The Way of Gratitude

I hope you all had a good long weekend. A belated happy Thanksgiving to those of you who celebrate.

It was a long, interesting weekend for my family. Kids were all home, which is a joy we don’t take for granted, as it’s not true most days anymore. There was some feasting with family in our house and in a local nursing home as well. And probably like your family gatherings, if you ever have those, there was a mix of warmth and belonging and a little bit of loss and struggle too. 

We did something new for us as a family this year on Thanksgiving Day. Beyond the turkey and the turkey trotting, we went to the annual Day of Mourning event sponsored by New England’s indigenous communities, held along the oceanside right by Plymouth Rock. That was a sad and complex event for our white and Asian-American family to attend, but it felt like a valuable way to mark the day as well.

Thank you to our friends there, the Tolles, who let us know about that. Reservoir is a special community, friends. I believe that relationships here can really enrich our lives. I appreciate you all for that. 

However you spent the holiday, friends, I hope you’re not all done with Thanksgiving. Because in keeping with the season, for our final Way of Jesus sermon this fall, we’re going to talk about The Way of Gratitude. And then I hope we’ll practice this way of gratitude – together, and throughout the days to come. 

When I lead us in prayer before communion, you’ll have the opportunity if you like to add your own “thank you” to God.

Our text for today is from the gospel of Luke. It goes like this:

Luke 17:11-17 (Common English Bible)

11 On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee.

12 As he entered a village, ten men with skin diseases approached him. Keeping their distance from him,

13 they raised their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, show us mercy!”

14 When Jesus saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” As they left, they were cleansed.

15 One of them, when he saw that he had been healed, returned and praised God with a loud voice.

16 He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. He was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus replied, “Weren’t ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?

18 No one returned to praise God except this foreigner?”

19 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up and go. Your faith has healed you.”

I used to read this passage and think Jesus sounded like a nagging parent. Like: what’s wrong with you kids who won’t write your thank you notes? This reading feels maybe justified – it is good to thank someone who has helped you. And sure, of course one should give praise to one’s creator God. But just because it was justified didn’t mean it did anything. Should’ing all over somebody rarely inspires them. At least not me. 

But I read this a little differently now. Let me share five fun facts about this passage that help me hear something different. Maybe they will for you too.

So fun fact, number one, Jerusalem.

Jesus is on a long, hard road trip with a horrible ending. The whole middle of the gospel of Luke is set during this walk Jesus takes from the region of the Sea of Galilee to the city of Jerusalem. It’s 120 miles, like walking from Boston along the Mass Pike all the way to New York. That’s a long way to walk. Jesus also faces increasing opposition to his work along the way and predicts that he’ll be killed when he arrives there.

When he first sees Jerusalem in the distance, he breaks down in tears, weeping over the city, as he imagines the Roman empire not only killing him that week, but destroying the whole place in the generation to come. So Jesus has every reason to be sad, anxious, and grumpy on this journey – and maybe he is sometimes – but we also see him like he is here, noticing people in need, looking to empower, help, and heal.

Fun fact, number two. The Samaritans.

Three times in this journey Luke brings up the Samaritans.  

The first time, Jesus and his crew walk into a Samaritan village, and not only are they not fed or housed, they are asked to leave. Then two of Jesus’ buddies ask him if they should try to pray down fire from heaven on them. Jesus of course tells them that is an awful idea, but you wonder why in the world are things so tense? 

Well, history tells us that it’s for lots of reasons. First century Jews and Samaritans are neighbors. But they live in separate villages mostly, and do everything they can to avoid each other. The beef goes back centuries. In the 9th and 8th century BC Israel had a civil war. Half of the people from that division got conquered by the Assyrian empire and some of them were assimilated into a people called  Samaritans. Two or three centuries later Jews and Samaritans had a series of conflicts over the new temple in Jerusalem and whose homeland that region was. In the second century, the Samaritans were allies with a Greek empire in a huge war against the Jews, a violent conflict that gave birth to the holiday of Hanukkah. In revenge for that, Jerusalem Jews destroyed the Samaritans’ temple and violently raided the whole area. And then a century after that, right around when Jesus was born, Samaritans – in revenge for that whole temple massacre – didn’t destroy the Jerusalem temple, but they scattered human bones all around the temple to defile it – kind of like when today you hear about a synagogue or church getting vandalized or burned. 

So this was no petty conflict. It was a centuries-old, violent cultural feud between neighboring peoples. Into this setting, when Jesus tells a story about what love looks like, he tells a story of a Samaritan, re-neighboring the land with his kindness. 

And then here, when ten people are healed with Jesus’ help, the one Jesus honors for his gratitude is also a Samaritan. Jesus is trying to heal not just bodies, but old conflicts, as he too re-neighbors the land. 

Fun fact, number three. Skin diseases.

On a number of occasions, Jesus interacts with people who have some sort of skin disease. Mostly, he heals them. Our Bibles have translated this skin disease as leprosy. So we hear that Jesus heals lepers. 

But scientists are pretty sure that there was nothing like leprosy in the first century Near East. Instead, they think this skin condition we hear about is something like severe eczema. 

As a parent of a kid who had severe eczema when he was little, this hits different for me now. I remember how much that kid would itch and itch and itch, unable to sleep at night as he scratched himself redder and redder. I remember a preteen girl I had in class years ago when I was a teacher, and how embarrassed she was by her severely dry, flaky skin. 

And it moves me that Jesus healed people with severe eczema – that he cared about that. 

For Jesus, though, and his contemporaries, this skin disease wasn’t just flaky, dry skin. That peeling skin reminded them of death, so much so that this skin condition rendered you ceremonially unclean. 

This is a complicated part of the Bible’s culture that reminds us that we live in a really different time and place. But in this religious culture, there were a bunch of things that could happen with your body that weren’t anyone’s fault, but made it so you couldn’t go to the temple. One scholar who writes about this time calls all this calls these conditions the forces of death. People had these superstitions about these conditions because they reminded people of death. 

And it turns out that these are many of the conditions Jesus healed, because he wanted people to be able to participate in the spiritual and religious life of their communities. And he just hated death. He wanted people to live and in their bodies and hearts just be full of life! I love that about Jesus.

So I wonder if here Jesus heals this skin condition, because people think it’s a force of death. And I wonder if Jesus sort of harshes on nine people’s ingratitude because not being grateful is its own kind of force of death in our life. 

Speaking of healing – Fun fact, number four. Faith.

Jesus was quite insistent that he is not responsible for people’s outcomes. They are responsible at least as much as him. That’s pretty deep when you think about it. Everything in our life – all the bad stuff – it might not be our fault at all. But in the end, everything in our life is our responsibility. We have to live with ourselves.

When Jesus says goodbye to this grateful Samaritan with the now shiny, healthy skin, he says to him: it wasn’t magic. It wasn’t mostly me. He says: your faith has healed you.

Your faith has healed you. Jesus says that a lot. And I think he really means it. 

Now this doesn’t mean the opposite is true. Life is not just an algebra equation.

Don’t ever say to someone else that they didn’t get what they wanted from God because they didn’t have faith. Please don’t ever think that about yourself either. Life is just more complicated than this. There are so many reasons things get better and things don’t get better.

But we know that mercy and kindness, including the mercy and kindness we welcome from God, matters. And we know that faith matters too. 

In this case, Jesus’ mercy, plus the Samaritan’s faith create the conditions for healing.

And now fun fact, number five. Gratitude. 

Ten people are making their way to the priest, as Jesus recommended. And they all start looking at each other – like hey, what has happened to your skin? You are looking so fine now. And they: thank you, and hey, wait, you are looking pretty smooth and shiny yourself. How about that? It must have been kind of wild. 

What happens then? I wonder how many keep going to the priest for their ceremonial reentrance to the religious community. And I wonder why the Samaritan is the only one who goes back to say thank you to Jesus. Would that Samaritan even have been welcomed by the priest anyway? I don’t know.

Whatever the reason, Jesus notices. He’s like:

this is a good thing, this gratitude, this giving praise to God.

What does Jesus mean by this?

  • Is he commanding us all to thank and praise God?
  • Is he annoyed at the ones who didn’t?
  • Is he honoring the good character of this grateful Samaritan?
  • Being honest that it feels good when someone says thank you?

I don’t know. Maybe all four.

I think it’s OK to acknowledge that our gratitude is good for God. God isn’t petty or needy, I don’t think, but God is relational. God appreciates attention and love and gratitude, like any good parent. So sure, thankful people make God happy.

But I guess in light of all these things – Jesus’ interest in healing enmity between people, Jesus’s awareness of the healing power of our outlook on God and our outlook on life, Jesus’ desire to destroy the forces of death among us – I think in light of all that, it’s fair to say that Jesus wants more gratitude in our lives because it’s good for us as well.

Gratitude helps people live longer, happier, healthier. Gratitude bonds people in relationships. It cultivates less resentful and entitled communities, and more generous and grateful ones.

Gratitude is really good for us. 

This is one of the foundational points of Diana Butler Bass’ really powerful book called Grateful. It’s about the “transformative power of giving thanks.”  

Bass starts her book with what seems like a riddle. The great majority of Americans report experiencing profound gratitude at least every week. 

And yet, as a society, we also are growing in the bitter fruits of ingratitude. We are more anxious and resentful than ever, less optimistic and less trustful, and more compulsive and addicted.

What’s going on here? And what to do about it? 

Well, it may be that our gratitude is too narrow and too personal.

We may be grateful for our good luck or our material blessings. 

But gratitude isn’t just a happy feeling when something good surprises us. It’s an ethic of humility, relationality, and wonder. Gratitude notices the many unearned goodnesses in our lives – from the very breath in our lungs on. Every good gene in our body, every person who’s ever loved us or even done us kindness, every good in the world that we enjoy or depend upon. We didn’t make that happen. It has come to us as a gift. 

To cultivate attention to these gifts and to thank our Creator and to thank our fellow creatures who have gifted us gives credit where credit is due. It’s a kind of healthy and freeing acknowledgement of how interdependent we all are. No one does life alone. 

And it better connects us, grows optimism and resilience in us, opens us up to more smiles, more joy. Protects us from our worst selves. 

Diana Butler Bass points out that gratitude also isn’t just a “me” thing, it’s a “we” thing. Gratitude in our relationships, among our family and friends and acquaintances, and in our public life heals our communities and our society. 

It’s really hard to be grateful and greedy at the same time. 

It’s hard to be grateful and critical at the same time. 

It’s really hard to be grateful and resentful at the same time.

Maybe you can do it, if you try, but it’s hard. 

It’s really hard to be grateful and violent at the same time. 

So I think the Spirit of God would long for more gratitude in our public lives. 

One place I’ve seen this is through our partners in India with the organization Asha. Asha is a public health and community development NGO in New Delhi, India. Their health care and education and empowerment programs among the urban poor are transformational. When I’ve traveled to visit them, I’ve done so with teachers and social workers and doctors from our community who have volunteered with them but also learned from their powerful, effective work.

But the thing that grips many friends of Asha the most is the way they do their work in community. Their model of community empowerment is driven by a series of spiritual, relational values, one of which is gratitude. 

Asha’s leader, and friend of Reservoir Dr. Kiran Martin puts it this way. She writes:   

Gratitude is not just a feeling of thankfulness in response to a gift or a kind gesture. Gratitude is a way of life. It is a conscious choice to focus on life’s blessings rather than on its shortcomings. It magnifies goodness and therefore blocks toxic emotions such as envy, resentment or depression that destroy one’s optimal well being.

One of the ways Asha has lived this value in their communities has been through gratitude campaigns. One form this has taken over the years has been encouragement for people to write thank you letters to another person and then instead of just mailing or delivering that letter, to read it out loud face to face to the person you are thanking. 

Have you ever done this? Written a thank you note to someone and then read it to them, face to face? Has anyone ever done this for you?

I don’t think I’d ever done this before I got to know the work of Asha. But I have since then, a number of times. And each time a few things happen. 

Sometimes the person receiving the thanks is a little awkward or shy about it. But mostly they smile, it surprises them and makes them happy. They say thank you. 

For the person who wrote and read the letter, the effect is at least as powerful. The gratitude releases joy. There’s almost always a hug or at least a handshake. Gratitude sparks love and connection. It’s so good. Highly recommend this, my friends. 

Another place we can see gratitude happen together is civic gratitude. Our own Ed Gaskin is behind a project in Boston that honors the contributions of Black women to life in our region. There are 212 banners along Blue Hill Avenue in Roxbury in Dorchester, each of whom names and shows the picture of a Black woman who made contributions to a better community or a better city. 

There are authors and activists, seamstresses and politicians, bishops and educators and grandmothers to families of foster children. So that as you walk or drive up and down Blue Hill Avenue, you’re encouraged to give thanks for the contribution of mostly unsung leaders of our past, and wonder who are the unsung leaders among us now, who is the unsung leader within us even. 

This isn’t just a long overdue act of recognition and respect in Boston. It’s also a profound gift to our community. Ed, we appreciate you for spearheading this incredible initiative. It’s an example to us all. Thank you, Ed. 

You know, we have leaders in public life – lots of them – who lead by making us more fearful, more entitled, and less grateful. Once you start looking for this, it’s easy to spot. Because fear, entitlement, and resentment stir their own kind of loyalty, their own kind of action. But it’s just terribly toxic for everyone involved, and it brings out all the ugly among us. Don’t follow leaders like this. Don’t be one.

