Why I Love Jesus

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

For this week’s spiritual practice led by Ivy Anthony, Seeds, click HERE.

We’re entering the sixth and final week of Lent, the week that in the Christian tradition has often been called Holy Week. As you’ve heard, this Friday and this Sunday, you’re invited to both in person and online opportunities to gather, to reflect, to worship in response to both the death and the resurrection of Jesus that we remember at the end of this week. This is a great time to remember and to love Jesus. And that’s what I want to talk about today.

For the past five weeks, we’ve read along with the Bible’s minor prophets, asking – What is most important? 

We’ve heard the prophets say things like:

“Let justice roll down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream,”  and we’ve wondered what it looks like to be people of good intentions and good impact in the world.

We’ve heard:

“I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” and wondered what kind of religion God loves and what kinds God hates, and what it would be like to have more love and kindness at the center of our lives.

We’ve read the prophets get poetic about the world as it should be, imagining the beautiful beloved community reign of God on earth, where there is more than enough for everyone. And we’ve wondered what steps are ours to take to see that into being, and we’ve asked of God with the prophets:

Why not now? And how long?

We’ve remembered there are so many ways to hate God in this life, but there are so many ways to love God too. 

And in this final week, we’ll read short excerpts from four different prophets. Each day, we’ll read words that centuries after they were first spoken and written became important to the first followers of Jesus. These words helped them understand who Jesus was and is and what happened in the final days of Jesus’ life and in the days and weeks after Jesus’ resurrection. 

This week’s five passages are not “about” Jesus per se. They were all written by people centuries before Jesus, about other things, to other people, in other times. When we read the Bible, we’re reading other people’s mail. In the New Testament of the Bible, we’re reminded that those of us who follow Jesus but are not Jewish are like branches grafted into an older tree. We didn’t come first, we’re not part of the original people of God in this faith. Not everything is about us.  

But each of these passages have also been windows for followers of Jesus into some way God was moving in the life of Jesus Christ. And at least for me, these passages remind me of reasons I love God, reasons I love the God Jesus loved, and reasons I love Jesus too. 

So this week, I’m not going to speak about one passage in depth. I’m going to read a few different quotes from the passages in the final week of our Lenten guide. And I’ll share a few reasons why I love Jesus. On this Palm Sunday, the day Jesus took center stage in Jerusalem in the final week before he was rejected and crucified, I will share some of why I love Jesus. And as the city welcomed Jesus on Palm Sunday, I hope that we will all welcome the presence of God in Jesus to us and that Spirit of God might stir love in all our hearts today as well.

So, why I love Jesus.

Joel 2:25a, 28 

25 I will repay you for the years

    that the cutting locust,

    the swarming locust, the hopping locust, and the devouring locust have eaten

28  After that I will pour out my spirit upon everyone;

        your sons and your daughters will prophesy,

        your old men will dream dreams,

        and your young men will see visions.

As a prophet, Joel knew that people have really crappy things happen during crappy years in crappy seasons of life. Locusts swarm, and they don’t just get in your eyes and your sheets and in your crops, but they eat everything. They come in so many forms – the cutting ones and the swarming ones, and the hopping ones and the devouring ones. But they all darken the sky and devour your food and leave you aching with hunger and afraid you won’t make it through the winter to come. 

I love Jesus because the locusts first came into my fields when I was just a kid but they weren’t the end of me. My locusts looked like anger and neglect and stealing stuff and kind of wishing I’d be caught and not knowing who to go to when things weren’t OK. And sometimes picking someone to go to but at least once that being the really, really, really wrong person. My locusts looked like ending up an invisible footnote in a horrible, sordid North Shore crime story that left me shamed and scared and all locked up inside. 

I love Jesus, though, because spirit came to this young man, because Jesus made me part of the everyone God pours into. I love Jesus because  he started saving me through so many people: 

  • Through Sunny Prior, my chorus teacher, who made me solo in front of dozens of my peers and smiled and told me: man, I could sing.
  • Through Ken Jones, my English teacher who, while his kids and hopes were dying, made room for me. Validated the written expression of my thoughts and life, and gave a speech at my school where he talked about hope and the marvelous incomprehensibility of God. 
  • Through a sweet high school girlfriend who was kinder to me than I knew how to be to myself and said corny things about faith like how life was full of glimpses of heaven.
  • Through a hokey old lady who told me Jesus would always love me and always be in my heart and through a pastor who made it seem like you could be smart and a Christian, even though I wasn’t really either of those things yet, and who baptized me.
  • Through a string of teachers and bosses who saw more in me than I saw in myself, who blessed a hopeful future into being with their affirmations.
  • Through my first therapist, who made me feel normal, and that what felt like my mess wasn’t really my fault at all
  • Through my friends who heard me tell my stories – heavy, raw – and accepted me and kept on being my friends, even when they didn’t know what to say.

Spirit was poured out to me through the love and kindness of people that taught me I mattered, I was loved. And I love Jesus for all of them, and for all the ways he saved me, brought me out of the locust field and has never stopped wrenching good out of the evils that found me there. 

This has been a year of swarming locusts. I’ve come back to this verse in prayer this year, shoving it in God’s face so to speak and asking God for redemption. But when I think of so many people and places that are ravaged by this crappy year we’ve had, I love Jesus because I have hope that this won’t be the end of the story. I love Jesus because Spirit of God has wrenched good out of evil in my life before, and I’m counting on God to help us wrench good out of evil after this locust-filled year too. 

Zephaniah 3:17 

17  The Lord your God is in your midst—a warrior bringing victory.

        He will create calm with his love;

        he will rejoice over you with singing.

I love Jesus because like me, and like all of us, he must have loved it when people sang when he was little. Lullaby songs – old, old religious songs about God and kings and good times and bad times and joy and anger, and funny songs about fig trees and pearls and lost people and lost sheep and lost coins. I love Jesus because he came from a people and from a faith that loved to sing, and I think that even though we don’t have any stories about Jesus singing, he must have sung by himself at night, or while walking along the road with his friends.

And I love Jesus because I imagine that God is somehow still singing lullabies, that God in Christ within and around and among us by God’s spirit still rejoices over us, rejoices over you with singing. I still can’t shake this feeling that someone is singing over us like this. 

I found out I was a teenager that I loved to sing. Singing with other people made me feel alive, like my body and my voice were part of something strong and beautiful, a sound, a force, a presence made of nothing but waves in the air, but still, that can soften hearts and grow courage and bring you back to your best self and stir the masses and make one believe there must be a God. 

I love Jesus because whether I was singing gospel or Bach or show tunes or the weirdest avant garde experiment, I always knew that calmness and joy and strength and beauty were our common human heritage, our way that we were meant to be. And I love Jesus because when I was 17 and pretending to be a 1950’s New York City Polish kid heads over heels in forbidden love, well, I remember lying dead on the stage after hours of belting love songs, and listening to Melina who played Maria in West Side Story make peace over my supposed corpse. I felt like life could be noble and good, and big and beautiful things could still happen among us. I still feel that way when I sing. I love Jesus for how art can stir us like that. And I love Jesus for what singing did for me, and I love that God loves music and loves to sing. 

Malachi 4:6a 

6 Turn the hearts of the parents to the children

    and the hearts of the children to their parents.

I love Jesus because Jesus loves children, my children and your children or nieces or brothers or your neighbor’s kids and all the children of the world. 

We live in a world that says it loves children that sing: I believe that children are the future, but then hates children. We want children to behave and be quiet, and be seen and not heard and be still and work hard and fulfill our dreams for them and shape them in our image. But Jesus said: let the children come to me. He liked being interrupted by children. He saw children. He healed children. I don’t know if there’s ever been a prophet who loved children like Jesus and that makes me love Jesus too.

Jesus understands what it’s like to love children, and parents. And Jesus understands what it’s like to have family problems and to grieve and to long for things to be better or have been better.

Jesus said that sometimes to follow life and follow love and follow Jesus and be well, that’s going to disrupt the family. I love Jesus for knowing that families are sometimes hard places and broken places. I love Jesus because when I wish my family had been different or was different, Jesus knows about that too. But Jesus also knows that the Spirit’s longing is to turn the hearts of parents to their kids and to turn the hearts of kids to their parents. 

God knows how heart-breaking it is when parent’s hearts aren’t turned toward their kids or when kid’s hearts are turned against their parents. I love Jesus for understanding when that’s been true for me, and I love that God is holding out for us all to come around to one another, to see better, to heal better, to love better. 

Zechariah 12:b 

12:b They will look to me concerning the one whom they pierced;

        they will mourn over him like the mourning for an only child.

I love Jesus because he didn’t take the easy way, because he’s not a winning team kind of person. I love Jesus because on the day we call Palm Sunday, he rode into the big city on a donkey, talking about real peace, there was a whole legion of Roman soldiers across town, marching into the city on warhorses, talking propaganda about the peace the money and weapons can buy you. I love Jesus because Jesus knew his life, his message of justice, reconciliation, dignity for the little person, utter disinterest in the bogus promises of capital and politics would get him killed, and he did it anyway. 

I love Jesus because he suffered enough, and lived looking into people’s eyes and touching hands with empathy, that they called him Man of Sorrows. And I love Jesus because he got close enough to the shamed and blamed that he had this other nickname: Friend of sinners. 

Who earns the nicknames Friend of Sinners and Man of Sorrows? I love Jesus for that. I love Jesus because I believe he cried with me in my freshman dorm room and sat and struggled with me while I lost weight and peace of mind. I love Jesus because I believe he walked out of my house with me when I had to leave and not look back. I love Jesus because I made a best friend named Grace who has been really kind and loyal and loving and faithful to me, and I love Jesus because he pushes me to be those things too.

