet, the touching of the hair.

Notice how safe Jesus is. This woman can be this intimate with Jesus without fear. She doesn’t need to fear that he will be checking her out, evaluating her body with her gaze. She doesn’t fear that Jesus will judge her, reduce her in his eyes to her worst act or biggest regret. She doesn’t fear that Jesus will take anything from her, take anything of her. 

The closest situation I can relate to being in is when I’m with someone in a hospital room or at their sick bed. When people are sick or dying, they are sometimes very vulnerable – lying in bed, dressed in hospital clothes, not always fully aware and alert. And sometimes I’m invited into the intimacy of being by someone’s side in this place, holding their hand while praying, touching their head with oil, reading or even singing to them. I know that I’m safe in those circumstances because I’ve tried to follow Jesus’ example in showing up for people to see and love them as they are. I really admire Jesus’ example here. 

They say that if you want to know which men are safe, ask the women in their life. Especially before the #Metoo movement, but still now I think, women in workplaces know which men are safe and which are not. It’s no secret.

Same with adults and kids. You want to know which adults are safe with kids. Ask the kids in their lives. When I was a high school principal, it struck me that the students always knew which adults in the building were safe. They knew who showed up late, who yelled, who was kind of creepy, who said things to kids adults should never say but would say anyway when other adults weren’t listening. 

It’s true with white people too. You want to know which of us are safe with people of color, who’s done the anti-racism work to be trustworthy. Don’t listen to our words, don’t watch what we post on social media, but notice what people of color want to work with us, or be with us, or trust us – or not. 

The proof is in the pudding. And in Jesus’ case, I love that women and children and Gentiles were all drawn to him – to associate with him, to want to be with him, to learn from him. It shows us that he knew how to see and love people, to show up for them without trying to take anything from them. To be a person you can trust enough to not hurt or diminish you. 

Let’s explore a little more how Jesus was safe because I think this shows us how God is safe, and also how to spot unsafe people, and also to become safe people.

Jesus is safe – and the God he reveals to us is safe – because Jesus sees people well. Just as God sees us all, and just as we’re invited to see people well. 

Jesus’ interaction with Simon hinges on this question: Do you see this woman? Do you see her? 

There are at least five ways that Jesus sees that Simon doesn’t.

  • Jesus sees non-defensively. 
  • Jesus sees rather than staring.
  • Jesus sees the image of God in the other.
  • Jesus sees to give and forgive, not to take.
  • And Jesus sees future possibility, not just past inheritance.

First the non-defensive part. 

Did you notice how Jesus reacts to Simon’s judgment and critique – not just of the woman but of him? He doesn’t run from it – he tells Simon the truth. But he does it calmly, non-reactively, and gently. He tells Simon a story. He asks Simon a question. He receives the criticism without being super-reactive, and he engages, powerfully but calmly.

Years ago, I was considering working with someone more professionally. And one of their colleagues told me – he’s great, but he’s just bad at criticism. Just so you know. As if this was a small thing. I heard it but worked with this person anyway. And in some ways, I wish I hadn’t. The relationship gave me a lot of grief. 

An inability to take criticism isn’t a small thing; it’s a window into a bunch of things. And it makes someone unsafe, because you can’t be honest with them, and there are limits to their growth too. If you want to be a safe person, you have to choose to hear critique non-defensively, like Jesus idd, whether you think it’s valid or not. You can sift through what you think is true and helpful and what isn’t, but you have to be able to hear it without reacting.

Just as Jesus did. Just as God does. God doesn’t lose his cookies or shut down when we blame God or yell at God or swear at God. The prayer book of the Bible is full of little moments where people are doing that. God can handle our anger and critique, whether it’s true or not. God’s safe like that.

Secondly, Jesus sees, not stares.

I got this difference from the amazing Korean American theologian, Andrew Sung Park. Seeing and staring are really different. Simon’s eyes are on this woman from the moment she walks into his house, through her sitting at Jesus’ feet and anointing them and kissing them and wiping them with her hair. He never takes his eyes off her. Again, my own instinct in reading this passage is that he finds her arousing too but is ashamed of that, which magnifies his resentment. 

But he’s not seeing her – he’s staring at her. She’s an object, filtered through his own needs and worries and grievances.

We stare at so many people. We stare at the people who frighten us. We stare at the people who shock us. We stare at the people who stir our anger or lust. But when we’re staring at people, we don’t see them. 

This is why if you’re travelling amidst global poverty, as some of us do with our partners called Asha in New Delhi, you should put your camera away – to help you see, not stare. 

This is why Jesus asks Simon:

Do you see her?

Because in his staring, he’s missed all the important things – her love, her freedom, her generosity, her modeling to Simon how to be a good host, even though they are in Simon’s house. 

Objectifying, othering, staring means you can’t see. Jesus asks us all: do you see? And invites us to see one another as God does – seeing, not starting.

How does God see us? Like Jesus sees this woman: seeing the image of God in the other? Seeing the good. Seeing whatever way the divine is shining in us. 

That’s the third way Jesus sees and invites us to see: seeing the image of God in the other. 

Mother Theresa famously said that she sees Jesus in the face of other people and responds accordingly. 

She said this is what it means to be contemplative in the heart of the world. It’s to seek the face of God in everything and everyone, all the time, no matter what else we see.

A fictional version of this that’s been popular these days is the TV football coach Ted Lasso. He sees and calls out the good in everyone he interacts with. At one honest, vulnerable moment he admits why he does this. He knows life is desperately hard. It’ll drive most of us to see the worst in ourselves and one another. So he tries to see the best in everyone. Jesus does this too. It’s how he sees people, seeing the face and image of God in us all. 

That God does this with us makes God safe. We’re never a burden to God. We’re never an inconvenience, a disappointment. We can let God down and mess up in so many ways, but God’s going to keep seeing God’s face in us, going to keep seeing the family resemblance – like parent, like child. 

And we’ll not just be safe, but we’ll be really safe and good everytime we can do the same.  