Instead, we can respond to leaders, we can be leaders who lead by cultivating hope, gratitude, and love. One simple way Diana Butler Bass encourages this is that in any public sphere where we have leadership whatsoever, create space for gratitude. This can be in a family, a household, or a friend group, encouraging little daily or weekly rituals of gratitude. If we ever lead meetings – even small ones – we can open or close the meetings with invitations to thank someone for their help at work or to connect around our gratitude. 

I’m going to wrap up here, with an invitation to two ways we can practice public, community-based gratitude together right now.  

There’s more to our lives than goodness and blessing. Some of us are fresh off of complicated family gatherings. Some of us enter these holiday seasons, and these dark, early days of winter are sad, lonely, or scared. I mentioned being at a Day of Mourning event on Thursday. There’s lots to grieve in our lives and in this world. We’re not thankful for everything. We can’t be.

But we can have more joy, more connection, more health and goodness in us and around us, when we can be thankful in everything.

So in just a moment, I’ll lead us in prayer before communion. And I’ll leave space where as many of you as want to can call out loud something you are thankful for. Be as loud as you’re able, so it’s easier for us to share in your thanks. Keep it short, just say: Thank you God for…. (whatever you like). And don’t worry if more than one person goes at once. Let’s have a kind of festival of thanksgiving moment together.

And then communion itself. When we eat these bits of cracker, drink this bit of juice together in memory of Jesus, we are practicing communion – connection, fellowship together with God. And we are also practicing what Catholic Christians call “the Eucharist” which means giving thanks. We’re thanking God for feeding us, and thanking God for sharing God’s forgiveness and love and life with us, in the person of Jesus who walked among us, lived, died, and rose again, and who is with us still by the Spirit of Jesus. 

So friends, let’s give thanks together.

The Way of Resurrection

I serve on the Board of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, with which our church partners to pursue justice in this city. 

Board members take turns chairing those meetings and usually at the start, there’s some sort of brief question that lets us connect personally. And our chair last week’s opening connection question was a really simple one. He just said:

what’s your word of the day? What’s your word of the day? 

People were like, I don’t know, and we said stuff like: joy or troubled or ready or whatever. And our chair that day said:

my word of the day is resurrection. 

And on we went with our meeting. And it was a doozy. We had a lot to talk about and the meeting went long.

But just as our chair was about to wrap things up, he said:

I told you at the start that my word was of the resurrection. And I want to end by telling you why.

Back story here that we all knew already: many of us on the Board were recently in attendance at my friend’s public hearing for termination of his parole. 

This friend and colleague of mine is older than me. And a long time ago, when I was a baby, and he was barely a man – 18 years old – he committed a violent crime. After conviction, he served many years of prison time. And since his release, despite being a model citizen and community leader, he has been on probation for decades, which has continued to cost him money and opportunities and hardship. Recently, he had an opportunity to go before a panel to consider termination of his probation – to some 50 years after his crime – to at last be a truly free man. And many of us had been there in support. 

And now our friend says:

Today, my word of the day is resurrection, because today is the exact anniversary of the day I committed that horrible crime so long ago. And once I had nothing but regret. I have regret still. I wish I could undo the harm. But today I also have resurrection, because I’m a new man. I have a new life. And I wanted to honor that this day.

The way of resurrection, my friends. That’s our subject today. 

In this season in which we reflect on the way of Jesus – some of the most important ways we can live in and honor the life and teaching of Jesus, that we can find love, joy, peace – all the good things here, we are remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus, which are so prominently featured in the Bible’s reflections on Jesus Christ. 

Last week I talked about the way of surrender, how to die.

And this week I want to talk about the way of resurrection, which really is how to live. 

We’re not going to read a passage about Jesus, but a much older one, also a kind of story of resurrection. 

Genesis 18:1-15 (Common English Bible)

18 The Lord appeared to Abraham at the oaks of Mamre while he sat at the entrance of his tent in the day’s heat.

2 He looked up and suddenly saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them, he ran from his tent entrance to greet them and bowed deeply.

3 He said, “Sirs, if you would be so kind, don’t just pass by your servant.

4 Let a little water be brought so you may wash your feet and refresh yourselves under the tree.

5 Let me offer you a little bread so you will feel stronger, and after that you may leave your servant and go on your way—since you have visited your servant.”

They responded, “Fine. Do just as you have said.”

6 So Abraham hurried to Sarah at his tent and said, “Hurry! Knead three seahs of the finest flour and make some baked goods!”

7 Abraham ran to the cattle, took a healthy young calf, and gave it to a young servant, who prepared it quickly.

8 Then Abraham took butter, milk, and the calf that had been prepared, put the food in front of them, and stood under the tree near them as they ate.

9 They said to him, “Where’s your wife Sarah?”

And he said, “Right here in the tent.”

10 Then one of the men said, “I will definitely return to you about this time next year. Then your wife Sarah will have a son!”

Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him.

11 Now Abraham and Sarah were both very old. Sarah was no longer menstruating.

12 So Sarah laughed to herself, thinking, I’m no longer able to have children and my husband’s old.

13 The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Me give birth? At my age?’

14 Is anything too difficult for the Lord? When I return to you about this time next year, Sarah will have a son.”

15 Sarah lied and said, “I didn’t laugh,” because she was frightened.

But he said, “No, you laughed.”

So this is a story about a lot of things.

It’s a story about hospitality. Abraham and Sarah are with all their animals, all their people one day, just chilling in their giant tent, as one does in the ancient near east, when three strangers come on by. 

And they cook them an enormous meal. Abraham’s like: how about a little bit of bread? And then he yells: hey, Sarah, get like gallons of flour. And he and a house servant slaughter and roast an entire cow. Young cow, maybe baby cow, but still, that’s a large animal. And it takes a long time to do all this cooking. 

The tradition tells us: this is the way. Go all out for your guests. Centuries later, the New Testament book of Hebrews looks back on this tale and says:

never forget to practice hospitality, because in doing so, you might entertain angels unaware. 

Beautiful, you all. Have a ton of food on hand. You never know. 

The three men, angels bit too – this is also a story about the mysterious nature of God. After all, the tradition, even the text itself, can’t decide who these visitors are. At one moment, it says they are three men. But then at the beginning of the passage and in the bit right after it too, it says God appeared to them and spoke. 

Who is it – people or God? 

A lot of the tradition, like that book of Hebrews, splits the difference and calls angels. But that doesn’t help much, because we don’t really know what angels are – the word just means messengers.

Some Christian artists imagine these three people to be three persons, three manifestations of God as Father, Son, Holy Spirit. The famous beautiful Russian icon of this story is simply called Trinity. 

Who knows, my friends? Not me. 

I do know that the Spirit of God can be present to creation in many ways, and God can speak in many forms. We can sometimes sense the presence, even the voice of God through a book, a film, a song, a friend, an ocean. Who am I to say what happened here? 

So again, it’s a story about a lot of things.

But among them, it’s a story of resurrection.

Resurrection is the rising of the dead, that which is dead coming to new life. And there’s a story of resurrection here.

Abraham and Sarah’s dreams were dead. Their sense of God’s greatest, most important promise over their lives was dead as far as they were concerned.

As a young couple, Abraham and Sarah, Abraham’s brother’s family, his nephew, his father – they had all left Babylon and traveled West in search of a better land and a better life for their children. 

Theirs is the dream of migrants, of immigrants – to chart a better future for their family. Like all immigrant dreams, there was suffering too. A grown child – Abraham’s brother – died too young. Abraham’s father was overcome with grief. But even in the suffering, the dream lived on.

And for Abraham, this dream got real spiritual too. Everything he knew or hoped about God was bound up with this dream of a future. This worshiper of the gods of storms and wind and farming and moon believed that a single creator God was speaking to him – promising him a hope of blessing. That blessing to him looked like good land to live on, a good future for his family that would in time become a clan and then a nation, and mostly that blessing looked like descendants – children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and so on to see the blessing forward.

But what happens to a dream like this that seems so sure but year after year doesn’t come true?

He and Sarah move through their youth and into middle age, and year after year, there are no children. New moon after new moon, Sarah sees her menstrual cycle continue over and over, and no pregnancy, until her cycle slows and then stops entirely.

And though there are so many ways we can have a legacy and a blessing, to them, in their imagination, the dream is dead. No children. No legacy. For all they know, no land – they’re still living in a tent after all. No blessing. Perhaps no God.

Maybe it was all an illusion, wishful thinking. 

Until these men, or these angels, or these gods – whoever they are – come on by and share a big, long meal, and then get up, saying,

“By the way, we’re coming back next year to meet your baby boy.” 

Sarah’s like,

“Ha! How can it be!” 

Or maybe,

“Ha, ha. How can that be?”

But the messengers insist it will be so, and the story tells us it was.

Life where there was none to be. Renewed dream. Renewed blessing. Renewed faith. Resurrection.

Let’s pause here, and notice what resurrection is not.

Resurrection is not an undoing or a reversal of the past. Where there is resurrection, something or someone has died. That still happened.

Resurrection is a second chance, a new life, or a new lease on life. That’s amazing. But it also doesn’t change the past. 

Abraham’s brother is still dead. Abraham’s father still died grieving his lost son. We meet the survivors of that family line, and they’re pretty jacked up. And Abraham and Sarah don’t get back the 25 years they’ve been waiting for the child they didn’t have. 25 years of dying hope, 25 years of dying faith is a hard thing, friends. This couple knew a lot of suffering. They made some pretty awful choices as they tried to find their way together. 

They can’t get any of that back. They’re also going to be pretty old parents, and that’ll change their experience, and what they do and don’t see too. 

I think of my friend I serve with in GBIO. He’s a man he never knew he would become. He has a good life. I’m proud to know him. But he still doesn’t know if he’s getting off probation. And he still has to live with the guilt of what he did so long ago. And the lost years, the loss of his twenties and thirties while in prison, many other losses that come with that. 

New life, new freedom, new faith are beautiful gifts. Resurrection is a mighty work of God that opens up life and joy, faith, hope, and love in the present and the future, but it does not erase the death in the past. 

I got a card recently for someone I love who I think can brood over lost chances in the past a bit. The card’s got a quote from the actress Marcia Wallace that says,

“Don’t look back. You’re not going that way.”

The past is over and dead. 

Dreams of returning to some better past, real or imagined, are not God’s dreams.

Making your country great again – whatever that’s supposed to mean – is folly.

Getting back to that way you felt when you were __ (you fill in the age that comes to mind) – it’s not happening. 

Our relationships, our health, our churches, our families, our whole creation has no reverse gear. 

The past is dead. We can enjoy the memories. We can grieve the losses. But we’re only alive today, and we can only go forward. 

But in the present and with our future stretched out before us, the best alternative to regret or anxiety, to illusion or despair, is to hope in God for resurrection, trusting that we never know when new life will appear. 

Earlier this year, I was talking about some of the griefs of my life with a mentor of mine, someone I think of as a pastor to me. 

I was talking about a couple people I love and wondering why certain things were hard for them. And as parents and pastors do, I had regrets – would things be different now if I had been a better or more effective person a few years ago? And I had worries – real, legitimate concerns about how things were going to turn out? Mostly, though, I was just stuck – like things seem bad and I have no idea what to do. And I was a little angry too, if I’m going to be honest. I wasn’t sure if I was angry at God, angry at myself, angry at life in some generalized way. But I was frustrated. 

And my mentor, who knows me well and has heard a lot about the people I was sharing about, he said: would it be alright with you if I share what I see, maybe a different perspective 

And I said:

of course, please?

And he said:

what if what you’re seeing right now are actually stories of resurrection?

I wasn’t expecting that. I was talking about people whose lives I wanted to going better.

And he was like:

well, what do we know about the risen Jesus? 

And I was like:

I don’t know, this one of those “what is the teacher thinking” kind of questions.

And I said:

I know. What do we know about the risen Jesus? 

And he reminded me:

well, he rose with scars, didn’t he? He rose with scars. 

Like Abraham and Sarah’s resurrected dream – having a baby in late middle age, after 25 years of waiting, doubt, bad choices – that is not the same thing as having that baby young when your hearts are full of God’s promise.

The same with Jesus. When he is risen from the dead, his closest friends don’t recognize him at first. But in time, they do, in part because of his scars, the marks of his suffering. 

And my mentor shared his perspective on the stories I’ve told. How this person is alive when that wasn’t guaranteed, how this other person may have struggles, but is in a far better place than last year, how a relationship between me and one other had mended and grown so richly. 

He wondered with me – maybe things aren’t quite as you’d hope, but look what God has done? New life with scars maybe, but new life still.

I felt like Jesus’ friends, like how had I not seen it? What my mentor was saying was true. But my despair over things not being perfect made it so I missed the new life that was present.

This shift of perspective was interesting, because it didn’t just lift my spirits, make me more hopeful and thankful, it somehow helped me get unstuck too. 

Like if God was working resurrection, if new life was growing, then there were things I do to help. There were new shoots growing I could water, like little flames I could blow some oxygen on. 

Because resurrection is like this, right? God can work redemption stories, second acts, new possibilities. But we can invest in those new things with our hope and our help. Most things God creates, maybe all things God creates, God co-creates with the universe. We are invited to co-create with God, to co-labor with God in the work of resurrection. 

So with this child, I can write to them and praise all the growth and resilience I see. And with this other person, there’s a way to communicate my trust and availability and love and prayers. 

We’re not always passive in resurrection stories. If we’re people who believe in redemption, if we’re people who believe in second acts, second chances, better futures, then we hope and pray and help see those into being with God. 

This is why I have a semicolon tattooed on my wrist, right where I’ll see it all the time. I was an English teacher, and I just like semicolons, so there’s that. But it’s also a reminder that there’s always more to say. When a dream or a hope or a possibility, or a life seems over. Like there’s a big period there. Done. Full stop. I remember that for God, that’s never true. There’s always something left to say. There’s always something more to do. We can’t ever turn life backwards. But there’s always possibility for some kind of resurrection. And I want to be a person who believes that and who works for that with all I’ve got. 