And I love Jesus because when I’ve needed other friends and been lonely, other friends have come my way and Jesus has been my adult imaginary friend who’s real. I love Jesus for weeping with me when Nana and Pop Pop died and for being there at every funeral I’ve been to or led, even the ones I led through tears or shaky knees. I love Jesus because when I’m fed up or exasperated or angry about someone who’s so broken or self-sabotaging or so damn foolish, Jesus loves them more than me and sometimes turns my heart to be like his.

I love Jesus because I’ve found his Spirit in the woods and by the ocean and in prayers and meetings and in my classroom and in confessions and in the shadowed hallways of the ICE detention center and in hoarder’s houses and state house hallways and all the other places where I haven’t known just who to be or what to do. 

I love Jesus because in Jesus, I know that God takes every suffering, every sigh, every tear, every indignity of experience on earth and brings it into the heart of God, let’s it impact the eternal mind from which all life begins. And I love Jesus because even when I’m afraid of failing or afraid of losing or afraid of dying, I know God will be there with me and know the way through it, for me and for us all. 

Zechariah 13:1a 

13:1a On that day, a fountain will open….

And I love Jesus because of the spring sunshine, and the meal a churchgoer offered to cook me. I love Jesus because a little tree is growing out of the patch of dirt where we buried our Bengal cat Azuma last year. I love Jesus because my son made sure we buried that cat, and my wife made a little garden plot on that ground – all this lovingkindness when I was too shocked, too sad to do anything. 

I love Jesus because he’s alive, and because he makes me less afraid of dying. I love Jesus because he’s alive and is always birthing beautiful new things, always growing out of the soft and fertile places and the hard and stony places. 

I love Jesus because my children and nieces and nephews and godchildren are all alive and becoming the most wonderful of people. I love Jesus because I used to be afraid my life wouldn’t amount to anything, and I’m not afraid of that anymore. 

I love Jesus for the friend I was impossibly awful to who told me: I know what you did, Steve, and I forgive you, and showed me what Jesus looks like, always self-giving, co-suffering, always forgiving love. I love Jesus for showing us how very good God is. I love Jesus because God has become a fountain of life in me, made me bit by bit into a safe person, a gentler person, a kinder person. I love Jesus because Jesus shows me I’m so, so very loved, and that’s been filling up the holes in me that used to lie and sneak and harm and push me to the edge of despair. 

I love Jesus because when I close my eyes or take a walk and move my hands from my heart and say: Jesus, hold my burdens, or Jesus, hold my worries, something really happens. Peace comes. 

I love Jesus because no matter what the future holds, no matter what this next year brings, a river of life that is the person and presence of the living, life-giving God is flowing in me, is flowing in you, is welling up life and hope and faith and love like a reservoir, to pour into us and pour out of us again and again and again.

Thanks be to God.

Wrestling to See

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

For this week’s spiritual practice led by Lydia Shiu, How is Your Heart, click HERE

To those of you here this morning, that identify as Asian, Asian American, Pacific Islander – SE Asian, please know that I grieve with you, we grieve with you. Know that our God, our helper is one who grieves with you too.   Is with you. Sees you. You are not alone.  If your grief is laced with rage – that is exactly as it should be.. .and if you are tired and afraid – take rest. And this morning, may the words of the prophet Habakkuk wash over you – in ways that resonate, affirm where you are at today – and may you be loved and held by God.

Today we’ll hear from the prophet Habakkuk. 

Habakkuk is a prophet that raises timeless questions –  about humanity and God –  in a very timely way. He is one who translates the chaos, the violence and un-ending suffering of his ancient time  – to ours – today.  And does so from a platform of faith that is real, fierce and disruptive to the status quo, the dominant culture. This is why Habakkuk and the other prophet’s voices that we’ve listened to this Lent have been so powerful to me – because they do not just offer us ways to treat the symptoms of injustice in our days, but they show us how to wrestle and uproot the foundation of them.  The prophets dismantle – and in doing so – they keep us grounded to the vision that God has for this world – and its people,  which is US. 

The whole book of Habakkuk is 3 chapters.

And it’s a dialogue between him and God.

An honest, emotion-filled, back-and-forth conversation that starts with Habakkuk’s cry and maybe universal question:
“HOW LONG GOD?” HOW LONG?  Will I ask for help – and you will not listen?

Today I invite you to consider what it is you have been crying out to God for.. Keep this at the forefront of your heart – a heart that maybe is broken – weary from the years you’ve been crying out to God – with no God in sight.

And I invite you to re-up with God – as you listen to Habakkuk’s words.  To consider what is most important for you?   What it is you need to inspire, sustain, enliven faith?

These days – like Habakkuk’s – can feel bereft of a living, loving God – a God who is A REAL agent, who acts in this world for good? WHO addresses injustice and suffering – who does SOMETHING about evil and power and oppressors.

Habakkuk’s words are raw, charged, uncovered and red hot. Birthed from a heart situated in reality – and yet longing for the Divine One to show up – Habakkuk  as we’ll see, confronts God, and argues with God – and gets in God’s face and demands that God turn God’s  attention and eyes to him.  

“Let me see you, GOD! Show me that you are listening to me.
Show me that your eyes are open, that you see what’s going on here – and that you see me too!”

Habakkuk shows us how faith hinges on this necessary dynamic.  

Us and God seeing (and listening) to one another.   

And just how hard it is when so much of what we see –  resonates as evil.

Habakkuk like no other prophet – invites us to strip down any notions we have of God – and be energized with new vision for what we find there… and not be afraid of the wrestling it might take to get there. Let’s follow along as Habakkuk “wrestles to see” God. 

Through song, and scripture and the heart of our own stories – we are eager to be with you God, this morning. TO be refreshed in our spirits – that you are a God who speaks to us, cares for us and sees us. .. in all things, in all places. May it be so. Amen.

My Story

From the early days of Scott (my now husband) and I knowing one another – I always bugged him about making eye contact with me – when we were in conversation .. I come from a bustling, large family – and I often found the pace of conversation to be one that was a blur – happening often as we were in movement.  Moving from the table to the stack of books to study, or the coveted spot in front of the wood-burning stove  – or back to the car – one sibling leaving for practice, another returning. I think somewhere inside, I longed for steady connection (really)   – where we could have conversation, looking one another in the eye, and linger there a bit – SEE how that practice went, SEE how it felt to be dumped by that boyfriend (me!) – to listen to one another  – in whatever space we might be in…

You can ask Scott – when you see him again – how often I still do this to this day, ask him to repeat something he’s just said, (even if I’ve heard it just fine) and this time share it with me, while looking at me.  It’s sometimes annoying – or even unrealistic in the movement of life – but when it can happen, it’s connecting, it’s steadying, and there’s a deepening of listening.   It’s through the eye, that I often feel like I’m listened to, and where I can listen to another’s heart that’s speaking.

Scripture, is written from the point of view of those on the margins.  And unlike most prophets Habakkuk is speaking to God on the people’s behalf (in most cases prophets are speaking to the people on God’s behalf).   And he’s speaking to God of all this violence, all this injustice he sees around him -he’s speaking from the point of view, of those in society who were never looked in the eye. never listened to. Who’s lives have been trampled upon. Essentially erased. Invisible. 

So Habakkuk – at the front of scripture here (as you’ll see on a slide) is asking GOD TO SEE THEM!

Habakkuk 1:2 -4

  1:2 Lord, how long will I call for your help and you not listen? 

I cry out to you, “Violence!” but you don’t deliver us.

3 Why do you show me injustice and look at anguish

        so that devastation and violence are before me?

(look at all of this!) There is strife, and conflict abounds.

4         The Instruction (the law, the Torah), is ineffective….

            Justice does not endure

            because the wicked surround the righteous.

        Justice becomes warped.

Justice becomes warped.  Habakkuk stands in Jerusalem and looks at the unrecognizable state of his nation Judah. Everything that should undergird faith, society, humanity – is ravaged. Everything that one’s eyes and heart should be set on – justice, mercy, compassion is nowhere to be seen.

And so Habakkuk protests!  He goes directly to God.  Not to the King of the day – but God.

And he wrestles… which is appropriate – since at least some scholars believe his name means “wrestler.” The name of the river that Jacob crossed before wrestling with God: Jabbok, means “wrestling.” Habakkuk is another form of that Hebrew word. 

Habakkuk wrestles…

To see if and what God’s response will be to him….AND to figure out what he can see of God’s character – the God who he thinks cares about the fact that all of the “righteous are being swallowed by the wicked.” 

So he stands before God and He asks, this question that  Howard Thurman poses in his own commentary of Habakkuk,

Why does the ‘evilness’ of evil seem to be more dynamic and ENERGIZING than the ‘goodness’ of good?”

This is a question within a question, a question to God, about God: Who are you God if  you don’t intervene here – or at least say something!

Because right now it appears that you are the  “God who sanctions or at least tolerates all of this injustice/violence.” 

 Is that who you are God?

In Habakkuk’s dissent, doubt, his crying out, his anger, he is expressing PAIN.

Are you a God who can handle pain?

To “know God “ at this time – was very contractual… IF you obeyed God – then you got God’s blessing.   And if you disobeyed God – then you suffered God’s wrath. 

In expressing his pain (and the pain of the people around him)- AND in his demands to be heard with this pain – Habakkuk is shifting the paradigm of how to see/know God. . He is cracking open something new in this compacted faith… and expanding more of God’s character, That God is not just someone you extend “faith to” , but someone you engage “Faith with,” THIS crack – formed by his own pain –  allows his faith to breathe, allows faith to be a live, living faith… one that responds to present day reality, and all that comes with it. 