The fourth way Jesus sees here is with attention. Jesus sees to give and forgive, not to take.

I’ve already talked about the lack of safety that comes with people that are trying to take. Jesus makes it clear that he’s come into freedom and self-control in his life. He’s not governed by reactive anger that diminishes people or by lust that seeks to take things from people – sexual or otherwise – that they are not freely giving to us or that aren’t ours to have. 

There’s a reason that in Jesus’ great moral teaching on the Sermon the Mount, he begins by telling us all that good lives include learning to manage our anger and lust, changing from the inside out where those come from, so we can life freely and not spend our lives reducing people or trying to take from them. If we want to be safe people, we have to be brutally honest about our own proclivities toward unhealthy, reactive anger or to lust – unhealthy desire to take – sexually or otherwise – what isn’t ours. And we have to get on a path toward more health, wellness, and self-control in these areas. It’s a lot of work, but the safety and health that grows in us is worth it. 

Jesus is safe because he sees someone in distress and he doesn’t see a cause for his anger or a mark for his lust. He sees someone who needs and deserves love and forgiveness, and he sees someone he would like to be in relationship with, where affection is freely and safely given and received. 

These qualities of giving and forgiving make Jesus and make God safe, and they make people safe as well. 

Lastly, the kind of seeing that makes Jesus safe is that he sees people’s future possibilities, not just their past inheritance.

Simon looks at the most loving, hospitable person in the room and calls her a sinner. He sees something in her past – or her past reputation – that evokes his judgment and resentment. Jesus sees her future. He sees the gratitude, freedom, and power she is experiencing and will keep on living once she knows again that she’s God’s beloved child. And he loves and celebrates what he sees. 

God sees you and me this way – not merely as a sum of all our past inheritance – the mix of all our accumulated genetics and experiences, bad or good. God sees what’s possible next, with grace and help and freedom, and God longs to touch us with that grace and help, so we can embrace our future with freedom and hope. 

As I close for today, I invite you, friends, to two things. 

Lean into your spot at Jesus’ table, where God is unpredictable, uncontrollable, and unconventional. But where God is also safe and good. God accepts and loves you as you are. There’s no shadow or anything to fear in God. God sees you non-defensively. God sees you lovingly and affirmatively, seeing God’s family resemblance in you. God looks at you not to take, but only to forgive and give, aiming to build you up toward greater freedom and hope. 

And aim to become the very safest person you can be:

  • One who handles criticism without reactive defensiveness
  • One who doesn’t stare but sees
  • One who sees God’s face in all your fellow humans
  • One who seeks to give and forgive and receive and but never to take what isn’t yours
  • And, one who believes in others future possibilities

Be careful with people that aren’t on a journey toward these things, and let’s aim to be on that journey ourselves.

The Practice of Love

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

Good morning everyone! I’m Ivy – part of the staff team here, and it’s a joy to talk to you this morning – as we carry on in this fall series we’ve started called “The Table: How Jesus Gathers.”

And you’ll notice that we are utilizing a present tense verb – ‘gathers.’ We aren’t only drawing from historical context to see what wisdom we can ascribe to our present day, we are extending an invitation for us all to notice what the living Jesus is doing and communicating to us now – as we gather. 

This series is also an invitation to reboot. It’s been a while for some of us since we’ve gathered or been around each other’s tables with any consistency. And for the greater part of these last 18 months where “gathering” has really looked different – and suspended – many of us have felt a sense of disconnection – with ourselves/one another and Jesus.  A friend of mine relayed this sensation to be like peering in on a great big, familiar table where we used to sit – where we used to be part of creating and growing the Kin-dom of God-  and now it feels hard to find the door again.

This makes sense to me, because one of the greatest “plans” God gives to us to help build the Kin-dom of God is to “love God with all our being and love our neighbor as we love ourselves.” 

And this plan in its fullest version is not meant to be divided into 3 separate check boxes. 

Love God. “Check.” 

Love your neighbor.  “Check.” 

Love yourself.  “Check.”

It’s really meant to be a  flow, a continuum – a way of being and living –  where each hangs on the other and informs the other.  This flow is a generative circuit – fueled by the force and of love. So it makes sense that when any one piece is changed, the whole flow is really altered. And this can leave us feeling unmoored/misaligned with ourselves, each other and God – as we try to find a way forward, (or back into that circuit/flow of love.)

And this is also why some of us might feel tired. Because we also feel the longing to move and act and love where there is obvious “lovelessness” in the world around us.  We want to put our faith into action. We want to make our beds, we want to be patient with those closest to us – we want to have the energy to call our friend who’s in pain – we want  TO BE ENGAGED IN THIS LIFE, fully present to the WHOLE of life. The wonder, the struggle…and it’s really hard when we have been taken out at our knees and are ourselves drifting and trying to stay afloat. 

So much of living a life of faith is to both embrace the “mystery” of God and enact “practice” that helps us feel connected to God. And it’s this posture of “practice” that I want to press into this morning. This practice of digging back down to the foundation of God’s love  – the practice of returning to love that is implanted in US, and grounds us.  

So if this rings true for you this morning – a sense of misalignment /disconnection/ or tiredness in your spirit and body, let’s explore what Jesus offers us at this table he sets for us of  Practiced Love and see if it helps us in any way.

And I’ll offer this question for all of us – as a way into prayer:

How are you experiencing the love of God?


Jesus help us live into this question, rather than strive for an answer…this morning, come close to us – to our deepest longings, our fear, our grief, our dreams. And be with us. Let your presence be known to us.  Let your love move and ground us both. 


When I was little one of my favorite activities to pass the time in the summer was to hold little “road-side” sales with my 4 younger brothers.  

My brothers would excavate this spot behind our house, which was the woods of Maine, where they discovered if they dug down deep enough they would unearth these “treasures” of all kinds. Namely old apothecary bottles. Some with residual liquid in them, some rusted, some in beautiful blue glass colors, mostly all broken and dirty.  Made-up stories accompanied these vials – medicine needed for a tragic horse accident, or pills for somebody’s leg that was amputated when a tractor ran them over, and another held poison for the mean school bus driver.