But it doesn’t come naturally. I need this reminder. So it’s here, to keep me hoping and working for resurrection.

Still, though, no matter what we do, resurrection is the end a gift of God. It isn’t earned or merited. There’s no spiritual algebra equation – like put in this much prayer, and this much hope, and this much work, and this much faith, and here is the new life God will raise. No, it’s a gift. It’s a gift. 

I think about Sarah and Abraham and the joy of their late in life baby. 

They’re a founding mother and father of faith – for Jews, Christians, Muslim. So they have this lofty reputation. But even in the Bible’s stories, they are not good people. 

Their marriage is full of scars from periods of deceit, doubt, unfaithfulness, cruelty. They barely make it as a couple. It’s not always clear they should have. 

And I’ll spare the details right now, because it would be a real downer at this point in the sermon, but they do horrible things to others too. Just violent, horrible things. 

And yet still, they are beloved. They too are children of God, who wants to work to help write the best story possible in their lives. And in their case, resurrection takes this particular form of a long promised, but still quite unexpected child. 

No wonder there is laughter. 

Sarah’s afraid to admit it in front of these holy, important guests of theirs. Like is laughter undignified in their presence?

But really, what is there to say but laugh? It’s just too good to be true. 

But in the end it is. And they name their baby Laughter, because they just can’t help themselves, the joy is so deep. 

There’s a psalm – a song of praise in the Bible – and I wonder if the one line about laughter is in part a reflection on this story. 

It’s Psalm 126. A psalm of resurrection. It goes like this:

Psalm 126 (Common English Bible)

126 When the Lord changed Zion’s circumstances for the better,
    it was like we had been dreaming.

2 Our mouths were suddenly filled with laughter;
    our tongues were filled with joyful shouts.
It was even said, at that time, among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them!”

3 Yes, the Lord has done great things for us,
    and we are overjoyed.

4 Lord, change our circumstances for the better,
    like dry streams in the desert waste!

5 Let those who plant with tears
    reap the harvest with joyful shouts.

6 Let those who go out,
    crying and carrying their seed,
    come home with joyful shouts,
    carrying bales of grain!

I love this prayer. I really love it. 

It’s so full of joy – mouths full of laughter, tongues filled with shouts, nations full of praise, hearts full of joy, arms full of grain. 

But it’s actually a psalm for hard time, for when you can’t see resurrection.

“Lord, change our circumstances for the better, like dry streams in the desert waste.” 

This is a psalm prayed through tears, but prayed in hope.

It’s a psalm for when peoples are at war around Zion, and people are grieving, and children are dying. 

It’s a psalm for when you don’t know if you’re going to get your probation or not. A psalm for when your kids are hurting, but they’re alive, and they’re growing. 

A psalm for finding laughter again through our tears. 

In the Way of Jesus, friends, we never stop looking for resurrection. Where there is death, there also can be new life. It might not be what we call perfect – since there’s no such thing. It might have scars. But it can still be beautiful. God can do it. 

Spirit of the living God, Spirit of the resurrection yet to come, 

We call to mind our hurts and tears and desert wastes. 

Change our circumstances, we pray, God. And reveal something of the resurrection you are working. So we can hope with you, water with you, laugh again with you, God, and open our arms in gratitude to your abundance. 

The Way of Surrender

This Way of Jesus series we’re in is a look at what people call discipleship or spiritual formation. We’re talking about the most enduring qualities of the life and teaching of Jesus and asking what this means for us, as we try to find peace, as we try to live more just and joyful and flourishing lives. 

And any discussion about the way of Jesus has to reckon with the two most famous things about his legacy. One is that he was crucified, executed. And the other is that his followers claim he rose again. 

So this week and next, I want to talk about the way of death and the way of resurrection. Not so much what that meant for Jesus – what happened and why? And not so much for the theological meaning of these events – what do we learn about God or how does our connection with God change as a result of Jesus’ death or resurrection. That’s important. 

But death and new life aren’t just events in the life of Jesus, or in the life of God. The Way of Jesus talks about these things with participatory invitations, like crucifixion and resurrection, death and new life, surrender and victory, are patterns in a life of faith we are all invited to. 

So next week, we’ll talk about the way of resurrection. 

And this week, the way of death, or as I’m calling it, the way of surrender. 

Let’s read a text I’ve often thought of this fall. It’s one of the turning points in the story of the life of Jesus the way it’s told in the book of Luke. It’s from the 9th chapter. It goes like this. 

Luke 9:51-62 (Common English Bible)

51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.

52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to prepare for his arrival,

53 but they did not receive him because his face was set toward Jerusalem.

54 When his disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”

55 But he turned and rebuked them.

56 Then they went on to another village.

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

60 And Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.”

62 And Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

I lead a Bible study on Saturday mornings here, and a week ago, we read this passage together. 

And we were like what in the world is going on here? 

It’s grumpy Jesus. 

Someone’s like – I’m coming, Jesus. Let me join your movement. And he’s like:

sure, if you want to be nothing, have nothing. 

Other people are compelled by what he’s doing but have these reasonable sounding excuses for why they’ll catch up to him later, when they’re not so busy. 

And Jesus seems insulted, offended. 

Jesus has a reputation for love and kindness. Why so serious, so intense here?

Another person in our group was like:

Why is he telling people to follow him? He’s going to Jerusalem where he thinks he’s going to be abandoned and killed. 

What is the invitation here? Suffer with me? Die with me? 

Is the way of Jesus masochistic? A way of death and suffering?

Well, for some people, yes. 

Jesus knew that his message of the Beloved Community, of the coming Kingdom of God, was disruptive to the world as it is. And so for him to speak his truth, to speak God’s truth of life as it was meant to be, was a death sentence. 

And the same was true for many more when these gospels were first written. Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s accounts of the life of Jesus were written in the second half of the first century – times of great distress and persecution for Jewish communities in and around Jerusalem and for the early Christian communities throughout the Empire as well. 

Many of the early leaders in the Jesus movement were, like Jesus, executed for their faith. 

A friend of our church from years ago sent me a book that a friend of hers published recently. It’s a fabulous illustrated children’s book called Stories of the Saints: Bold and Inspiring Tales of Adventure, Grace, and Courage. 

There are these two-three page entries about all of these highly admired people in the first centuries of the Christian movement. The book doesn’t try to sift out what in these saints’ lives is history and what is legend, so the stories are epic, fun.

These people choose truth over power and justice over wealth. They do good and love boldly. They have integrity, they’re humble. It’s pretty refreshing actually, because this is not the kind of stuff Christian heroes are famous for anymore. But in the end, they suffer.

Now these people – in the legends – are hard to kill. Sometimes the soldiers sent after them become followers of Jesus instead of arresting them. Or they’ll be thrown to the lions and the lions will curl up for a snuggle. But eventually, power finds a way, and they’re killed, martyred for their faith. Like Jesus was. 

So you know, at times the way of Jesus has been a way of suffering and death, of literally taking up your cross as Jesus did. And since that was so common in the early decades of the faith, the gospel accounts in the Bible prepare people. 

They’re like: be ready to follow Jesus to death.

Nowadays, we have to receive this message with some caution. 

Some religious people have a persecution complex. Anytime someone speaks ill of them or doesn’t do things their way, they call this persecution. But not having power, or being criticized or resisted for your meanness is not persecution, it’s not the Way of Jesus. It’s natural consequences. 

There’s another caution we might think about. Which is that suffering in the Way of Jesus has sometimes been expected of people who already have suffered enough. Christena Cleveland has said, for people with privilege, the way of surrender is great. Give up power, yield to someone else. But for people of color, she says, we don’t need more of the way of surrender. We and our ancestors have suffered enough, thank you. We need power. We need the way of resurrection. 

I find this helpful as we meditate on surrender and resurrection in the Way of Jesus. The way of surrender isn’t for everyone, all the time. Sometimes suffering is just bad, best avoided. So next week, the way of resurrection.

But I’ve been thinking about at least three ways the way of surrender has power for us all.

One is that sometimes, we face opposition for doing good. Let’s call this like martyrdom, Extra Lite.  

A friend of my mine was telling me about a conversation she had had a work. She had asked a co-worker some appropriate but hard questions about the improvements their company had committed to, and he was incredibly defensive. Kind of persistently so too. That was obviously discouraging to her. Is it worth it to do the right thing at work, if it just makes your life more difficult?

And I quoted this line to her about Jesus setting his face to Jerusalem. Or really, the poem in the Hebrew scripture of Isaiah that it probably alludes to. There’s a lot of poems about a servant of God in Isaiah that sometimes gets compared to ancient Israel personified. But sometimes Christians have also seen echoes of the life of Jesus in these servant poems too. 

And one of these poems talks about the servant setting his face like flint. Strong, sharp. It says my face is set like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame. 

Jesus was steadfast in his purpose to go to Jerusalem, regardless of the suffering he’d meet there. He was steadfast in his purpose, let distractions, opposition roll off of him. 

Grace used to tell our kids when they were young that when someone said something mean to them, they could be like ducks. Let the water just roll off their back. This is an image like that. 

I was trying to encourage my friend – that co-worker’s defensiveness is their issue, it tells on them how much they need to change. Don’t take it in. Don’t let it hold you back from the good work you’re doing, making good changes. 

Friends, when we suffer, it’s not a sign we are out of God’s will or God’s favor. And when we suffer for doing good, we in some sense suffer with Jesus, who’d encourage us: be undefeated. Be steadfast in our purpose. Also, unlike Jesus’ disciples who wanted to call down fire on the Samaritans for their lack of hospitality, Jesus would say, don’t be distracted by your own outrage either. Let that go too. It’s probably not fruitful. 

Just keep going. Let it go. This is the way of surrender. 

This is kind of related to my second set of thoughts, which is about how we do hard things, not just how we face opposition, but all kinds of hard things. 

There’s an empowering way of surrender for this too.

I’m a new yoga practitioner. But I’ve been at it long enough now that I have a sense of the rhythm of how an hour will go.

And there’s this moment like 20, 25 minutes in where things kind of go off the rails. At that point, I’m pouring sweat already – it’s really hot in there. And several times already, we’ve had to sit down but with no chair. It’s called chair pose, really should be called no-chair pose. It’s hard. And we’ve done this several times for just a second or two. 

But then we hit this moment where we have to hold the pose with our lower half, and then kinda twist our body way to the side with our upper half, and just hang out there.

I have no idea how long it lasts, other than too long. It seems impossible to hold this pose. I’m pouring sweat, my thighs ache, my breath is speeding up. 

And then I hear the teacher saying:

surrender. Breathe. Hold here, keep your focus.

There’s nothing like the power of surrender. 

And I slow my breath, and check my technique, keep the pose, the pain kind of washes over, until I realize I can release. It’s over. 

And afterwards, every time, I have to catch my breath. I’m exhausted. But I’m also calmer, more focused – it feels like peace. And I feel stronger, more confident. 

Yogis tell you it works like this because you’re leaning into the experience, and you’re getting free of your resistance. That surrender to what is, instead of wishing for what isn’t, that’s peace. And that’s power.

We can do hard things. And with the help of God and friends, we can do them with a measure of peace, of love, of calm. 

Jesus shows us the way. Maybe he’s grumpy this moment, but he keeps going. He opens up a training clinic, expands his followers from 12 to 72. He teaches people patiently, how to love, how to pray, how to not be a religious hypocrite. He tells the truth about Samaritans – that they’re not the enemy, but that they too are infinitely valuable children of God. He faces immense resistance to his work, greater day by day as he heads to Jerusalem, but he stays connected to his purpose. He stays connected to his heart, emotionally available, healthy, never hides in flight mode or lashes out in fight mode. He has what Palestinian Christians call sumud – resilience. 

The way of surrender honors and imitates this sumud in Jesus. Faced with hard yoga poses, we breathe, we focus our gaze, and we hold on. More importantly, faced with people hard to love, work that is hard to do, families and workplaces and nations and worlds that are pumped full of chaos and pain, we breathe, we focus our gaze, and we do what we can to walk with love and peace.

Friends, the best way I know to try to have this Spirit of Jesus rub off on me is to pray it be so, daily. 

In my morning prayers, I have a variety of written prayers that I use – not all of them every day. But I have a number of them that I come back to. One of them is a prayer attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi. 

It’s famous. Perhaps you’ve heard it. Perhaps you’ve prayed it. It goes like this.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

That’s a prayer of surrender, right? Letting go of my need to always be understood and loved. Because I won’t be. That’s true whether I surrender to it or not. 

But the surrender doesn’t make me weaker, it makes me stronger somehow, gives me a better shot of being that peace and love and hope I want to be. 

By surrendering my rights to some things, I feel like God makes room for these better things I want to become. 

I don’t fully understand how this works, but praying it helps make it so. 

For decades, a prayer of surrender has been powerful for millions of us in recovery. 

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

Power to let go of what I can’t change. Courage to go after what I can. 

This is the way of surrender. It prepares us to do hard things. 

Like choosing freedom over addiction.

Or even like dying well.

Friends, I know most of us think death is a long time away, and may that be so. It’s good to live, and it’s good to live long if we can. Thank God for life, every day!

But eventually, we will all die. 

And years ago, a small group of pastors and I studied and talked about the good death. When you’re a pastor, you learn something about good death, because you talk to people about death. Sometimes you visit people as they are dying, sometimes a lot. 

A good death, we all agreed, is to minimize pain and to be with people we love. But it’s more than that too. It’s surrender.