Habakkuk – is wrestling and dismantling – this idea that destruction is all there is for society – for the earth – that this misery and injustice will win out. He is challenging that picture – and saying that HE CAN be an effective force in challenging it.

And he’s also dismantling the idea that this is all there is to see and know of God – a distant, removed, transactional God. 

And he shows us that all of this dismantling – starts with the groans and complaints and the crying out of his heart.

The question that still stands for him though – is God listening?

And soon enough we see God’s response to Habakkuk… that God has listened, and God says:

“Oh yes – I hear your complaint – and here’s my plan:” 

I am going to raise up the Babylonians, these cruel and violent people.

They will march across the world and conquer other lands.

And then he goes into detail, with a bunch of images like cheetahs, and eagles, and desert winds, and a bunch of devouring/conquering pictures, to really allow the visual of utter destruction to set up in Habakkuk’s mind. 

So God’s answer to Habakkuk is to deal with the injustice of his people – by an oncoming assault of the Babylonians – an immoral and pagan empire – who are more corrupt and more violent than what is already happening – this will be the instrument of God’s great plan.

Now, A prophet is someone who sees as God sees.

And Habakkuk is struggling to make sense of, to see the vision that God is detailing here.  He’s perplexed and so he goes back to God a second time and says, “Ummm, this is a bad plan.  A very, very bad plan.  It can’t be that you just want to wipe us out, right?”

… God?

And so to try to get a better view – to be as intent as possible in not misunderstanding what God might say in response, Habakkuk does this. 

Habakkuk 2:1

2:1 I will take my post;/ I’ll climb up this watchtower

        I will position myself on the fortress.

        I will keep watch to see what the Lord says to me

        and how God will respond to my complaint.

Habakkuk says, “oh I’m waiting  GOD – I am waiting for what your next big, fantastic plan is!”  I’m staying close to you.  I’m watching you.”

And this is an interesting posture.  Habakkuk’s intention was to be with God, as he waited for God’s reply. A good posture – because the vista he’d gain of the land around him, as he climbed into a physical watchtower, increases his sense of desolation – later in scripture it says that the

       fig tree doesn’t bloom,

            and there’s no produce on the vine;

        the olive crop withers,

            and the fields don’t provide food;

        the sheep are cut off from the pen,

            and there are no cattle in the stalls…

For as far as the eye can see…there is no evidence of truth, beauty or goodness – sprouting up on the horizon.  The earth itself appears absent of God – this great nothingness- barrenness.

And yet – being in the watchtower close to God, with God – in the vastness of all of this nothingness, Habakkuk discovers that there is something with God.

Let me circle back to this in a moment.

Going back to my great value and joy of being able to see Scott’s eyes (and/or any of your eyes really) when you are sharing something,  I’ve realized that in this pandemic, we’ve all had our hand forced a little to look into one another’s eyes a lot more.  Right?  We are wearing masks – and if we are really trying to listen to one another, really trying to understand and connect to one another, we are watching each other’s eyes in a more intense manner. To listen to what our hearts are saying, when our facial expressions can no longer convey it fully.

I went to visiting hours of someone who passed away this week.  I didn’t know the person who passed, but I know her son.  I had prayed with and listened to the son, on the phone in the weeks leading up to the death and I knew it was so hard- painful, and sad. Death is always a rupture – a violation.  And it was even harder to walk into a funeral home.  With masks on, and protocols, and lines – and there felt like a vastness/vista of sorrow – to traverse, and I was having a hard time trying to see/locate God.

Until I finally got to the son – behind this big rope and above his mask line, I found his eyes – saw his grieving heart – and I found God. 

So whether it’s being on a physical watchtower or in an intentional watchtower posture w/ God, in what is real – hard – pain and encompassing nothingness – you might discover a sacred nothingness. 

For Habakkuk there was nothing good left of humanity, nothing fruitful of the earth, and in the watchtower he found that there was nothing between him and God’s eyes. 

Everything is stripped away.  It’s just him and God.

Just you and God. In the watchtower. And it’s where you find what is most important again – a God who is with you.

When God looks into your spirit  (in that sacred nothingness) what God do you see?

At those visiting hours – I saw a God who grieved with this son who had just lost his mom.  I saw a God who was angry at death, I saw a God who was tender and got it – all the swirl of emotions, who was far from judging any of them and close to pain. 

Wrestling with God, perhaps allows us this perspective as if from a watchtower.  Somehow seeing the heart of God anew – and taking on the eyes of God.   It’s how we anchor ourselves from letting the “evilness of evil” to seep in and take over the  “goodness of good” within us.

We still doubt (humanity and God), we still wrestle – we still long and are passionate about all that we want to see better. We stay in our real lives – and by that we activate faith – we give it just enough oxygen to ignite.

Faith is a storehouse of reality.   It is the nexus by which we dream, doubt, rage, shout, wrestle and live with God on this earth – here and now – with everything this earth gives us.  Habakkuk shows us that faith is the co-partnering of us and God. Something that we can not craft on our own – and something that God cannot move within us – without our willingness and welcome.

Faith is born from where we are stripped down to eye-level with the ones around us and God – where we are asked not to deny what we see (not be separate or turn a blind-eye – even from the horrors, what most disturbs us ) – but to respond to what we see, to act on what we see – and to also believe – hope even, that all of what we see – is not the totality of the kin’dom of God here on earth… that it is not the end, the final word. 

Ida B. Wells an early leader in the civil rights movement – who battled sexism, racism, and violence her whole life says that

Faith and doubt were bound together, with each a check against the other – doubt preventing faith from being too sure of itself and faith keeping doubt from going down into the pit of despair. With faith in one hand and doubt in the other – we can contend against the evil in our day.”

THIS IS HOW WE CONTINUE TO SEE and dream and vision as GOD does for the future of our lives – our world (The Cross and the Lynching Tree, Cone, 131).

A prophet is one who sees as God sees. One who can articulate God’s vision for a world still to come, a world as it should be – Habakkuk’s prophetic ministry is to nourish, nurture and evoke a consciousness – that is counter to the dominant culture of the day…  so that such a vision can be carried forth. 

And this is exactly how God responds to Habakkuk from his watchtower posture….God says

Habakkuk Scripture 2: 2-3

2:2 Write a vision, and make it plain upon a tablet

    so that a runner can read it.

3 There is still a vision for the appointed time;

            it testifies to the end;

                it does not deceive.

    If it delays, wait for it;

        for it is surely coming; it will not be late.

And then in a bunch of verses to follow – God goes on to just make sure it’s clear that plundering, murdering, the violence – the hoarding of wealth and corruption, and cutting down of forests.  The efforts for self stability and the idols that are formed and shaped, carved – are not where we find the vision of God. 

And then he ends it all by saying, 

20 the Lord is in God’s holy temple.

Let all the earth be silent before God.

So what’s the vision?  What does Habakkuk write down?  What do we write down and where? Where’s the holy temple?!

My guess is that the answer to those questions was different for Habakkuk than it is for us today.

But the beauty of prophets — IS that they speak to us today.. That they translate and reframe these same questions for us in our context now.

And my guess is that Habakkuk says….

“Your hearts are where you write this vision down”

“And the temple is the Spirit of God within you.”

THE VISION  – is for you to fill out – actively write – as you live.  As you call out injustice, as you see and listen and love your neighbor.    As you engage both the Spirit and your heart – then the imprint, the inscription of God’s vision will always be seen, visible to anyone passing by.

Can we embody this vision?

Ocean Vuong (vong)- this Vietnamese poet and professor at Umass Amherst – is one who has asked this question of me as well… I read his book this summer – the only book I read cover to cover in one sitting, it’s entitled “On Earth We are Briefly Gorgeous”.. And in it there’s this line that keeps coming back to me, it says,

the human eye is god’s loneliest creation. So much of the world passes through the pupil and still it holds nothing.”

This is the challenging and jolting reality.  How much of the world – the people that inhabit it – pass by our gaze – without recognition.  

Habakkuk says, “We are in a time in history where we need to listen to the prophetic hearts all around us – the marginalized, oppressed and one’s who have been kept silent.  They are speaking, continuing to cry out and asking to be seen.

As is our earth, our natural resource – it is groaning from our mistreatment;   

We are in a time in history – evident this week – where the LGBTQ community once once again is messaged that their lives are invalid.  

It is a time where black and brown people are continuing to die – pinned under the knee of white supremacy.

It’s a time where Asian siblings – like those named by Lydia at the top of this service – suffer and die from erasure, imperialism and immigration laws.

it is a time in history where the deadly impact of white supremacy overflows- and can no longer be unseen.

Unless this is the vista we want to see – barren of God’s image.

AND THIS  – this to Ocean Vuong’s point is where we must acknowledge that we HAVE seen. That we have seen, and seen, and seen, and seen  – the markers of racism, capitalism, and misogyny for so long –  and let it pass through our field of vision- without a blink of an eye.

Write this on your hearts – let this be a vision to you – that these people who die violently – those who suffer, who have been left unprotected by society.  They bear the burden of all the world’s actions (and inactions). They are prophets,  – in their crying out –  they seek to break the hold of injustice and open our eyes to see God in them.

We would do well to see and listen to what these prophets among us – speak to us today – even beyond the grave. 

It’s a lot. It’s too much sometimes. But as Habakkuk teaches –  don’t give up, hang in… continue to wrestle God into view.  Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly – with your heads up and eyes open. And may we be stripped down in our watchtowers with God, to what is most important – and what  Ocean Vuong reminds me, that

“I want to love more than death can harm.”