I didn’t participate in the dumpster dive of our backyard excavation, but I hunted for chunks of mica which surrounded our house foundation – and I added my shiny/glittering/layered rocks to the display of “treasures” that we wanted to sell. 

Of course no one ever came, so we’d end up trading with one another. Sitting on the edge of our dirt driveway. And processing some of the bewilderment of humanity and community. The “make believe” stories that we shared were, of course, shaped by our real lived childhood experiences. The stories we had actually heard of tragic deaths in our town – and how we would deal with the people who were mean to us on the bus, etc. 

There’s something to me in this memory – that speaks of the innocence – but also the depth –  and embodied experience of God’s love (and also of the reality that we probably all needed tetanus shots long before we actually got them).  We felt seen and known, and empowered, creative and connected – regardless of anyone acknowledging our “treasures.”  AND it was also this place where we were trying to figure out HOW to practice love. How to love our neighbor.

Maybe you have some early memories too – of where you felt most free/connected to others, the earth, and yourself? Maybe they (like mine) are pretty quirky – but somehow give you glimpses of the foundation of GOD’s love for you. I think these memories are really important, and perhaps our firmest foundation.

Let’s read the scripture together from Luke – and see how these words can help us along this conversation of the importance of experiencing God’s love.

Luke 6:45-49

New International Version

45 A good person brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil person brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?

47 As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like.

48 They are like a person building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.

49 But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a person who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

Now let me tell you –  I’ve been shook this year…disjointed.

There has been so much grief, suffering, shock, hurt, upheaval. We may not have consciously chosen to “store” these things/feelings/events in our hearts, but the “storing” just happened because it’s been so intense, so non-stop –just torrent after torrent. 

“That is exactly correct!”

I think Jesus would say. 

This is the experience of being human. Sometimes life comes at us so fast, and so hard – we cannot possibly stay afloat if we attempt to process everything immediately and so we do end up putting it in the stock room of our hearts.

And so when I feel as though, ‘I’m just doing my best – I’m waking up in the morning and trying to put one foot in front of the other’ these verses can feel damning. 

There’s a way that I can read this scripture and think – am I not well built? Should I be concerned about my “foundation?” Have I not listened well? Should I practice more? Practice harder? Practice differently?   

The practice of our faith tradition does rest on the fulcrum of love. Again to love one another, God and ourselves.  And that way of loving has taken shape through various tools that help us practice that love. The fundamentals of our faith tradition give us “scripture and scripture study”, “singing and worship,” prayers and rituals. And I’m so thankful for the centuries of these traditions  – they are often grounding for me. And even with these valid and meaningful tracks I found it really hard to do anything (like put real pants on), nevermind meditate on scripture in a way that helped me feel connected to people I couldn’t be with – and that was really unmooring for me.

And might I suggest that as I’ve wrestled with this, I uncovered that while our faith traditions are meaningful, helpful and necessary  – they are also, INCOMPLETE.  And that they can’t in and of themselves entirely “house what it is that is needed to hold us together” in times of upheaval. 

We need something bigger than that…that we might need to practice unearthing, digging down deep for…


The practice Jesus could be talking about in these verses, is the practice of returning to God’s love, AND the practice of the experience of God’s love for you as a foundation.  This is very much not about an idea or a theory or study of God’s love – it is about the experience of God’s love. 

And the practice it requires is to return, to uncover, to dig down to the core of ourselves and believe that we are loveable. 

Knowing that we are loveable as our full/fallible/messy selves, is where the uniqueness of your story and God’s story intersect. And there really is no foolproof method to discovery. It takes your reflection and excavation to figure out the components of what helps aid you in the experience of being loved by God unconditionally. 

This is not navel-gazing. But it does sharpen our clear-sightedness of who we are in God- before we worry about someone else’s behavior or actions. It’s about seeing ourselves clearly as loved, this is uncovering our foundation, peeling back those layers to remember that the image of God – the fullness of God resides in our cells – and that we are the tables set w/ God’s love. 

This grounding practice of returning to the experience of God’s love – enriches our awareness of this force, in all of our spaces.  Love, as the first filter we move through each day, is essential because so much of what comes at us is lovelessness.  And this is why it takes practice. Practice. Practice, to return again and again – throughout the day to the love of God. To rest, to regroup, to scream,


To express our full selves and find our footing once again – so that we can go out into our field of practice –  the world around us.

If we cling only to the theoretical methods of LOVE , if we rush to help  – to be a neighbor, to grow beloved community – without first experiencing the love of God, these methods may prove to shift us away from the treasure of love inside of us and make us strive to reach God rather than be loved by God.

We don’t always know who or what we can love on a given day.  The most we can know is where or what we are loving from, and the best we can do is to love from a true place in ourselves. This makes our potential to love one that is bendable, flexible, transformative – even as we face those we regard as enemies or strangers.

Here’s the thing – we need to continually practice situating ourselves in that flow of the greatest commandment. Our experience of God’s love is not only for our self satisfaction but is also for communion/interconnectedness with others. 

God’s propulsive love for us – roots in us a propulsive love for humanity, and as Thomas Merton says,

“we do not become fully human until we give ourselves to one another in love.”


Part of the practice of returning to GOD’s love and deeply knowing that we are loved – is that it informs the stories we tell ourselves and others, of God. 

That little memory of digging for old bottles and collecting mica (in what I now know was an old town dump) in our backyard is that it formed in me the earliest, most fundamental story of God – even before I had language for God. The story that GOD was big enough to hold the broken/jagged edges of life – and also the beauty. BOTH in one place.  AND GOD’s love is stretchy and expansive enough to hold it all, and the stories that attach to that. 

Last year Scott’s brother died suddenly, and his widow was visiting and at our table last Friday evening.  I listened to the stories stored up in her heart – the story of grief  – it’s piercing freshness, and the tears and the pain of a lot of unresolved layers that are part of that grief.