When I was a new pastor here, one of the first members of the community I accompanied in dying was Jim Carson, a man dying of cancer in his early 60s. We held his funeral right here more than nine years ago. In his final months, I remember asking him if he was scared of dying, or what he thought would happen.

He was slower with words at that point. His breath was a little labored. But after a moment, he shook his head no, and then said, “No. I think I’ll lean back into the everlasting arms.” I’ll lean into the everlasting arms of God. Jim knew he’d be OK. 

I don’t know that any of us are ever really ready to die, but when the time comes, if we are, it’s like life’s greatest chair pose – long, hard, painful beyond words. But if we can lean toward God, we get free of our resistance, and that gives us energy for other things – to say things we want to say before we go, to welcome the kindness of friendship of our loved ones, to have peace. 

I think this is what happened when on the cross, Jesus called out the words of the psalm, Into your hands I commit my spirit. 

Surrender. Peace. Right there, in the hardest of things. 

With the help of God, we can do it, friends. We can do it.

Friends, this makes me want to say one more thing about the way of surrender before we close. If we can overcome death with Jesus, maybe we can overcome stagnancy too, the going nowhere, committing to nothing struggle of our moment, for a lot of us at least. 

One of you sent me a speech recently, by the democracy activist Pete Davis.

It was called “A Case Against the Culture of Infinite Browsing.” 

Davis talks about what it’s like when we get on Netflix, spend so long browsing through our options, that we just get tired, and go to bed having not watched anything at all.

Back in the late 80s, my friends and I did this kind of thing at the VCR rental shop.

This infinite browsing seems appealing – so much choice – but it’s actually boring, it’s tiring. Browsing’s not where the art is, not where the joy is. It’s just the hallway to those things.

But what happens if we don’t leave the hallway?

That’s Davis’ metaphor for a lot of life these days. Particularly in communities of so much privilege and wealth and opportunity like ours. 

When it comes to careers, purpose, partners, we feel like we want more options, that it’s good that we have so much dang choice. 

And Davis is like, choice, hey, cool! No one wants to be trapped behind a locked door. But you know what else no one wants? No one wants to live in a hallway.

Davis says:

The most menacing dragons that stand in the way of reforming the system or repairing the breach are the everyday boredom and distraction and uncertainty that can erode our ability to commit to anything for the long haul.

I love that the word dedicate has two meanings— first, it means to make something holy; second, it means to stick at something for a long time. I don’t think this is a coincidence: We do something holy when we choose to commit to something. And, in the most dedicated people I have met here, I have witnessed how that pursuit of holiness comes with a side effect of immense joy.

We may (want to) keep our options open, but I (believe) that the most radical act we can take is to make a commitment to a particular thing… to a place, to a profession, to a cause, to a community, to a person. To show our love for something by working at it for a long time — to close doors and forgo options for its sake.

So good, the holiness, the joy, of dedicated commitment. This, friends, in my marriage, in my work, in friendship, in parenting, has been my experience. 

This now is how I read that bit where Jesus is so harsh with all the excuse making.

“Let the dead bury their own dead.”

Come on, Jesus, what an awful thing to say. 

Unless what Jesus is saying is really, there’s never a great time to commit. There’s always doubt. There are always other options. There’s always the endless fears of what if, would’ve, could’ve. 

But man, who wants to live in a hallway

Davis one more time:

We need not be afraid, for we have in our possession the antidote to our dread — our time, free to be dedicated to the slow but necessary work of turning visions into projects, values into practices, and strangers into neighbors.

There are Jerusalems that need to going to, friends. There’s hard work to be done in our families, in our professions, in our communities, in our democracy, even in our church. It takes money, it takes time, heart, sweat, most of all, it takes commitment. 

But the long, slow work of projects, practices, and neighboring, of doing healthy and beautiful things together is where the power in life is. It’s where a lot of the joy is too. 

One more quote, a poem I came upon, also through my yoga teacher. 

Go to the Limits of Your Longing

Written by Rainer Maria Rilke

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand

Oh, friends, the hand of God is stretched out to us today, offering us the strength of surrender. Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final. Don’t let yourself lose me. 

Nearby is life. You will know it by its seriousness.

Maybe, doing hard things, committing to people, work, causes is serious business. Staying committed to the way of Jesus is too.

But the peace, the possibility, the joy we find in the way. 

Words fail. It’s too powerful. It’s too good. 

One more announcement: 

This is our weekly word this month about our 25th anniversary campaign. 

We started this campaign early in the year to fix up some old infrastructure issues on our property, pay off our debts, and begin new long-term investments in ministry beyond the walls and membership of our church.

We are ⅔ of the way to our total goal of $1.4 million. With the help of this whole community, we hope to raise the final third between now and New Year’s Day.  

We have listened to ideas from the community about how we can spend the large cash flow we free up once our mortgage is paid off from this campaign. We asked for hopes and dreams consistent with our church’s vision to share about and reflect Jesus’ Beloved Community as widely as possible. That listening campaign has resulted in four big areas of hope and possibility!

Last week I shared about encouraging the health and growth of vibrant, inclusive Christian ministries. Another big hope of ours is to make significant investments in community and mental wellness.  

We’re asking: What could our church do to help in our mental health crisis? And what more can our church do to promote spiritual and mental wellness?

This area is a research project, not an action plan at this point. But I’ve been meeting with a lot of mental health and wellness practitioners around this question, and it turns out there is a lot we can do! It’s actually incredibly exciting. 

We’re learning about where the gaps are between people’s need for affordable, culturally responsive mental health care and their ability to get it. And we’ve started conversations with a partner we might be able to work with to help close those gaps around here.

We’re learning about the kinds of groups and workshops and programs we can run for members of the Reservoir community and for our friends and neighbors that will support wellness, help with people’s recovery, empower regular people like you and me to better friends and resources to people in our communities who are really struggling. 

We’re learning about community mental health and wellness volunteers and how to help train more of those.

We’re thinking about spiritual direction and spiritual formation resources, for people who go to church and even for people who don’t. 

Over the next six months or so, we’ll be putting a team together on this and making more concrete plans about which of these opportunities we can move forward with first. But it’s going to take completing this campaign, and freeing up some of our debt payments to make it happen. 

I think we’ve a generational opportunity here for our church to be a huge asset and light in our region. For all those who have pledged and given already, know that we are so thankful. And We’d love it if more of you could pledge or give today. All amounts are welcome, really. We have paper pledge cards on that table in the dome. You can drop those in the black boxes this week or next. There’s also an online pledge form in the giving tab of our website – – where it says 25th anniversary campaign. 

I look forward to sharing more in the weeks to come. You can read a summary of our campaign on the giving tab at our website, and we also have some paper copies on the table in the dome. Thanks for your partnership, really. With all of our help, we can do some great things together.


Way of Jesus: Contemplation and Action

We’re in this series called The Way of Jesus, focusing on Jesus, his ministry, life, death, and resurrection…what does it mean to follow and adapt his way, to live in union with the Spirit wisdom of Jesus in our lives? 

Jesus showed us how to live by what He preached and how He lived, what He said and what He did. What I’d like to talk about today is how He lived a life of both connection with God AND connection to the people around him. Because He does this balance work of both doing the WORK of God AND BEING WITH God–both. Some people refer to this through a diagram of the line up and down, your relationship with God and God with you, and a horizontal line, your relationship with others, how you relate with others. It’s about Worship AND Fellowship. Prayer AND Service.

Justice AND Renewal as Christina Cleveland, a black female public theologian, named her work that is for Social Action and Spiritual vigor. And Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, calls his educational non profit that offers a contemplative Christian path of transformation, the Center for Action and Contemplation. Because their vision is

“Transformed people working together for a more just and connected world.”

So it’s BOTH, the holy transformation of self and the outward work. You Guys feel me? Spirituality and community. So what does it mean to try to live a life that follows Jesus’ way of both Contemplation and Action? 

Let’s meditate on a Scripture text from the Bible to wonder together what that might mean for us. For you, today. I’m getting this from the Gospel of Mark chapter 1. One of the first four books of the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John that primarily hold the stories of Jesus. 

But first, it’s SIDE NOTE Time! 

So those, Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John, are the Gospels that we have now in our current form of the Bible, the current Cannon, meaning, the current collection of books councils upon councils of committees decided on which books and writing would be included in the “main” text of the Holy Bible. AAAAAAAAND there are also other writings from the time that have been found that are not included, for example The Gospel of Mary, a 5th century text, or the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of James, etc.

They’re called New Testament apocrypha, “Apocrypha” meaning “hidden” or “put away”–the ones that are not included in our Bible today. I just think that’s so interesting! There are other writings from the early Christian years that many of us, most of us do not even know about. They’re like extra readings, cause let’s be honest, who actually did the extra readings from your syllabus? 

I think this makes the diversity of even among the four Gospels even more important to note and notice. 

So Mark, for example, does not have a Christmas story. Yeah. It just starts with Jesus as an adult. There’s no birth story or baby story. It begins with the baptism of Jesus. I’ll summarize the first part of Chapter 1 and then get to our text today. 

So Mark Chapter 1 opens with,

This is 

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah” 

Jesus is baptized and as he came out of the water, he saw the heaven being torn open, God’s realm breaking in, and the Spirit descending on him like a dove, a voice came from heaven saying, 

“You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

And then the Spirit sent him out into the desert for 40 days.

And then he went to Galilee, saying,

“The kingdom of God is near!”

God is no longer distant!

He meets Simon and his brother Andrew, and invites them to become fishers of men. He builds a team.

And then he goes to Capernaum, on the Sabbath he went to the synagogue and began to teach. Clears out the evil spirit, it says. 

This recap vibe is pretty similar to how Mark is actually written. And this happened, and that happened. He uses this word And, “kai” in Greek, pretty much at the beginning of every paragraph. That’s one Greek word I did learn in seminary, Kai! Because my Greek professor had a hamster named Kai. Yes I have the learning style of a preschooler. That’s right, one might call a child-like faith. 

Okay let’s get to our text for today then. 

Mark 1:29-45. Let me read for us:

29 And as soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew.

30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her.

31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed.

33 The whole town gathered at the door,

34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

Jesus Prays in a Solitary Place

35 And Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

36 Simon and his companions went to look for him,

37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”

39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

Jesus Heals a Man With Leprosy

40 And a man with leprosy[h] came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

41 Jesus was indignant.[i] (other translations also say filled with compassion) He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”

42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.

43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning:

44 “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”

45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.

This guy was busy! He was all over the place. But wedged in his busy schedule, essentially at the very start up of his ministry were already patterns that I’d love for us to notice. He did this thing, where he went back and forth from the community to by himself, to the community to by himself. He’d talk and teach and then he would go off and pray. From the desert, to a friend’s house, to the synagogue, to another friend’s house, and off again to some alone time and then back to the nearby villages. From the beginning it was a part of his ministry and his lifestyle to do this. It’s always couched in there, that desert time and that solitary time. 

Where in your life do you have desert time and solitary time inserted into your schedules? Have you set up any kind of rhythms of self reflection and prayer, alone time with God in your busy days?

I got an email from my friend Sara, who leads a Mindfulness Community Group, a forwarded Substack email about the “quest to find a daily contemplative rhythm that work” from a guy named Mark Longhurst, I don’t know him, but he wrote this: 

“Dear friends,

I’ve been in a busy season. Between kid sports, family commitments, work, and finishing up a writing project, my days feel compressed and fly by. Before I know it, the New England day is at its earlier close, and it’s time to sleep and do it again. Don’t get me wrong, mine is a joyful life and I wouldn’t trade its full family and community-centric flow for anything. But, as any parent knows, it’s a lot. And as someone on a contemplative path, such seasons of responsibility can sometimes feel overwhelming, as if I’m never quite able to enjoy the slower pace and extended silences that a contemplative life promises to bring.”

Now listen to this:

“For me, though, busy and contemplative are not opposites. I also don’t believe that greener contemplative pastures are up ahead, say, when the kids go to college and I’m an empty-nester. Instead, the busy and contemplative parts of myself need each other. I approach my contemplative practices in these months and years as my soul’s daily and necessary rescue mission. My morning meditation sit snatches me out of the constant effort to accomplish tasks, holds me in Divine Presence and says, “Stay here and be loved for a while!” Chanting Psalms at different hours helps me maintain a heart-centered, gentle awareness of God throughout the day. A faster shuffle from one thing to the other gradually increases my anxiety and, by extension, my irritability—but when I sit myself down for my afternoon meditation, it’s sometimes like ramming a stick into bicycle spokes. I feel myself flying over the day’s handlebars, but I land on my butt. I stay there and eventually return to myself.”

Ramming a stick into bicycle spokes. Does wedging some desert time, solitary time, prayer or meditation ever feel like ramming a stick into bicycle spokes for you? I love this invitation to land on my butt. Just humbled. And the thing is, even if you don’t choose to do that, sometimes life will just do it for you, whether you end up in a car accident that causes you to stop in the middle of the road preventing you from getting to that meeting you were rushing to totally lost or a panic attack that comes out of nowhere. 

A few weeks ago I had this happen to me, not like a full on panic attack but a breakdown. I had some really sad stuff come up for me and I was aware of it but I didn’t really sit with it. I didn’t have time. Have you seen that Instagram reel or TikTok thing where someone’s like, “this is my scatterbrain”. She needs to cook dinner, but the dishes are dirty, she starts washing but the dish washer is not unloaded. She starts unloading but the cabinets broken and so she go gets a screwdriver and as she returns with the screwdriver she sees the pile of dirty clothes, and you pick up the dirty laundry to the laundry machine and you open the washer and there’s a load in there already from GOD KNOWS WHEN!