I want to love more than death can harm.

Prayer: God this morning, as we pause to listen and be with you – cast your loving gaze upon us – may it energize us for the stretch of days ahead. And may we feel it as known as the radiance of sunlight, as sweet as the birds calling outside right now – and hear it as clear as our neighbors, “hello.” – Amen


Inspiration & Resources

Walter Bruegemann, “The Prophetic Imagination”

Howard Thurmann – always

Megan McKenna, “Send My Roots Rain”

Ocean Vuong, “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” and “The Weight of Our Living: On Hope, Fire Escapes, and Visible Desperation.”

There Are So Many Ways to Love God

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

For this week’s spiritual practice, called “Love of God. Love of Neighbor” click HERE.


There’s a college professor named David Dark. I follow him on Twitter, and one of the things there is post stories of people doing horrible things to other people and to this earth, just adding the words: There are so many ways to hate God.

News this week. You can be so rich and famous and white that you find it appropriate to question the skin color of your in-law’s child in her womb. Or you can be so rich and famous and privileged that when you’re pulled over by the police for driving while four times past the legal blood alcohol limit, you do all the things you shouldn’t do when pulled over by police and then complain while you’re being arrested that you’re being persecuted for your politics. 

There are so many ways to hate God. 

Whole countries. You can so loves liberty and so hates science that you let over 500,000 people die and you let millions of kids lose their education and their friends so people can keep bars open and not have to wear masks. 

There are so many ways to hate God.

Or me. You can be so caught up in your own wheel of stress that you say something horrible you can’t unsay to someone you love. Or be so paralyzed by fear of a conflict that you let a friendship go rather than do the hard work to mend it. Or so confused about the just right way to do something that again and again, you just don’t do the things at all that other people really need you to do. 

There are so many ways to hate God. 

The basic logic of this is simple. People, all people, are made in the image of God, so whenever we disparage or hurt or degrade another human, or even fail to give them the kindness and respect that is ours to give, we hate them, and we hate God. 

Jesus, and the long line of prophets that came before Jesus, all taught that our love of self and love of God and love of neighbor – friend or foe – are all bound together. Love grows love grows love in all these relationships, just as hate grows hate grows hate in them all too. 

This is one of the messages of our fourth prophet in this year’s tour through the Bible’s shortest books of prophecy. This week, we’ll read the little fable of Jonah. There are five days of text and reactions and prayers in your guide to Lent, which you can find at reservoirchurch.org/lent if you don’t have a paper copy. The theme this year is What is Most Important. 

And one thing Jonah has to say to us is that there are so many ways to hate God. And there are so many ways to love God too.

Jonah begins with God’s call to a prophet of ancient Israel to love the residents of the Babylonian city of Nineveh. Nineveh was a more powerful city than Jerusalem, a richer city too, and a city known to Jonah and his people as an enemy city.

Jonah believes God is calling him to go to Nineveh with a warning, but a warning that if they listen to will – for them – become a blessing. But he is not having that. Instead of travelling northeast across land to Nineveh, he goes the opposite direction to catch a ride on a boat to the other side of the world. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. liked to preach from Jonah, and when he did, he’d say that we love to hide from God, don’t we? Any psychologist could tell us that there are parts of us that don’t want to be known, that are afraid to be known, that hide even from ourselves. And so we – meaning each of us, and we – meaning our whole species, have so many ways of using denial and defensiveness and technology and architecture and everything to keep ourselves from ourselves, and to keep ourselves from one another. 

We hide from ourselves. We hide from our friends. We hide from seeing the image of God in one another. 

There are so many ways to hate God.

One of the fun things about Jonah is that at least in this little story, every other character – all the supposedly pagan outsiders that populate the story – every one of them is a better person of Jonah. Being a religious person does not make you a better person than anyone else. One of the many times Jonah shows this is when he’s got this long, long prayer in chapter two that is a mashup of phrases from the psalms, all these things a person is supposed to pray to God. But it’s clear that Jonah’ still doesn’t understand God at all. Everything Jonah’s got is all about him. And he’s not yet talking to God about what’s really on his mind. So it’s a not very great prayer. 

But then when Jonah prays in the final chapter, he’s being a real jerk with God, but at least he’s being honest, which is a start. And it takes his relationship with God somewhere productive. 

Jonah 4:2-3 (CEB)

2 [Jonah] prayed to the Lord, “Come on, Lord! Wasn’t this precisely my point when I was back in my own land? This is why I fled to Tarshish earlier! I know that you are a merciful and compassionate God, very patient, full of faithful love, and willing not to destroy. 3 At this point, Lord, you may as well take my life from me, because it would be better for me to die than to live.”

See what had happened was Jonah finally went to Nineveh. And he walked around with that warning from God, and people listened. One sign Jonah’s a fable and not literal history is Jonah tells these people: you are bad, bad people. And they’re like: shoot, you’re right. Let’s turn to the living God and confess the error of our ways. Which would’ve been the rare time in history people when shaming and criticizing people opens them up to change. 

Regardless, in the story, the whole city of Nineveh turns to the mercy of God. And God’s affection is stirred toward them as well. 

Which Jonah can not stand. 

The Spirit of God has been working very hard to reach the people of Nineveh. Spirit gives Jonah a dream, or a set of ideas, or an intuition while praying – however it was this thought that Jonah thinks is from God comes to mind. Jonah feels that he is invited to be an agent of God’s change and possibility. Jonah can participate in God’s love, help co-create a new movement of the love of God in a city that has scared him until now. 

And yet Jonah would rather sit alone under his withering little tree that doesn’t even provide any shade than to share the love he’s been given with others. 

There are so many ways to hate God.

Of course, the real message of Jonah isn’t just this. It’s the corollary. It’s to see the fearful, hard-hearted, stressed out, all about me Jonah in each of us. And to know that God will keep inviting us to participate in God’s love story. 

There are so many ways to love God.

Jonah 4:4, 10-11 (CEB)

4 The Lord responded, “Is your anger a good thing?” 

I love that God asks questions. In the very beginning stories of the Bible: Adam, where are you? Jesus, again and again answering questions with questions, inviting us to wonder, to reconsider, to find wisdom, to stop hiding from ourselves or hiding from the truth or even hiding from God. God asks Jonah to consider: your anger with me for loving too many, for loving too much, for being too kind, is that a good thing? 

Jonah doesn’t answer, for what it’s worth. He finds a little place outside the city limits to sit alone, where presumably no one, maybe not even God, will bother him. Comically, the text says God grew a shrub up over Jonah’s head to give him shade, and Jonah was happy about the shrub. And then God sends a worm to eat that shrub, and Jonah loses his shade and overheats in the midday sun, and gets angry again. Here’s God at work in God’s creation to punk Jonah into open-heartedness again. 

And the book of Jonah then ends like this.

10 But the Lord said, “You ‘pitied’ the shrub, for which you didn’t work and which you didn’t raise; it grew in a night and perished in a night. 11 Yet for my part, can’t I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than one hundred twenty thousand people who can’t tell their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

Did you ever wonder what it’s like for God to consider the state of things on planet earth? 

There’s a window here. God’s up at night, seeing all the things. And all the beautiful things God wants for God’s creation. God sees all a little seedling of a plant and thinks: oh, it’d be so great for that plant to keep growing and serve a great purpose for a plant. I know it is possible to look at plants like this because sometimes my wife Grace walks around and looks at her plants and cheers on the new buds and leaves she sees growing. I think God looks at plants like this too.

God sees all the animals of Nineveh – the roaming free ones, and the caged ones, and the animals on farms and in houses and in holes in the ground and thinks: I so love all these animals. 

And God looks at the 120,000 people of Nineveh, just like the 117,000 people of Cambridge, and the 81,000 people of Somerville, and the 43,000 people of Arlington and so and so on, and God sees them sleeping and waking, feels our breath and our heartbeats and thinks, oh my goodness, these people I love, and how they can’t tell their right from their left sometimes. I love these people still. 

And I want their lives to not be at all wasted, but to be beautiful. 

Everything we’ve read in the prophets, like in Micah last week:

  • that all our habits of aggression and defensiveness would be replaced by peacemaking, 
  • that all people experience safety and security in their homes, in their cars, on their streets, in their schools
  • that all people would have zeal to pursue our own faith while practicing tolerance and curiosity toward the faith of others who walk in the name of their own God,
  • that we would all gather in joyful, inclusive communities of profound belonging,
  • that those formerly marginalized and othered and excluded would be centered and healed,
  • that redemption comes for the wounded, that victims become survivors, that the chronically weak grow in strength…

God wants all this for us and for our friends and even for our enemies. 

And the story of Jonah is that we have the opportunity to participate in this love story. To receive it and to give it. To be a part of it. 

To be the hands and feet of Christ. 

To participate in God’s immense love for all people and all things. 

Each time we love the earth. Each time we honor and respect and love any creature of the earth, we participate in God’s love. It flows through us and it flows into us as well.

There are so many ways to love God.

My child last year, who when we found our dead cat outside, insisted: we need to bury our cat and hold a funeral. 

My friend who heard I’d had a spot of depression and told me for the first time: I’ve been depressed before too. Can we talk?

I’m going to keep sharing a few examples from my life, but could you put something you’ve seen in that chat as well if you’re on zoom? I’d like to read some of those too. How have you seen someone love God, by loving something or someone God loves?

The leader of a seminar I attended who hand wrote me a blessing that affirms and challenges me all at once and that I keep in my journal to call me to my best self.

The many ones of you in this congregation who have sent me a word of gratitude or encouragement when you’ve found truth or help or something good through my work.