And I knew that night that I had listened to the words of God – listened to the story of  practiced, experiential love expressed through our sister-in-law. Her mouth spoke of the absurd reality of a husband gone too soon –

“I don’t know – I just don’t really know why all this happened the way it did.” 

And her heart spoke of her knowing of God,

“but I know I’m not alone in this. I have no answers. I’m not fixed.  But I’m not alone.”

To open our hearts more fully to the table of  love’s power and grace we must dare to acknowledge how little we have control or understanding of love in both theory and practice, and yet it is so compelling that we must STILL dare to believe that it means everything.  

The next day we had 15 or so folks around our backyard table. And I listened to the stories of new engagements, and the start of grad school and stories that traced the last 18 months. Of being homeless and living in a shelter, and I watched videos of cats and ate pumpkin bread and I listened to the story of a lifetime of hustling to have a seat at any table – be seen and heard, and stories of longing. And more hope and more quirkiness and a dizzying array of the love of God. 

And I knew that that night too that I had listened to God. I had listened to the story of practiced love expressed through everyone who gathered. 

Because just below the surface of pumpkin bread and (wine), and a warm fall night – are the treasures that we unearth as we sit in the company of one another. Those around the table that we know we love, those that we wonder if we will love, those that we struggle to love and those that we wish believed our love -and somehow we see the fullness of jagged edges and THE LOVE OF GOD that has helped us both hold the poison of this world and the elixir for this world in one vessel/one view/one aperture.

Navigating these tables is where we find the blueprint – the components of creating and building the kin-dom of God, the Beloved Community. 


As you might know, Reservoir has over the past couple of years – formed a 5-year vision which is to continue to become the Beloved Community we are called to be.  And we have 5 bullet points that frame that vision out – we aim to become: 

  1. Diverse and anti-racist.
  2. Welcoming, and a place of profound belonging. 
  3. Radically generous.
  4. Empowering wholeness, love, and justice in people and communities, promoting whole life flourishing.
  5. Innovating as a church  – so that our ministry is less dependent on any one gathering but includes many life-giving new ways to experience and be church.

Maybe not so surprisingly, this vision rests on Jesus’ ethic of love. And a love ethic presupposes that everyone has the right to be free, to live fully and well.  And yet to love in this way – to grow and create Beloved Community (and why it’s still in process) – is because it requires a fundamental shift in our social fabric. It requires us to embrace a global vision that recognizes how our lives are intimately intertwined and impactful to the other.
SPOILER ALERT: *We aren’t there yet*.

However, as we engage with this need for change, we would do well to embrace the entry point that isn’t written on our website – that isn’t indicated in our 5 bulleted points. This is the invitation of God as outlined in the verses we read today  – to hear God’s words

“you are loved, you are loveable, “beloved”, “I LOVE YOU”

and put them into practice.  To practice as a starting point, our experience of the love of God – because that is the most compelling, most inspiring, most rock-steady foundation we can build from.

It’s also the least well-defined. 

If you revisit a lot of Dr. King’s speeches and civil rights history – you might notice that there isn’t a single speech where he completely unpacked what the Beloved Community means. Perhaps it’s because it was intentionally left incomplete.  

That the gaps are left for us – we, the people – to fill in. 

That our lived expression of the experience of God’s love – would be the mortar that gives shape and sirs up the vision, filling it in with our uniqueness, our priorities, our skills, our passions, our social locations and vantage points. 

Now, there are values that undergird Dr. King’s Beloved Community vision for sure, and if you read the full chapter of Luke 6 – you’ll see that Jesus also offers guardrails for a “way” forward. A way of grace, nonviolence, peace-making, loving enemies, forgiveness, restorative justice, transformative justice, social and economic justice.  Making seats at the table – for those who are oppressed, marginalized, disinherited – and embodying a generous inclusivity, a radical sharing.

And the first brick of all of that – is a community built on the experiential love of God.

God gave us the bones of the vision.

And we are the marrow.


As Dr. King, Jesus, Merton, bell hooks,  and all the voices I draw from show us – that love is not a weak, easy, utopian idea. Love is an active force that can lead us into greater communion with the world. In fact, it is extolled as the primary way we (LOVE our neighbor), it’s how we end domination and oppression.

bell hooks, -In this vein then our  “action”  is like a sacrament, a visible form of an invisible spirit – an outward manifestation of an inward [force – of love] a disruptive picture of power to those that hold it. 

As we lean into God’s love, dig deep and unearth that steady foundation of love – our way of being in the world will  become more intrinsically healing and liberating to those who are not privileged by the current systems and status quo.

To be human is a chronic condition. The torrents of life will. Keep. coming. 

We can’t fix or solve it.  We can’t practice our way out of reality.
But we can withstand. We can lift our heads above the waves and find oxygen.
As we practice opening our hearts more fully to Love’s power and God’s grace. It’s what keeps our hearts longing for more – for liberation – for a better way forward  – for a vision of beloved community that isn’t quite in full view yet – but is still very much alive.

 As bell hooks says,

“we learn that love is important everywhere, and yet we are bombarded by its failure…yet don’t let this bleak picture alter the nature of your longing. Still hope that love will prevail. Still believe in love’s promise.”

Jesus loves you. Really really loves you –  and he wants us to fully  live this life, with this “way” of love as your founding and organizing principle.

Let me pray us out – utilizing the image from our spiritual practice.

Take a moment to situate yourself in this image… where are you?
How close are you to the spray? The waves?

Take a moment to locate Jesus… where is Jesus? How close is Jesus’s love to you?

 Resource: bell hooks, “All About Love: New Visions” 

Crumbs from the Table

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

Matthew 15:21-28

New International Version

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 

22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

After our family moved to the United States, my mom started writing letters to my grandmother. My mom was the 6th daughter out of 8 children, often lost in the shuffle and – she would say- didn’t get much love. But letters from America was one way she tried to heal her relationship with my grandmother. She would write 5-10 pages of affirmation, encouragement, and forgiveness, to try to mend the relationship.