So that’s what I was doing one morning. And I was like on my way to the bathroom with some dirty clothes to throw in the hamper, and it just hit me like a rock thrown on my head, and I just crouched down at the side wall to the entrance of the bathroom and broke down and cried. I mean it was really dramatic, I mean the place was not even a very inviting corner to cry in, like an awkward wedge of a wall. I just prowled down on the floor like a banana peel and had a straight up tantrum to God, kicking my feet and pounding the floor. That ever happen to you? No, just me? 

That was my gentle invitation from the Lord to slow down and talk to him for a minute. 

I know it’s hard. Especially for really important, efficient, effective high functioning hard working people like Jesus. When Jesus was out praying by himself, they found Him and were like, “Everyone is looking for you!” Of course they were! He’s in high demand! He’s got things to do. He’s gotta preach, teach, heal, make disciples, do miracles, save the world! He’s busy! You busier than him?

I know some of you are, like literally saving the world. Busy flying internationally to shape and transform health care systems, busy disrupting the financial industry with your software, busy being present to the underserved students that may literally have no other resource than your classroom, busy upholding your business above the water so you can provide for your family.

That’s why I love us doing this. Worshiping on a Sunday morning. We’re not very “productive.” We just sit around, and sing, and chat with people. Just sit down. And it helps that we do it together. 

Activist circles talk about this a lot. Self-care work in activism is crucial. You can’t just be out there, advocating, fighting, protesting ALL the time. You have to get back into your room, your study, and reflect. 

For example, though Howard Thurman and Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t have too much close interactions despite both of their life works, but when they did, this was one point that Thurman made to the rising leader King. 

According to Thurman’s autobiography, the only time that he and King were able to arrange a “serious talk” came in the fall of 1958, when King was recovering in New York after being stabbed by Izola Curry at a book signing (Thurman, 254). The day before their meeting, Thurman recalled having a “vibrant sensation” in which “Martin emerged in my awareness and would not leave” (Thurman, 255). When he met alone with King the following day, he asked how long King’s doctor had given him for his convalescence. (Thurman says this)

When he told me, I urged him to ask them to extend the period by an additional two weeks. This would give him time away from the immediate pressure of the movement to reassess himself in relation to the cause, to rest his body and mind with healing detachment, and to take a long look that only solitary brooding can provide. The movement had become more than an organization; it had become an organism with a life of its own to which he must relate in fresh and extraordinary ways or be swallowed up by it (Thurman, 255).”

The reason why we need both contemplation and action is because just as Jesus as he was doing the work of healing, it can be alot to see the whole town lining up at your door for all kinds of disease and demons. I see this whole balance of contemplation and action is this. It is a balance work of grief and joy. Of taking on suffering and taking on gratitude. You need both.  One might think, what is there to be joyful and grateful for, we don’t got time for that right now, babies are dying! And yet, to do the WORK of ESTABLlSHING justice, you need AUDACIOUS Hope. You don’t got time for cynicism and getting jaded, cause you have to get back to work. You need to hone your hope. Nurturing it with small joys and audacious gratitude to fuel the work of hope and the work of justice we’re in. Just as Jesus began his ministry by being blessed with the waters of baptism, hearing a voice from heaven saying to him, in you I am well pleased. Not, the world is a mess, I need you to get to work. Our work and call to action comes from not a desperate need for us to get busy fixing stuff.

I’m really curious what Jesus was saying in his prayers on that early morning. The morning after the whole town gathered at his door to heal the sick. After he had done miracles. I wonder if he was like,

“God, I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Or if he was like,

“I did this but God there’s so many people who are sick. Too many that I can’t get to in time.”


“I’m tired from staying up and healing all these people but I need you. I need you to tell me that you’ll keep being with me as I continue to do your work.” 

I always thought those superhero movies were so interesting because you get to imagine and see the intimate vulnerable parts of those big strong heroes. Batman pulling into his little cave after a hard day’s work of fighting villains. Superman coming back to ordinary clothes after saving the earth. In those moments, they find their true power that drives the super powers they have. 

  • What is the thing that drives your superpower?
  • What’s it all for?
  • Why do you do it? 

You go out there and fight the bad guys and then you come home looking for a spark of joy or a moment of gratitude that will fuel you for the next day. 

I think that was the superpower of Jesus. Not his miracles to heal but the place in which he got his authority from. In his intimate lonely conversations with his Father, that called him in again and again, that reminded him, I am here with you. I am here with you. The kingdom of God is near, even though it doesn’t look like it, even though it looks nothing like the kingdom of God is here, even though the Roman Empire is running rampant and you have to go back out into what seems like a god-forsaken world, for now, even now, just for this moment, I want you to look here at the joy. Look here at the gratitude. I love you. You are my beloved child. In you I am pleased. That is the only way we have any chance in facing the grief and suffering that surrounds us and have the power to take action towards peace, love, and justice. 

I want to create the space to do that now, even for a moment, if you’d be so willing, together. Let me guide us through some thought prompts in prayer now. 

Close your eyes if you’re willing, maybe even kneel or huddle over yourself, like you got some magic invisible cloak that’ll take you to a solitary place. 

  • What are you grieving these days?
  • What did you see in the last 24 hours that you are grieving?
  • Where have you seen unbridled joy?
  • What made you smile or laugh yesterday? 
  • Where do you see suffering?
  • Who is suffering, friends, family, neighbors near and far?
  • What are you suffering with or through these days?
  • What are you grateful for?
  • What do you want to praise God for today? 

May God be with us, through the longing and to the tasting of God’s good gifts of peace, love, and joy, even now we pray. Amen. 


Healthy People Help People

Maybe you’ve heard this phrase – Hurt People, Hurt People. It’s really true, right? That people who are filled with unhealed, maybe even unacknowledged hurt, can do a world of harm, whether they mean to or not. Hurt people hurt people. It’s a warning.

There’s a flip side to that line, though, a more hopeful one, which is that healthy people help people. People who are healthy from the inside out can do a ton of good in the world, sometimes whether they even mean to or not. 

My therapist talks about this with me. She’s really over the top about it. Maybe she can tell I’m an unmotivated client sometimes. But when I take some baby step or another to try to be a more integrated, compassionate, healthier person, my therapist will be like: This is the path to world peace. This is how we save the world. 

And it’s not like she’s just all: woo-woo, blowing smoke in my ears. (Well, maybe a little bit. But not mostly.) She means it. Healthy People Help People. This kind of work saves us all. 

So that’s the talk day – Healthy People Help People. And just so you know, I’m not going to tell you five things you’ve got to do to be your best self. I’m not going to really tell you to do anything at all. That’s up to you. But I’m to share a few words of Jesus, talk about how the work we put in with the help of God and friends to get healthier, how that’s part of the Way of Jesus for us. And I’ll tell a couple of stories, share a couple things I’ve seen and learned, and my invitation to you is just to pay attention to what sticks out to you. What lands for you. And if anything does, just notice that, hold onto that, get curious about it and see where it takes you, all right? 

Here’s the scripture. It’s some little excerpts of a longer teaching in Matthew 5, part of a whole set of teachings called the Sermon on the Mount. I’ll give you a few little bits and try to fill in the gaps. 

Jesus said: 

Matthew 5:20, 21-22a, 27-28, 43-44, 48 (Common English Bible)

20 I say to you that unless your righteousness is greater than the righteousness of the legal experts and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

This line has been a confusing start for a lot of people over the years. Because some people think Jesus is setting just crazy high expectations. Be more righteous than the most righteous people you know. After all, God demands the best. Perfection. God deserves it, so you’ve got to try. 

And that’s led to some weirdly convoluted ways of receiving this whole teaching, like Jesus was setting up some super high standards for our lives, just so we wouldn’t be able to meet them and then we’d reach out to God for help.

That’s messed up, though. That would be devious and strange and it also just doesn’t fit the flow of what Jesus is saying. He says:

The people you might think of as righteous, they’re living by a certain moral code, sure, but you can do better than that.

And then he proceeds to show them the way. He’s like-

You’ve heard this before, but let me show you a different way, a better way, a healthier way. 

Let’s catch a bit of that. He says: 

21 “You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, Don’t commit murder, and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment.

22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment.

So, murder’s bad, beyond bad. We’ve been trying to process murder recently every day… murder up in Maine by mass shooting, murder of civilians by large, organized groups – Hamas, how many would argue Israel. We can’t process this level of organized violence, trauma, death. It’s horrible. No dispute.

But Jesus is like,

avoiding murder – good as that might be right now – is not the goal. It’s wider and deeper than that, it’s avoiding the ways of being out of which murder could even possibly flow – unregulated anger, vengeance, judgment. To get healthy, we don’t avoid just the worst symptom of our problems, we’ve got to go to the roots. 

And on Jesus goes, a whole list of: You’ve heard it said, by I say to you…

27 “You have heard that it was said, Don’t commit adultery.

28 But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart.

Here’s another.

43 “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.

44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you

Jesus is taking Torah, sacred, foundational law for his culture and faith, and he’s not arguing with it, mostly. Like a good rabbi, he’s exploring its foundational depths. 

He’s like it’s one thing to prevent the very worst behavior. It’s another thing to heal the heart, to become a radiantly good person from within. It’s one thing to regulate symptoms of sickness, but it’s another thing – a better thing – to really get healthy. 

And he ends this bit with this line.

48 Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.

Here’s the upshot, Jesus says. 

It’s simple: be like God. 

Which, OK, maybe that is a little intense of a thing for Jesus to say.

Like we should all start speaking whole universes into being.

Except, I don’t know, maybe that’s just it. Not quantitatively, like we could be as big or eternal or powerful as a divine being.

But qualitatively so, like human mini-gods, not perfect exactly, but perfectly loving, completely what we are meant to be. We’ll get back to this, but maybe in this mode, we too can indeed speak universes of something into being. 

I think I agree with my therapist and, as it turns out, with Jesus too. This just might be how we save the world. 

Do you mind wondering with me a little bit about this? 

Let’s try. Let me tell you what I hear in this. It’s three things. The first is this. I think Jesus is like:

Know your vulnerabilities.

Know your vulnerabilities.

Friends, I am not a naturally healthy person. 

As a child, I was apparently very accident prone. That’s the main thing my parents like to say about my childhood. You were very accident prone. What’s one to say? Sorry? 

I guess it was true, though. I was an impulsive kid. Still am, sometimes. But I made some weird choices. Got stitches left and right. 

My favorite foods might be ice cream and chocolate, which I’ve learned are not the recommended base of anyone’s healthy food pyramid. 

And you know, it cuts deeper. In ways that matter more, I’m just not by inclination the healthiest person. None of us are.

Interestingly, the night I accepted the call to be your pastor, 10 ½ years ago, I felt like God reminded me of this, but it didn’t feel harsh, it wasn’t a criticism. It was gentle, kind, but serious.

It’s weird to try to talk about our experiences of God, like moments when we are keenly aware of divine presence and we think something is being communicated to us. But I’ll try here, just for a second.

On a Sunday night in 2013, I was getting ready for another week on the job at the school I served. It was a Saint Patrick’s Day, a Board member from this church called me up and officially offered me the position I still hold. 

We had kind of pre-negotiated it. After saying no for a while, I had basically at that point agreed to say yes if I was formally asked. But still, this was the moment. There had been a prayer meeting at church that afternoon for members and some more discussion around the prayer, another Board huddle, and this was the moment. I was being called. 

And you know, it felt real now, it was serious. So I told the Board member I needed to take a walk and pray one more time before accepting.

So I went out that night and walked up the hill near where I live to a little park there, not exactly sure what to pray, but just kind of holding the weight of this moment and asking God if there was anything else I needed to know, that I needed to pay attention to.

And I had this weird sense there was an answer to that question from God. And it kind of took the form of a phrase in my head, which was:

Watch your Achilles.

Watch your Achilles.

So, this wasn’t the weirdest thing. It had a context. At the time, I’d been running marathons and stuff for a few years, and like a lot of runners, just blowing my way through pain signals here and there, and I had some issues with my Achilles at that point. I needed physical therapy, I’d wear a boot for a while. 

So the Achilles was on my mind some, but it came to me in that moment as more of a metaphor, like in the Greek legends, like: tend to your weakness, Steve. 

And whatever part of this thinking was inspired by God, and whatever part was my own free association, where my mind went in prayer was to feel like God was affirming that I had some of the skills to do this work, like I had been prepared. But if I was going to do it, the biggest work was going to be internal. The most important work I’d do to be your pastor, to be a healthy pastor, would be work you wouldn’t see. It would be tending to my vulnerabilities, doing everything I could with the help of God and friends, to be safe, to be healthy, to be complete. 

In Jesus’ invitation to be righteous people, to be healthy people, he speaks about unregulated anger, unbridled lust, and failures in relationships. 

This is the stuff, right? Unhealthy people, toxic leaders, hurt people who hurt people, they pretty much fail in at least one of these areas. 

Because they matter, they’re serious. When we fail in these areas, it can be devastating.

Who and what you want. 

Why and how you get angry. 

How you relate – in words and deed – to the people in your life – friends, foe, intimates, strangers. 

Jesus doesn’t shame anyone for our weaknesses or proclivities here. We are all in part hurt people. We all have our Achilles, our places miss the mark. 

But if we’re to have a kind of health, a kind of wellness that exceeds the ways of the thin self-righteousness and compliance that can get praised in religious circles, Jesus would encourage us to know our weaknesses. 

By ourselves, we may or may not be able to do anything about it. But we can start by being honest with ourselves, maybe letting others be honest with you. 

So we can move to what I see as the second part of Jesus’ teaching here, which is to open up for healing. 