The family who took a stranger to live in their home for a month during a pandemic and then had that stranger stay for three months.

The educator who fought for access for children of color and children with disciplinary records and children with low test scores to get into coveted public schools. 

The social worker who kept sitting on the streets with Boston’s homeless, treating them like friends and family, even when she had no idea who had COVID.

The doctors and nurses and drivers and cooks and cashiers and firefighters and everyone who kept going out to work and taking care of us when they didn’t feel safe doing that. 

You’ll notice none of these are about a feeling, a sentiment of love. All of these are words and actions that someone said or did. Love gets outside of our hesitancy and lethargy and self-consciousness and love speaks. Love does. Sometimes love does small things at first. Sometimes love has the courage to be extravagant. It’s all good.

The Spirit of God is speaking God’s love for all the universe through fish and vines and worms and prophets. Art and science and music and trees and the wisdom of the elders and the wonder of the children all contain some parts of God’s love for everyone and everything. 

The book of Jonah ends with a question that the Spirit of God has for us. God asks: Can I not love all I have made? Can I not love it all? And will you not love with me?

Love of self, and love of neighbor – friend and enemy alike, and love of God – they are all intertwined. Love’s one of the only things that when we share or give or make it, we have more. We can start with a little more love of self, or love of earth, or love of friend, or love of foe, or love of God. No matter how, we have more of all of them, reinforcing one another, helping us participate in God’s great, adventurous, creative love story. 

Or we can have less of all of them, and shrink and wither under our little tree. 

Jonah tells us the story. Jonah says that today, we know God will be loving everyone and everything that crosses our mind or our gaze, ourselves included. How would we like to be part of that?

Love Mercy

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

For this week’s spiritual practice led by Ivy Anthony called “Micah & Rocks,” click HERE.

Micah 6:6-8 6

With what should I approach the Lord and bow down before God on high? Should I come before him with entirely burned offerings, with year-old calves? 7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with many torrents of oil? Should I give my oldest child for my crime; the fruit of my body for the sin of my spirit? 8 He has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God. 


Let me pray for us… We walk humbly into this space of worship this morning. Longing to hear you, see you, to feel you. Give us your grace we pray.in Jesus name. Amen


It was a hard decision to become a pastor. I loved Jesus so much. He had changed my heart. But when I began to feel the call and eventually got to seminary, the rest of the 4 years of seminary was about becoming. A process. And a lot of unbecoming, what I used to be. Shedding and changing. My heart was changed but changing my life, took a bit more time. For one,I had a pottymouth. And I struggled with addiction. And though I had stopped as I entered seminary, the temptations were still there. I was still a work in progress. 


And the fact that I was work in progress gave me a lot of doubt. Here I am, sitting in a seminary dorm. Ha! Who do you think you are? You’re not holy. You’re sinful! I said to myself. And the flashbacks would flood in. See? Remember what you’ve done? You? You want to become a pastor? When those voices would rise up, I’d kneel. I’d pray to that tender voice. I asked God, like the old Jennifer Knapp’s Christian pop song I grew up with, called Refine Me. 


Lord, come with Your fire

Burn my desires, refine me

Lord, my will has deceived me

Please come free me, come rescue this child

For I long to be reconciled to You

Refine me, refine me


I prayed and prayed. There were so many things that I needed to give up. But the funny thing about doubt and the imposter syndrome is that it turns the idea that “there are mistakes I’ve made” to “I am a mistake”, or “I’ve done wrong” to “I am wrong”. 


On one of those many nights where I battled with my own shaming voices, in prayer to God, a verse came to me. I have a vivid memory of this experience that I had forgotten about but recently came back to me with details. 


And when I say a verse came to me, I just mean, I thought of it. When things like this happen, I think it’s God speaking to us, because it feels like a gift, that it just comes into my mind. I don’t know, maybe I read it somewhere earlier that week. Maybe I heard it somewhere. So it’s hard to say, exactly how God speaks to us, but nevertheless, it felt as though God gave me this verse. Jesus said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” It came to me as a mystery because I did not understand it. I googled it. Jesus said it in Matthews chapter 9,  “But go and learn what this means:  quoting Hosea, prophet we read last week, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’


I desire mercy not sacrifice. I desire mercy not sacrifice..

The statement confused me. Sacrifice was such a positive thing in my mind. Selfless. Pure. 

It also happens to be high value in Korean culture. To sacrifice. How much our parents sacrificed themselves for the next generation. In fact, it’s a complement. 


I remember growing up in church, and on Sundays, everyone served. Ladies cooked all morning to provide beef seaweed soup and rice with kimchi to the entire congregation. Men moved chairs, tables to set things up. Deacons cleaned. Elders arranged the flowers. People had meetings, babysat, sang in choirs, made booklets. Sunday went on from early morning set up to late afternoon filled with band practices and prayer meetings. At the end of the day we would part ways saying to each other, ‘soogo hetsuhyo!’ which means ‘you worked hard!” or ‘goseng hetsuhyo” which means “you struggled!” or “you endured!” And everyone responded the same, saying “oh no no no” denying their work. It’s like a competition to see who took on the most burden, which is another complement. Sacrifice is next to godliness. And I’ve been taught all my life to sacrifice, to thank those who sacrificed, how much others have sacrificed for me. 


So when Jesus said, Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, not sacrifice? I didn’t get it. 


I marinated on it for a while. I journaled in my notebook. God, refine me. God, make me better. God, change me. 

I wrote, God use me. And I started to play with these words, as I often do when I journal, where my thoughts become play, and I riff and roll around the words with ittierations, rhymes, and rhythms. Yes, I get a little poetic prose-like in my journaling sometimes. I wrote…

Use me. Useful. US…FULL.  And then I wrote in capital letters, URS. Yours. And it hit me. 

That I’m not supposed to be “useful” but “urs.” Your beloved. 

It wasn’t about what I needed to do, 

But who I saw myself to be

I don’t need to make sacrifices for God or to God

But simply, see the way God see me, 

Which is full of mercy

I needed to have mercy on myself. 

And it brought me to tears. I think I felt mercy. I felt the love enveloping me. 


But still and again, I wrote in my journal. I asked God, what do you require of me? And I heard God respond to me with the same question, “What do you require of me?” God asked me. And I thought about that…. And I wrote “acceptance.” I asked God, “Am I good enough?” Do you accept me? 

How could it be? That I legitimately questioned whether I was good enough to be loved by God. That’s why I was sitting there asking God to change me, so that I could be pleasing and acceptable to the Lord. 

The questions of Am I good enough, came with a pang, like a sadness, to see my desperate insecure self in need of just love. I felt mercy toward her. Poor girl, of course, of course you’re good enough, Lydia! God loves you no matter what!

Jesus doesn’t ask us to make sacrifices. Jesus has mercy on us. Jesus loves us no matter what. Let me say that again. God doesn’t ask us to make sacrifices. Are you thinking in your head, well yes but there’s still some things I need to work on or things I need to clean up. Or Are you thinking about others, that one person, sure Jesus loves them but they’ve got some work to do. Sure the theological term sanctification has had much to expound on over centuries. But moral achievements are only meant to be the natural outpouring of the spirit through mercy and grace. Not by merit, through grace, GRACE, alone. 


In 2010 Jennifer Knapp the Christian musician came out publicly sharing that she’s been in a loving relationship with a woman for 8 years. I can see why she might’ve been asking God to burn her desires and the song, not being about how God sees her but maybe more about how others saw her or how she saw herself and felt the need to be seen and accepted a certain way. She longed to be accepted and loved. And sadly, when she came out, many were shocked, even angry. This is not God’s way. It’s what we do to each other. We demand sacrifices from each other. 


We don’t need to tell each other what to do, what to give, what to give up, and how to live. Like the question we’ve been asking this Lent “what’s the most important?” It says in our Lent Bible Guide, “Our church doesn’t try to define what should be most important for all of us; we don’t tell you  exactly which way to go. But we believe that as we lean toward God in prayer and listen to the prophets,  the Spirit of God will be our teacher and guide and show us each some of what is most important as well  as show us the way forward.” 

 We only need to show one another, God’s love and how we walk in God’s love, and walk humbly together. Any sacrifice that may come, is not up to you or me, but it’ll come naturally flowing out of the life of love. That’s between them and God. And for everyone who struggles with something, we only need to show mercy. 


So much guilt driven theology I swallowed growing up, that I needed to be cleansed, that I needed to be better. Sometimes “worldly” views come through the lens of “Christian values”. But at the core, there is only one message, God loves you. And not you should but you can have a loving reciprocal relationship with God. And love is not gained through a series of actions or sacrifices. You do not inspire God to love you by being good. What it means to love God isn’t to do things for God that is pretty or satisfactory to God. To love God is to receive and return love, delight and enjoy God. To know God’s heart and share your heart with God. To walk with God. 


So this is my humble walk. It’s not perfect. I’m not that holy. But I need to walk really closely with others to remind me what this walk is like. That sometimes this walk can feel like a show. Sometimes I feel like I need my faith to be a certain way. Ya’ll, I have major baggage with this being a Pastor’s Kid. We publicly sacrificed everything for the show. Don’t. Don’t sacrifice your first born, or the last born. 


With what shall I come before the Lord

    and bow down before the exalted God?

Shall I come before them with burnt offerings,

    with calves a year old? Shall we come to church to log in hours of prayer, with bank checks with a year of interest? 

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,

    with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Will the Lord be pleased with a thousand committees working on stuff in our organization, with ten thousand staff members? 


Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,

    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? Shall I give up things that are most precious to me, even the good and beautiful things most near to my heart? 

No, God does not require these things of you. Maybe church does. Maybe people do. But not God. 


The only thing that we’re told to DO in this text is, actually, justice. While I was on maternity leave I discovered that I enjoy listening to audiobooks while I’m feeding and holding the baby. I got a chance to hear “How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi and the main message of the book really took the whole book to drill into my head. He posed that being racist isn’t mainly about moral fallacy. In fact, when we dwindle down a thing like racism to moral or ethical failure, it fails to tackle the real root of the problem or more important the scope and power of the problem, which is how insidious and prevalent racism is, by chalking it up to almost excusing it as, oh that person is racist who is a bad person. When the reality is, racism is beyond personal individual moral failure, and plays out more powerfully as public policy. He says that it’s not ignorance or hate that fuels racism. It’s power. Power that’s carried out and implemented through racist policies. He says that ““Institutional racism” and “structural racism” and “systemic racism” are redundant. Racism itself is institutional, structural, and systemic.” He presents that it’s not moral failings of racists that we need to be working on but racist policies. 


Stop focusing on moral failings. It’s not enough. It may be a part of it, sin, sacrifice, sanctification. But what’s more at stake is bigger than your moral failings. 

Here’s what I read. Don’t worry about purifying your moral ethical failures through sacrifices. DO justice. Change racist policies. Even in the realm of race, as Ibram Kendi would point out, it’s less about individual righteousness but about implementation of justice. DO Justice. We don’t need to change the hearts of men, but change the policies that perpetuates and reinforces more racism at a systemic mass sophisticated scale, well beyond a hurtful racist remark. It’s less about personal holiness and piety, it’s more about doing public love and mercy, which is justice. It’s much more relational and community oriented, a thing like mercy, rather than transactional, like nullifying one’s sin through sacrifice. 

Again from the prophet Micah,


He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.

    And what does the Lord require of you?

To do justice and to love mercy

    and to walk humbly with your God.


Be fair. LOVE MERCY. And just walk. That’s it. Step by step. 


Let us walk together, doing justice, loving mercy. Can we? 


Let me pray for us. 


God of Justice, God of Love, God of mercy. Show us. Show us the way to not only fix ourselves, but love ourselves, and love our neighbors like we would love ourselves. Teach us we pray, lamp our feet, that we may walk, in justice, in mercy, in humility, with you. Help us. Have mercy on us Lord Jesus, Amen. 

God’s Angry Too. What Next?

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

For this week’s thematic spiritual practice led by Trecia Reavis, CLICK HERE.


Hi, Friends, I’m Steve, our senior pastor, and welcome again to our first Sunday of Lent. Even though we’ve been talking about this season for a few weeks, I’m guessing that it’s still odd-sounding or off-putting to some of us. 


If you don’t have a religious background, or if you have one but it didn’t include Lent, then it’s arbitrary. What is this old word, this dated religious practice? And what’s in it for us? I’d like to speak to that in a minute.


And if you do have a religious background that at all includes Lent, then it might seem like the last thing you need now. Lent is famous for the phrase: what are you giving up? Because Lent has, amongst other things, been a Christian season of fasting? Of not eating meat, or at least not on Fridays? Or giving up certain foods or pleasures or distractions. And for some of us, giving up more this year is the last thing we want. How much have we given up these past 12 months already?


But Lent is a lot more than giving up, and it doesn’t need to be an outdated or off-putting religious practice at all.


Lent is the six weeks before Easter, when we remember the death and resurrection of Jesus – the founding events and stories of our faith. Lent is a time to be closer to God, to invite the Spirit of God to shape our lives. 


It’s a time of putting down and of taking up. We put down or set aside or even give up things that distract or grip us. That’s where the traditions of fasting and giving come from. If you have things you’d like to to put down for these six weeks, feel free. But given the year we’ve had, we’re downplaying that side of the tradition. Maybe more importantly, Lent is also a season of taking up – of giving time and attention to prayer and welcoming the Spirit of God’s movement in us and in the world. 


Lent is a kind of dare to ourselves. Lent is from an old English word that means spring. Where we live, we dare to remember in the cold, snowy winter that we are just a few weeks from brighter days, warmer weather and birdsong and green. Spring is coming.


And we dare to hope that in our mix of putting down and taking up, wherever we feel lost or disoriented, God will help us find God and find ourselves again. Where faith has more doubt and distance, God will renew us. And where we lack focus or center, God will help us find what is most important. 


That’s the title of this year’s Lent, What is Most Important. The church won’t tell you what should be most important in your life – that is for you to discern with the help of God and friends. But we’ll read some of the Bible’s prophets and see how they can help us find what’s most important. 


The founder of Godly Play, the approach to learning the Bible our church uses with our children, says that prophets are people who were so close to God that they knew what was most important and they can show us the way. 


Each week, this Lent, we read some of the words of a different prophet, and see how that prophet can help us pray, can help us find God and ourselves, and can get us wondering what is most important.


Each Sunday, Lydia or Ivy or I will focus on the week’s prophet in our sermon, and then you’ll have five days of Bible readings, comments, and prayer practices you can try in the week to come. You can find that all in the guide that you picked up with your Lent in a Bag or that you can find our website – reservoirchurch.org/lent. 


This week we begin with a prophet named Amos. I’ll share brief excerpts from the first two days readings, tomorrow and Tuesday’s readings, and get us started. 


Amos 1:2 (CEB)

    He (Amos) said:

    The Lord roars from Zion.

        He shouts from Jerusalem;

        the pastures of the shepherds wither,

        and the top of Carmel dries up.


So the very first thing that Amos has to say is that God is angry. Amos spoke his anger and wrote his poems in the ancient Near East, 2800 years ago. And sometimes when we read Amos, we’re aware of that huge gulf of time and culture. Amos talks about God sometimes differently than we would. We don’t see the world quite the same way.


But other times, Amos sounds like he could be living among us, speaking to our world. 


You’re angry about all that’s messed up in this world. Guess what, God is angry too. What is wrong with us?


This year, Ivy developed the spiritual engagement practices that ends each day’s reading in the guide. They’re on the Lent deck of cards we were giving out as well, and they’re accompanied by a different object each week. For the first week, Ivy chose matches. And tomorrow and Tuesday, you’ll be invited to light matches, as that flame represents things you’re angry about. 


A couple of you previewed this material, and said that first week, I’m going to need a whole big box of matches. I thought about that. Because for me, anger is not one of my first go-to emotions when things are wrong. But last week, I sat down with a box of matches, a container to dump them in when I blew them out, and a blank piece of paper in case I wanted to write things down. I decided I’d preview one of Mondays’ spiritual engagement exercises, by lighting a match for each thing I was angry about these days, then after letting it burn for a few seconds, blowing it out, and moving on to the next one. Well, after about fifteen minutes, I had a large collection of burnt-up matches in my bowl and long list of people and groups and forces that I was angry about.


So much cause for our anger. So many targets for our anger.


I asked God to give me a sense of where God was in the anger, how God was responsive to all my anger.


And the picture that came to mind was one of the biggest fires I’ve ever seen. When I was in high school, every year we had a homecoming weekend in the fall, and the school and the fire department would construct this enormous bonfire on this empty grassy plot near our school. They’d put this scarecrow outfitted in the colors of our school’s rival on it too and burn that thing in effigy. Add this to the list of my high school memories that would never happen in public school around here these days. 


Anyway, that fire came to mind and the thought that came to mind in prayer was God saying: Steve, if you have match fire-sized anger, I have bonfire-sized anger. 


God is angry too.


The early framers of Christianity wanted a God that would be respectable to the Graeco-Roman world of the time. So following the lead of Plato and Aristotle, they tried to reconcile their experience of God and the Bible’s accounts of God with what Plato and Aristotle imagined the highest God must be like – unchanging, aloof, above human emotion and passion, the unmoved mover. And these concepts have been passed down over the centuries in the faith. 


So that most Christians today don’t imagine that God has an emotional life anything like ours. They tell us not to trust our emotions – they’re feelings, not facts. So-called negative emotions like anger are shut down too often. 


But when we come to the prophets, we find this is not true of God. God is passionate. God’s emotional life is larger, more vivid than ours. This is part of what is most important, that God is engaged, invested, emotionally responsive to what goes on in God’s creation, our lives, our world included. 


When we have good cause to be angry, God is angry too.


Now God’s anger is not like ours in some ways. People often get angry when we’re afraid. One mentor I knew who had significant anger issues he was dealing with said to me: it’s stunning, really, how often when I stop to look at my anger, I discover that beneath that I’m really afraid. 


Other people get angry when they’re experiencing shame. How often do you see a man make some mistake behind the wheel of a car, and someone else honks their horn to get their attention, and the same driver who made the error starts honking back, or flipping the bird, or swearing in anger? A lot of us don’t know how to handle when we’re ashamed, and so to move away from the discomfort of that shame, we go straight to anger.


God’s anger isn’t like this. God doesn’t experience shame. I think God is mostly not afraid too, and if ever God is afraid, God knows not to cover that anger. God isn’t always on our side either. Sometimes we’re angry when we lack perspective, or our pride has been wounded, and we need to be curious and let go of that anger.


But when it comes to wrongs done, violence done, harm done in God’s creation, God feels immense anger. The first chapter is a catalogue of ancient societal injustices – land theft, environmental degradation, forced labor and slavery, sexual crimes; people, nations stripped of their rights or dignity. 


God sees and God roars like a lion. 


The prophets see what is worthy of God’s anger, and they don’t turn away or try to shut down their own anger. They feel what God feels and they speak the truth. 


I wonder what you are angry about this year. I wonder how you are feeling that anger? How are you experiencing your anger? What is it doing in your life? How would help to know that God is with you in your anger? That God is angry too? What might this mean to you?


We’ll have the chance to explore questions like this with Amos this week. And we’lll see that God’s anger goes to some interesting and constructive places too, some places we can perhaps go with God as well. 


Let me read the second of our two scriptures. This is part of what you’ll read on Tuesday.


Amos 5:21-24 (CEB)

21 I hate, I reject your festivals;

    I don’t enjoy your joyous assemblies.

22 If you bring me your entirely burned offerings and gifts of food—

        I won’t be pleased;

    I won’t even look at your offerings of well-fed animals.

23 Take away the noise of your songs;

        I won’t listen to the melody of your harps.

24 But let justice roll down like waters,

        and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.


Amos is speaking in the voice of God, which is maybe the wildest thing the prophets of the Bible dare to do. You’ve got to be careful when you try to speak for God. For every one prophet in the Bible who did so, there are thousands of others in history, even today, who would have left us all better off if they’d stayed quiet instead.


Anyway, I hear a couple more things here. I hear more reasons God is angry. 


What a waste, right. Amos speaks another strand of the sadness and anger of God. God is angry over injustice, but God is also angry over bad religion. Religion that justifies the status quo, religion that performs supposed love and worship of God, while hating God in the face of the neighbor made in God’s image. Religion that loves power but not doesn’t love. Religion that offers things to God but doesn’t support lives of humble integrity, offered in kindness to one another.


Again and again in the prophets, they tell us this is important too. They tell us God wants nothing to do with this kind of religion. God doesn’t want to be associated unjust, unloving, violent religion, which is a lot of what religion is and has been. 


From God’s perspective, it’s got to seem maddening when people speak for God, perform devotion to God in public, construct buildings and institutions and ideals in the name of God, without learning to be decent people, kind people, loving people, just people. 


What a sadness. What a waste.


People might be fooled by bad religion, but God is not. Last week, while reading a pastor and theologian named Bruce Epperly, I came across this line: “God sees everything as it is, but also everything as it could be in light of God’s version of Shalom and beauty.”


God sees everything as it is, but also everything as it could be in light of God’s version of Shalom – wholeness, wellness, peace with justice – and beauty.


What could our world be? What could our lives be? 


If God doesn’t want injustice and God doesn’t want bad religion, what does God want? If injustice and bad religion make God angry, what makes God happy?


The two words Amos lands on are the Hebrew words “tsedeqah” and “mishpat”, what we usually translate as “righteousness” and “justice.” God’s arc, God’s longing, God’s big play in the world is that justice, mishpat, would roll down like mighty waters, and righteousness, tsedeqah, like an ever-flowing stream. That we – people, families, communities, churches, nations, societies, would become tsedeqah and mishpat.


These two words are collapsed into one word in the Greek of the New Testament – dikaiosune. It’s usually translated as “righteousness” in English Bibles, but it really means these two things put together – righteousness and justice – heart and actions as they were meant to be.


If you had to distinguish between these two words, one is more personal, one more collective. One is more private, one more public. One is more about intentions and one more about impact.


Righteousness, tsedeqah, is about being a good person. About setting loving intentions. Cultivating good, trustworthy character. Becoming the kind of person other people can trust with their children. Seeking the good of your neighbor and even your enemy, not just yourself. 


And mishpat is about right actions, that regardless of intention, you do the right thing for the common good. It’s about companies and governments and churches together doing what is right not just for themselves, but for the common good. 


Some of care more about one of these than the others. We say, intentions don’t matter, impact does. We say as long as we achieve economic justice, enough for all, as long as we dismantle what degrades ourselves or our neighbor – racism, homophobia, misogyny, sexual assault, pay gaps, equity gaps, and on it goes – than we can be satisfied. This is mishpat, and it is holy and good and important to God.


Some of us don’t have such public eyes. We care most about people being kind and loving and decent, doing the right and moral thing in their private lives, having integrity. This is part of tsedeqah, and it too is holy and good and important to God. 


God wants both. Good, kind, loving people that together shape a just and peaceful world. This is important to God.


The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was famous for preaching these words of Amos, of course: Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. We will never be satisfied until we see this. God will never be satisfied until God sees this.


King spoke these words often. They were in his “I Have a Dream Speech” among many other places – in the first half of the speech, the part with more substance and less swagger. These words of Amos anchored his vision for this country, a vision we have still not embraced. These words of Amos anchored King’s prophetic vision of the beloved community – a public life of universal belonging, of opportunity and equity for Black Americans and for all Americans, a more peaceful and just world for all peoples.


King believed that the arc of history was heading this way. The moral arc of the universe is long, he said, but it bends toward justice. I don’t know whether or not King was right about this. You could argue it both ways. None of us can predict the future and know just where our world, let alone our universe, is heading next.


But we know this is God’s arc. God wants to see righteousness and justice – kind and good and generous and loving people in a just and peaceful world. 


I wonder what in this vision you will find important. Is there some way the prophets will work on you this week, this season, to shine light on your character, clarify who you are and who you long to be? Is there some way God seeks to grow you into healing of heart and more loving intentions? 


Or has this year taught you about justice? About embracing God’s vision of a well-governed, equitable world of mishpat? Is there a cause or care you’d like to give yourself to more, along with others?


This week, as we begin Lent together, I’m excited to put down a few of my first thing in the morning distractions and to spend a half hour each morning with our Lenten guide. I hope you’ll join me each day for whatever amount of time works for you.


As we take up this prayer and attention to what the prophets have to say to us, I hope we’ll each discover something important about God – how vitally engaged God is with us, how loving, how responsive, how much creative possibility God greets us with. And I hope we’ll listen and awake again to what’s most important for us as well, finding our way forward into beautiful, whole lives that make God happy, that make us glad – lives well-lived even in hard times, lives of righteousness and justice, best as we see the way for ourselves and one another. 


I’m excited to begin together. If you’d still like a paper copy of the Lenten guide and our Lent in a Bag with cards and objects, we have 20 or 30 left at the church. You’re welcome to stop by the sanctuary between 11 and 2 and pick one up while supplies last. If not, stop by the link on our site – reservoirchurch.org/lent to view or download all you need. We’ll even start to tease out these themes of Amos – what makes us angry – on today’s wave call, if you’d like to join us there. 


This Lent, these next six weeks, may God give you the blessing of moving closer to God, as the prophets did, and of finding for you before God, what is most important and how to go there. 



Walking Toward the World as It Should Be

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


Happy Valentine’s Day, friends who are celebrating that today.


And a happy Lunar New Year to all you are celebrating that beautiful holiday this weekend as well. We are ushering in the year of the ox, which happens to be my birth year, and we are closing the books on the year of the rat. Rat to ox, I’m hoping that is a good portent for us all. 


In my household, apart from some delicious Chinese new year food, the big news this past week was we sent our daughter back to college. I drove to Philadelphia with her and back to send her away again. And what surprised me was that for me at least, dropping my kid off at college for the second time was a dagger to the heart more than the first time was. The first time I had this illusion that she was still my kiddo, still under our care, just on break, I don’t know, going to a really long sleepaway camp or something. But this time, it was clear to me that we’re way past that point. We have an adult child, starting to make her own way in the world, and there is no going back.


It was with this in mind that I was listening to a theology podcast with Rev. Dr. Monica Coleman. Monica Coleman’s work sits at the intersection of feminism, African American studies, mental health, and a kind of theology called process theology, which believes all of life is about change and relationships. 


And Monica was talking about the constancy of change, and I’m like… yeah, my babies just keep growing older, and I just keep growing older with them. And she’s talking about how change always involves loss, and I’m like, yeah, I feel like I just lost one of my kids. I feel like I’m losing a piece of myself. There’s a psychologist in our congregation who likes to tell me that adolescence and kids growing up is really about the dissolution of the family unit. You know, a kind of nuclear family break up. You know who you are, and I do not want you reaching out to tell me that today. I know it. 


Loss from change, all manner of downsides to the world changing, are central features of our lives. 


So I’m tearing up a little as I’m driving along the New Jersey Turnpike. 


But then the Rev. Dr. Monica Coleman says this other thing about process thinking, which is that change doesn’t just involve loss and suffering. Change also always opens up new creative possibilities. And from a process theology perspective, God is with all of creation amidst every change, always offering us new creative possibilities. This is who God is, this is what God does. 


And I’m thinking, yes, in this sad transition in my life as a parent, there are new creative possibilities. There are new ways to love my children, new ways to invest in their lives and my legacy, new ways to know pride and joy as a father. Even in this year of so many losses, my faith and my experience tell me God is with me for creative possibility here, to find new ways to live a joyful, purposeful, satisfying life as long as I have life to live. 


This year for all of us friends has been full of loss. We’ve been living through a kind of master class in just how messed up the world is. Grace and I took a walk yesterday, as we often do, and I look back on what we were talking about. We were talking about a horrible, lurid scandal of a Christian leader whose books we read when we were younger. Turns out the whole time he was preaching about the glories of Christian faith and its virtues, he was sexually assaulting women around the world. And that got us talking about the bad behavior of a number of people in public life. And we were talking about why schools still aren’t open and how badly our country has messed up our whole response to this pandemic, and how angry it makes us that kids and elderly have born the brunt of this in a lot of ways. And talking about elderly people got us talking about the rash of hate crimes recently against elderly Asian Americans in California. All this, in one walk, before coming home to news about the impeachment trial. 


I mean again, has not this year been a master class in revealing how miserably screwed up is the world as it is. 


But here we are, seven weeks before Easter Sunday, and we are set to begin the Christian season called Lent, our bridge from winter into spring. Lent is our shared season of spiritual formation – of trying to move closer to God. It’s a time when we actively invite God to shape us into more whole people, walking together toward a more loving, just future. 


Today we talk about a way we can do Lent this year, how in this messed up, broken year of ours, we can be open to how the Spirit of God is present for new, creative possibilities. 


Every year in Lent, we’re guided by some scriptures, and we’ll be in the 

prophets this year, in particular what are called the minor prophets, minor not because they’re not important, but because their books are shorter. There are 12 of these minor prophets, and we’ll read parts of many of them. 


Today, we’ll read words from a different prophet, the one with the longest book, Isaiah. And we’ll look at God’s interest in people rediscovering what is important, and having the desire, the power, the capacity to walk toward better lives and a better world together. 


Let me read this bit from the 11th chapter of Isaiah. 


Isaiah 11:1-9 (CEB)

11 A shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse;

    a branch will sprout from his roots.

2 The Lord’s spirit will rest upon him,

    a spirit of wisdom and understanding,

    a spirit of planning and strength,

    a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.

3 He will delight in fearing the Lord.

He won’t judge by appearances,

    nor decide by hearsay.

4 He will judge the needy with righteousness,

    and decide with equity for those who suffer in the land.

He will strike the violent with the rod of his mouth;

    by the breath of his lips he will kill the wicked.

5 Righteousness will be the belt around his hips,

    and faithfulness the belt around his waist.

6 The wolf will live with the lamb,

    and the leopard will lie down with the young goat;

    the calf and the young lion will feed together,

    and a little child will lead them.

7 The cow and the bear will graze.

    Their young will lie down together,

    and a lion will eat straw like an ox.

8 A nursing child will play over the snake’s hole;

    toddlers will reach right over the serpent’s den.

9 They won’t harm or destroy anywhere on my holy mountain.

    The earth will surely be filled with the knowledge of the Lord,

    just as the water covers the sea.


This sounds like a good place, doesn’t it? The prophets have these amazing pictures they paint of a peaceful and just world – wolves and lambs sharing naptime on the ground, wine flowing from the hillsides, parents pulling their kids aside for a lesson, saying you know what you’ve got to understand, kid: Life is fair. Always.


When is this? Where is this? Of what future do the prophets speak?


Is this heaven? That’s what a lot of people think, that the prophets see really far into the future. And sometimes, they have a vision of our perfectly wonderful afterlife. 


There’s a little problem in this interpretation, though, which is that when Isaiah and the other prophets were written, most Jews didn’t really believe in the afterlife yet. Or they had only the fuzziest picture of what it might be like, and that picture wasn’t so great. 


So, it’s kind of ridiculous to think the prophets would be writing about this place they weren’t so sure even existed. Now, that’s what I believed about these passages most of my life too, so I’m ridiculous. 


But that’s not what’s going on here. The prophets see really well, they do, but they were always more interested in seeing the present than the future. And when they paint these pictures of a beautifully abundant, peaceful, just world that we all flourish in, they are painting a picture of this world the way it should be. 


In our organizing work with Greater Boston Interfaith, we use these two phrases a lot – the world as it is, and the world as it should be. 


The prophets see the world as it is. They feel what God feels, and they see what God sees. And the prophets cry out about so much that is wrong in the world as it is – our bankrupt religion, our inequitable economy, the way we say respect your elders and children are the future, but again and again treat them both like trash. The prophets see all the ways we do violence, making safety and security the luxury of the privileged, not the basic condition of life that they should be. The prophets see all this, as this year at least, we increasingly do as well. 


But the prophets also point us toward God’s creative possibilities for the world as it should be. 


In this passage, there’s a picture of what leaders should be like – humble, cultivating wisdom before God, just, fair, equitable. The leader here is a king in the line of the great king David, son of Jesse. Chrisitans have believed that Jesus embraced the call to be this kind of leader of humanity, to teach us and guide us toward the world as it should be, world where kids can flourish because the threats that are with are dealt with, a world where the presence of justice makes for security and peace, a world where people aren’t harmed or destroyed. 


The prophets believe this kind of world isn’t a fantasy. And it’s not just possible in the afterlife, it’s a world that with the help of God and one another, we can see into being. 


We’re going to read the prophets this Lent because prophets are people who come so close to God, who feel what God feels and see what God sees, so they know what is important. 


I had a taste of praying with the prophets this past week. I was on the phone with one of my best friends, and we were commiserating over the struggles of our children. Their kids have had struggle after struggle with uncaring, unreasonable adults who refuse to put kids first. And my kids, or at least my boys, have spent more than 10% of their life they can remember stuck at home staring at computer screens. All because in this country, we care more about our personal liberties – and our rights to party or gamble or drink maskless than we do about our elders or our kids. 


Did I mention I am incensed by this?


And as I prayed with my friend, a line from the prophets came to me, words of the prophet Joel, words we’ll read in the 6th week of Lent, where God, in the context of pouring out God’s Spirit into us, says: I will restore the years the locust has eaten. 


I see the year of your loss. I feel the weight of what’s been taken from you. And I want to restore that to you.


And I’m praying into this hope, praying God, restore to our kids what’s been taken from them. Because in the world as it should be, we don’t sacrifice what our kids need to get what we want. 


And even though I don’t know how God will answer that prayer in my life, what creative possibilities will open up for my kids or my friends’ kids or for how we raise them as parents, but praying into that centered and grounded me, got me focused again on what’s most important in my life. And that helped me see differently the choices I’m making while I’m raising teenagers, and helped me focus a little more on the choices I want to make too.


Even when we’ve lost so much, even when the world as it is looks bleak, the prophets help us see what is important. 


They know which way to go. And they are the ones who show us the way. 


This Lent, we’ll walk to the prophets as they show us the way toward what’s most important. As they encourage us to walk toward the world as it should be. 


Amos, Hosea, Micah, Jonah, Habakkuk, and friends, they’re all going to suggest different aspects of what’s most important, and they’ll show us the way each a little differently. 


But today, as in invitation to this season, we’ll return where we left of with  Isaiah, and the leader who shot out of the line of Jesse, who for our purposes I’ll call Jesus. 


Isaiah ends this vision, saying: They won’t harm or destroy anywhere on my holy mountain. That mountain being the city of Jerusalem, whose light, Isaiah says, will extend to the whole world. And then this:


The earth will surely be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, just as water covers the sea. 


This knowledge of God – it’s a result of all things being made whole, for sure. When the world is as it should be, we know the goodness of God. We can see it. We can taste it. 


But Isaiah along with all the other prophets tells us that the knowledge of God is the way there as well. Deep knowledge of the true, living, life-giving God is the way. 


Because the knowledge of God shows us what righteousness and justice and love and mercy all look like. If we will humbly listen, God shows us the way the world should be. And the knowledge of God shows us we are known, we are seen, we are loved by an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-loving God of endless creative possibilities. This God tells us we are enough and we are made whole. And that empowers the desire and capacity to make this world whole. 


Religion, Chrisitianity in particular, has a pretty mixed track record of getting people here. We see it vividly these days in our messed our world as it is, shoddy, unloving, unjust, un-lifegiving forms of Christianity upholding, justifying the world as it is, failing to ground us in what’s important, failing to show us the way there. 


That’s why we go back to the prophets. They see what God sees and feel what God feels. They tell us the truth about ourselves and about God. They know what’s important. And they show us the way there. 


This Lent, friends, I invite you to step back a bit from the world as it is. Interrupt your life in some way. Traditionally, Christians have interrupted their lives in this season through fasting and giving. They stop consuming something, and they get a little more generous. 


You may not be up for either of these things. You may be incredibly short on money and have no more to give. This year’s been hard on some of our wallets. Or you may feel this whole year has been one big fast, that you’ve given up so much, you don’t want to give up anything else. If you feel that way, that’s OK. God understands. You can skip this step.


But if you feel that you could use a little interruption from life as it is, to find your way back toward God and toward what’s most important, you could fast from one meal a week, or you could fast from eating one day a week. Or you could fast from netflix, or from some other form of media. 


And of course, there are endless ways to be more generous. 


If you fast or give this Lent, it’s not to make you a better or more religious person, and it is not to get God’s attention – you have that already. It’s to interrupt the pattern of the way things are and make room for something new. 


And the first step of something new in Lent, the first way we walk toward the world as it should be is by adding in to our lives, or adding back a daily practice of study, prayer, and reflection. This is finding our way toward a daily spiritual practice in which we’re “filled with the knowledge of the Lord….” and we walk on the path toward becoming more whole people who can do our part to make the world more whole as well. 


Our team has set you up with a really delightful way to do that this Lent. We have a daily guide that begins a week from tomorrow. It’ll be on our website under the sermon and stories tab, there’s a Lent section where we’ll have this year’s guide. And we’ve bound and printed the guide for you as well. If you pick it up this afternoon at our church sanctuary, you’ll also get a bag with the ashes you need for this Wednesday’s Ash Wednesday service and all the other aides to your spiritual practice Ivy showed you earlier. 


I’m really proud of and grateful for our team’s work on Lent this year. I think it’s powerful and beautiful and I hope you’ll participate. 


These past 11 months have been hard, friends. They’ve been full of losses common to us all, and I see and hear you – many of us have had our own particular losses as well. We’ve seen so much of what’s wrong and awful about the world as it is. Let’s take the weeks ahead of us, and open our hearts and minds and our time and attention to the living and life-giving God, who can teach us what’s important, who can show us the way there, and who can make us whole people who make the world a little more whole too.


Pray with me please.