After my grandmother passed away in 2016, my uncle collected her things, one of which was a collection of all of my mother’s letters to her. He sent it back to my mom. And if I wanted to get a closer understanding of their relationships, my mother- even after she passes- and her mother, these letters would be one of the primary ways I’d do that. 

Reading the Bible is like this. Why do we care to take this story of Jesus from the Bible to read, meditate and reflect on, and attempt to find our own story in it? Because when I get my hands on those letters my mom wrote, I’ll hurl myself over them, with a kleenex in hand, peering into the mind of my mother holding her mother in her heart to see if I could find myself in any of those words. 

The story we just read: where do you see yourself in the story?

Do you find yourself relating to the disciples – who are close to Jesus, have access to Jesus, and yet sometimes find the things that come around and with Jesus bothersome or as a nuisance?

Or do you find yourself relating to Jesus – finding yourself on one path, determined and sure, and for some reason, realizing that you should go another path, out of a prompting of an unexpected person?

Or do you find yourself relating to the woman – begging for crumbs, because you’re desperate for a miracle, even crumbs would do?

Well, let’s go through the characters, and see what we can learn about what God is like and maybe even a bit about ourselves.

So, first the disciples. Many of us here could likely be identified as the disciples. Many of you have been Christians for a long time. And this line they say in this text,

Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

I think it invites us to something that we Christians need to reckon with. Who have we been sending away? Who keeps crying out after us, that we choose to ignore or exclude? 

And what we eventually learn from this text, though it takes a moment before we get there (we’ll get to that in just a minute) is that God’s kin-dom is bigger than you think. Let me say that again. God’s kin-dom is bigger than you think. God’s embrace is larger than you can imagine. Think of someone you think, oh no, not them. I could never go to the same church with them. I could never worship in the same place as them. That person, yes that person, God is saying, hmmmm maybe we could sit next to them at a table. 

I was thinking about this from last week’s sermon Steve preached. We reflected on the text from the beautiful Community Group content that pastor Ivy made in our Mindfulness Community Group (shameless plug: Tuesdays 12pm on Zoom). In that text the Pharisees were asking,

“why do they eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

And it made me think of you know those finance guys, or the bad boys of pharma, or the 1%. You know those privileged, rich folks. Turns out, yo this is Cambridge, we got some of those right here. 

God really challenges me sometimes with God’s expansive love. I’m not talking about forgive and forget. I’m not talking about not having healthy boundaries. I recently was reading a book called Bold Love, by Dan Allender.

One of 5 subtitles got me to pick up this book again,

“how to love an abusive person without opening yourself up to more damage.”

And it’s not wishy-washy love. It’s powerful, strong, confident love that can withstand so much. I experienced some trauma when I was a child, and there was a time, when I was deep in processing all that, I imagined walking into church and having that person who had done me wrong standing there holding the communion plate.

I’m not saying you should. It is a complex, nuanced journey, unique to each person. And please, don’t engage this if this is too soon or tender for you. Take care and zone me out right now. But could it be, that even our greatest enemies, the worst kind, that we say, “no not them”, God says,

“yes, even them”? 

Let me move onto Jesus. Now this is one of the most interesting texts about Jesus because it’s a rare one where he is…. Corrected. Disagreed with. And Jesus changes his mind. So what does that tell us about God? Does God change God’s mind? Isn’t God all powerful, all knowing? Then why didn’t God just do, in the first place, what God was supposed to do?

There are extended scholarly debates in the chambers of academia arguing about this –did Jesus really know he was God? The divinity of Jesus is a mystery, a both/and as common creeds confess, fully human and fully God. And that’s the beauty of it all! With all that God is, should, can be, and could be, God CHOSE to not be all those things in the body of Jesus to be and in relationship with us! If God kept true to all of God’s full nature, we would not have access to God. God wouldn’t need us. We would be robots!

But look at Jesus in this text. He’s kind of rude here. He doesn’t even answer her! Isn’t he like that rabbi who walks by the guy who was hurt on the side of the road in that Samaritan story? Jesus was kind of… stubborn, saying, 

“I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

And then when she wouldn’t let up, he says to her,

“It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

Um, did Jesus just curse? Did he just call her a dog? I think so. I recently read a book called, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, a Vietnamese American writer, where the main character is called “little dog” by his grandmother. Because if you had a beautiful pet name for your little one, like sweetie, or cupcake, then the evil spirits would come and get them, so instead she named him “little dog”. It’s a curse word in Korean too. I think in most languages, dog is considered not a pleasant thing to be called. Fully human and fully God.

And does God change God’s mind? I earnestly believe so. How could it be? Because, God isn’t worried about the perfect end product. God is worried about you. God cares what you think. What you have to say. I always get a bit frustrated with God. Why don’t you just fix all this stuff, if you call yourself God and you’re all good. Then why do you let me stumble, and fall, and bleed. God sometimes gets quiet when I say these kinds of prayers. Quiet and listening, nodding. I see God quietly putting a hand on my knee where it’s bleeding, scraping their hand on the gravel for no reason, as if to clean dirt. Sometimes I even see God showing me how to walk, fall, and showing me how to patch oneself up and get back up. And I hear God say,

“Cause I wanna do it with you.” 

Watching my 2-year old girl climb into her car seat by herself is about the most frustrating thing in the world. If I pick her up and sit her down, we’re ready to go, clip, and off we go. But seeing her climb up in the most leisurely fashion, putting her foot in the most inefficient place, all turned around and struggling, for what! I’m like, gripping my hands, trying not to grab her leg into position, (because then it would be an even longer ordeal where she says I can do it myself! And cries and gets out of position, and hurts herself), so I just have to hold my heart together so she can get in the car seat by herself. I need to leave the house earlier, so that she has time for this. It’s completely inefficient, I just stand there and have to breathe and watch her struggle. That is my job. 

I’m sure God is more patient than me, but I wonder too, if God’s not like, ooh, just don’t do that, don’t do it like that, yikes, just…

But then again, sometimes I let my girl do it all by herself, and she comes up with the most brilliant, creative, hilarious and smart thing ever. Like, when I tell her to go ahead, she knows how, and she grabs my hand and says,

“but I want to do it with you.”