Open up for healing. 

I was talking about this phrase with one of our kids – healthy people help people. And he was like: that’s alright, Dad, but I’ve got a better one. He saw it on a T-shirt, or a coffee mug or something, but it stuck. It said: Healed people heal people. 

You know, like people who have had problems, vulnerabilities, but they’ve gotten help, they’ve grown, so they’re not full of themselves, not cocky, they know their way around real problems. But they’re not stuck there, they’ve found some paths through. My kid was like:

These are the people you want in your life. Healed People Heal People. 

Which – like what do you say when your kid talks that way – like that’s sacred. You say, thank you for saying that. That’s so true. And my God, thank you for being the kind of person that would know that at this age. Glory. That’s beautiful.

Healed People Heal People. 

Maybe it’s not obvious in this teaching alone, but if you scope out to everything the gospels tell us about Jesus, it’s clear that he was a healer. He was a healer of bodies to be sure, sometimes. But also a healer of whole selves. Looking to help people find their depths, their center. Find home, find peace, find acceptance, find forgiveness, find their heart again. 

See a lot of people use religion to help themselves feel better by feeling superior to others. Like God’s chosen ones, God’s favorite, unlike the people that God and we both judge. Jesus was familiar with this dynamic. 

And he was like:

naw, judge not lest you be judged.

That’s not the way. In the way of Jesus, we reject this attitude. We commit to a generous, non-judgmental attitude toward others, and we get curious about our own story of healing. 

I’ve got two metaphors for how I think about the healing journey, both of which I got to see at work in someone’s life this week. One is composting. The other is a basket.

So composting. When you compost, you take trash – all kinds of nasty organic mess, and with time and oxygen and motion and bacteria, you turn it into something that gives life. 

The composting healing journey is when you see the muck and junk and crap of your life, and you trust that with the help of God and friends, it can be useful, maybe even beautiful. One of the stories of compost pile healing that’s just taking my breath away is a new friend I’ll call Mark. Mark is the young man that three of us have been visiting in a Massachusetts prison, where he’s been held for many, many years on a sentence given to him for a crime he was connected to when he was just 17 years old.

At 17, you’re not involved with the kind of crime that could put you into prison deep into your adult life, if you’re not a hurt person. And Mark is no exception. As a kid, he was done wrong by life in so many profoundly unfair ways. And some bad luck and bad choices crashed onto his head, harder than he ever deserved. 

But you know, with the help of God and friends, he’s been composting all that crap. Opening up the pain, getting to know himself, finding God, getting help, making amends where he can, growing, growing, growing, in the toughest of conditions for growth. 

When we visit him, as we did on Friday night, I sometimes feel like: who is this holy man? Deep, thoughtful, gracious. Healthy. And so eager to help people, if he’ll just get a second chance at it. I think he will. So we believe. We hope.

My other metaphor for the healing journey is the basket. I got this from my old mentor when I was young, my principal, my boss, Bak Fun Wong. He was always like:

Our lives are like a big basket.

Bad things, good things get put in. Bad things, good things can come out. It’s easier to put things in than take things out, though, so be careful what you put in someone else’s basket. Careful what gets put in yours.

Jesus agrees. Some of his teaching on healthy people is like:

Bring in what makes you whole, cut out what does you harm. 

Easy to say, hard to do.

Hard, but possible.

Last week, I was spending some time with one of you probably young enough to be my kid. But I was like, my God, glory, this person has had a few tough knocks but they are just so impressive, so healthy. Beautiful. 

And as we’re talking, I’m looking for the cracks. Like where is this person faking me out. But I don’t think so. I don’t have them on a pedestal. But the health I sense, the root of serious, good health seems like the real deal.

And as I listen to the story, get past a couple of tough dynamics, you just hear the grace with which good person after good person has come into this person’s life. And they’ve welcomed good influence after good influence. And the things that have been harder, the less good stuff that went into the basket, they’re asking:

How do I not lean into this? How do I stop believing that? 

So good, to be on the healing path, so young. Why not, right? Why wait? Never too soon, never too late. 

So know your vulnerabilities, get on the healing journey, and then one more thing. Let’s end where Jesus does, with this invitation to be healthy by becoming perfected in love.

This comes from the Wesleyan branch of Christian teaching, this idea that a person can be perfected in love, like all the parts of you shaped by love. 

Sounds illusive, maybe, to be all love, all the time. And maybe it is. But it’s part of the good news call of Jesus. And I got a taste of it the other week. 

I was at an award night at our son’s school. This was an award night for a single person, a once every five years award my kids’ school district gives for excellence in school administration. And the man being honored was the dean and director of two of my kids’ high school programs. I was there out of obligation, really, but ended up surprised by just what an awesome evening it was. So inspiring. This wasn’t just honor for a fine school leader – it was a celebration of a life well lived. 

This program director is named Dan Bresnan. And this night a whole bunch of students sang Dan’s praises, in the charming and big-hearted and quirky ways only teens can pull off. And then there were his many family members, and alum, and parents and colleagues – lots and lots of them, proud of the work he was doing to make school a kinder, more humane place. Telling stories about his flexibility, his mentoring, his skills. 

You got the sense, at least I did, that we weren’t being asked to honor this really impressive individual, as much as we were all stopping to give our attention to the healthiest of lives, a life being just really well lived. Humble, funny, kind, out there, showing up again and again for the good of the world.

Near the end, Dan made a speech himself. And he described what he did in a way I wasn’t expecting. He compared his work as a school leader to being a forest ranger. He said: a forest ranger can’t control what’s happening in the forest. There’s no such thing as a perfect forest ranger. The forest is too wild, too big. But a ranger gets out there and tries to help the conditions best support the safety and the flourishing of everyone and everything. Same with him – there’s no such thing as a perfect school leader. They can’t control teachers or kids or learning – it’s too complicated, there’s too much happening beyond your control. As it should be. But a school leader/ranger, Dan said, can try to work with the community to make it safer and kinder and more connected – a healthy place, a place where people can try new things, and make mistakes with grace, and learn and grow and flourish. 

I know Dan’s right because I met a real life forest ranger out in the woods this past week and told him this story, this analogy – he liked it. And I know this is true because it happened for my kids. I’m grateful for Dan Bresnan.

At the heart of this speech, beyond the ranger metaphor, though, was his steadfast commitment to some simple beliefs about education and life. I don’t remember exactly how he put it but it was something like:

I think love is the heart of life, always the most important thing. And so if love is the way we do everything, that’s the best of ways. 

You don’t hear enough educators talk this way. You don’t hear enough any kid of person talk and live this way: that love is the heart of life, that love is the most important thing.

This is the Wesleyan vision of perfection, though, to not worry about being perfect in some abstract sense, but to learn to be perfectly loving, everywhere, to everyone, all the time. 

It’s the vision of Jesus too, to let love be our guide in all things, and so to be just like God, who loves so deep, so constantly so well, that like everyone who loves, God can birth new universes of possibility into being.

So it is with us.

No one’s asking any of us to be perfect. Mostly, to be honest, no one cares. Same with God. But the world is crying out for more healthy people. People who know their vulnerabilities. People on the healing journey, wise to what we take out and what we put into our lives, people getting help to compost the crap of our lives into something good. People learning the ways of love.

Healthy People Help People. And that saves us all.

There is No “Away” | But There is A Way

For the next few weeks we are focusing on this phrase The Way of Jesus. It’s not a new phrase, or a new way -it’s actually an ancient -quite ancient way. A way that small communities of folks that loved Jesus lived their life by – emphasizing Jesus’ teachings, his death and resurrection as the path to transformation.  “The Way” gradually grew welcoming non-Jews as well as Jews, becoming more inclusive and grace-oriented. And as the “Early Church” period took shape (these 500 years or so after Jesus’ resurrection), it was a time full of dramatic change in culture, politics, and economy – this “Way of Jesus” helped transform the lives of people in a very chaotic world. AND it wasn’t because it was a religion full of doctrines, or eternal salvation, or  beliefs to subscribe to, or reject. But it was a way of living  – a way of being in the world – that was about how to live a better life here and now, *with joy* to encounter the truth and the life and the love of God in all places, in all times – even the chaotic, overwhelming, heart-breaking times.

This Way of Jesus is our way too, today.

Today we are going to talk about just that – The Way of Jesus. 

And we’ll look at some verses from the Gospel of John including the one where Jesus says,

“I am the way, the truth, and the life…” 

A verse that in many ways has been interpreted by contorting the Way of Jesus – into a narrow, exclusionary, harmful set of beliefs about heaven, hell, salvation, what it means to be “Christian”- in a way that truly has taken on a life of its own – but contains little life, and little truth.  So will press into that a bit – and consider what we can do when the Way of Jesus gets contorted.


Oh Jesus, in times of uncertainty, could you remind us that you are the way, the truth, and the life.  Remind us that your presence resides within, between, and among us – and could this knowledge be our strength and our comfort. Hear this prayer – Oh God, in your mercy, please hear this prayer. Amen.


I’ve officiated and been part of a few weddings since the end of the summer. One of which I officiated here, for a couple in this community  – just this past Monday – at 7:30 a.m.  Which you might be like, wait – 7:30…a.m.? As in – in the morning? So early.  Yes, yes, but as I told this couple – it might be my new favorite time! There’s something about the early morning light, the stillness before the movement of the day takes up – and 8:30 a.m. mimosas – before a staff meeting isn’t so bad either! 

It was a near-elopement wedding, with just the couple – and their parents. We gathered in a sweet, understated room upstairs to the right of the organ loft. 

And the day prior to their wedding, I watched the couple as they watched other people they know – friends, members of their community group add items/decorations to the space – some plants from the lobby, lights,  frames, etc.. and I heard one of the couple say,

“whew! This is a lot for a minimalist!”

And that one comment really opened up so much of what I had been learning of their relationship. How their way of being in the world wasn’t just for the value of simplicity but it was an intention and care for what minimalism could make space for what more could be. 

So much within their minimalist posture was punctuated with meaning.  And seen in this wedding ceremony – earrings worn by the bride which were worn by her mom on her wedding day, a coffee mug given to one of the Dad’s at his retirement, words shared by the couple to their parents as part of the ceremony. Not as an aside of thanks gratitude – and space for their parents to do the same. Maximizing the sacredness of story, relationships –  the love in the room to be shared as much as witnessed.  This holy matrimony coming into view – nothing wasted, items/things repurposed unto newness.

How striking it is to experience the beauty of old, shine in the light of today – to see that there’s a luster, a treasure that doesn’t go away.  It’s part of the beauty of The Way of Jesus  – right? To imagine that the earliest folks that were In the Way were also imagining a better world with prayer, hope, community, scripture, holding on to the promises we still do today.  But what about things of old, that haven’t really held up? That are bad – and harmful? What do we do with them? Do we hope they go away? Is that part of the Way of Jesus too? 

Environmental activist Annie Leonard says,

“there is no “away”  that “when you throw something away, it goes somewhere.” (McLaren 192)

And the myth in our current society one that centers domination and exploitation as a way of being, has told us

“that if we don’t like something – we can simply get rid of it – kill it, banish it, incarcerate it, incinerate it, ignore it, bury it – and that it will be gone for good.”

But as James Baldwin realized, what is true of time in space, is true of time itself:

“History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.” (192)


It’s easy to see the ecological effects of this in our society right? With mass production, the rise of disposable products, the invention of plastic. Our desire for more stuff and for profit make us a throw-away society. And yet the forever chemicals absorbed into our land and water sources, the trillions of micro-plastics floating in our ocean, loss of bio-diversity, and so much more – tell us in fact there is ‘no away.’

Author, teacher and speaker – Brian McLaren says that this holds true as we think about faith too. Specifically Christianity. In his recent book, “Do I Stay Christian?” he explores all the harmful, unsustainable, toxic impacts of Christianity over time. And rather than answer this question “Do I Stay Christian?” he offers insights and wisdom to help those of us who might wonder the same – to thoughtfully engage the conversation – rather, I think than offer a reactionary answer of yes or no. Because he says,

You can leave Christianity, but Christianity won’t leave you. No matter how toxic some of its elements are, they will still be there in the atmosphere/environment, living in the minds and hearts and bodies of people around us, family members, political leaders, etc. – Christianity will still influence you.” (McLaren)

Now how/what does this have to do with the Way of Jesus? The Way of Jesus holds none of those toxic things – well the way of Jesus only holds none of those things, if we address those toxic things. Otherwise The Way of Jesus (our embodied way of being in the world) that is so deep and wide and so good – unto the betterment of ourselves and the world around us – has the same potential to perpetuate the problems we may have experienced, rather than reverse them. So Brian McLaren says Christianity needs to be recycled. Another word for recycled is redeemed, built on the word deem to give value. And another word for redeemed is to re-consecrate, to make holy again what has been desecrated.  “Desecrated” meaning polluted… and “Holy” meaning not set apart but brought back into wholeness, into the fullness of life , in truth for everyone. 

So let’s take a look at perhaps the second most known verse in the gospel of John (second to John 3:16) –  and the verses that surround it  – we’ll start at the beginning of John 14:  


“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God ; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me so that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”  

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know  my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

This scripture is beautiful, holy – it’s an intimate, emotions-running-high-scripture. We enter into this setting where Jesus has just told the disciples that he will be with them

“only a little longer.”

This, the night that he’ll be arrested – he’s washed the disciples’ feet, broken bread with them – he’s told them,

“Oh, my friends above all else love one another – love one another… “

It’s a bit of a swirl of everything – the outside temperature – is heightened with violence and threat. Everything is about to change.

I can imagine the disciples do wonder,

‘what is going on  I mean really Jesus – what is going on!?’ 

It makes sense to me that Jesus would start by saying,

“don’t let your hearts be troubled….because there’s going to be a lot that you don’t understand – but stay with me…Don’t worry – you know the way, friends. You know the way to the place where I am going…”

And I appreciate Thomas’ response,

“Aaah, nope.  No, We. Do. Not. We do not know where you are going. And because of that fact Jesus –  How? – How can we be expected to know the way?” 

This truthful response keeps us grounded in the life, the context, and the setting of this time…Thomas is like,

“could you give us a map – maybe? Simple directions?”

Jesus answers directly to Thomas,

“I am the way and the truth and the life.”

Now there’s a simplicity to this verse – some might even say a minimalism – that maximizes makes room for an expansive Way of Jesus that we all get to embody.  Maximizes The Way of living here on earth that makes room for wondering, pain, curiosity, doubt, confusion – and still yet can blaze a path of truth and fullness of life. 

But for many there’s a discomfort with minimalism – simplicity – when we talk about God – and really “knowing” God. It’s like somehow to be too simple or too free – means there’s less value.  

And so people need to complicate it a bit. The rest of the verse provides some perceived exclusionary language that much of Christianity has jumped on –

No one comes to the Father except through me.” 

Instead of regarding this as an

embodied way of being in this world [that is] so close to the heart of God/as Jesus says – “the Father” –  that God can be known in and through Jesus.”(Diana Butler Bass) 

Christians have drawn up a bunch of systems – to make sure they know what “knowing God” really looks like – and so rules to abide by, doctrines to enact, ways to prove that you really are a Jesus follower rise up… Here’s a little check point, here’s a little boundary, here’s a hurdle, here’s a x, y, z – which many times turns into a gigantic pile of trash. 

These incredibly expansive, inclusive, grace-oriented words of Jesus,

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life”

have been wielded in Christianity as some of the most exclusionary words –  desecrated words.

I wonder if sometimes Jesus knew that his words would be weaponized? I wonder if that’s why he starts with

“don’t let your hearts be troubled”

because it’s words that we still need to hear today when we are not only in moments where we wonder where God might be, but also in moments where we wonder if our deep, good knowing of God can ever be re-consecrated – in a way of lived life that actually matters.

I know that what troubles my heart most often is when I hear people say,

“Oh I know the way, I know the way…  I know the way to God – here it is!”

And then what is outlined is a prescription or a formula that – is impossible to swallow in good conscience — or impossible to calculate in real life… because it at a baseline excludes many people and at a baseline tries to set us v. them religion. “us” apart and above other people – the ones who get it “right” – and so we are beginning with something that is already unholy – polluted.

Thomas says,

“We don’t know the way!”

And I say,

“Amen – Thomas”

perhaps you have said the truest thing. 

Because don’t we sometimes worry that God is too far? That God has gone away? 

And maybe isn’t that why – some of the harmful things of Christianity get set up? It would be nice to at least have our version of God close, and so many people construct what that looks like.

But this statement “we don’t know the way”, it’s the same one Peter asks in the chapter prior – and one that Philip will ask in the verses to follow…

“How? Where? God?”

That’s healthy. Helpful. generative.

HOLY. CONSECRATED. Something that we can continue to work with – because false answers – erode a good God. 

How humbling it is to come across people, scholars , theologians, who say

“I don’t fully understand this…”

I met yesterday with an old friend – we are/were both pastors. We’ve been with one another through some serious SHHHHTUUUUFFFF. And we sat there acknowledging we have the same questions about God – our younger selves maybe couldn’t let us ask out loud. And now, we are letting those questions hit the air – and we are letting our lives – as we live them –  fill out the answers. This somehow allows God to feel close – and as hard and as messy as it is sometimes is – it still feels like life and truth.

When we don’t have an answer to something about God  – We would be well served to just say,

“I don’t know”

rather than provide answers that desecrate the holiness of mystery.

And in part I think Jesus is saying –

“you might not think you know the way”

right now – but with me there is no “away”. With me – there is always a way of truth & life.

People have framed this passage to be about who goes to heaven – who doesn’t – what about other religions… and maybe it is indeed about heaven. It just needs some repurposing on our behalf. Maybe these verses speak of heaven that is also not “away” in an afterlife – but here – on earth – the kin-dom of God in this right-now-life. *And I’ll circle back to this in a second…. 

As much as this fall season has entailed time spent officiating weddings I’ve also been hiking with a group of ladies – who range in age from 65 – 80 yrs. *this group also hiked Mt. Washington – which I did not do with them!* And I’ve gotten a chance to hear about two of the couple’s weddings. For these two couples their trajectory to marriage –  a recognized, legal marriage was long-awaited and hard fought. 

Both couples are same-sex couples. 

And they talked about the reality of how not having the covenant of marriage recognized by the state or the church as legal  was a source of real frustration and pain. But perhaps what was most unholy was that they for a moment thought – well, we’ll just wait until the time comes. We’ll just stay kind of quiet, or hidden until we can really live our love out in the “approved” way.  And then they were like,  “Heck no!” we aren’t doing that – our love can’t be just tossed to the side of society – as “bad” … or “wrong” or “unholy”. And to GIVE WAY to that – is NOT THE WAY… 

And so they celebrated one another publicly – they had commitment ceremonies. They joined communities and communities of faith that would treasure their love for one another – they lived this life, with their truth and found only goodness within. And yes, they also were happy when in 2003 it became legal in MA to marry – but they had already claimed heaven here on earth. They had also re-consecrated what had been desecrated by saying – you know what? The sacredness of love – can not be poisoned,  because love also can not go “away.”

Something in the naming of what is unholy – diligently and publicly –  you put the toxic thing, the harmful thing in its rightful place (where it doesn’t wield excessive power over your life anymore) and in that a re-consecration occurs that paves a way – lit by love, and compassion, and joy – for others to come. These ladies, living in the Way of Jesus – staying steadfast to one another, staying tender to those around them (suspending condemnation – even as their own humanity was condemned), and refusing to be part of a story that limits the sacredness of all life.


These women remind me of how Brian McLaren talks about re-consecrating – one of the ways aside from recycling or repurposing is to bury. 

And not bury in the sense of secretly – to hide something – but publicly and carefully as we do with radioactive materials or toxic chemicals.” (194)

You know signs you see that say, “hazardous here” – “don’t dig here!” – the message is – “Here’s the harmful thing – and we aren’t going to give it the light of day anymore.” 

We do this often at Reservoir when we acknowledge how the

“Bible has been used to justify slavery, the stigmatization of LGBTQ people, and the inequality of women – we publicly bury those interpretations. We don’t forget them – but rather retell them as cautionary tales to guide us going forward. And then we model a better way of engaging, healthily with Scripture unto a good, life-giving, liberating God for and with everyone.” (194) 

And the work that gets us to that place – to the recycling or repurposing or burying – is often called deconstruction.  

And I want to take a minute on deconstruction – just so we all don’t think that to deconstruct is to begin a slippery slope to nowhere.. 

Deconstruction is not a criticism-lined path to nihilism – or a way to turn our faith into despair, (it might feel like that at times).

And deconstruction isn’t a way of undoing the truth – it is a way of doing it… 

Deconstruction isn’t a way of shedding all the bags of trash about bad faith that you’ve accumulated over your life and just throwing it all away .. RIGHT? Because there is no away.  It’s about releasing and opening up  – opening up God’s presence in free, untarnished ways.

Re-consecrating what has been desecrated.

And it’s hard – because sometimes when you pull at one string – you realize the whole fabric of what you’ve been taught to know of God is quickly unraveled.
But that’s ok – “because we know the way” – it’s just been covered up for a while. We’ve still got the yarn in our hands to repurpose.

Because what is uncovered in deconstruction is the good stuff –  that still resides within – the knowing  – the truth, the life, the love, the compassion, the potential for healing, that is never separate from God. Those things that led you to faith in the first place -our deepest longing and desires – and we get to discover that all of that is undeconstructible.

It never went  – and can’t go away.

Jack Caputo the Catholic philosopher says,

“Deconstruction is not destruction – Deconstruction is love.”

Because you are loving something enough to tell the story behind it.

We have a class here, called Unpack that quickly gets described as a deconstructing class. And I think if it’s in this vein of Jack Caputo – then yes, because Unpack is about love. Exploring how the aspects that you once loved of God,  faith and Christianity – became so polluted? And to tell the story of impact in your life – and to inspect the story under the story of how such harm came to be. 

Those stories that are wrapped up in doctrines like original sin – heaven and hell – atonement theory – the theory of an all controlling, male-gendered God. How does the story of patriarchy – of whiteness, of  power, of wealth – play into how we engage with Scripture, with prayer, how we think about belonging, our relationships to ourselves, one another, the earth.  

There’s a whole arsenal in there – that we have to figure out – how to recycle – redeem. And all of us need to do the work of deconstruction – because we are all influenced by harmful Christianity – and it is our work to turn these swords into plowshares and the spears into pruning hooks, we all need to re-consecrate.


“Do not let your hearts be troubled, Jesus says. My Father’s house has many rooms.. I am the way, and the truth and the life.”

Not a statement about going to heaven or not….

Previously in scripture, ‘Father’s house’ was used to describe the temple. But not the physical temple – but Jesus’ body. And Paul offers a possible explanation in his letters, where to be “in the body of Christ” is to be “in Christ,” which means to be incorporated into the new experiential reality Jesus taught and embodied. The Way of Jesus.

And Jesus’ favorite metaphor for that way of life was “Kin-dom of God.” The kin-dom of God means a way of life lived in harmony with God, others, self, and all creation – here and now – not in the afterlife.

We repurpose the doctrine that suggests that heaven is an escape route from a doomed and unsalvageable earth and yet we can suggest that to live the life we have now – is to do the work of seeking justice, of reconsecrating ALL OF LIFE that which has been injured – even if we

“suffer for justice in this life and don’t see the full results of our labors, our labor will not be in vain”, it will live on in a forever, eternal – good way. (adapted McLaren).

And in that same breath we repurpose that hell is not a threat of divine retribution in the afterlife – but a divine warning about the inevitable negative consequences of harmful behaviors in this life – the hells of racism, of conflict, of violence. 

And then maybe we could imagine that salvation is about liberation – for all people.

And God is the relational, loving, life-giving heart of the universe – enlivening it from within – not controlling it from above.  

The Way of Jesus is multi-dimensional, liberative – not constricting, or bound – but soooo very full of life.

The Way of Jesus is timeless, ever-evolving  – not reduced to formulas that can be applied equally across time and identity. It is alive.

The Way of Jesus is altogether holy, consecrated, sacred – but not labeled as such by a separate, outside authority – but given such reverence by what lives within us already – truth. 

The Way of Jesus binds the religious and secular into one thing: life.

Wendell Berry says, 

“There are no unsacred places;  

there are only sacred places

and desecrated places.”

And so our work is to re-consecrate all of life. It’s a little daunting – 

But Jesus says,

“do not let your hearts be troubled – you know the way” 

so may we lean on one another, learn from one another as we do this work – work that is hard – but opens the way … the way of love, the way of truth, the way of life.


For Love of the Things Themselves: Derrida’s Hyper-Realism | John Caputo 2001

Do I Stay Christian? Brian McLaren 2/23/23 – Diana Butler Bass

The Way of Jesus When the World Breaks

Hello, friends, it’s an honor to be speaking with you today. 

Today I’m going to be talking about the way of Jesus when the world breaks. That’s the title: The Way of Jesus When the World Breaks.

We’ll unpack those words some more.

You’ll be hearing that phrase “the way of Jesus” a lot in the weeks to come, probably well beyond that. 

And “when the world breaks” is the title of a recent book by a fellow pastor in the post-evangelical collective. His name is Jason Miller. The subtitle of that book is “the surprising hope and subversive promises in the teachings of Jesus.” It’s a good book. It’s a reflection on the scripture I’m about to read for us, a famous passage the tradition has called the blessings, or the beatitudes. 

Words like these – hope, promises, blessings – they can be hard to access, strange words to say when the world breaks. And yet they are words we need, they are words faith calls us to. 

We’re going to talk about different ways the world breaks, about the kinds of wounds that don’t heal, or at least that don’t heal all the way.

That means we’re going to talk about the wounds of war, and specifically the conflict, the war in Israel and Palestine. 

And we’ll talk a little about personal wounds like trauma as well. 

I don’t aim to say anything graphic or retraumatizing or anything today. But I’d planned on speaking on something like this to start our “Way of Jesus” series, and then personal and global events both pushed me into proximity around so many wounds. So I’m very tender this week. Perhaps you are as well. If so, let’s be tender for a moment together, trusting in the kindness of God and the kindness of this community. If you need to step back or step out at some point, though, that’s welcome too. We value freedom here. 

These are huge topics. When it comes to the trauma of war, the pains of multigenerational trauma and violence, even the topic of personal trauma, none of us have the answers. It’s too big. When it comes to wounds that don’t heal, world-breaking pains, we only ever have the beginnings of what to say, but we’ve got to say what we have, I believe, and not be silent. 

And I think what I have to say is a couple things about the way of Jesus toward finding God, finding life when the world breaks, or maybe about God’s ways of finding us, and helping us find ourselves and one another again when the world breaks. And I think that’s important, I think that’s good news.

So let me read today’s scripture, and pray, and get into it.

This is the fifth chapter of Matthew, the first 12 verses. It’s set in Matthew at the beginning of the longest, maybe the most important set of teachings of Jesus that the world has. People call it the Sermon on the Mount. And it starts like this.

Matthew 5:1-12 (New Revised Standard Version)

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.