And I’m like, so humbled, and think, she got it right. I had it wrong. She knows what’s important. To do it together. That’s what I think prayer is. For us to do it with God. And that’s why I think, as crazy and mysterious as it is, that prayer works. 

Lastly, the woman. Can you relate with her?

Jesus kind of insults her but she doesn’t even miss a beat. In fact, this is not her first time, and she doesn’t have time to get offended about stuff like that. She’s trying to get her daughter healed and that’s the only thing that matters. 

Have you ever been that desperate? 

Earlier I talked about the privileged folks, welcoming them. The thing is, it just so happens some people choose not to come themselves, because they don’t need it that bad. Or they feel that they don’t need it that bad. Whether it’s community, or healing, or grace, or forgiveness. The reality is that many of us have the luxury and the privilege to drown that out with hobbies, or food, or drinking, or preoccupations and projects that numb us from the reality of what we really need.

Have you ever needed to beg at Jesus’ feet for help? For mercy? Have you ever been that desperate? When everything you’ve used as a crutch or a distraction disappears or fails, what are you left with? When the career you’ve built or the job you’ve given everything to all of sudden fires you. When you’ve poured yourself into your kids, and they’re growing up and don’t need you any more. In a way, we get a taste of things like this when you try a spiritual discipline like fasting. 

Fasting is something I hate to do. 

I used to smoke. Oh and when I read Michelle Obama’s book and found out Barack smoked, I was like see, even he did it! And for anyone who’s in any kind of sobriety journey, big hats to you, because addiction is a dog. I mean, addictions are horrible, and if you can fight that, you have really tapped into a great source of strength and power and you can do anything. Quitting was really hard. And during that time, if I even walked by someone who was smoking, it took every ounce of me to not ask, “can I bum a smoke off of you?”, and instead just get a whiff of their smoke. Crumbs…

In a book called Addiction & Grace by Gerald May, he talks about the desire behind addiction. And in his experience, it wasn’t just about drugs or alcohol, but he experienced people struggling with all kinds of addiction from aspirin, nose drops, to work, to performance, intimacy, being liked, helping others, and more. And he talks about his own experience this way,

Compared to what happens to people who suffer from alcoholism or narcotic addiction, what happened to me may not seem much of a “rock bottom.” But it had the same grace-full effect. To state it quite simply, I had tried to run my life on the basis of my own will power alone. When my supply of success and this egotistic autonomy ran out, I became depressed. And with the depression, by means of grace, came a chance for spiritual openness.

This woman was so desperate that she compelled Jesus to expand his mission and calling. Because a Cannanite woman’s daughter’s life mattered. Prayer works.  

When have you asked God for something with this kind of “chance for spiritual openness”? Has there ever been a time you’ve knelt and said, “help me?” This you, now? 

When we do so, God does not turn away. In fact God expands God’s arms fully to embrace whatever state you might be in to say, “You are healed.” Do you believe that? I don’t know that I always believe that. I mostly don’t when I’m fine and just don’t need God that much. But for the rest of us, do you need help? Do you need Jesus? Do you need the love of God to break through every lesser gods that failed to satisfy you? Do you need God’s healing? Even a crumb of it? 

Dear friends, I hope that you’re not in that place, where a crumb will do. But if you are, may you taste and see, and know that God is good. Even a crumb will do.  Let me pray for us. 

God, throw me a bone will ya? So many of us are holding so much right now. Juggling life, school, health, our bodies, our families, our safety. Our bodies are tired of fears and anxieties that we’re in need of your peace to break through. Will you shine a light on us Jesus. As the psalmists prayed, don’t look away. Answer us!  Shine your face on our face. May you bring healing. May you bring healing. On our land,  in our school, in our workplaces, in our families, and in our bodies. May you bring healing. Amen. 

God Loves Sinners

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

In the 1970’s and 80’s, right where I lived, there were these enormous religious controversies playing out around me. I ran track with kids of the professors of a local divinity school, and these teammate’s dads were shaping the direction of conservative Christianity in this country. And my mom taught in the preschool that I went to as a kid where a major debate about church life in this area was going on. I had no idea these things were happening at the time, but I think about them a lot these days. 

A prominent author named Diana Butler Bass recently wrote about what happened in the 80’s in the church that housed my preschool. The church’s denomination was arguing about whether or not women could be pastors or priests. And they were arguing about language in their worship and their prayers that had to do with this issue of women’s leadership too. This was part of a whole series of church controversies in the 70’s and 80’s that gave birth to what some of us least like about churches in America today.

And there was this heated meeting in a church up in Hamilton, Massachusetts about this where the bishop – the person in charge of all the local churches of that denomination – met with a group of loud and angry men who were questioning the changes that were happening.

One of the men, a particularly loud and rigid guy, stood up and challenged the bishop. He raised his voice and said- “You sir, are a bishop, and it’s your job to guard the gospel. What do you think the gospel is?” This man, it turns out, was Diana Butler Bass’ first husband, and she was shaken and humiliated by this moment. Later, they’d divorce.

But the bishop took it in stride. To his challenge about the gospel, he simply answered- “God is love.” 

To this, his challenger said – “Yea, sure, but what is the gospel?”

And again the bishop said – “God is love. God loves everybody.”

God loves everybody. This is the good news of God, given to us in Jesus Christ, or at least the start of it.

God loves everybody.

This week, we get going on our fall series, The Table: How Jesus Gathers. And today I begin by asking who gets to be at Jesus’s table and what happens when we’re there.

It’s another way of asking- What is the gospel? What is God’s good news spoken to us and lived out for us too by Jesus Christ? And how does that come alive to us still? 

Let me read today’s passage about Jesus. From the fifth chapter of Luke’s stories of his life. 

Luke 5:27-32 (Common English Bible)

27 Afterward, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at a kiosk for collecting taxes. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.”

28 Levi got up, left everything behind, and followed him.

29 Then Levi threw a great banquet for Jesus in his home. A large number of tax collectors and others sat down to eat with them.

30 The Pharisees and their legal experts grumbled against his disciples. They said, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

31 Jesus answered, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do.

32 I didn’t come to call righteous people but sinners to change their hearts and lives.”

So I want to start with a little who’s who in this passage. And then after the who’s who, we’ll ask-  what’s sin, who’s a sinner, and why is that who Jesus loves?

Then lastly, who gets to be at the table with Jesus? And how can that experience affect us? 

The who’s who. We’ve got Levi, who’s a tax collector. We’ve got Pharisees, who don’t like Levi very much. And then we’ve got Jesus.

Tax collectors were considered sell-outs. They were collaborators with the Roman empire’s colonization of Judea and they made their living by overcharging and extortion. So hardly fan favorites amongst their fellow Jews, for a bunch of very good reasons. If Levi saw a young upstart rabbi coming over to visit his tax collection storefront, he might have expected he was going to get a lecture – young Levi, what are you doing with your life? He certainly wouldn’t have expected a recruiting visit.

But that’s what happens. Jesus says-

follow me.

Which was like saying-

be my student.

Join this movement. It’s a little like a church membership pitch. And this means Jesus is also following him. For whatever reason, Jesus takes an interest in Levi – he knows his name, his family, his circumstances, his potential. And then Levi takes an interest in following Jesus – being his student, sitting at his table. 

The first table they sit at together isn’t Jesus’s, though, it’s Levi’s tax collection table and then it’s the big table in Levi’s home. Again, when you follow Jesus, you find that Jesus is really following you – wanting to be where you work, where you live. Levi throws a party in Jesus’s honor to celebrate their new connection. 

Outside the party, pissed off and grumbling about what’s happening there, are a group Luke calls the Pharisees and their legal experts. The Pharisees come up as a group now and then and they usually seem like Jesus’s enemies. At least, that’s how Christians have usually talked about them.

There are two problems with this, though.

  1. It’s anti-semitic.
  2. And, Jesus just might have been one of them.

OK, the less surprising part first. Anti-semitism. The Pharisee’s reforms and writings during this time became the basis of what eventually became modern-day Judaism. I’m over-simplifying a little, but it’s basically true. And for most of Chrisitanity’s nearly 2,000 year history, Chrisitan people and institutions have been brutally and violently anti-Jewish. Even though Jesus and almost all of his first followers and almost all the writers of the Christian Bible were Jews. 

So to always cast these Pharisees who shaped what Judaism became as the villians of the Christian story is to risk sliding right into this old, hateful pattern. The Pharisees are not the enemy. They’re more than that.

There’s also a really good chance that at one point in his life, Jesus was a Pharisee. Or at least shared lots in common with them.

The Pharisees were a reform movement in the culture and religion of Jesus’s time. They believed God was a loving father, and that God loved humanity so much that God gave humanity the law, the scriptures –so that everyone who followed them would have connection with God and all God’s benefits in this life and in the life to come (what some people called eternal life).

Jesus shared the Pharisee’s devotion to scripture. He shared their love of worship and the gift of rest they called sabbath. He too loved the gifts God was giving the world through the Jewish people. And like them, he believed God is a loving parent and emphasized a life of prayer and devotion to God. In many ways, the Pharisees were Jesus’s people.

Jesus got into arguments with them all the time. Not because they were his opposite, but because he was a more radical version of one of them. 

They knew each other. They shared common foundations. Jesus just wanted way, way more from their movement. 

Where Jesus and his contemporary Pharisees parted ways was that they had a really different sense of who belongs at God’s table and of how you get there. Who belongs at God’s table and how you get there – this was really important to Jesus. It got him angry like not much else did. And we see it playing out here at the table too. 

How you get to God’s table. 

For Jesus, you don’t earn your spot. That’s impossible. Who really earns anything that matters most in life? Who could earn love and affection from a parent? It’s there or it’s not, freely given, as it should be, or not. And who could earn a spot at God’s table? Who could earn a “follow” from God? 

I say follow because there’s something interesting going on with this word here. Jesus invites Levi to follow him – to be his student, to join the circle of people he’s teaching, to pay attention to him. But what that means is that Jesus was also first following Levi. Jesus paid attention to Levi. Jesus was interested in his life and reputation. Jesus took the initiative.

Years ago, when Grace and I and our kids started getting on Instagram, the feature we hated most was how the follows work there. You can follow someone and they can never follow you back. Kids all the time will follow someone on Instagram, wait for the other person to follow them back, and then unfollow them right away. It’s part of the hustle to look cool by having more followers than the amount of people you follow. 

And it’s gross. It’s a way of using each other to build up our status. 

God’s not like this at all.

God would rather follow more people than God has followers.

In fact, God follows everyone. God takes an intimate interest in all of creation. Like God clicking around- I want to see that. I want to know that. I follow you. I follow you. I follow you.

God loves everyone and everything God made. And God pays attention to everything and everyone. God follows us all universally, whether or not we follow God back. 

This is how we get to God’s table – through God’s loving, attentive knowledge of us. And through God’s invitation to us to pay attention in return, to follow God back. 

Who belongs at God’s table? As far as God’s concerned, everyone. God loves everyone.

But Jesus puts a little twist on that everyone here. He says there’s one group of people he may follow, but he’s not really expecting to follow him back. He’s not calling on them, knocking on their door, or anything. 

He says:

I didn’t come to call righteous people but sinners.

He says:

I’m like a doctor. Healthy people don’t reach out very much. But sick people – they are always welcome. I’m here for them.

What’s a sinner? For most of us, sin is what we judge other people for.

I know this because people show me this all the time. Sometimes someone who’s frustrated with our church, maybe realizing it’s not for them or thinking about leaving, will ask to meet with me and ask why I don’t talk more about sin. I’m confused when this happens, since I think I talk about sin a lot. So I’ll ask them:

What’s wrong in your life that you wish your church would talk about more? 

And sometimes they’re confused by the question. So I’ll keep going. I’ll ask:

Where have you lost your way, what unhealthy patterns in you would you like to confess to me? What are you doing to hurt yourself, hurt others, maybe even hurt God, that you need us to speak about more often?

And then they’ll be like:

Oh, no, I didn’t mean me. It’s (these people).

And they’ll talk about something other people do that they wish their church would take a stand on, and would criticize with more clarity.

This is sin as a category for stuff we judge other people for. Whether we’re conservative or liberal, religious or not, we are prone to this. Maybe it’s the human condition, to want to justify ourselves by looking down on others. Certainly it’s sort of become the American way – to locate the bad in the world in people not like us. 

This is not at all what Jesus is talking about. Part of Jesus’s radicality (where he parted ways with his fellow Pharisees too) is in his call to humility and introspection. He had this profoundly non-judgmental, humble way of thinking about sin. 

Sin is where we’ve lost our way, any and all of us. Sin isn’t about a pointed finger, it’s about the three fingers that are pointing back at us. Sin isn’t a pair of poop-stained, critical glasses through which we see the world, sin is for our time in the mirror, to see ourselves more truthfully.

Sin is what’s in us that isn’t healthy, that needs healing and repair. Sin is how we hurt others and hurt ourselves. Sin is how we puff ourselves up too big or even how we knock ourselves down to make ourselves too small. Sin isn’t just personal like this. Sin is also collective and structural too – we’ll talk about that later. But all of this sin – all the parts that are wrong with us – make God love us even more. 

What’s wrong with us doesn’t in any way reduce God’s love for us. God loves everyone, and God especially loves self-aware sinners.

It’s not just sin, though, that evokes God’s affection and attention.

Sin is only half of this doctor metaphor Jesus uses.

We need healing for how we’ve lost our way, but also for how our path has been derailed by others. We need healing not just for how we’ve screwed up, but for how others or for how life has screwed us over. We have hurt others and ourselves, but we have been profoundly hurt as well. 

And this too, God sees with loving affection. 

Jesus’s invitation to Levi, and to all of us, to follow him, is so different from our usual ways we think about self-improvement. 

We’re always trying to justify ourselves, to make ourselves look or feel better than we are. Or when that fails, and we confront our mistakes and our wounds, our failings and our hurts, we may not have much hope for any of that to be accepted or to change. So we try to cover up and hide our crap – all the parts of us we don’t like or aren’t proud of.

But Jesus comes alongside us and is like:

I follow you. I know you. I see you. I see how you’ve lost your way and I see how you’ve been hurt.

We’re all sinners, just as we’ve all been sinned against. 

And that need, that lack, that ache makes us eligible to sit at God’s table. To be in relationship with a God who loves us. 

This past week, I finally starting watching Ted Lasso. Friends have been going on and on about it. A gem of a human in my community group baked and boxed Ted Lasso-style biscuits for us all, which was the most thoughtful, delicious thing to do for your friends, and maybe the most effective TV-show promotion I’ve ever experienced too. Ann Bakun, don’t be surprised when Apple TV calls…

So I binged a bunch of Ted Lasso last week, and man is it a delightful show. It’s a show about a lot of things, but in many ways it’s a show about this God loves everybody thing I’m talking about today. About how the kindness, grace, and acceptance of God starts to propel healing in us, whether we’ve hurt or been hurt, whether the thing we see in us is our sin or how we’ve been sinned against.

You get the relentlessly optimistic Coach Lasso, who eventually with the help of God and friends, can confront some of the pain in his life. And you get a variety of other characters, who through love and acceptance, start to find freedom to confront how they’ve lost their way, and made a mess of themselves and others. 

I watched this show sometimes through tears, as I thought about how both sides of this coin are me, and pretty much everyone I know and care about too.

We all have our ways we’ve been broken and hurt. And we all have our ways we’ve lost our way, let the worst parts of ourselves be in charge. But all of us, when we’re seen with kindness, acceptance, and truth, find there are healing paths forward. We don’t have to be stuck. We can get better. 

This is Jesus’s way with us. He’s not walking around following people, stopping by their workplaces to get to know them, sitting at the tables in our home. The world had Jesus of Nazareth walking around doing these things for one short lifetime, many years ago.

But now, Jesus is available and present just how God is, through the Spirit of God, the same Spirit Jesus called his Spirit, the one who comes alongside us so that we’ll know God is with us, and know God’s acceptance, and know God’s power to change and to heal. 

Sometimes this Spirit of God comes to us felt, but unseen. Sometimes Spirit comes to us through other people and events and through the creation around us. 

Wherever kindness speaks to us, though, wherever a voice is saying to us:

I see you, I know you, I want to follow you,

that’s in part Spirit of God. Wherever we’re told,

let’s be friends, let’s be at the table together,

that’s in part Spirit of God. 

God is love. God loves everybody. 

God has space and attention for you and me. And when God sees what’s wrong with us, the hurts and the hurting, the sin and the sinned against, the losing our way for whatever reason, when God sees all that, God loves us even more. And in that loving acceptance, God has ideas for how we find our way forward again.

If you’re willing, can you try something this week? I’m going close with a little experiment.

Find a quiet moment today or tomorrow when you can sit somewhere by yourself. If it helps, sit at a table with another empty chair, so you can imagine what’s true – that God is with you there. Tell God anywhere in your life that you’ve lost your way – what’s breaking or broken in you, where you’ve hurt or been hurt, your sin or your pain, whatever seems most important. 

And then two things:

  • Imagine God looking at you with loving acceptance, maybe putting a hand on your shoulder and saying:

I hear you, I see you, it’s OK. I’m here.

Sit there and lean into the loving acceptance of God.

  • And then when you’re ready, ask God, ask the Spirit of Jesus,

is there anything I can do to help find my way again with you? Any next step toward my healing?

See what comes to mind, and if it seems truthful and helpful, give it a try. 

Friends, God loves us just as we are. And with God’s loving acceptance, God wants to keep helping us find our way forward.