2 And he began to speak and taught them, saying:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Blessed are you. Happy are you…. as your world is breaking apart.

Jesus’ words are so strange.

Matthew sets Jesus up within his tradition to be a new Moses here: a mountain-top revelator, a wisdom maker, a law giver for his people. 

But Jesus doesn’t start with law old or new. He’ll get there. We will too in a couple of weeks. But Jesus begins with these blessings, these pathways to God, these promises of the good life. 

The Greek word we translate as “blessed” or “happy” is makarios. Jason Miller calls this “the blissful existence of the gods.”

And Jesus says that god-like blessing – comfort, peace, mercy, an inheritance befitting the children of God – it can all be yours.

And the way in is poverty, humility, mourning, hunger. The hard work of kindness and peace-making and love in the face of opposition. 

Some commentators think Jesus is commending a way of being in the world. If you want the blissful existence of the gods, here’s the way. It’s purity of heart, it’s mercy, it’s peacemaking.

Some commentators think Jesus isn’t commanding a way of being, but promising a path to happiness and blessing for people who think they’ve missed it. If you’re poor, if you’re small, if you have suffered loss, if you long for a better life or a better world, you’re not excluded from the happiness of the gods. No, no, there’s a way in for us all.

A promise for those who think the gates have been shut on us. Or a surprising path to what’s best for us all. I think it’s some of both of those things.

But they’re strange words. They’re meant to catch us off guard, I think, to stop us in our tracks for a minute, so we can shift our assumptions. So we can break open a little more and let the light in. 

One of the years when my life broke open was in 2017. It felt at first like it was just breaking apart.

I don’t want to swim into the details too much, but I’ll tell you three things.

In 2017, Larry Nassar was on trial for the sexual abuse, the sexual assault of hundreds of girls in America’s national gymnastics program. I found myself following the coverage relentlessly and sitting in my car or my living room just crying and unable to focus on much else.

At the same time, someone I knew and trusted sent me a critical email which casually mentioned by name the neighbor who had sexually abused me when I was a preteen. This person mentioned what had happened to me as a bad thing that happened to me as a kid, but at least not so bad – after all, I turned out OK, didn’t I?

And then thirdly, in response to that email, and the sadness and anger it provoked in me, I looked up that neighbor to discover that in recent years, he had reoffended again, had abused another pre-teen boy, and was tried, convicted, and returned to prison. 

Those three things were hard for me to process.

I was well into my forties. I had done a lot of healing and growth work around my childhood and these issues, but that year broke my world open again. 

And I needed help.

To be clear, I am not thankful for any of these things – the horror of widespread sexual abuse and assault of children, my own scarred wounds, people who touch our wounds without care or kindness. 

These are curses, not blessings. 

But with the help of God and friends, amidst these curses, I was drawn deeper into understanding the beautiful and broken story of my life in ways that in time increased my peace, hope, and faith. I am so grateful for this life of mine. It is so good. I was also drawn deeper into love – love for myself, love for the living God, love for life, love for you. 

Jesus says it can be like this. The poor in spirit, the meek, the humbled – God’s kingdom, the beloved community, is especially for them. Comfort, nourishment, the full inheritance of the children of God is for them. For us. 

How is this so? I don’t think I can reduce it to a formula, but I find the words “mourn” and “hunger” helpful. 

To mourn is not just to be sad, not just to grieve, but to do something with that grief – to bring that grief into the light of day, into relationships or community of some form.

And to hunger and thirst is to want things to be made right. This word “righteousness” – dikaiosune – really means righteousness and justice. It’s not just about personal morality, it’s about all things, all things, being set right, just, whole. 

In my case, I was so sad, so angry, day after day, that I couldn’t function fully. I knew I needed help. I asked a few people I trusted to help me in finding a therapist. And after a couple months, I found someone I thought would be OK, maybe just good enough, but who turned out to be great. 

I also chose, I chose very carefully, two other people to talk with these wounds about. Our wounds are not for everyone. We can’t trust everyone to be safe with our wounds. But if we trust nobody, things usually get worse. Time alone never heals. Time alone never heals.

We need the help of God and friends. 

In my case, the therapy and the friendships helped me to feel and express and understand some very old griefs. It was a time of mourning for me. Thanks be to God, my therapist, my wife, one other trusted mentor and friend met that mourning with great compassion and encouragement for me to more deeply learn and practice compassion for myself as well. 

Knowing I’d hit a moment in life where I needed more time and space for healing in my inner life, I also embarked upon an ancient, year-long structure of reflection and prayer designed to come more deeply into an awareness of God’s great love for us and into discovering the reality, the presence, and the work of God’s spirit with us, day after day. 

That’s the way of Jesus. Part of it, at least. To live in a beautiful, but terribly broken world, and out of our poverty of spirit, to mourn, and to hunger and thirst for things to be set right. And to hope that God is with us, that we still have an inheritance of blessing. And to ask for help in finding it. 

Some people call trauma that wound that doesn’t heal. 

A clinician in Psychology Today published an article on the 7 Hurts that never heal. They are:

  -the death of a loved one

-mental illness or chronic illness



-permanent injury

-and trauma.

These are wounds that cut so deep, or persist so much, that they never fully leave us. Pain can lessen, but it may return. And the healing that comes will still leave scars. 

The article said that we cope with these hurts that never heal by sharing them – not with everyone, but not alone either. We share them. And we look for pathways for growth, and for some way they can become incorporated in our purpose. We hope to become wounded healers for ourselves and for others. 

There’s nothing about fixing or removing these things. Not possible. But we heal in part when we don’t bear them alone, and when with the help of God and friends, this garbage starts to compost into material through which we grow and help. 

Bad religion shames us for these hurts. Or like another addiction, it tries to offer us ways to deny or escape these wounds that never heal. 

The way of Jesus names our wounds. None of us go through life without any of them. But it names our wounds as beloved children. It names our wounds as access points to pathways of healing – to mourn, to long for a better way, to ask for help, to give and receive mercy, to grow into peacemakers ourselves, no matter the cost. And to take joy in the goodness that comes our way in all this. 

The way of Jesus does promise a life free from hurt. I can’t promise you that either. But the way of Jesus promises that our wounds can take us into the holy, to be held, to be accompanied, to taste the bliss of the gods, amidst the hurt of this life. 

Friends, if our world were not at war, that’s the talk. The way of Jesus in our hurts that do not heal. But remember those seven hurts that do not heal – death of a loved one, permanent injury, trauma, etc. – they’re all playing out in Israel and Palestine right now, and for many who have loved ones there. 

And to be alive right now and to care about this is to be in a constant state of exposure to trauma.  

A lot of people have had a lot of words to say this past week. Many of those words have missed the mark, have dug into one wound or another. 

But with the help of God, and with your trust, in prayer, and in relationships with many who are grieving, I’ll do my best for a minute.

Last weekend, Hamas militants from Gaza attacked civilians in Israel. Hundreds of civilians, perhaps over a thousand, including children, elderly, were killed, brutally, in a large-scale terrorist attack. 

Friends and colleagues of mine, world leaders as well, have named this as the largest attack on Jews since the ending of the Shoah, the Nazi Holocaust, nearly 80 years ago. Each victim a beloved community member, an image bearer of our Creator God. 

It’s also true that this attack, and these deaths, have occurred within a context. Palestinian people and lands have been occupied by Israel for decades. Numbers are contested, but many, many, many thousands of Palestinian Arabs have been injured and killed in the generations-long conflict. 

Israel proper is a very small nation, and it is filled with Jews and Arabs who have suffered losses in violent conflict. It is also filled with people whose parents and grandparents and great-grandparents were killed in the 20th century’s largest, most infamous genocide.

It is also true that Palestinian lands are occupied and encircled. Palestinians are a stateless people who suffer large rates of poverty and suffering and human rights violations. Israel has declared war against Hamas, the perpetrators of the terror attack. That war now includes a siege of Gaza, a strip of land the size of an American city, containing over two million people, half of whom are children, all of whom also beloved community members and image bearers of God. Access to electricity and food and medical supplies is being cut off, which is its own war crime. 

There’s more to say. And it’s changing every day. I don’t want to keep describing world events and trauma to you. I will likely not get it all right or say it all right. I am not an expert on any of these things.

But I say this to say that children of God have suffered, and are suffering, enormous wounds that do not heal. Most of us are proximate to this suffering not just through the news but as American tax-payers. And many of us, in our networks of family and friends and travel, are proximate to these wounds relationally. I know I am. I’ve reached out to and heard from friends, neighbors, colleagues and partners in our interfaith justice work. I’ve been offering my shared grief and listening to what people had to say. 

Let me just pass on some of their words to you – as models of grief that hold wisdom and compassion as well. 

From one rabbinic friend: I am sad to see the news of innocent civilians killed & terrorized in Israel with surprise attacks by Hamas. I am also worried about the innocent civilians in Gaza who may pay a terrible price. This horrific cycle of violence is endless. May God not extinguish our hopes for peace.

From a Palestinian Christian with ties to our church: You can condemn the killing and kidnapping of civilians. And you can condemn eight decades of occupation and oppression. There’s room enough for both.

From an Muslim scholar and journalist who has preached with me here before: In Islamic law, non-combatants are never legitimate targets in war. There are no exceptions for “colonial settlers” — which Muslims themselves could be, in various contexts. It is a principle all Muslims should defend — and call on Israel to respect.

From the Israeli newspaper Haaretz:

You can’t have it both ways: It’s morally indefensible to kill Palestinian civilians, even when framed as a fight against terrorism. And taking the lives of Israeli civilians is equally inexcusable, even when framed as a battle against occupation.

Lastly, from leaders Telos, Americans working for just peace for Palestine and Israel and in other global conflicts:

There is no doubt that Hamas committed a war crime against Israel and Israeli citizens. These unjustifiable atrocities must be condemned and prosecuted. Hamas must be held accountable. All hostages must be returned home safely and at once. Israel has a right to defend itself from Hamas. And to pursue justice for the victims of its crimes and freedom for all hostages. Israel does not have the right to indiscriminately retaliate against the millions of civilians in Gaza. International law and the rules of war prohibit collective punishment in any form. War crimes do not justify more war crimes. Atrocity does not justify atrocity. 

Friends, as I listen, there’s a lot that I don’t know. But here’s four things I do know about this suffering when the world breaks. 

One, I believe that victims, the wounded, need the way of Jesus. I’m not saying Israelis and Palestinians need to become Christians or believe in Jesus or anything like that. That’s an offense. People can choose their faith, their religion, and their lack thereof. No, I’m saying victims, the wounded, need the way of Jesus we’ve talked about here. They need to grieve and mourn in the kindness and relationship of others’ compassion. They need to grieve and mourn their community’s losses, and as I hope you heard in some of our friends I quoted, for our healing, they’ll need the power, the love to grieve their enemy’s losses as well. This giving and receiving of mercy saves us all, even if that mercy is in the hows and whys of how we defend or resist. 

Secondly, If we have passion around this conflict, if we find ourselves thinking unmerciful thoughts or saying or writing unmerciful words, we might want to slow our roll for a minute on our most strident opinions and try to listen to someone else’s pain. So we can be sure that when we advocate, we do advocate for a justice that is merciful, a justice that heals. This week, I’ve tried to listen more than talk and have reached a place where I have some clarity about what I’m asking my national representatives to do and not do, as well as things I will and won’t say in the court of public opinion.   

Three, if we’re not directly impacted by this conflict, we still have the opportunity to mourn with those who mourn, and so to walk in this way of Jesus as friends. People who mourn with others listen more than talk. People in mourning need to be embraced, they need our presence more than answers or judgment. That gets complicated sometimes because grief includes anger, and people can say some pretty raw things when they’re angry. Mostly, though, when we show up for others in their grief, they experience this way of Jesus immediately. There’s a blessing that comes. I’d invite you, my friends, to join me, in showing up for the grief of your neighbors. You can do that personally, with anyone you know that might have ties and stakes to Palestine or Israel. You can do that publicly too. On Monday, I went with my neighbor to a Jewish organized event for Israel, and then later I went to a Palestinian event by myself as well. There was more going on at both events than grief. There were things said at both events that I can not abide. But I stood there in silence to grieve with those who grieve. 

Lastly, in addition to advocacy and shared grief, I urge you to pray now. To turn your questions and grief and anger and humility and poverty of spirit to God and ask for peace, ask for access to your inheritance, ask for help and mercy. 

In our GBIO community, an ancient prayer has been circulating the past few days. A prayer from two hundred years ago, prayed by a rabbi in what is now Ukraine. I’d like to share that prayer with you all, to close in praying this prayer together, that in the worlds’ hurts that are not healing, and in our own world-breaking hurts as well, we could know the presence, the help, the nourishing love and blessing and peace of God.

Rabbi Nachman’s prayer for peace:

May it be Your will,
Holy One, our God, our ancestors’ God,
that you erase war and bloodshed from the world
and in its place draw down
a great and glorious peace
so that nation shall not lift up sword against nation
neither shall they learn war any more.

Rather, may all the inhabitants of the earth
recognize and deeply know
this great truth:
that we have not come into this world
for strife and division
nor for hatred and rage,
nor provocation and bloodshed.

We have come here only
to encounter You,
eternally blessed One.

And so,
we ask your compassion upon us;
raise up, by us, what is written:

I shall place peace upon the earth
and you shall lie down safe and undisturbed
and I shall banish evil beasts from the earth
and the sword shall not pass through your land.
but let justice come in waves like water
and righteousness flow like a river,
for the earth shall be full
of the knowledge of the Holy One
as the waters cover the sea.

So may it be.
And we say: