Four Phrases for Wholehearted, Humble Living

I had this really interesting moment of shame the other week. And I want to tell you about it. 

It happened at a high school sporting event. Now I’ve been watching high school sports for a while – as a teacher, as a principal, now as a parent. And I’ve noticed that certain sports more than others tend to draw out the crazy parent fan behavior. You know: shouting at refs, complaining to coaches, getting overly involved in the game outcome. One sport, though, that doesn’t draw this crazy parent stuff out is cross country running. 

First off, like no one goes to these races. They are not popular spectator events. Secondly, you can’t see your kid run very much. These races are three miles long, across fields, through woods, and you only see your kid run by three, maybe four times. And a lot of kids have ordered their parents not to say anything at races when they run by – silence, please! — so the few parents that go to these meets tend to stand around for a long time doing nothing, and then sort of politely clap for a few seconds as their kid and their teammates run by. 

Not me, though. I’m kind of a crazy cross country parent. I like the sport. I appreciate watching a running race. And I still run a bit myself, so I can run around to different parts of the course and and see a lot of moments in the action. And the other week, at one of my daughter’s cross country meets, I was a little crazier than usual. 

The course was all through the woods, so the only way to get around and see different parts of the race was to run on the same trail the athletes were using. So there was this moment when my daughter had run by me, and she was running fast, and I was kind of excited to keep cheering her on, and there was no one right behind her. So I started running on the trail. I tried to keep my distance behind her, so Julianna wouldn’t think I was trying to chase her down or anything. 

But there I was, chugging along through the woods, and I round a corner, and there’s the boys’ team head coach, who eyeballs me with this horrified look, like: Steve, what the hell are you doing? Get off the course – do not try to chase your kid. 

And I was mortified – I saw myself through someone else’s eyes for a moment, and I was like: my God, I look I’m this middle aged guy trying to enter the teenage girls’ race. Or that parent crazily chasing my kid down telling her to go faster. 

I was actually too mortified to stop and say anything, so I kept running around the corner, away from the coach – like oh, this is normal, just out for a jog in the woods. During the race. And I got out of sight of the coach, and started walking off the trail. 

I was flushing with embarrassment. And for hours afterwards, I thought what am I going to say when I see that coach again. I looked so ridiculous. What was my way out of this? 

What do you do with an experience of shame?

Well, it turns out my way through that problem, was the same as my way through many others, and it was to know that I am a person. And that a person is less like a machine, and less like a god, and more like a tree.

We began this series four weeks ago with me talking about trees and imperfection and flourishing, and we’re going to end in that same place. 

Our first of today’s two scriptures is from the old Hebrew prophet Jeremiah, who said: 

Jeremiah 17:7-8 (CEB)

Happy are those who trust in the Lord,

    who rely on the Lord.

8 They will be like trees planted by the streams,

    whose roots reach down to the water.

They won’t fear drought when it comes;

    their leaves will remain green.

They won’t be stressed in the time of drought

    or fail to bear fruit.

To be a person, at least to a faithful person, is to be a tree. It’s to know that the conditions of your life, a great part of your environment, is not within your control. The water table, the sunshine, the condition of the soil, the nutrients in the ground, the friendly or hostile conditions of the atmosphere, the weather and the climate – none of that is up to you. 

You as a tree lay roots. You pull in the best of the nourishment that is there to be found. And then you add volume, you stretch and grow, you do what you can. 

If the conditions for growth are marvelous, it is not your achievement but your blessing. And if the conditions for growth are hostile, it is not your fault. 

There’s more to be said from this passage, more that flows from this metaphor, and we’ll get there soon, but let’s start here. 

That to be a flourishing human is to own our limits profoundly. 

Many places in the scriptures – here, in the very first of the psalms, more than once in the teaching of Jesus – work this kind of metaphor of human as tree or vine or plant – who can remain connected, stay rooted, take in nourishment, but can’t control so many other things.

To think otherwise, to think that we are in control, that we are independent, or that some kind of invulnerable perfection is without our reach, is to maintain an idolatrous illusion. A falsehood that we are more or better or different than we really are. A falsehood that we’d hold so we could avoid our vulnerability or so that we could control or dominate others. 

As I said four weeks ago, I have learned from Christena Cleveland that “perfection is a figment of the colonial imagination.” It’s an illusion used to mask our limits and insecurity, and at the same time to try to conquer or control or diminish others and put ourselves on top. 

The illusion of perfection is a losing game. And so progress is as well. Our call as humans, and our roadmap for a faith journey is not progress, it is not  self-improvement on the way to perfection.

Our journey is to be as healthy as we can. It’s to be alive and celebrate the movement we can make. Our faith journey is to be fully human, to be our full tree-like, beautiful, uself, but also limited and dependent selves, nothing more and nothing less. 

One of the best words I know for this way of being is humility. 

Humility is not self-abasement – being a doormat or a wallflower. Humility is also not denying our gifts or strengths – it’s being who we are. 

I recently read The Cloud of Unknowing, this weird, but deep, classic work of Christian spirituality from the 14th century. And its author wrote:

“In itself, humility is nothing else but a human’s true understanding and awareness of himself as he really is.” 

Humility is nothing else but a human’s true understanding and awareness of herself as she really is. 

Reservoir loves humility – it’s really important to our way of being as a church. It’s one of our five core values, the fifth that we’re exploring this month as we focus on our faith journeys and our invitation to this community to live as flourishing, contributing members of Reservoir Church. 

The way we talk about this as a church is humility in what we know and how we learn. Our core value on humility says:

“We are wholeheartedly committed to pursuing the truth of Jesus through multiple sources, including the Bible, reason, culture, and experience, and we take the posture of learners, recognizing that our understanding of God’s truth continues to unfold.”

Reservoir does not have the illusion of being a perfect church, or even a certain church. We’re a humble church, we’re a learning church. We don’t make pronouncements about what the church thinks or believes about this or that. We don’t tell our own members, let alone the world at large, how they should live their lives. 

But we do commit to pursue the truth together – everywhere it can be found. 

And we do commit to keep learning, to keep listening, to God and to one another, and to keep growing. 

Once in a while, someone will ask me – usually indirectly – if we’re a biblical church.

And I don’t always say this, but I think: My God, no! A biblical church? There’s no such thing. None of us live in the first century Roman empire, do we? Lots of us are literate. We use telephones and computers and electricity. 

Of course, we’re not a “biblical church.” 

But more seriously, we’re a humble church. We don’t pretend that life is simple, that the Bible is always easy or clear, or that our minds or our tradition is always right. So we’ve taken the lead from other church traditions and say: we are wholeheartedly committed to pursuing the truth of Jesus through multiple sources, including the Bible, reason, culture, and experience. 

The Spirit of God is so good, and has many teachers. 

So you take the ancient creeds for instance, that are our faith statements. They don’t say anything really about exactly what to believe about the afterlife. They don’t tell you exactly what your sexual ethics should be, or frankly, your ethics about most anything else. They don’t tell you the right way to baptize people, or manage your money or your career or your children. Because the Bible, and reason, and culture, and experience have had different things to say about all this. And faithful, smart, earnest followers of Jesus, doing their best, have come to different conclusions about all this and more. 

And even when we say the ancient creeds, like: I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only son our Lord. 

I believe all that, and yet not only that.

Is God the Father Almighty, as the Bible says? Absolutely. But is God also mother? Is God outside of and beyond sex and gender? Is God like a parent, but actually Spirit, not a person or an animal at all? Well, yes, yes, and yes – the Bible teaches all this too.

And is God Almighty? Yes. But experience and reason teach us this can’t mean all-controlling, like God micromanages the universe, and is the cause of everything that happens. Science, and our experience, and history teach us this can not be so. So we have to search our Bibles and our faith and our minds and our prayers for some other way to understand God as the most powerful, as a constantly active force of love that is all mighty but not all controlling. 

And on we could go through every line of the creeds. Earnest, devout faith, but searching for truth, learning, growing, seeking still. 

This is why Reservoir doesn’t go around claiming to know the right thing to believe and do in every situation. That practice is not born of cowardice, or laziness, or a desire to keep the peace or avoid conflict, or to not engage the Bible – those would all be lazy, thoughtless assertions. 

Our practice of making space and choosing learning over certainty, process over arrival, is born of humility. 

Humility is how we know, and humility is how we grow. 

And for me, humility is how I be who I am. It’s how I flourish.

As I shared a few weeks ago, I’ve spent considerable time this fall, looking at trees – giant, old trees; little upstart saplings; upright, mighty maples; twisted, old oaks; trees in their vibrant, full-colored fall glory; and trees who have lost their leaves and are settling into the barren looking cold of winter. 

And in the trees, I’ve tried to see myself. 

Trees not just as beautiful creations – other things in the world. But the trees as self-portraits, echoes of me, versions of me. 

I’ve seen the trees of pictures of the growing things in me, the dying things in me, the beautiful things and the ugly things, the crooked and the just plain odd things in me. 

And this phrase has come to mind, that is kind of a different take on a famous line by the Christian reformer Martin Luther, when over 500 years ago, he said: Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God.

Here I stand, I can do not other, so help me God. 

This isn’t quite what Luther meant, but it’s how the words have echoed for me:

I can’t be anything today but who I am. 

I stand today as the person I am today; so help me God, that’s all I have. 

I can learn, I can grow, but in this moment, I can’t be something that I never will be. I can’t even be someone I once was, or that I might become. 

Today I am who I am.

This by the way was my first step out of the paralyzing shame I felt when in front of a coach at my kids’ high school, I looked like the craziest parent he’d seen. The butt of an embarrassing coach – there goes Steve Watson, crazy, out of control parent. 

My first step out of that shame was to say: that’s exactly what I was in that moment, as I chased my daughter along the wooded trail in the middle of a varsity girls’ race. 

I’m kind of extra some times.

I can be really impulsive.

At my best, but also sometimes at my worst, I don’t particularly care about what others think of how I look. 

And yeah, that was kind of a nutty moment. 

Here I stand, I can be no other, so help me God. 

Accepting who you are in a moment, even if it’s awkward, even if it’s not who you want to be, is always better than shame. 

There’s more to that story. I’ll come back to it again. 

But beyond mere self-acceptance, looking at the trees, being the humble me who seeks health and growth, not progress or perfection, has also meant laying roots and absorbing nutrients. 

Jeremiah said: The tree that trusts in God will flourish. Like a tree whose roots reach deep water, when you trust God, you won’t surrender to fear in hard times. You’ll remain alive. Temporary setbacks, hard seasons, don’t need to stress you out. 

Laying those deep roots into God, absorbing all those nutrients has meant a lot of things to me, but here’s one picture – in our second scripture of the day, from a New Testament letter that circulated around churches in mid-first century Western Asia. 

Ephesians 3:14-19 (CEB)

14 This is why I kneel before the Father. 15 Every ethnic group in heaven or on earth is recognized by him. 16 I ask that he will strengthen you in your inner selves from the riches of his glory through the Spirit. 17 I ask that Christ will live in your hearts through faith. As a result of having strong roots in love, 18 I ask that you’ll have the power to grasp love’s width and length, height and depth, together with all believers. 19 I ask that you’ll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God.

After vs. 15 – I love that – God loves all the people, all the ethnos, in Greek – all the ethnic groups. And that weird qualifier – whether in heaven or on earth. You descendants of the Anglo-Saxon and Viking tribes from Northern Europe – people like me, whose primitive, woods-dwelling ancestors that in Paul’s time were called barbarians – God knows and loves and recognizes us. 

People who have been diminished and excluded and subject to violence and racism in this country’s story, peoples in the USA and around the world who are subject to violence and persecution – you may be done a great evil by others, but you are recognized by the living God. You deserve recognition. 

And that goes for any extra-terrestrial life forms way out in space somewhere – every ethnic group in heaven or on earth – recognized by God. Alright, not just that, but the waters for all our deep roots in God. 

How do we get strong in our inner beings? Where does resilience come from? 

How do we access all of the riches of God’s glory? 

How does Jesus Christ palpably live in me? 

How can I be filled up with all the fullness of God? 

What water nourishes our roots and gives us all this growth and strength, little, imperfect beings that we are? 

It’s knowing our complete and utter belovedness – that every part of me is a beloved child of God. That all of the humble, imperfect you that you are today known and loved by God, can be watered and nourished by that love. 

This has meant at least two things for me. 

One is that I need to welcome, to actively receive God’s love for me. I can look at the trees, and imagine their roots and see myself in them. That my roots are that I am deeply loved by a God that made me. 

I can sit in silence for a few minutes a day, remembering that I am seen and loved by a God who is with me. 

I can review the highs and lows of my days, knowing that God accompanied me in all of that and never stopped loving me. 

And I do all that and more, which we commend to you all the time. A lot of the spiritual life, the life of prayer, is really about remembering and welcoming the experience of belovedness. 

I also find that these roots empower four humble phrases I live by at my best. Four honest ways of wholehearted living. Can I tell you what these phrases are? 

They’re some of the best, deepest things I know how to say. 

Here they are.

FOUR PHRASES for wholehearted, humble living

  1. I am learning. (Or just: I don’t know.)
  2. I am sorry.
  3. I am beloved.
  4. I am enough.

If you think my preaching these past few years sounds like it’s been influenced by Brene Brown, that’s because it has. I call her Auntie Brene in our house once in a while, because Grace – my wife – has made sure all our family has been exposed to her work, especially her teaching on wholehearted living in The Gifts of Imperfection.

This used to be embarrassing for me – I’m a pastor, I thought, and she’s not a Christian. Well, she is, as it turns out, just not a preacher or a theologian. But more than that, the center of her wholehearted living teaching – this phrase “I  am enough” used to trouble me. 

The faith I was taught was in some ways that I am not enough. I am a problem for God to fix. A mess for God to clean up. God is enough, God is good, but I am bad. 

Now that I do badly, often. That I miss the mark in my life, and have many times. That I have had reason to guilty for things done and things not done. All that is honest. That’s truth. That’s part of humility. 

But the shame of “I am never enough” – I am bad. I am the problem. That is not healthy. Never enough, self-erasure: that is not the good news of Jesus. The good news of Jesus is about uplift, rescue, restoration, not erasure. It’s about the full you and me being one with God, not about you or me disappearing into God.

The heart of Jesus-centered faith involved reconciliation and liberation. It means being at home again with ourselves, being at home again with others, being at home again with God, being at home again in the world.

Discovering that in the love of God, I am enough. Humble me, humble you – the actual real me and you – are loved and accepted. 

When in another New Testament letter, this one called Philippians, the author Paul says, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, this is what he’s talking about. The power to be at home no matter where we are, to be content in all circumstances. To not be stressed in times of drought. To not be stressed either in times of plenty, like we might lose it all. 

When we are rooted in God’s love, we can know the fearless security of humility – the peace of saying I am loved. The freedom of saying I’m sorry. The honesty of saying: I don’t know. I’m learning. And the joy of saying: I am enough. 

The 14th century mystic I mentioned earlier put it this way: For they who are perfectly humble shall never lack anything, neither corporal nor spiritual. The reason is that they have God, in whom is all abundance; whoever has him, indeed, as this book says, needs nothing else in this life. (168-169)

This means so much for me. 

That incident of shame when I was crazy at the cross country course. I kept imagining how I’d joke about it the next time I saw that coach. How I’d move past it with him, so I didn’t need to feel awkward around him. But I realized, I didn’t need to do that. I didn’t need to defend or explain myself for being weird. If he brought it up again, I’d joke about it. But if not, I’d move on. That was actually the second moment of public shame I’d had in that week, and each time, I told somebody else – the first time one of the prayer ministers here on Sunday, and the second time a friend of mine over the phone. And each person prayed for me, reminded me I had nothing to e ashamed of, that God loves me as I am. 

I don’t need to justify or defend myself in the world.

Other times I’m ashamed and I wasn’t just weird but at fault, I’ve learned to apologize more quickly, to say: I’m sorry, and to say clearly just why I’m sorry and how I want to do better. This happens with my friends, it happens with my wife. It happens with my co-workers, including the ones I supervise, and it happens with my kids too. I wasn’t raised learning about quick and sincere, real apology. God knows it isn’t modelled in our culture either. But I’m trying to learn the humility of saying I’m sorry well. 

And I’m enjoying letting go of the stifling illusion of perfection. And instead, living with less fear, and more humble joy. 

  • I am learning. (But maybe I don’t know yet.)
  • I am sorry.
  • I am beloved.
  • I am enough.

Invitations to Whole Life Flourishing

Welcome the gifts of imperfection: I am learning. I am sorry. I am beloved. I am enough.

Spiritual Practice of the Week

When you look at a tree, view it as a self-portrait. Where are your roots? What can nourish you? How are you growing?

A Free Community Anchored in Love

Good Morning!

Today, I’d love to continue with insights we’ve been sharing in this sermon series, called Your Faith Journey at Reservoir.   We’ve been highlighting our five core values –  that make way for an open, Jesus-centered approach to your faith journey. These values; Connection, Action, Everyone, Freedom and Humility form the ethos of Reservoir – who we are and why/how we think about faith the way we do. We’ve realized that it’s worthwhile to be intentional each year to communicate this in a clear way –  that doesn’t leave anyone wondering – if there is some “catch” attached or trade-off that’s required – to belong in this community.

Today we’ll take a closer look  at the value of freedom.  I’m eager to talk about freedom – not as a stand alone value, that we exercise to engage and showcase our own individualism  – but one that orchestrates our deep connection to one another in community.   I think freedom – at its most beautiful expression in a faith community – is not seen in us traveling down our own very distinct freedom paths – (what I believe, experience or know of God) – that never intersect with one another.  I think freedom is what calls our paths to intersect – to collaborate – to learn from one another and move forward in this world together. 

Our individual freedom is necessary to a vibrant and healthy experience of faith  – but it benefits from being situated in relationship with others, even if the freedom expressed by others is strikingly different than our own… 

….and the only way to do this is to be anchored in a unifying, divine source of love – which we find in Jesus.  

I’ve come to believe that Jesus alone is perfect theology (hat tip to Brad Jersack)- Period.  The way I think about and approach the Bible, or prayer, or community – all flow from Jesus. I’m being reverent here.  As a pastor of this community – I hope to communicate that at a baseline – life with Jesus at the center is really, really good news.  It’s why we’ve taken time to define our values the way we do – and why we define freedom here at Reservoir as: “honest exploration of faith over conformity of belief or behavior, trusting that the Holy Spirit reveals truth to all who seek God.

Freedom is a value that we encourage here at Reservoir NOT ONLY  because it allows us movement toward Jesus – BUT because it also CALLS us to be an active participant in keeping ACCESS to JESUS, FREE AND CLEAR FOR ALL without hindrance – and this means that even our freedom can’t overtake someone else’s view of Jesus. 

Over the last month or so we’ve queried our community groups – to give voice to where and how they’ve found Jesus to be good and real in their lives…. And how Reservoir has helped facilitate the experience of the love of Jesus.  And out of this process has come deep, deep insight and wisdom, the greatest theme being that people experience the love of Jesus …..through BAGELS… (I’m not joking). Sesame bagels, everything bagels, chocolate chip bagels – they are all mentioned…many, many times.  

And second to the holy wonder of bagels were themes that hit at all of the 5 core values we’ve been talking about. And the table that I sat at expressed their thoughts by saying, 

“What we feel is that Reservoir seems committed to the struggle of keeping the widest most open doors possible. Our church is willing to sit in risk and vulnerability and open belief statements such as ‘we don’t know,’ or ‘what do you think?’ All of this leads to a room full of FREE, diverse people where love thrives in the multiplicity of human beings and all they bring to the community.”  

I think, “Oh my goodness that’s so beautiful” … and simultaneously, “Aaah, Here is where freedom gets real and messy and gritty – as we actually live it out alongside one another…” Here is where freedom shows the prowess of its value…the complexity of it – because   IT IS A STRUGGLE my friends to uphold freedom, the widest doors possible – WITH JESUS SMACK DAB IN THE CENTER _ alongside values of humility, alongside a value of connection, alongside the value of everyone – and REALLY mean it. It takes risk, and vulnerability and trust of the whole community. 

And as much as we regard Freedom as a powerful means for individual rights- when this value is found in the context of a faith community – it demands a higher standard – it demands a higher centering than our self wants or needs or perception – and that is the standard of love, found in Jesus. 

Both of my parents became followers of Jesus, when my mom was pregnant with me.  

The “good news” came to them through a traveling gospel salesman who came on foot – and knocked on their door and “Led them to the Lord,” as they say.

I was born into a community of faith that had found its legs in legalism, setting deep grooves of expected adherence to belief, Bible, prayer, behavior, dress …. but never spoken of course – on those terms – but spoken in terms of love and freedom in Jesus. 

It was expected that kids sit through all services, there were many services – and they were often (very) LONG!   And at the age of 5 or 6, myself and a friend – drew up a survival plan – which was to diligently find in our Bibles – every scripture that was referenced in the sermon – and copy it down as fast as possible – verse by verse… before the next one was mentioned!  My favorite scripture for a long time was the story in Matthew ….”where Jesus calls a little child to him, and then said to those around him,  “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like a child, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. If anyone causes one of these kids to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” [taken from Matthew 18:5-6]

I LOVED that scripture! 🙂

I would use that scripture  anytime I could at home – especially when I felt like my rights – my freedom was getting stepped on by my parents. Which – of course as a child was ALL THE TIME. 

I wouldn’t understand for many years how  this unassuming method of utilizing scripture to make it through a boring service was maybe less my unique individualism at play, and more an absorption of compliant behavior I understood of my environs. Scripture would prove to be an effective mode in my faith journey –  by which I would learn to follow the prescription to my “goodness”/my holiness – which could then lead to my experience of Freedom in Jesus

Throughout the history of American society we see these great markers of power  and freedom – that may for equality and brought to light injustice:

Starting with the Declaration of Independence

The Bill of Rights

The Abolition of Slavery

The Era of Immigration “learning to breathe free,” from 1880 – 1920

The 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote

The Civil Rights Act 1964

2015 – Supreme Court decision for same-sex couples to marry.

Nestled in these historical moments is ‘freedom’ born out of community.  A communal voice expressed – of human beings valuing connection to one another that is unified by a hope and a dream to “change the world‘: to create a new society,  to make a better life for everyone…. And somehow through communal effort  – change is effected.

(And sure, we are revisiting some of these freedom moments and finding problems that require us to go back to the patriarchal systems and structures they were born out of –  we need to critically engage – and move forward with new ideas.)

I think the same can be said at times of faith communities, that there is a deep communal bond that allows the church the freedom to be and become – The freedom to collectively create an ever-evolving body or church, a new kin-dom of God here and now.

But we also know –  from history and experience – that freedom is not always easy to navigate, doesn’t always bubble up as a widespread, agreed upon value, and is often met with struggle and resistance.

And to add to that struggle is the subtle, shifting definition of freedom over time.

Brad Jersack the author of “A More Christ-Like God” (a book we read as a staff), says that freedom has moved in American culture to be defined by society as “Getting what I want, by doing what I want”– but has shifted even more so, in the last 20 years toward “keeping what I have – by doing what I must.” This definition relays a more defensive stance – a guarding and a protective stance – and one that has taken up greater claim. And it’s hard  when we feel like our freedom – our rights-  or our security is threatened. It calls up in us that need to defend and guard freedom –  often vehemently in Jesus’ very name.

As a young, young child I was taught just how great God’s love for me was – how grateful and thankful I should be for such a display of this expansive display of love –  especially for someone like me who didn’t deserve it.  The greatest thing I could do to touch or honor such love – was to adhere, comply, obey the beliefs that my community purported of God.   My own worth and belonging in this faith journey depended on my firm grasp, the ability to articulate…to defend my faith, and uphold this great God against inevitable attacks.

As I mentioned I took to scribing all the scriptures spoken in service – and as I mentioned so many of these services went really long.   My Dad was a deacon and I helped him often set up the metal, folding chairs at the back of the room where the overflow, the “latecomers” would sit.  It was also where we sat, because we were humble servants of the Lord.  

On one of those evenings, I was close to finishing copying the Scripture into my little book – the one I loved to take to school the next day and read to people, (because I took it as my role to grow the field of Jesus followers single-handedly).  But I was also battling my need to go to the bathroom.  I was trying so hard to get those last few verses to paper – AFRAID that if I left for the bathroom, I would surely miss the next Bible reference….and so I stood my ground, I didn’t move.   I didn’t make it to the bathroom. I peed in the folding chair. (Which is VERY noticeable by the way, when it’s a metal chair, and you have to fold it up and walk it to the stack of chairs in the corner of the room).

Sorry if that story was T.M.I. (too much information!)

It’s a memory that wouldn’t let go of me as I was framing this sermon – sometimes the littlest of moments, the smallest of memories – hold the deepest truths.  This deep truth still lives in my body: that at the age of 6 years old, I was in an environment of faith where I really wasn’t free.  I was anxiety-ridden, nervous, fearful. And the container of my experience of faith was hinged on “power,” not love. The focus was compliance and control of belief and behavior. 

Where compliance is heralded –  anxiety and fear reign.

Compliance: Comply to the behavior expected – ex/ Don’t get up in service.  Learn all the scripture you can (this is critical), because…

Anxiety:  If you don’t have all the scripture written down – you will be ill-equipped the next day at school.  This woul be unfortunate because you need to make sure everyone else knows the prescription of holiness to get to God. A pervasive tone of anxiety of whether I was taking in or doing enough. Was I enough? 

Fear to move: I was literally unwilling to move, driven by fear. For me it manifested in a physical manner. But maybe you can see the more universal commonality here in this small story – that plays out in broader strokes around you. Of how the need to “stick and defend your ground, at all costs,” becomes the standard of belonging. Of how the capacity to be unwavering, immoveable is somehow a sign of taking your freedom and love of Jesus seriously. 

In this pursuit of freedom – where a defensive and protective stance is taken up – and anxiety and fear reign as the contributing forces, we often end up separating from community, losing sight of our bonding VISION (of JESUS)… AND even within our communities we categorize who’s “in” or “out”… who’s against “us” or with “us”… those who aren’t deemed as “with us” – who might approach God differently – or interpret the Bible in a “wrong” way – or just display too much difference. In an effort to ensure their compliant behavior and get them “back on track” – we end up stepping on their “rights and freedoms and violate their peace and security” (Jersack, 52). When we craft a road to freedom that rests on self-will and preservation, it craves mastery and power. 

Jesus and his apostles thankfully give us a different definition of freedom – a freedom that doesn’t require any defending  – and is found in Jesus, his very body. 

Let’s read Paul’s words in Ephesians, found on your program:

Ephesians 4:1-6, 15, 16 (CEB)

1Therefore, as a prisoner for the Lord, I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God. 2 Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, 3 and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. 4 You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all.

“ speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ, 16 who is the head. The whole body grows from him, as it is joined and held together by all the supporting ligaments. The body makes itself grow in that it builds itself up with love as each one does its part”.

Paul writes from prison to the church of Ephesus.  He speaks of this “one-ness of God” – at first this can sound incredibly exclusionary, not a field for honest exploration. ONE way, one faith, one track – play into the defensive posture people are inclined to take? Maybe at first blush.

But Paul is actually communicating something quite different – quite freeing –  God has soaked the world with GOD’s self – there is one-ness throughout all the rituals, the path, the cultures,  the differences… God is in the cosmos – throughout every human heart – one-ness is already there… the love of God. 

This message, for this community of Ephesus is  radical for the 1st century. “BE FREE”!  

EVERYONE  – Jew or Gentile – circumcised or uncircumcised – wealthy or poor, it doesn’t matter who your mother is, or what your blood is, conservative or liberal- you are welcome with freedom to orient to God – and HE’S pretty clear right – not from separate silos – but from an integrated, functioning, interdependent, collaborative community.  This is a radical picture of human family – 2,000 years ago and (my!), isn’t it still radical today? (Reference: Alexander Shaia)

Paul says, “The body makes itself grow in that it builds itself up with love – as each one does its part.” …AS EACH of us do our part…WITH FREEDOM from anxiety, with freedom from judgment.  God is the head. God is not asking us to be the head. God is not asking us to be God. God is asking us to be who we ARE – the elbow, the shin, the earlobe. BE THAT!  Because God sent JESUS to help us to be HUMAN – to engage our full human bodies on this earth. To greet other human beings on this earth – with humility, gentleness and patience…   NOT to ensure that we ourselves, or those around us achieve the holiness of GOD.

When we veer toward setting moral codes as the standard for freedom, it actually becomes a tool of dismemberment.

It creates a sick, toxic body – with tools of shame and judgment as the method of control and mastery.   The “most, wide-open doors” – the doors that say “Everyone is welcome with freedom” above them – becomes but a pinhole by which moral approval is the key to enter.

The role of being “Moral approver” makes us so tired and weary.  So much energy is used in surveying the border -securing the border of our faith – demanding proof from people – “show me your papers” – the credentials of how you are a follower of Jesus or not?  WE start patrolling each other’s behavior and narrowing the expanse of “one-ness” and mislabeling “Freedom.” One-ness starts to be defined as preserving a set of conforming beliefs, versus as it says in this scripture, preserving the unity of the Spirit with treasured diversity.  This is not freedom, it’s bondage.  We forget that Freedom is love – not power to control.

The gospel – this good news of Jesus –  transcends moral approval as the basis for acceptance, belonging, or unity in the Spirit.  The good news – the love of Jesus is FREEDOM. 

As a follower of Jesus – I can see that it is not my role, it is not upholding the value of  freedom to give, demand or receive moral approval from another – that’s serving self-interests, that’s feeding my own anxiety – and dismembering the unity of the body of Christ.

Often Paul’s words here in Ephesians –  are helpful in thinking about how to navigate conflict and get along – AND I think Paul is ALSO  reminding us – that Jesus is the center of our lives – all of our lives, and that center is LOVE.

And that love is generative beyond our construction. It multiplies in community, it grows.  That love is binding, that love breaks apart moral exoskeleton’s that we try to prop ourselves up on.

…and this love calls us to work… calls us to hard work.

It’s not lost on me that Paul uses this image of a body as metaphor for a functioning, healthy community.  Because a physical body moves when it’s healthy, and a community of faith, anchored in the oneness of the Spirit of God is also called to motion

When we work for the values of everyone, freedom, connection, diversity and authenticity, humility  to be upheld… there will always be work to do – to keep us moving forward. 

There is no standing still in “oneness.”

We value love, relationship, intimacy that safe-keeps (not guards!),  our own free view and relationship with Jesus. 

And we value with TRUE freedom our zesty voices and perspectives – and we TRUST THAT GOD doesn’t need defending, and that God can SPEAK for GOD’s(her)- self.

MANNA Community

To honestly explore – and experience God, with freedom – from our own unique vantage point.  A God who is completely loving – whose nature is pure goodness – gives us the capacity to emulate God by exemplifying love. 

Last week I had the honor to hear from someone whose work and calling exemplifies LOVE, the chaplain of the MANNA community, a ministry of, and with, the homeless community in downtown Boston. 

MANNA’s mission is not only to welcome folks across differences of class, wealth, culture, race and mental ability, but to empower all people to claim their place as essential members of the community. MANNA believes that everyone has gifts to give and to receive. (

And that there’s a need – a deep soul need –  of each other to function in this relational way. This community gathers each week to serve, to pray, and to create together.

This chaplain that I was talking to  – runs The CoffeeKlatsch a community that gathers for an hour on Sunday mornings, to connect over the realities of their lives – the extreme adversity they face on the streets and to find hope in connection with one another.  It is open and honest conversation – which with all the diversity in the space often results in very opinionated/very BIG  – robust conversations. Conversations that are offensive and just generally very hard.

I asked this chaplain – HOW do you do this?  HOw do you hold space for this? In a way that freedom is upheld – the right to act/say/believe what you have – and have an eye for the community…?  In a way that keeps it moving? Functioning? 

First she said, “Well we have two ground rules:”

  1. “No violence or harm done to another.   
  2. “Can’t be high or drunk when engaged in the community.”

Pretty important rules.

The chaplain then added that she and her colleagues operate on this guiding principle – this word, “remain.” 

Listening more as she spoke, I realized it’s similar to what the love of God facilitates here at Reservoir – that to “remain” in the love of God, allows MANNA to honor the freedom and integrity of everyone who walks through their doors.

That MANNA too, remains committed to the struggle of keeping the widest most open doors possible. 

They remain  committed to the mission – this unifying spirit… that there’s an essential part for everyone to play in this greater community.

And they remain in the posture of welcome – for anyone and everyone.  

Even if they pee in a chair.

This word “remain” spoke to me of such sincere love.  Love at the heart of this MANNA community – and maybe the heart of all communities that move and greet this world with all that it presents – even if we feel , experience it – or see it differently than someone else – EVEN if what it is – is God. 

I John 4:11-13 (CEB)

11 My dear friends, if God loved us this way, we also ought to love each other. 12 No one has ever seen God [comment: NO ONE can put a stake or a claim or a border around GOD]. If we love each other, God remains in us and God’s love is made perfect in us. [comment: we don’t need to strive for ‘holiness” (or some external standard] 13 This is how we know we remain in God and God remains in us, because God has given us a measure of the Spirit.

How do we uphold FREEDOM, with difference – and with an eye toward community?


This is our guiding principle too. This LOVE of God, this pure view of God – IF anything, is what we get to safe-keep.

Freedom is not found in organization structures  or external expectations, but rather is found in centering the shared life and love with Jesus in community.

Perhaps the ground rules of MANNA are similar to ours too –


  • No violence/harm to one another – and by violence I mean in exercising your own freedom – you must have an eye to whether or not you are “violating the identity and integrity of another person.” (taken from Parker Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness)
  • And a commitment to being aware of when we veer toward fixing, saving, advising or rescuing someone else.  To recognize we are entering territory that might not be ours to walk through. (We can listen and ask honest and open questions).


Our role is to:


  • LET GOD be GOD.


    • Take seriously our freedom to explore who God is to us.   
    • Take seriously our freedom as it fits in the body – the whole of community.


  • GIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT her rightful PLACE to reveal all she hopes to reveal to you and those around you.

Invitation to Whole Life Flourishing:

Look for opportunities to express freedom in your daily life, with a leaning toward others, taking on a generous and self-giving posture (of humility, patience and gentleness) in your heart and actions.

Spiritual Practice

Ask God this week to help you notice where your freedom intersects with others around you?  Reflect on whether this intersection hinders access to Jesus, or makes way for the widest, most open doors to Jesus.


Everyone, Without Exception

I think we’re learning with increasing clarity that institutions and ideas that aren’t good for everyone aren’t really good for anyone.

Last week The Globe published a devastating write-up of challenges along these lines that a major institution in our city is facing. The headline read: MIT president acknowledges women, minorities on campus feel belittled, excluded. And it talked about women’s experience on campus of being insulted, people of color and LGBTQ people being marginalized, lower prestige staff being bullied by star professors. 

This was MIT, but it could have been a lot of other places too. I think more and more we’re seeing in government, in business, in education, in churches ways that communities aren’t equitable. Ways that promises of welcome have had all kinds of asterisks and hidden footnotes attached to them. Ways that so many communities and institutions need to dramatically change to really include and honor all people. 

So it’s fun to hear stories where this is happening. I heard one recently on a podcast episode called Liberte, Egailite, and French Fries. It was about a McDonalds restaurant, of all places, this one located in the French town of Marseille. In a poor, immigrant neighborhood in a coastal city, the local McDonalds  has the motto, “Come as you are.” And people take it seriously. The community eats there, gathers there. The restaurant employs members from the community, and actually practices decent job training and advancement for folks from the neighborhood. 

And there’s this teenager named Kamel. He’s 16, he’s a high school dropout. He’s got significant dyslexia which wasn’t ever addressed, which means he can’t fill out a job application. Home life is unstable, he lives half the time on the streets, and he’s starting occasional “work” as a carjacker and small time drug dealer. 

What’s happening at that same moment, though, is that he meets Ronald McDonald at a community event. Outside companies, corporate events never came to his neighborhood. And here’s an actor playing Ronald McDonald doing a magic show. And he’s got one of those big orange McDonalds coolers that he can’t carry back with him when the show ends. 

So Kamel, who’s there, says I’ll do it. I’ll bring your cooler back to your McDonalds tomorrow. And the manager who was with the actor says: sure, thank you. And Kamel does it; he lugs the cooler on his scooter the next day, turns it back in, and asks for a job. 

Something about being trusted as he was made him want to work there. And something about how reliable he’d been made the manager want to hire him.

The story from there is fun – Kamel rises through the ranks, he’s eventually a great employee, he becomes a manager, through that position, a significant community leader. 

This branch of McDonalds takes its “come as you are” motto seriously. Be being for everyone, good things happen. 

But the story is bumpy too. McDonalds isn’t a charity – they’re doing their “everyone” thing because they think it’s good for business. And sometimes it is. But in Kamel’s first few years of employment, he’s not a great employee yet. They really need to walk the distance with him. And then later, when he’s a great manager for the community – and a labor leader, really – it’s unclear if McDonalds would rather have this “Come As You Are” success story, or if they’d rather get rid of him, not really be for everyone, and increase their profit margins.

“Come as you are.” Everyone is included without exception. This is a beautiful way to be in the world. I’m preaching today that I think it’s God way in the world and God’s way for us to be in the world. 

But it takes work. It gets complicated. It sounds beautiful, but it’s not always what we want. 

When Grace and I were first married, we were on this rec league volleyball team. Grace had played some organized volleyball, but I never had before. And this team had these two amazing players, maybe the two best players in the league. And I thought it was great that there was room for me, who was not so great. I made so many errors. And frankly, because our team included people like me, we had a mediocre record, despite our two stars.  

I’ve been on the other side of it too. 

When I was teenager and into my early 20s, I sang a ton. In a period of eight years, I was in dozens of choirs – school choirs, church choir, community choruses, all-state chorus, semi-professional choir, paid little choir singing gig for a commercial. 

And as I sang in higher and higher level choirs, my standards changed too. The last time I sang in a choir was as a favor to a friend of mine, where they brought me in as a ringer to this community chorus that needed a little help. I only had to show up to the last two or three rehearsals, site read the material, help fill out the sound. They even paid me a little bit. But I remember, 22-year old diva that I had become, that I wasn’t so sure I liked singing in this entry-level choir. 

So I didn’t do it again. But then again, that also means that for over twenty years, I haven’t been singing in any choirs at all. Would I rather have entry level choir, or none? Which is it?

Let’s take this “everyone without exception” theme into the our series we’re in and into the scriptures. 

This month we’re speaking about how our church’s five core values can animate our own faith journeys, and our third value we’re touching on says: Everyone. “We seek to welcome people in all their diversity, without condition or exception, to embrace a life connected to Jesus and others.”

We didn’t make this one up, though. I think it’s one of God’s values. 

Let me read you a story from the first early history of the Jesus movement. It’s from the eighth chapter of the Bible’s book called Acts. 

Acts 8:26-40 (CEB)

26 An angel from the Lord spoke to Philip, “At noon, take the road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.) 27 So he did. Meanwhile, an Ethiopian man was on his way home from Jerusalem, where he had come to worship. He was a eunuch and an official responsible for the entire treasury of Candace. (Candace is the title given to the Ethiopian queen.) 28 He was reading the prophet Isaiah while sitting in his carriage. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Approach this carriage and stay with it.”

30 Running up to the carriage, Philip heard the man reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you really understand what you are reading?”

31 The man replied, “Without someone to guide me, how could I?” Then he invited Philip to climb up and sit with him. 32 This was the passage of scripture he was reading:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter

    and like a lamb before its shearer is silent

    so he didn’t open his mouth.

33  In his humiliation justice was taken away from him.

    Who can tell the story of his descendants

        because his life was taken from the earth?

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, about whom does the prophet say this? Is he talking about himself or someone else?” 35 Starting with that passage, Philip proclaimed the good news about Jesus to him. 36 As they went down the road, they came to some water.

The eunuch said, “Look! Water! What would keep me from being baptized?”38 He ordered that the carriage halt. Both Philip and the eunuch went down to the water, where Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Lord’s Spirit suddenly took Philip away. The eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip found himself in Azotus. He traveled through that area, preaching the good news in all the cities until he reached Caesarea.

So apart from being a really awesome, fun story, this little account of Philip and the unnamed Ethiopian eunuch is a key moment in the early church’s experience and practice of their “come as you are” without exception journey, their learning of God’s value for “everyone.” 

First century Samaritans and Jews had hostilities toward one another. Friendships, marriages, engagement of any kind really would not have happened between these communities. They definitely would have had separate McDonalds. 

But Jesus had said to his followers – our good news needs to go to Jerusalem, and Judea, and Samaria, and to ends of the earth. It sounded beautiful – Jesus’ commission to take God’s good news story to everyone, everywhere. 

And yet for a little while, none of Jesus’ first followers – all, like Jesus, Jewish – wanted to do it. Why would they? It wasn’t like Jews were at the top of the status pyramid in the Roman Empire? They were scapegoated, conquered, marginalized at every turn; they had to fight for every bit of dignity and freedom they got. 

But Philip was like, I’ll do it. I’ll go to Samaria. Interestingly, Philip – later known as Philip the evangelist, a bringer of good news – Philip first got his start as an equity, diversity, and inclusion leader in a large church food service program. Greek-speaking Jewish widows weren’t getting the same treatment as the Aramaic-speaking Jewish widows, so knowing representation matters, some Greek-speaking Jews were appointed leaders, Philip being one of them. 

But he outgrows that first calling, and he moves into a Samaritan neighborhood, makes friends there, lives and shares about God’s good news there, that through Jesus, everyone was welcome into connection with God and connection with one another in this multi-ethnic movement. 

It’s from there that Philip gets this nudge to go take a long walk, and he meets this royal official from Northeast Africa. 

Now back then small numbers of people from surrounding nations were intrigued by the Jewsih God, even came to Jerusalem to worship on occasion. Jews called people like this God-fearers – outsiders to the story of God who worshipped this god anyway. 

And this Ethiopian court official was apparently one of these god-fearers. But today, he finds himself in the story of Israel’s God.

He is an important man. We know this because of how he talks – he is very much in charge throughout this story. We also know this because of his title – he’s the money man, the chief financial officer of the queen mother of a nation. And we know this because he’s a eunuch. To be such a prominent assistant to a female ruler meant in those times that you’d be neutered first. So, power, money, but no sex, romantic partnership, and no descendants. Cut off from what traditional cultures have seen as your best chance at a legacy and a future in the world. 

So it’s interesting to me that he’s reading a passage in the Hebrew scriptures (from the prophet Isaiah) about this servant of God who accomplished great things for God and people, while also suffering greatly. And part of the suffering was to have life cut short and – like this eunuch – to have no descendants.  

Later we’re told that this person will through non-biological means have many, many descendants and that what God does through this servant will be so great that people who are sad because they are without children will burst into song.

We’re even told that the eunuchs who are part of God’s new deal with humanity will be honored, remembered, and given a better legacy than if they had had children. 

Reading the scriptures, this eunuch from a far-off land sees himself in God’s story. 

And Philip says to him, yes, you see yourself in God’s story, and I see you in Jesus’ story. 

Philip says this suffering servant of God who bears sin, who absorbs human pain, who heals disease, who is scapegoated and humiliated, who suffers injustice and then is vindicated – Philip says, this is the life of Jesus. Jesus draws all people to God, not through celebrity, not through impressive displays of might, not through conquering at the head of an army or a multi-national capitalistic marketing endeavor. No, Jesus draws all people to God through sacrificial love, through a revelation of the beautiful character of God, and through an unleashing of the Spirit of God throughout the world. 

You could say this is the meaning of faith in God through Jesus Christ. That we find ourselves, whoever we are, in God’s story. And that Jesus finds us in God’s story too.

Jesus is God for you, my new friend, Philip can tell this Ethopian eunuch. And he’s thrilled. For himself, and maybe for his whole people. You could have this debate on who the first Christian nation is – Armenians will say us, the Kerala region of India might say – no us!, and Ethiopians may tell you the same, that starting from this one court official, there’s an unbroken legacy of faith among their people, in their culture.

Who knows? But it’s an interesting but part of the legacy of this passage, and the legacy of the good news for everyone story of Jesus. That Jesus is not the possession of any one people. Jesus is certainly not a White man’s Jesus, or the gift of European colonialism to the world. Jesus is not Amerian and didn’t speak English, just as he wasn’t Ethopian and didn’t speak Amharic. And yet, to me, Jesus of course speaks English. And to this man on his way home from pilgrimage to  Jerusalem, Jesus was a Black Amharic-speaking eunuch just like him. Jesus, by the Spirit of God, insists on being for everyone. 

This story is actually like the heartbeat of most of the founding documents of Jesus-centered faith. 

I already said that this book of Acts is structured around the words of Jesus, when he said: you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. 

You see this in all four biographies of Jesus in the Bible too. 

In Mark, Jesus is always travelling back and forth across the sea, pushing boundaries for where God can be found, on pilgrimage north outside Judea, centering the stories of ethnic and religious outsiders, like the Syro-Phoenician woman in chapter 7, and the Roman centurions in chapters 8 and 15.

In Matthew’s story of Jesus, we start with religious and national outsiders – the Magi – coming from far away to worship Jesus, and we end with Jesus’ followers told they are to go far away themselves to share back an update with the rest of the world. 

The good news about Jesus told by Luke centers the outsiders, tells a story of Jesus who is including and elevating and centering all the people from the margins. 

In the last gospel, told by John, Jesus is portrayed as a human still, but also as the cosmic God of the universe made flesh. John is written under the influence of the prophet Isaiah, who came up in todays’ passage. And Isaiah is the old Hebrew work of prophecy most committed to God being God of the whole world, the God who knows and loves and includes all people.

Even the letter to the Romans, what some people think of as the densest work of Christian theology in the Bible, is a plea for Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus to learn to love each other, to be friends with one another, to eat and to worship together, together support the author – Paul – to bring good news to far off barbarians that all of them would have disdained. 

No more.

The story of God is in part the story of the inclusion of all people in the honor, the dignity, and the joy of knowing we are all God’s beloved children. 

So when we move toward an everyone approach to our ventures, we are fulfilling the story of God. 

This is beautiful. It is important. 

But it is not romantic. It is hard. To shape local communities, institutions, workplaces, churches that invite everyone, without exception, to shared belonging is to be disruptive to patterns of privilege and comfort and usual ways of doing things. 

How do we make peace with God including people we can’t stand in God’s family? Not just people we don’t like, but people we find abhorrent? How do we love our enemies while not subjecting ourselves to be diminished by them?

What can our towns and cities we live in do, when we’ve practiced immense amounts of housing discrimination and exclusion in this region? When many of our communities use zoning policies to actively exclude, for instance, lower income residents? 

Some of us are part of institutions that can’t include everyone, colleges that have a limit on how many students they can accept, employers that can only hire a small number of the people that apply for jobs. How can that go well? What does it mean to communicate dignity and respect and appreciation to someone when you can’t include them? How do you make sure your choices about who you include are truly equitable? 

One sermon, so I get to ask the questions, not try to answer them all. But from my prayers on this question and from pouring over this passage, the Spirit of God says to me that the role of people and of human institutions isn’t to have a tight plan to manage how Jesus will love, save, dignify, uplift, transform, and empower all people That’s Jesus’ job, by the Spirit of God. 

Ours is to be provoked about our tendency to exclude. Our call is to widen our embrace of others, just as we are embraced by God. Our task is to not just look at this personally, but communally, institutionally – to ask how can we participate in more of Jesus’ uplift and transformation and empowerment of people that have been marginalized. 

That is why in this week’s tip for while life flourishing, I encourage you to:

Invitations to Whole Life Flourishing

Insist upon increasing equity and inclusion in your communities – take risks for people’s full, equitable inclusion in opportunity.

To whom can you be Philip, telling someone else they are loved and included by God as they are? Or opening up opportunity for someone who’s been excluded? (Who are you employing? To whom are you marketing? If you’re doing well, what kind of friend or ally are you to others? If you’re being marginalized, is this community that’s diminished you worth the fight, or is there a table you can go to where you’ll be welcomed will full honor?)

And one more thing that seems to be people’s role in facilitating Jesus’ story of inclusive, transforming love. We see it in the climax of today’s passage where the Ethiopian eunuch says – there’s water – let’s get me baptized. Our role as people is to signify to everyone who wants it that they are enfolded in God’s love in Jesus Christ. And the historical community of faith’s clearest way of doing that for centuries has been the rite of baptism. 

I wrote more about baptism on our blog you can find at, but a few words here.

Baptism is a Christian take on an ancient Jewish rite called a mikveh, which symbolizes a cleansing by God. And since the first century, for followers of Jesus, baptism has been a central rite by which we experience this inclusion in God’s love for us in Christ. 

Chrisitans have done this in different ways. 

Our church’s roots are in the Protestant renewalist tradition – churches in modern charismatic and Pentecostal denominations and unaffiliated churches like ours that emphasize and treasure lived, felt experience of God by faith. For these churches, baptism – usually by immersion under water – has been an opportunity to express one’s faith in Jesus. It has also been a physical experience of God’s cleansing and powerful love and a symbol of our union with Jesus, who died and is risen. In this tradition, a person chooses to be baptized as an expression of faith and eagerness for more life in God. When parents have infants or young children, they can dedicate their children and their parenting to God, but the child will choose – or not choose – baptism for themselves when they are older. That is how I was baptized.

The majority of Christian churches, both now and throughout Christian history, have also baptised children of all ages, including infants. For these churches, baptism is an expression by the community of faith that the child is known and loved by God and included in God’s family. Infant baptism is an expression of grace – that God loves and chooses us before we can love or choose God, and even when we struggle to love and choose God ourselves. Generally, when infants are baptized, they are not immersed, but a small amount of water is sprinkled or poured on their heads, with the water representing the anointing of the Holy Spirit – the loving presence of God with the child. That is how many others in our community were baptized.

I’m sure some of you have baggage with Christian rituals – and why wouldn’t you? They’ve been used by people and institutions, sometimes in heavy-handed and manipulative, historically even violent, ways. 

That’s one of many reasons that Reservoir Church has never told anyone they have to be baptized. It is not a requirement for participation at Reservoir and we do not believe or teach that God requires baptism for someone to live a good life or go to heaven or anything like that. 

Reservoir has also always honored anyone’s baptism, no matter where that happened, and regardless of when or how it happened. This has still be true.

We just want people to see themselves in God’s story, or to know that God sees you in God’s story as well. It’s that simple. So we love for people to experience this rite of baptism, and we’d love to make sure in the coming year that anyone who wants this experience for themselves or their children can have that. 

For families that would like their child to be baptised, our pastoral staff and Board would like to offer this for infants and children of families who are part of the Reservoir community. For parents that would prefer to dedicate their child and parenting to God and let their child choose or not choose baptism after they grow older, we will continue to offer child dedications. 

We will continue to offer preparation for baptism and baptism for and adults who would like to be baptised. This is not only for children, but a powerful rite for any person interested in Jesus-centered faith. 

And our youth ministry team will continue to work on the best ways to prepare youth who are interested to consider baptism and help youth who were baptised as children make sense of faith and church for themselves. 

Early in the new year, we will be in touch about when and how child dedication, child baptism, youth baptism, and adult baptism will be available in 2020. Our team needs some time to work through the details. But we wanted you to know that this is one way your church community is eager to extend experience of God’s loving inclusion of you and your family. 

Today, though, consider what this rite might speak to you.

Spiritual Practice of the Week

Remember your baptism – how does it speak to you about your full inclusion in God’s family? If you haven’t been baptised, consider whether you would like to experience this rite of inclusion.

Action: Jesus Compels Us to Act

We’re talking about Reservoir’s Core Values these days. And I’m so excited to talk about them because I really like these values. Like, this is who we are and what we care about, and how we think it best informs and shapes our faith journeys. Check it out. Here’s what our website says:


Jesus captures our hearts, transforms our lives, and makes all things possible. We want to move closer to Jesus in all aspects of our lives. As we do so, our community is animated by these five core values that guide our pursuit of vibrant, inclusive, healthy faith:

  • Connection: We value life-giving connections and are committed to pursuing God’s wholeness, love, and leading in every moment of our lives, transcending distinctions between sacred and secular.

  • Everyone: We seek to welcome people in all their diversity, without condition or exception, to embrace a life connected to Jesus and others.

  • Action: Love for Jesus compels us to act—to seek justice, show compassion, work for reconciliation, and hope for transformation in joyful engagement with the world.

  • Freedom: We encourage honest exploration of faith over conformity of belief or behavior, trusting that the Holy Spirit reveals truth to all who seek God.

  • Humility: We are wholeheartedly committed to pursuing the truth of Jesus through multiple sources, including the Bible, reason, culture, and experience, and we take the posture of learners, recognizing that our understanding of God’s truth continues to unfold.

Y’all, this is so good. For a church to have such words. “transcending distinctions between sacred and secular,” you mean even “worldly” things? Yes it’s all God’s. “Diversity, without condition or exception” For real? Even…? Yes, no matter what. “Trusting the Holy Spirit reveals truth to all who seek God.” Whaaaaat. To all? And “recognizing that our understanding of God’s truth continues to unfold?” WHAAAAAT you mean, we didn’t have it all figured out in 1791?  Can you tell, I’m so excited to be unpacking these values together for 5 weeks. 

At the center, the starting point is Jesus. Jesus captures our hearts. Jesus transforms our lives. JESUS, makes all things possible. Steve kicked us off in the series last week with Connection. Today, I’m talking about Action. I thought about how l’d talk about action. And I was like wait, This is about ACTION. Not, let’s sit here and listen and talk about action. So, I have a gift for you all today. I am going to preach a very short sermon! Praise God! And hopefully give us some time, a chance to take action in whatever way you might need and feel lead today at the end of service. So short sermon, we’ll end early, and I’ll point you to a few ways that you can use that time to open yourself up to even a small action today. 

So let me share just 2 Bible stories and what moved them to Action. 

The reality is that the love of Jesus does not compel us all the same. So here are two ways, two different women reacting to the love of Jesus. Listen

Luke 8:42-48 (NIV)

As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. 43 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.

45 “Who touched me?” Jesus asked.

When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.”

46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”

47 Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. 48 Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”


Luke 13:10-17 (NIV)

10 On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

17 When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

Two stories. Two women. The first woman,

Picture of cloaked person reaching out a hand to touch the bottom of a red robe. Other figures' robes are visible.

in order for her to touch the edge of the Jesus’ cloak had to kneel, out of desperation, hurl over, in humility and get low to barely touch Jesus. She came trembling, and fell at his feet. The second woman,Image of man in white robe and woman in blue robe bent towards each other, smiling and holding hands.

was already bent over and could not straighten up at all. Jesus sets her free. He liberates her. And she stands up. And while many capture this story with her being bent over, I think as Vernee said a few weeks ago, why do we remember them by their ailments rather than their legacy of healing? I see her more like the strong defiant free woman, like this fearless girl statue.

Photo of bronze statue of girl standing with hands on hips and looking up.

(“Fearless Girl,” statue by Kristen Visbal on Wall Street)

For both of these women, Jesus says, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” and “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Jesus says go. You are set free. Not only does Jesus heal them but he releases them. Go. You are set free! In the midst of it, the disciples around are asking questions, they are confused, and the synagogue leaders are indignant and like, but what about sabbath! 

I thought of ending the service early and moving us to action. And a part of me was a bit like, but what about worship? What is worship? Worship is a reaction to a God who loves us. Worship isn’t just sermon, prayer, and praise songs. The provocative message of Jesus was about liberation, heaven on earth enacted now, not observing the sabbath to do religion better, but seeing the people who are in the midst of us, around us, right now suffering. 

Last few weeks we’ve mentioned the Health Equity Team and the things they are working on. And sometimes, as a leader of this church, as a pastor, I do ask myself, hm how do I make the connection. Is it too political to talk about healthcare? Am I focusing on this community organizing to empower them to make a change in their real lives rather than teaching people how to pray? And I realized, I’ve been taught to be that synagogue leader. Sunday worship! Sermon prep! That’s important! But this story has convicted my heart to what breaks Jesus’ heart. Jesus saw her. Do you see her? In fact he calls the bystanders out and say, you untie even your ox or donkey! We don’t even give the crippled people enough dignity of even a dog! We ignore them and go on about our worship in our comfortable beautiful space. Why is that? We don’t see the neighbor that can’t afford a doctor’s visit. We don’t see the kids crippled by the lack of access to good education right here in our neighborhoods. And we’re so concerned with our own lives and our church. What is the church for? It’s to receive the love of God and not keep it for ourselves but open up and release our healing and power to go! Set free! Jesus acts and the woman stands. We act that others may stand. 

What brings you to church today? What desperation, what need, or posture brings you to the feet of Jesus today? Hear the words of Jesus, “your faith has saved you.” Receive it. Believe it. Accept it. And then, Go. Go out in peace. Don’t hear this message as, now go get busy. Some of you actually need to stop doing many things. If you need to sit at the feet of Jesus to drive in deep the love of Jesus, do that. Kneel. Hurl over. Take time to reach out to Jesus and say heal me. Because everything we do, it derives from the power  of Jesus. So let’s sit with him first before we think of any action. And if you heard him, he says stand up. He says walk.

So I’ll wrap up now and we’ll move into the rest of the service with music, prayer, and communion. And after the service has “ended,” let your worship continue. Here are a few ways I invite you to this time, and I invite you to an action of some sort, but per our other values of freedom and humility, asking yourself what you need and as you feel lead and comfortable. 

As I said, Jesus compels us in different ways, and we celebrate diversity, so there’ll be a few different things going on. I invite some of us to hurl over this booklet of spiritual practices. Sit, kneel, lay down if you’d like. These carpets are pretty new and clean. I hope you receive the love of Jesus, just as you are. The band will continue playing and create that space here in this sanctuary. 

And then I invite some of you to move out. There’s the Dome, where the Health Equity Team will be huddling about the Nov 4th action coming up. Talk with them. I’ll also be in the Dome to talk about Neighboring and Justice work our church’s doing.

There’s the lobby and the Cafe. Find someone to connect with for just 10-15 minutes and share what brings you to church. Share what Jesus has said to you through these scriptures or through this worship service. Listen and share what compels you to act. Jesus wasn’t about religion or even social action, but about relationships. In the midst of chaos, Jesus called out saying, “who touched me”, he wanted to know her, and In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him. In the face of hurt and pain, Jesus saw her, he called her forward. Last week Steve invited us towards connection. Share your story. Let’s listen to the stories and call each other forward. 

And move even further out. I invite you to walk around the church and our campus. Take a few moments to stare at a leaf. Look up and breath. Pray for this place. Walk around and pick up trash. Pray for our church, the people. Pray for Benjamin banneker school. There’s a guide in how to do that in the Spiritual booklet as well. 

Your faith has healed. Go in peace. Amen. 

Finding More of the Connection You Want

When trying to accept imperfections, one of the phrases people like to say is: Progress, not perfection. At first it sounds good. I don’t need to lose twenty pounds, just one per week. My kids don’t need to earn straight A’s, just keep raising their grades. And yet, when you stop and think about it, this mindset is also a trap. It assumes that there is such a thing as perfection, that ideal me, ideal child, ideal you, ideal whatever exists, and we can feel good as long as we’re all making progress toward that ideal. 

But who gets to decide what the ideal looks like? 

I was at a conference the other week on justice and renewal led by Christena Cleveland. One of her many great lines, maybe my favorite from the week, was, “Perfection is a figment of the colonial imagination.” Our ideas of perfection are usually shaped by powerful people and groups, used to rank people and cultures, elevating some, diminishing others. Perfection has a few winners and many losers. If we settle for progress, we haven’t changed the goalposts; we’re just making peace with our slow speed in never getting there.

A quick look at the trees could have taught us the same thing. I’ve been spending a lot of time this fall, walking, and looking at the gorgeous fall trees. I hope you have to. 

You’ll notice there’s no such thing as the perfect tree, so there is no such thing as progress toward that perfection. Healthy trees just grow. Their growth, their expansion signals their flourishing, no matter what beautiful form that growth takes. 

At Reservoir, when we think about life, and when we think about the life of faith, we have flourishing in mind, not progress or perfection. Our aim is for people to connect with Jesus and with our church and to thrive more as a result. We don’t think we need to manage exactly where our faith journeys should lead. But we do encourage us all to take one, to stay on journey, to choose movement over stagnation, to see what love and peace and joy this life and the one who made it all have in store for us. 

For the next few weeks, on Sundays, we’ll rather explicitly invite you to think about your journey. Pastors Ivy and Lydia and I will talk about five ways of being in the world that seem to help us find more of God and more of the good life, five ways of being in the world that might encourage some movement in our lives. They’re not the only five, obviously, but they’re five we like, five that so happen to be Reservoir’s five core values for doing Jesus-centered community life in our time and place. They’re connection, action, everyone, freedom, and humility.

If you like this approach, and if you’d like more company and encouragement on your faith journey, we’ll strongly encourage you to become a member at Reservoir. Membership in our church is about belonging, not believing. It’s a way of saying to yourself and the community: I belong here. I’ll let these folks encourage my faith journey, and maybe I’ll even encourage some on theirs. 

Membership – and the community and the giving it involves – is  also a way of sustaining a Jesus-centered, fully inclusive community of faith, one that values and empowers connection, action, everyone, freedom, and humility. Like most things in life, this stuff is good, but it isn’t free. We will only stay on our journey with your membership and your giving. 

I look forward to connecting this month around our faith journeys, to listening and learning from one another as we go. To putting aside perfection or even progress for a while, and discovering what beautiful things we will see and become as we move forward together. 

Let me read the passage I’ve been drawn to today. In the fourth account of the life of Jesus, the one called the Good News according to John, the story builds toward a climax with this surprising scene. 

John 13:2-17  (CEB)

2 Jesus and his disciples were sharing the evening meal. The devil had already provoked Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew the Father had given everything into his hands and that he had come from God and was returning to God. 4 So he got up from the table and took off his robes. Picking up a linen towel, he tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he was wearing.6 When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

7 Jesus replied, “You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will understand later.”

8 “No!” Peter said. “You will never wash my feet!”

Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t have a place with me.”

9 Simon Peter said, “Lord, not only my feet but also my hands and my head!”

10 Jesus responded, “Those who have bathed need only to have their feet washed, because they are completely clean. You disciples are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 He knew who would betray him. That’s why he said, “Not every one of you is clean.”

12 After he washed the disciples’ feet, he put on his robes and returned to his place at the table. He said to them, “Do you know what I’ve done for you? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you speak correctly, because I am. 14 If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you also must do. 16 I assure you, servants aren’t greater than their master, nor are those who are sent greater than the one who sent them. 17 Since you know these things, you will be happy if you do them.

At first, this seems like a perfect passage to talk about one of our other values for the faith journey, humility. We can think that faith or religion are connected to being on the winning team, or having power over others, or becoming perfect, and so finally pleasing to a distant god of perfection.

But here’s Jesus, kneeling on the ground, mud and crap on his hands, doing the work of a servant. Grounded, honest, humble. 

But we’re going to start with another value that helps us on our faith journey, one we can also see in this story. That is our need and our longing for increasing connection in our lives.

Jesus is moving person by person, touching them, soaking a towel into water, rubbing that water across each person’s feet, scraping dirt, washing off sweat, looking up at each person, talking with them, face to foot, eyes looking into eyes. 

It’s a moment of humble service to be sure, but also one of profound connection. If you’ve washed someone’s feet, or had this done for you, it’s something of an intimate gesture. 

This is complicated for Peter, who tells Jesus not to do this with him. This may be because he doesn’t think Jesus should be doing servant’s work. But it also might just be that Peter finds this level of intimacy, this form of connection difficult. It’s awkward for him, maybe, for Jesus to get that physically or emotionally close to him. He doesn’t know what to do with this openness Jesus is offering – outer clothes removed, soul open, so close. 

And then when Jesus says to Peter, this is necessary. If I don’t wash you, we don’t know each other. Then Peter is like – pour on the water. Wash my whole head and body. 

Kind of extra, Peter.

It also seems like Peter might again be misunderstanding this moment, thinking that Jesus is offering him what in their Jewish culture is called a mikveh. A mikveh is a ritual washing – a way of physically and symbolically cleansing you. You’d be immersed in the waters of a mikveh if you had been ceremonially impure or unclean in some way. It also was used, can still be used, as part of the threshold moment of entering the faith – a precursor to the Christian ritual of baptism, one we’ll talk more about in a couple of weeks. 

But Jesus is like: no, you’re good Peter. This is not a baptism. And this is not about making you clean or acceptable or even perfect, I suppose, Peter. This is about seeing that leadership and service are bound into one, and this is about connection.

I find that when one person is deeply connected, deeply connected to themselves and their story, deeply connected to their roots – their history, their god, deeply connected to their surroundings, to the earth, their authenticity is compelling and the connection they shape it draws something out of us.

When I was at that conference with Christena Cleveland the other week, she had us sit in a circle one morning and said she wanted to tell us part of her story. She talked without notes, for a long time, about a journey she’d taken in her life from living in her head, to also living in her heart, in her body as a whole person. She told us about how Ivy-league educated, PhD, super-smart Christena was becoming more whole, more grounded, deeper in herself and in her work. 

It was an honest story told by a good storyteller, unguarded. That’s all. But when we had some free time afterwards, and I found a place where I could just lay back on the floor, tears came to me. I was so moved. And I started thinking about my own life journey out of just living in my head – about my own process of noticing my emotions, moving to more integration between my thinking and my feeling and instincts. Moving toward more and more wholeness. 

There was something about hearing the movement in her story that gave me that gave me permission to think about the journey I’m on – where I am and where I’m going.

Our connection with other people so often does this. It is so often bound up with our connection to ourselves and to Spirit of God. Deep human connection seems to take us inward (to ourselves) more deeply and upward (toward God) more deeply too. It seems that just as were made for growth and movement, not progress and perfection, so too we’re really made for connection.

This  may be part of why Jesus commended this kind of service he was doing to all his followers. Sure, he was telling us to mop floors for people more than boss people around – practice servant leadership. But maybe he was modelling and commending servant intimacy. Offering connection from a place of humility, from an undefended, honest openness to others in the world.

Servant intimacy. What an amazing thing, that we can do so much good by just being authentic, by being increasingly grounded and open. 

One of the most powerful ways we can press into this way of being is through careful, loving disclosure. 

This is how I got my second best friend in the world. 

I’ve known my friend John for more than 26 years. We met at a student conference, and we worked on a little project together, and then hung out a few times. And then John said: hey, can we meet up and take a walk together? I want to tell you my story. 

I forget if there was an occasion, like if it was his birthday was coming or something, or if it was just out of the blue, but I said, sure, sounds interesting. 

And we took a walk somewhere, and John said something like: the story starts in a Japanese warehouse in 1945. And I thought: this is going to be a long story. 

And it was, not as long as you’d think – the Japanese warehouse had to do with his dad, but then we sped forward a couple decades. And on he went, to tell me the things that at the time he thought had been most important in making him who he was. It included very personal stuff, not the kind of things most of blast out in public. 

It was an unguarded moment. Like Jesus with the basin and the towel, John was offering me something – offering me the gift of removing the layers over the most important parts of his life, offering me the gift of knowing an important story about him and connecting. All he asked of me was to listen, to care, to receive his disclosure as connection. 

I did, and in the short run, this led to me telling him a bunch of my story too, because that’s what you do when someone connects with you and you want to connect back. You tell them a little bit about yourself as well. And in the long run, it’s led to an uncommonly great friendship. We were on the phone this week making plans for how we’re going to celebrate one of our next birthdays. 

There are things John and I don’t agree on, some important ones. And probably if John and I had been on some friend version of online dating, we never would have matched. We are too different in many ways.

But we have a friendship of profound trust, and of deep connection; it’s one of the  things I treasure most. And it started with disclosure.

Fourteen years ago, Grace and I had a pre-schooler and a baby and we were looking for a church to go to. We were looking for a place that practiced vibrant, Jesus-centered faith but that wouldn’t constantly tell us what we had to believe. And we were also looking for a place where we could make friends, where we could be real and meet other real people. People that would be open about their lives. 

And we found all that here, so we never visited another church but joined this one. We became members, started giving, within a couple months of first visiting. We started attending a community group that didn’t really work for us because it took too long to drive to in the evening with our two little kids in the back seat. Sometimes we’d want to turn around half way and go home, but we kept going because we were making friends, finding connection. 

A year later, after talking for a while to a pastor, we were hosting an amazing group of friends for community group in our own home. 

Our church has changed in some ways since then, because we’ve been on a journey too – moving, growing, which is good. But these things haven’t changed. 

In my Saturday morning community group, we did an exercise that a lot of our groups are doing this month, where we talk about what we appreciate about this community. And turns out that we all had ways we connect with the love of Jesus here, and many of us were struck by people’s unguarded openness here as well. By people that are real with their stories, so that we can connect with them. 

This willingness to open our life to someone else in disclosure, and this willingness to receive someone else’s openness as a gift makes for a good church community. But it also makes for a good life. 

Open, unguarded human connection seems to be some of what we most need to be happy, some of what we most need to feel at home. 

And it even seems to be one of the best ways we start to feel more connected with ourselves, and even with our God. Connection breeds more connection.

I do want to mention, though, one other means of connection – one other way we start to feel more at home in our own lives, and more connected to the God that made us and walks with us in our lives. 

My way in is Jesus and the water. Jesus didn’t talk about service and connection. He served, and connected. And he didn’t just do it with words, he used the power of touch, and he poured water. Even while indoors, he looked at his disciples with whom he walked miles together on most days, and he took water from outside, and he poured it over their feet. 

For us, who don’t walk miles on most days, and have so much less contact with trees and ground and water, to slow down and touch the natural world is another way we can start to connect with ourselves more, to be at home in ourselves, and to learn to be at home with God. 

At my conference the other week, I met a man named Jonathan Stalls whose purpose in life is to get people walking more, and to get people connected to each other and the natural world as they walk. 

I’ve been on walks with Jonathan where you pick up fallen objects in nature that strike you, and you look at them in silence as you walk.

I’ve been on walks with Jonathan where you walk side by side with someone and practice saying more, and listening better.

I’ve been on walks with Jonathan where you go real slowly and pay attention to whatever you see and notice and just take the time to linger wherever your attention goes. Looking, listening, smelling, taking your shoes off to touch the ground. 

The goal of all this time outside, and all this walking is really to get us connected with our natural environment again, and to slow us down and see what we notice when we’re less distracted, more still. 

I’ve shared before about the Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama, and his powerful reflections on the speed of God, who he calls the three mile per hour God. God, he says, moves at the pace of walking, because God has walked with us. Because God has become one of us. And because the pace of what God does moves and grows slowly, for the most part. 

For centuries, followers of Jesus haven’t worshipped God as the three mile per hour God, but they’ve known that God is with us, and they’ve known that we find God and connect with God more when we find time to be still, to be silent, and to be in solitude. 

Even in much slower times than hours, times with no internet, no cars, no electricity, even then solitude, silence, and stillness have been classic and important disciplines of the Christian faith. 

In our times, where we’re almost always inside, where we’re almost never undistracted and still, maybe one of the most radical ways we can start to be at home again is to slow down, to walk more, to carve out time here and there to be alone, to be silent, and to be still. 

These days I’m experimenting a little with the first fifteen minutes of my day. I’m not really ready to pray yet. And if I jump right to the cup of coffee, it’s easy for me to read it while firing up my phone or laptop and checking my social media feeds and email. Instead, I’m taking these very short walks – slow, not for exercise – but to just be outside, to look at the sky, to move my feet and feel the air on my skin, see a tree dropping leaves, and notice what’s on my mind. 

It slows down the urgency of the day a little. Helps me feel at home where I live, and – this might sound weird to some of you, but I can’t think of a better way to say it — somehow at home in my body and my life a little more too. 

Jesus knew that more than solving our problems, more than any new idea or new technology, we need connection. We want to be know and be known. We want to feel at home in our lives, on our earth. 

And so my invitation, my commission to you is to welcome connection in any form you can find it. To welcome the connection to yourself and the earth by taking light fifteen minutes a day, or an hour or two a week, to be outdoors – alone, silent, and just walking slowly – to think, or to pray, or to just let your mind go empty is one of the easiest ways we can start. And in Greater Boston, no matter how urban your neighborhood is, there are bits of grass or trees or water within walking distance of every one of us. 

I also invite you to welcome and offer real connection with some people in your lives – maybe looking a few more people in the eye, maybe slowing down in your interactions over retail, or work, or customer service, and making small, human connection. Maybe offering disclosure of part of your story to a friend. 

And see how more of that connection feels, see where it leads, see just how much at home you might come to be in yourself, on your earth, in your communities, with your God. 

Invitations to Whole Life Flourishing

Walk more. Touch the natural environment as much as you can as you walk.

Spiritual Practice of the Week

In relationships of trust, offer and welcome the gift of disclosure. 

Institutions Ruin the World, and Institutions Will Save It

This month we’ve tried to share some of our best content on pursuing a life of faith and having that go well for us, and the people around us. Last week Ivy invited you all to a year-end reflection on just what is or isn’t going well in your experience of faith, as well as how your experience connecting with a faith community at Reservoir is going. That reflection booklet is available on our info kiosk in the lobby and if you’re around with us on the last Sunday of the year, just before New Year’s Day, we’ll touch base on it during that service as well. I really hope that many of us will take an hour or two with that reflection – you’ll see there’s a tear off sheet at the back to turn in and have a conversation with one of our staff or one of our trained leaders about what you learned as well. The point of those conversations isn’t to gather feedback on the church and it certainly isn’t to check up on you or anything! It’s to give everybody here a chance to have someone listen well to how your life of faith is going, and to pray for you. So I hope that many of you will take us up on that offer.

The other thing we’ve done this month is try to make it easy for you to become a member of Reservoir, if you’d like, to not just attend services or make friends here, but to make this your church as well.

People Hate Institutions

I was talking this fall with a guy who runs a program called Faith and Leadership at Duke University, and he was telling me that the funders of his program wanted to call it the Institute for Christian Institutions, or something like that. And he told them: please, don’t. If you want to kill this program, call it anything to do with institutions. Because people hate institutions.

My guess is that even if you don’t personally hate institutions, you at least don’t trust them very much. For fifty years, Americans have trusted political institutions less and less. And for good reason. We’ve discovered that our presidents break laws they think don’t apply to them, have bombs dropped in places they aren’t telling us about, send money places they shouldn’t for agendas they wouldn’t admit to. We don’t trust particular politicians, sure – that’s probably been true forever. But most of us don’t trust the political institutions they work in either.

The same has been happening in our lifetime with churches as institutions. I mean, how many scandals in the life of a religious leader are revealed until nothing surprises you anymore? I’m past that point. How many times does a religious community talk one way about its mission and act another way entirely, before people write them off for good?

I was reading some polls last week about Americans’ trust in various institutions, and the polls just happened to run annually from 2018 back to the year of my birth. And in turns out that trust in Congress, in the presidency, in Supreme Court, in religious institutions, in the press, in banks, in public schools are all at or near all-time lows, or at least lows in my lifetime.

We don’t trust institutions and more and more, we don’t join them either. We’re spending more time alone, less time in public gatherings, and committing less of our time and money and hope to organizations and institutions our collective life depends upon.

Because institutions ruin the world.

Which is why the man at Duke wanted nothing to do with that word. And he won, and his program that helps Christian institutions do good in the world is called something else entirely.

But what I want to share today is a conviction that this gentleman at Duke and I both share, which is that institutions will also save the world. Now I’m being a little tongue in cheek. We start our annual Christmas season called Light in the Darkness next week, where we ask how Jesus is saving the world. And I put my hope for the future good of the world in Jesus, not in any particular institution.

…But Institutions Also Do A Lot of Good

That said, if Jesus is going to save the world, a lot of the good is going to happen through institutions. Dave Odom, the man at Duke, says that an institution is something that lasts for three or more generations. It’s something that serves some kind of good for more than fifty years.

And if there’s anything we want that our parents or grandparents needed or that we hope will be around for at least another generation or two, we look to an institution to get it for us.

If we want water, we don’t head over to the Charles River, scoop up a handful, and drink it down. We look to institutions – to the people in our past who created reservoirs and aqueducts and pipes and pumps, and to the water authorities in our own times who maintain those systems and preserve them for the future. Thank God for clean water institutions!

And if we want heat or food or education, with some exceptions, generally we look to institutions to do these things for us. And we invest in their capacity to do it over 50 years or more, because we want our grandchildren, or other people’s grandchildren to also have water and heat and food and education so they can live and tend to our world and pass on those goods for another three generations.

Institutions—private and public, big and small—are collective agents of the evil in human hearts and the havoc we wreak on our earth and on one another. But institutions are also the containers of our hope and our blessing, the collective means by which we tend to our own needs and care for the survival and thriving of future generations.

And so with spiritual formation and a deeply flourishing world, it’s no different. If we want Jesus to do something good and beautiful in our city that will last for 3 generations or more, then it’s not going to be done through a single person, or through a loose collection of heroes, but through organized groups that are bigger than any one person, that outlast the influence or charisma or faults of any one person.

So I’ve called today’s talk Institutions Will Ruin the World, and Institutions Will Save It because much as I share your distrust of Congress and the presidency and religious institutions and banks and all the rest of it, I know that we don’t get the world we want in silos. The deepest goods we want for ourselves and we want to pass to future generations happen together. And I deeply want us to be joiners and committers and builders and funders – people that shape institutions, our own institution of Reservoir Church included, to do powerful good over the next three generations and beyond.

The scriptures affirm that we’re wise to not blindly trust institutions, who so often can be our enemy. One of the letters in the Bible is called Ephesians, because it was circulated to house churches in Ephesus and other cities around Western Asia, modern day Turkey. And tradition has it that the author of this letter was a Jewish follower of Jesus named Paul, who wrote it while on house arrest, guarded by a Roman soldier.

Paul looks at this soldier and uses his armor and weapons, all this gear of his oppression, as metaphor for the tools and practices of a flourishing life. But he says this too:

Ephesians 6:12 (CEB)

12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

It would be easy for Paul to look at this soldier and say: here is my enemy. This man who keeps me in chains, who limits my mobility and my choices and my options is my enemy. This man who by his mere presence mocks and threatens my culture and my faith and my personhood is the object of my hatred.

But Paul looks at this soldier and thinks, no, it’s not really about him at all. It’s about the rulers and authorities behind him. He’s just a stand in for the Roman Empire, and all of its propaganda and lies, all of its violence and oppression. And even that empire is a tool of timeless human and maybe even supernatural collective tendency toward the use of power and violence to fuel greed and ambition. The institution, and big, big forces behind the institution is the real enemy.

And this is still true, right?

Think of the political or cultural figure you most resent, you think is doing most harm to our world. I know, it might be hard to think of somebody, but try. I’ve got someone in mind.

Now it’s not really just about them, is it? It’s not that individuals don’t have agency and responsibility. They do. We all do. We are each accountable to one another and to institutions of justice. But even when we don’t seem to be, and get away with all kinds of awfulness, we are accountable – each of us – to a living God, who sees all our thoughts and actions, known and secret.

But anytime an individual is doing something greedy or foolish or just plain evil, they’ve got the weight of their funders or voters or protectors behind them. They’re serving the interests of institutions and larger forces who have their back and enable their harm.

Institutions ruin the world. They foul our streams, and steal our votes, they take our money and burn our trust and shame our children and oppress our marginalized. And we’re right not to trust them.

But it’s not like all institutions are merely agents of evil. After all, Paul himself spent his life starting and encouraging small, emergent communities of faith – house churches that he hoped would help people flourish and pass on renewal and faith to future generations. Paul, the writer of some of the Bible’s letters, was first a builder of and tender to institutions.

And when Jesus looked to the fifty years and more beyond his life, he also didn’t just put his hope in individuals but envisioned some form on institutional life as well.

In a moment of great pride and trust in one of his prize students, Jesus tells Simon Peter that that second name of his – Peter, which means Rock – is his true nature. Because Peter is someone he thinks he can start to build something around. Jesus says to him:

Matthew 16:18 (CEB)

18  I tell you that you are Peter. And I’ll build my church on this rock. The gates of the underworld won’t be able to stand against it.

Now to be clear, I don’t think Jesus necessarily had “church” in mind in the way that we know it today. Jesus was a first century Jew. He didn’t speak English, but Aramaic, and Matthew and the other early memoirists of Jesus’ life translated all his words into the Greek that they wrote in. All to say, Jesus’ times and language and culture were very, very different than ours in a million ways.

And yet, when Jesus envisions a way to transmit his teachings and way of life to the future, he envisions not just an individual but a collective. When Jesus thinks about building out new ways of relating to God and neighbor, new ways of being in the world, he trusts an institution or set of institutions to do that. When Jesus asks, what can overcome the power of evil in world, what can stand up to the gates of hell, he says, Peter – don’t just be you. Be a cornerstone in this institution I’ll build called a church.

Three weekends ago, after the enormous tragedy in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, I spent time in a couple of local synagogues in support and solidarity.

And in my neighborhood synagogue of Temple Beth Zion, I had a beautiful morning of worship. TBZ is a special place that blends the traditional and the contemporary, mysticism right alongside activism. So were singing the words of an ancient Hebrew psalm, but we were singing them to Leonard Cohen’s music.


And sometimes people sang in the Hebrew we tried to read from pamphlets, but their Rabbi Claudia would raise her voice and say: there’s so much Hebrew, but please sing, and if you’re not comfortable in Hebrew, just sing in the language of your soul.

And we’d sing with syllables, like Yai-dai-dai-dai-dai-dai-dai.

I felt so welcome and included, and I was free to worship in a tradition and place I hadn’t called my own. And I had this shiver in me, as I realized Jesus, you are here.

Now in telling this story, I mean no offense to my Jewish brothers and sisters who might find it obnoxious or worse to think about a Christian finding Jesus in their synagogue of all places. And I would never push this interpretation of my experience onto anyone else, but I am a follower of Jesus and can’t be anything else, and in my Jesus-centered faith and Jesus-soaked view of the world, I don’t have another reference or center for my experience.

So as I felt the presence of God in worship, I felt Jesus show me in my thoughts that Jesus was in this space, and in the quiet of my mind, I asked Jesus: what are you doing here today? What are you up to? And over the next hour or two, all these fascinating and deep and playful things stuck out to me as again and again, I thought: ah, here you are, Jesus.

And one of these places where I saw Jesus was in the way this congregation rallied around the events in Pittsburgh to stay focused on the good they want to be in the world.

Rabbi Claudia told her congregation – you know why we were targeted? We were targeted last weekend because somebody said that we love refugees and that we work to welcome them. And then she said: you know what? We do! And we will!

And she called to the center of worship, next to her and the scrolls of the scripture, all those of us that were doing anything in solidarity with or service of refugees and immigrants and prayed for blessing over us and our work.

Because for Jews to survive, targeted as they’ve been by so many people for so many centuries, they’ve needed institutions. Jews have built schools and sustained synagogues and worked to shape a protective, pluralist public life that would allow their presence and prosperity. And generally, they’ve done this, as Temple Beth Zion was doing this in my presence, out of a commitment to sustaining their life and their future and for expanding blessing in the world.

They’ve caught a vision of their Abrahamic covenant that says: You are to be blessed so that you can be a blessing for the whole world. And so together, as we read and sang in the synagogue, we will build in love what will last for the healing of the world. We will together work with God to transform the world as it is, to the world as it should be.

Greater Than the Sum of Our Parts

For the early followers of Jesus, the best image of this kind of thing, the institutional commitment to the knowing of God, the flourishing of our lives, and the flourishing of the world is an image in the scriptures of the “body of Christ.”

In another letter, Paul writes:

I Corinthians 12:12-27 (CEB)

12 Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many. 13 We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, or slave or free, and we all were given one Spirit to drink. 14 Certainly the body isn’t one part but many. 15 If the foot says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not a hand,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? 16 If the ear says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not an eye,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, what would happen to the hearing? And if the whole body were an ear, what would happen to the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God has placed each one of the parts in the body just like he wanted. 19 If all were one and the same body part, what would happen to the body? 20 But as it is, there are many parts but one body. 21 So the eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or in turn, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” 22 Instead, the parts of the body that people think are the weakest are the most necessary. 23 The parts of the body that we think are less honorable are the ones we honor the most. The private parts of our body that aren’t presentable are the ones that are given the most dignity. 24 The parts of our body that are presentable don’t need this. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the part with less honor 25 so that there won’t be division in the body and so the parts might have mutual concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it. 27 You are the body of Christ and parts of each other.

So besides being really funny, this is so beautiful. Right? People connected to one another, being totally different. I mean if you ripped an ear out of a head, and jabbed an eyeball out of that same head, and then plucked some strands of hair from the same body. Now this is gross and violent, so do not do this. But if you did, they wouldn’t look like they belonged to the same thing at all. Ears, eyes, hair— they look nothing alike, they have different form and function. And yet together, with all the other parts, fed by the same blood, they pulse with life and do something glorious. So Paul says people bonded together in Jesus, drinking of the same Spirit, are the body of the unseen Christ.

What a vital, organic, and beautiful way of talking about an institution! Paul telling this little church – you have work to do together, and you have everything you need to do it. And not just that, but you belong to Jesus, and you to belong to one another.

Now at some level, this image of the “body of Christ” is not at all about an institution, but mystically about all people that connect to God through Jesus Christ.

But for a couple of millennia now, this phrase “body of Christ” has also been understood as it is for Paul as a metaphorical image for an institution, for a local congregation of Jesus followers, who seek to pass their faith and Jesus-centered way of life down for at least a couple of generations.

Now when church goes badly for people, it doesn’t look like this at all! And I’ve heard and read hundreds of stories of church going badly for people. But what does it look like when it goes well?

Well, for one it tends to be less hierarchical. As I said, most bad things in institutions, and religious ones in particular, have to do with abuse of power. But Paul’s image subverts power. It says the only head of this body is Jesus, no human authority. And the parts that look more important to some people aren’t. So at Reservoir, for instance, neither me nor any other pastor is your mommy or daddy. We don’t tell you what to think or what to do. We don’t make your decisions for you. We’re servants or catalysts, not bosses.

The body of Christ is also a community of mutual honor and interdependence, where people aren’t too private or ashamed to say I need something or to say I’m here for you. It’s a place where each person’s individual nature and contribution matters—people offer who they are and what they have. Whether it’s Yemi last week offering us the beauty and taste of an Ethiopian coffee ceremony. Or it’s a team from Reservoir volunteering at Victory Programs’ Celebration of Life for Boston residents with HIV/AIDs, or whether it’s one of our own members that in her career helps run that whole organization. The body of Christ looks a lot like you, Reservoir Church, at your best – people showing up for one another and the world with honest love and generosity, staying alive for yourself and each other and the world.

Everyone of you is needed here, just as you are, and together we make a whole that is much greater than all of its parts.

This is why I’ve shamelessly invited all of you to membership at Reservoir – to connect in community here, and to give your time here, to give your money here, to not just see yourself as a renter but an owner here, because this community has a whole series of gifts to give you and we can’t be all that Jesus wants us to be for one another and for our city without you.

We also can’t offer anything of faith and flourishing over the next fifty years and beyond if we don’t build a healthy and flourishing institution of faith—one that can give a Jesus-centered, open-minded, wholehearted, fully inclusive, vibrant and healthy community of faith to the next generation and the generation after that.

And this takes money and time and energy and initiative and talent. It takes you. Your wholehearted ownership and participation.  

So please do consider membership at Reservoir – the forms are in the info kiosk in the back, and our pastors are happy to chat with you too.

But it’s not just about us – we need a lot of great institutions. Companies, schools, non-profits, civic institutions to do creative and heroic work in our times.

So ask yourself this question, our

An Invitation to Whole Life Flourishing

What are you giving yourself to that might last and contribute to flourishing for fifty years or more? Where might God be leading you to deeper, more wholehearted commitment to the health and purpose of an institution?

And for this week’s spiritual practice. Would you consider…

Spiritual Practice of the Week

Do at least one of these things this week:

  • suffer with one who suffers – be present in compassion
  • glory with one in glory – celebrate someone else’s good news
  • show someone else that they are needed and show up to community as if you are needed.

Community: Meeting Jesus Face to Face

It’s great to see you again this week. It’s rare for me to have the honor of being up here two weeks in a row – and what a joy it is!  Steve, our Senior Pastor, is getting the chance to watch his daughter run at her Cross Country States competition out in Western Massachusetts today. And later today I’ll get to watch my daughter swim at her high school States swimming competition at Harvard, so think of our strong, powerful girls today if it crosses your mind!

Steve, though, will be back up next week with a powerful talk to round out this sermon series. I got a little preview and it’s about both the destructive and saving power of institutions; it’s a good one! As a reminder: one service at 10:30am next Sunday and kids are with us!

Today, I’d love to continue with insights we’ve been sharing in this series called Your Faith Journey at Reservoir. We’ve been highlighting strands of Reservoir’s DNA that ensure an open, Jesus-centered approach to your faith journey. And we are taking a few weeks to talk about this to make sure the ethos of Reservoir—who we are and why we think about faith the way we do —really does shine through.

We’ve realized that it’s valuable to communicate this in a way that doesn’t leave anyone wondering if there is some “catch” attached or trade-off that’s required to feel like you belong in this community (if you want to!)

We hope to communicate that at the baseline, life with Jesus at the center is really, really good news, and it is full of personal invitations and ways to experience that goodness, like spiritual practices.  And, as a bonus, your faith journey doesn’t have to be one that you forge alone, but one that you get to share with others in community!

We administered a church-wide survey a few months ago on a Sunday morning with the hopes that we’d get some constructive feedback around where there might be gaps between your desired “needs” and what we were providing, either in services, classes, or other offerings. The survey results revealed some of that—although, certainly not enough voices in that direction to say it was a big theme—but it did reveal that you are mostly a really happy bunch, and that you primarily really value and like each other. You really like being part of this community.

This, too, has been my experience.  16 years or so ago, when we first started coming to services, we orbited around this place pretty hard.  Everyone was so kind! And I was so suspicious of this KINDNESS—suspicious that there would be an agenda attached to said niceness, suspicious that there would be a list of “do’s and don’ts” to adhere to, suspicious of the Nutella that was offered at the bagel table in the morning (that was definitely a suspicious , red flag).  I was concerned that there was going to be a prescribed way to make sure my own holiness could be formed—a prescriptive way to really belong. Each week I was a little on edge, waiting for the conditions for me to really be welcomed to drop in my seat.

But what we found instead was that the people that make up this community of Reservoir are genuine, don’t put up much of any false front, and are indeed incredibly, suspiciously kind.  And so we dared enough to stop orbiting for a second, and land long enough to inspect this kindness at a ground-level, face-to-face. And what we found through so many of you was that we got to meet Jesus face to face.

I think I could shrug at the church survey results and say meh—great.  We created this big survey to try to identify our pain points, and instead found out that—surprise—we are all really kind human beings who love and follow Jesus as best we can, and we like each other.

I could look at these survey results and say “Holy Cats!” We are all really nice, kind human beings who love and follow Jesus as best we can, and we love being around each other. And that is really substantial data!

Because here at Reservoir, we don’t have the extra qualifiers, the “do’s and the don’ts”—the set of beliefs to adhere to that allow you to be “really in,” or “really lead,” or “really belong.”  What we have though, is Jesus.  And we take Jesus pretty seriously!  We don’t compromise or divide Jesus! And we also have our unique selves that carry a host of different opinions and perspectives about life, and even on matters of faith—and yet we still want to be around each other!?

I think this survey actually points us to a deeper well of data—that what makes this posture of kindness so piercingly evident is not a result of us all being on the same page about everything, but it’s actually a marker of difference.  I know that sounds weird. But I think the kindness you might encounter here in this community is actually a product of an approach we’ve infused into our ethos—one that helps us lean in to one another with goodwill and curiosity even when we disagree. And it’s called the Third Way.
Scott and I both come from faith-filled households.  I kept to a lot of the rules-based, FAITH rhetoric that was ingrained in me – at an early age – all the way into my early adult years – without much investigation.  By the time Scott and I met – he would have described himself as agnostic – not convinced enough to say that there was no HIGHER power – but convinced enough that perhaps we all should spend more energy on the ground, helping people in the world around us – rather than pontificating/praying/or talking about it…


We had many spirited conversations around faith – in our 3 years of being together before we got engaged. In that time – I would say we both moved fairly substantially in the ways that we thought about God, and imagined what a life journey with Him would look like.


WHen Scott asked for my parents blessing – for us to be married – he talked quite a bit with them, about what a Journey of faith with God, meant to him – that indeed it was more of a journey , more of a relationship – a discovery….. rather than a specific moment in time. My parents probably were more hopeful for the “SPECIFIC MOMENT IN TIME – ANSWER”. This view of salvation – achieved through a very specific prayer – would ensure that someone was definitely “IN” the family of God. .. Because than it would be clearer to grant blessing on a marriage -to-be that was “equally yoked”.  (both proven believers).


While my parents framework and the success of their own marriage up to that point – really hinged on a more “sinner’s prayer” type of structure – for true salvation – to “really be in the family of God” –  it was meaningful for them to hear of Scott’s open-ness to keep discovering the love of Jesus as he walked along his life.. And understand a bit more of where he was coming from and why….and Likewise meaningful for Scott to hear my parents reasoning for their perspective and belief.


In many ways this face-to-face conversation allowed for a Third Way, where there were differing thoughts about a life with God and the implications of a  life with God – would look like. It allowed Scott and my parents a way to not remain in their “Theological” corners – being mystified and judging each other… This THIRD WAY seemed to provide a way forward, even though they didn’t necessarily see eye to eye.


And that really is what the “Third Way” approach tries to help with.  It’s an approach to being together in a faith community centered around Jesus.  It applies to any  disputable matter –  over which followers of Jesus, “agree to disagree”. The term was coined by our friend and pastor Ken Wilson, in a letter that he wrote to his congregation ..when they were navigating through the LGBTQ controversy which was proving to be a disputable matter for their community.


It’s worth a moment on what a disputable matter is – and I’ve been helped by theologian, Roger E. Olson – who makes a distinction – to start – between 3 types of biblical beliefs:


1- Dogma  – is understood as the basics of human faith … statements about who God is and particularly who Jesus is, and his death and resurrection.   If you differ on these points, you likely are talking about a different faith than Christianity.


– the other  biblical belief is:

2-Doctrine –  boils down to  what you regard as implications from your dogma.  The hot disputes of a given era usually fall into this category.   In the example of Scott and my parents.. My parents viewpoint that “Salvation” as a moment in time event –  is a key implication of their dogma of who God is.  God is perfectly powerful and holy. So my parents believe that we too must achieve such holiness… by saying a specific set of words to prove that holiness.  This specific way of salvation- is quite tied to their view of God, to dogma.

*So the key is to see that this viewpoint is tied to my parents dogma, but it is not itself the dogma..  Does that make sense?  It’s an implication. It’s doctrine.  DOCTRINAL disputes tend to be the things that cause movements or communities of Jesus followers to splinter. It’s why we have 1,000’s and 1,000’s of christian denominations.

And OPINION is everything else. We all have these!  Preferences of what makes a good sermon – preferences on what the best worship music is – (while other people have the complete opposite opinion on the same thing!)

And there is nothing wrong with these opinions, even theological opinions – so long as we recognize they’re not doctrine or – DOGMA…and don’t use them as a way to exclude or to harm.


So that helps us – suss out a little more what – A DISPUTABLE MATTER is – that it

  1. Isn’t a matter of Chrsitian dogma,
  2. THat it often brings two biblical (t)ruths into dynamic tension
  3. And otherwise faithful followers of Jesus – disagree over it.


And in some ways I feel like – oh, this is all really helpful – and in other ways I feel like – “oh this get’s  pretty complicated, pretty quickly.!”


The disputes of our time are so much more intense and fraught – divisive and woven into all of it are political lines – that affect and harm real people in our midst!   How could this THIRD WAY help us in practicality with such huge matters?


I think it’s helpful to go back to the early church timeline and see what followers of Jesus wrestled with….

And I’m going to go back to the earliest version of christian community –  BEFORE – the movement of churches springing forth in Acts – to when  Jesus called his first disciples.


These earliest followers of Jesus, were  an odd collection of humanity that came together.  They came together in community to share stories of their lives, to break bread and eat together – and to encourage one another! It sounds so lovely – so straightforward and maybe like a magical era of Christianity?   It must have been true that this early era of Christianity was so enraptured by the Jesus that moved and walked among them – that UNITY just naturally outflowed from them?


Um… no!

Did we skip over the part about them being an odd collection of humanity!?

There was a whole lot of difference in the earliest community of Jesus …


The first Twelve followers of Jesus infact – all came from different social backgrounds, they also represented diametrically opposed philosophical and political viewpoints.  Matthew, the tax collector was content enough with Roman rule to represent the government in an official capacity.  Simon the Zealot, was a member of a group that sought the expulsion of the Romans and the regaining of Jewish independence.


And yet Jesus asked them to become the initial community  – the people that would represent and spread more of who Jesus was to others!


And so I think Jesus is giving us a little window into how he regards unity and difference – and perhaps how they are less opposites than we want them to be. . .


It was pretty evident from early on that unity – did not mean the same political views, or that everybody was doing and believing the same thing – singing the same hymns, observing Sabbath, or following the same diet  – or reading the same scriptures or telling the same story.


The early followers of Jesus, “YES” put a great emphasis on unity among one another – but they squabbled with one another over what kind of unity they were to have.


Seems clear that  even then, different implications of dogma, who they viewed God to be…presented along pretty serious disputable lines… That there was from the very beginning different ways of interpreting the fundamental message – of what following Jesus in our lives should entail – … “What does it mean of our cultural practices?  How Jewish are we to be? How Greek are we to be? How do we adapt to the surrounding culture – what is the real meaning of the resurrection of Jesus?  How important is the death of Jesus? Maybe it’s the sayings of Jesus that are really the important things….?”


And we see these squabbles continue to play out over time – where diverse groups of individuals and communities – feel so distinct about their way of seeing things – that they’d like everyone else to agree with them.


This is how bounded sets are birthed, right.  Bounded sets – where there is a clear “You are in” – or “you are out” criteria.   Most often – the ways “in” are from a generous posture. SOmeone has encountered something so good – that they want you to experience it too, just through the exact same steps that they took..


And yet, in that process –  what is often overlooked is the way that their particular culture  – or political viewpoint, or opinion – become intertwined with God.  THat it is now God’s culture, God’s political viewpoint, etc..and that becomes the highest truth.


And that quest for sameness – that picture of UNITY (above all else) – becomes the very catalyst for division.


It wasn’t that long ago that people killed each other over biblical interpretation of  baptism. “infant baptism or adult baptism – should we sprinkle, drip or douse…”… and still issues more recent in the church that have been controversial – like

whether and when, remarriage after divorce is accepted, or whether killing in war is the moral equivalent of murder, to what level women in leadership are welcomed – and whether gay marriage is supported or not – ALL of these have been highly disputed matters in faith communities.  That still to this day are not resolved.


The apostle Paul, actually has some helpful things to say along the lines of disputable matters.  He reflected quite a lot about the difficulties that different cultures have in working through their varying perspectives.  “He’s the guy that argued that among Jesus’ most important, most central miracles was “breaking dividing walls” between cultures”… (** Blue Ocean Faith, Dave Schmelzer). .  And he writes letters to these diverse churches that have formed – one of them being this church in Corinth…


Here’s what he says in one of his letters, you can read this on your program:


I Corinthians 1:10- 12 (NIV)
10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel – not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.


I follow Paul.. and his way of thinking and speaking of Jesus.

I follow APollos – this Jewish man – who is well versed and eloquent in the scripture.

I follow Cephas – Peter, he lived with and spoke with and ate with Jesus.


I think Paul is saying – “I get it” – I get that you want to follow the particulars of how each of these people depict Jesus.  That’s actually ok – Just don’t anchor yourself in this doctrine – don’t see it as immovable dogma.  Don’t get violent about it ! OR use your position/opinion as a way to judge others or exclude others from their own view of Jesus’ face.


Because that’s actually what divides Jesus – our stake that we throw in the ground – that we’ll live or die by… versus a more humble posture of .. “well, I’m pretty sure the way Apollos speaks of scripture is the most Jesus-y… than Peter, and I’m going to follow my conscience here – but I’m open to the belief that Peter also knows and speaks of  Jesus from his truest vantage point?


Eugene Peterson’s words, in his translation, The Message – of this passage, use a little more direct language – that maybe gets us to the heart of Paul’s message here: “Has the Messiah been chopped up into little pieces so we can each have a relic all our own?”

Worded this way – it’s pretty piercing right? It’s worth thinking about where and how we might be doing the chopping? That leads to a pretty splintered picture of Jesus for ourselves and anyone else.


MY STORY continued:

Scott and I got engaged pretty quickly after his conversation with my parents. And equally as quickly set a wedding date for just 3 months away.


Scott’s priest from his childhood church was booked and my childhood church required a fairly extensive pre-marital class, that we wouldn’t have time for – BUT in the state of Maine – you  – like here in MA – can get a one-day designation of justice of the peace.


And so we decided to go that route…

We wanted to be thoughtful about who we asked, and ultimately decided to ask my brother if he would marry us.   He was at that point contending with which seminary program he would enter into – and so we felt like he would take this role on with a degree of thoughtfulness and reverane.


And he did.


He considered our request.


And then turned us down.


He felt like God wouldn’t bless our marriage  – again – revisiting a similar belief that my parents had drawn attention to – that to be a true “believer” there needed to be a declaration on Scott’s end – to this point.


Grrr – I was so mad. And so hurt.


I felt like he was SO WRONG!  I mean so, so, so wrong. Not only just made a poor decision – but like FUNDAMENTALLY got Jesus wrong.

And I thought – how will we move forward?  How can I look at him every time I see him at holidays – like Thanksgiving and Christmas – and actually care about him?

How can I Bless his pursuits of life – his pursuit of Jesus at seminary and beyond?


The apostle Paul had given a lot of thought to this THird Way approach – even before we read his words in the letter to Corinth.  He enjoined the members of the church to “agree to disagree” over disputable matters – which in his time – were likely whether Christians could eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols, or whether Sabbath observance was obligatory (big deals – because they were the first and fourth commandment issues respectively.)

*”And he called for members of the church to fully accept each other in Jesus, even if some were regarded as gravely mistaken in their beliefs or practices in the disputed matters.

He insisted that they refrain from judging each other, trusting that whatever was on the table – field of concern – was left for God.

And he actually urged them to maintain their respective convictions, honoring those who had differing ones –  as long as they were sincerely seeking to move toward Jesus.” – Ken Wilson, *

Over the last few decades, I’ve seen controversial issues come not only to my personal, family- life – but into churches – into our community at Reservoir as well….And I’ve seen the value of this Third Way play out. Taking the lead from Paul – and Jesus – it seems we need to err on the side of inclusion –  to refrain from judgement – we need to keep people at the table, even in controversial – disputable matters.


The Third Way supports community!  Because it doesn’t suggest that we ignore  difference … it doesn’t just make a way for those of us who may land on different sides of a disputable matter to hang out in our separate silos and never cross paths..  It actually requires us to enact Jesus’ ministry at it’s purest/most simple form.  To invite people – As was true of the first disciples – to share their stories, to share bread with them – and encourage one another …  WITH a posture of goodwill and understanding….



I realized with my BROTHER, that I was mostly afraid.  Afraid that conflict would blow us up – that I wouldn’t be able to look at him the same way again – Afraid that he would think Scott and I were some sort of false followers of Jesus.

And I couldn’t think of how to sit face to face with him – without this SUBJECT matter (which I clearly thought was JESUS and ME) being discussed, actively.  And that we would have to come to the same understanding of what “salvation” and “sin” and “ Jesus” were – before we could truly love each other.


I’ve realized though that the third way doesn’t mean that we have a goal of coming out of a disputable matter  BEING ON THE SAME PAGE… I think the pressure to say we have to get to some sort of “agreement” works against really understanding one another.  But when we, as people that disagree with each other come together with a goal of gaining a BETTER understanding of why the other believes what they do – good things come from that and are infused into the fabric of our families and faith communities.


THIS doesn’t come without tension though – because oh, there will be tension.

This is why – I think the kindness of our community – is actually in direct representation of our ability to hold each other’s differences well…  because it forces us, in the tension to rely and to trust in the God who speaks and guides.  And this releases the pressure on us to be right.  And shifts the work to God – where his specialty is to be all powerful and all loving.


My brother and I did not avoid the controversy – but I do think we were both faithful to God through the controversy.  There’s ways even today – that I think he probably was wrong in his choice… and I’m sure there’s ways that he would still make that same choice today, and extend NO MORAL APPROVAL for us getting married when we did ….    BUT i’m helped by remembering that ….

The gospel – this good news of Jesus –  transcends moral approval as the basis for acceptance, belonging, or unity in the Spirit.

As a follower of Jesus – I can see that I am not called to give, demand or receive moral approval from anther.


ANd this is really helpful when I’m sitting at the table with my brother.


We don’t need to seek this approval – because we are all IN  Christ – and an undivided CHRIST – who already has received the approval of GOD.


Further along in Corinthians, chapter 3,  Paul circles back to the scripture we just read and he says to us:

“ Do you not know that you yourselves are God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  Everything is already yours, as a gift – whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all of it is yours,  and you belong, already –  so don’t divide Jesus in an effort to gain that – rest in the belief that you belong – because you are in union with Christ, who is in union with God. “


And this is what matters, my friends. This is the gift of community at REservoir that you do belong. Already. From the moment you walk in the door – because the table is big enough.  God infact is big enough.


Do I BELONG anymore?  THis is what bubbled up for me –  in this situation with my brother?  AM I still accepted – seen in the same way?  My brother’s decision and his biblical backing –  suggested to me – that I really didn’t belong.. .   AND I Could run with that belief – pretty quickly, and start building up walls to protect myself from that perceived ejection.    I could have started “writing messages on Facebook or Twitter”, that tells him how WRONG his conscience and theology is. That berates him and judges him for his perceived lack of understanding and breadth of the Scriptures.


But instead, we choose – to sit face to face.  And a lot of those questions fell to the sides as I saw the face of Jesus in my brother.


Invite. Engage. Be curious of one another.  This seems to be the way in practicality that we stay in community with one another.


2 John 1:12

12 I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.


FACE TO FACE – gah, could it be true that Jesus’ model of ministry and community – was by being in quality relationships…. Yes quality relationship between unlikely people – and meeting them face to face around a table?

Jesus’ time on earth shows us that he is  not afraid to drink and eat!  Scholars say that Jesus ate his way through the gospels with these “unlikely people”.  Luke’s account in particular either shows Jesus going to  a table, at a table, or coming from a table.’ So much so that his enemies accuse him of being ‘a glutton and a drunkard’ .


It’s in Jesus’ table ministry – that I think we truly learn how to feed one another  – and be fed – and that maybe disputable matters are always a course to digest  – even where we aren’t accustomed to the taste – in the ones we least expect to learn from…..…


I read something recently that said “Jesus shows us the reality that the pages of the story of Him are filled with [face to face moments] -quiet conversations, with walks in the field, with hands upon weary shoulders, with loving meals around the table.  That there were wounds mended, feet that were washed, bread that was broken. And that these moments were as real and powerful and life altering as any tearful worship service prayer. HE absolutely preached on the hillsides and in the towns and in the synagogues – but if that was all he did – we’d have a far shorter New Testament” (Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 99-100).  He seemed to have as much reverence for the table as he did the tabernacle”.


Jesus cares about us continuing to meet face to face.  Because he cares about us getting the best picture of him possible.

If I demand that someone else think, prefer – interpret or view God in the

particular way that I do- then I splice Jesus – I chop God into tiny pieces that I stamp with my particular brand.  AND this move denies the fundamental belief that God was and is a God of the whole world – (not just the world as I see it.)


It takes conscious effort and energy – to build in the trust that the seats at each other’s tables arent’ conditional – aren’t based on agreement, but extended in love.  And this is an ongoing work – because we change – our lives and circumstances may suggest different ways of thinking about God – and we have to take the table seriously – so no one is fearful that the chair will be pulled out from under them – as life presents itself.


TURNS out that this does actually hinge on  WHAT I BELIEVE about JESUS. … that Jesus sets a big enough table for all of us – ….for the ones that hurt us, the ones who we are convinced are wrong, the ones who may believe that we get Jesus “wrong” ….and trust that the centerpiece of that table is this big – unfractured Jesus.  ANd that HE”ll do the great work of making that picture of himself be clear to the people at the table.


THe one who calls people to himself, the one who doesn’t demand that we have the right answer –  about anything – EVEN HIM. But the one who shows us again and again that the CENTER OF CHRISTIAN FAITH is not necessarily a book – but A TABLE.



As we embrace these big tables.  May you ENACT COURAGE. AND you pull up your chair.


Courage to sit with those we passionately disagree with.

Courage to lean in with a posture of understanding.

Courage to listen and resist the urge to persuade!

It is indeed a heroic effort of vulnerability –  I’ve had to sit next to my brother who thinks that my marriage was not acknowledged in the eyes of God – and only with this third way approach – can I gleefully – hold and snuggle his babies – and actively care about his life and his health – and his goals and his overall purpose in God’s kingdom!


It is vulnerable to welcome – and make space for belonging over exclusion.


But I realize that I don’t want to shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.  I want to continue to meet face to face with whoever it might be… and rest solidly that the person I might be in controversy with – is still sitting at the mighty, big table of Jesus with me! So that when I meet God face to face some day – our first conversation isn’t about why I kept so many people from the Kingdom of Heaven. (Dave Schmelzer p. 94).



We are a community here – at REservoir – who enjoys being together.  (if this Church survey is correct!) Who values this picture of community – a beautiful, motley crew – with wildly different backgrounds and cultures and perspectives and OPINIONS.   AND we very much use Jesus’ model this OPEN TABLE invitation ….as the framework, if any of community.


Where people – make it a priority – to gather around tables every week.   Where the commonality is not a shared set of perspectives or positions, or a shared conscience … the commonality is that EQUAL WELCOME is FOUND, and BELONGING without contingencies – is apparent.


The 12 disciples experienced something that was so compelling about Jesus – that they would leave their nets and sit around a table together  – but still hold on to all their differences – IN THIS I think they were able to see each other fully – face-to-face and in turn see the FULL face of Jesus.

This is the great gift of community.

So I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.

May Jesus, himself, be the unifying force, that bridges division and makes way for difference in our lives.

Tip for Whole Life Flourishing

If you find yourself in the tension of differing viewpoints, this week -(MAYBE AROUND THE tHANKSGIVING TABLE) – ask Jesus to help you release the agenda to persuade and embrace the posture of listening and understanding.

Spiritual Practice of the Week:

Reach out to one of the people you named in the question of the day. If you can, reach out in a way that allows for face-to-face connection and invite that person to your table.

This text is the preacher’s prepared text, and is not an exact transcript. Please forgive minor discrepancies that may exist with the recording.

Balm for the Soul: Your Spiritual Practices

Last week we started this mini- four-week series, called Your Faith Journey at Reservoir, which I’m really excited about!  Because Pastor Steve and I get to offer some insights—some things about Reservoir—we cherish and think you might too!  And whether you feel new, or stuck, disinterested, or like a wise old traveler along this faith journey, we think these thoughts will be helpful in the expanse in all of your life—far beyond even this community at Reservoir.

The hope is to highlight today how Reservoir can provide options for you to experience our good God that is at the center of all of our lives, and put on display a little bit how you are not only welcomed by Jesus, but actively invited again and again into a life that He hopes for you—a life that would feel abundant, flourishing and whole, and totally do-able.

[Community moment here]

Today we’ll talk a bit about what these good invitations from God look like, and how finding ways to intentionally practice opening these invitations—to experience, trust and know the love of God as an anchor deep within ourselves—can be very impactful.  I’m going to talk about “spiritual practices”—these many, many personal pathways that I feel like God outlays for us in our lives—and how so many have been built in to the deep well of Christian traditions—the Bible, prayer, fasting—and  also how so many of these practices can be found in the non-traditional pathways that are present in our lives at every turn—all of them holding the distinct promise that you will experience God’s love as you become more aware and bold to accept these invitations.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;

   his mercies never come to an end;

23they are new every morning;

   great is your faithfulness.

God your mercies are new every morning”.

My Story:

This phrase, this language of “spiritual practice” seemed to greet me  long before I could utter my own language with much clarity.  

And I realized this, as I’ve mentioned before, through a year-long transformational listening class that we did as a staff facilitated by a spiritual director.  As part of that class every person was to form and share their spiritual autobiography.

This is a spiritual practice of looking at the story of God’s interaction in your life—It’s your own spiritual story line.

I succeeded at punting my time of sharing for the full 9 months of the class.

I like to use the excuse that I’m an “internal processor”, but 9 months is a bit of a stretch to say, “I’m still processing”, so the greater part honestly is sheer procrastination, which is also a really great skill of mine.

But each time that we would meet—listening to others share their own spiritual autobiographies—I realized HOW HARD it was to look back and delineate what in my life was a “spiritual moment/where God was interacting”, and which of them weren’t. SO MUCH as I look back over my life now feels like God was always interacting in some capacity.

So as a result, as I listened to people share, I would be simultaneously writing my own spiritual autobiography in my mind. And each time it was very different, because so many different memories would pop up, along my life spectrum, as being infused with God.

However, one memory that didn’t shift in each iteration of my spiritual story line was this memory, again, long before I had robust vocabulary, and certainly long before any spiritual language—and it was this memory of swinging on a swing in my front yard.

And it stands out as oddly not just a singular memory, but kind of the sense that this was a repeated moment in my childhood—that I did this a lot: a stockpile of similar memories, all in that one picture.

We were poor enough that I didn’t have a functioning swing set, but innovative enough that my grandfather had built this simple post-and-beam frame with a rope hanging down and a wooden seat with notches on the end.  

My memory is likely around 3-4 yrs of age—swinging freely and blissfully and alone on this swing—singing the refrain of a well known childhood, actually pretty church-y song: “Jesus loves me – this I know”.

And while there are more words to that song, I would only sing this refrain over and over again: ”Jesus loves me – this I know…”  ”Jesus loves me – this I know…” ”Jesus loves me – this I know…”

As I look back over my life now, this could have been my first spiritual practice— swinging and singing. But I realized that it has become more than that—I realized that it is the unmovable anchor and root of any spiritual practice that I have engaged with over my whole life.  That these pathways—these spiritual practices—however varied they might be for each of us, will lead us into this very same refrain: “Jesus loves me this I know”.

And this is the compelling act of a spiritual practice:  To discover afresh again and again—as an anchor in our day—in our busy rhythms the piercing love of God for us – in the midst.

This taste of Jesus’ love for me is what has afforded me the most healthy spiritual growth in my life, and has allowed me to incorporate spiritual practices into my days—not as a duty or performance or striving for spiritual greatness, but as a deep soul elixir that softens my posture to one of more humility, perspective and grace.  

And this is super helpful because my spiritual journey is a quest—a hard fought quest—where actually not all of it has felt like swinging blissfully on a swing. Because we all live here on earth, in this nation, in the midst of all the realities of life—the real tugs, the real people that hate, the real sicknesses that rob life, the real disappointments. We need practice!  It absolutely takes practice to keep Jesus’ love in sight given our landscapes. And we need our great teacher, Jesus, to help us do this!

I read recently in a book by friends Ken Wilson & Emily Swann – “that all of us are theologians to the extent that we seek to be students of God”.

And so today I invite you all to practice being students of God—to consider yourselves both life-long learners (with humilty) in the great subject matter of “love”, “and grace” and “trust”, and also to consider yourselves great theologians—that through spiritual practices you will gain a knowing, a knowledge, that goes beyond understanding, that sets up deep in your soul—the greatest knowledge that there might be, that you are an expert in knowing that you are without fail deeply loved by God.

And may the spiritual  practices that we explore today, that are  innovative, alternative and also traditional, be ones that transform you and keep you close to this Jesus that you practice to know.

Our hearts, it seems, need the balm that spiritual practices can offer us—to soothe, to heal, to keep our hearts from shattering into a million pieces, and also to be able to function in the way our hearts were made to be—to pump empathy and compassion and gentleness into the spaces  and people around us.

That’s a lot, by the way.  Can a spiritual practices actually aid in all of that? It seems slightly overwhelming. And it makes me stiffen a little bit internally.

But spiritual practices in all their glory – actually do make way for God to do all those things! And this allows me to relax a little bit by bringing some perspective into my life that helps me see a broader scope of life against my very human tendency to narrow the scope of life when I’m fumbling and feeling overwhelmed.

I’ve seen this perspective-shift play out in my marriage. Scott and I have been married for 17 years, and our conflicts are often about the most narrow/tiny aspects of our lives. Where the landscape though feels ripe for perspective-losing. One long-standing conflict is around how we park our cars in the drive-way: We have small, narrow driveway. I park head-in first, and then Scott will park behind me because he leaves first in the morning. Often, often, often – I do not pull my car all the way into the driveway, which means he can’t pull in behind me (and in our town you can’t park your car on the street overnight).

And this whole scenario is entirely frustrating to Scott, mostly because he sees life as this great opportunity for all of us to make logical choices… and the logical option as he sees it – is that I would just pull my car all the way into the driveway every single time I come home.

For me, it’s an entirely logical and sensible and smart choice, and actually the only clear way-to-pull-my-car-into-the-driveway choice.  Because I pull my car in so that my car door lines up perfectly with the tiny walkway that cuts across our lawn, which is the most efficient route to our front door. Which makes a ton of logical sense because I am often carrying a crap-ton of stuff:  groceries, a work bag or two, a swim bag, a kids backpack. It used to be that I would be carrying a kid or two, a car seat. And so the quickest route to the door ensured that my body would endure the least amount of pain and load.

Over the years, you might be able to see how we’ve stayed in a fairly contentious – pattern around this!

And our different contexts and terms by which we define “logical” set us up for no common intersectionality and no ability to see or hear one another fully.   This built-up/fraught energy  is often the energy that Scott will walk into the house with on any given evening when I’ve chosen/forgotten to not move the car in.  He’s immediately frustrated, feels forgotten, and that his values for logical-ness are overlooked.

The core of this on-going disagreement is, yes, not seeing eye to eye, yes, defining “logical” on very different terms, but also losing perspective/sight of each other’s hearts—that they were made and designed to pump with empathy, compassion and gentleness, which might be the impasse of every dispute that we witness across our familial and national lines.

Very quickly, when I’ve lost sight of Scott’s heart I can take his words like an arrow,  and no longer are we talking about the driveway, but talking about my worth as a human being:  I’m stupid, that the roles that I play and duties I do are of less value, that you don’t care about my aching body, that he doesn’t actually care about me and my heart.  

And likewise, I can stand there and appear to be listening to his reasons for why this aggravates him, but be internally rolling my eyes, and very quickly in the midst of it detach from reality,  lose perspective and see Scott as my rival and maybe to imagine him as a paper version of himself – that I get to take and crumple into a tiny ball and chuck across the room.  For instance.

How we live in our hearts is our real and deepest truth.  Spiritual practices help us get to our hearts and to practice vulnerability and intimacy with Jesus, so that we can do and extend the same with others.


As so I began thinking—who have I encountered that can offer a different picture than this?  Who maybe is calm and level-headed and in touch with reality? And I thought of someone who perhaps many of us have encountered, who shows us such a great picture of the impact of  spiritual practice in their life.

So I’d love to show you a clip of “Fred Rogers Documentary”, who was indeed a priest of our times.



“Everything that Fred Rogers did was a prelude to – or an outcome of – spiritual practice”.

The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers by Amy Hollingsworth

Viewing Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood was a spiritual practice in and of itself for so many. His consistent, kind presence, the neighborhood that he created, provided a safe familiarity where viewers could feel close to something good, and that that something good would always be there when they turned on their TV each day.

And all of this—his quirky, hypnotic, very slow speaking-cadence, the bare-bones production set, the inauspicious approach to child entertainment—was cultivated out of Fred Rogers’s own spiritual life .


Excerpts below taken from, “The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers” by Amy Hollingsworth

Fred Rogers’ real life included a sense of ceremony.  His daily practices were deeply ingrained into his rhythm of life—he woke at 5am to slow down, take time and appreciate silence—to engage in prayer.

Each morning he prayed for his family, his friends by name, and to remember those that had passed on.

His prayers wouldn’t end there – but continued into his 7:30am daily swim, where before diving into the pool, he would sing out loud “Jubilate Deo” (you-bee-latte    day-0) (a song Henri Nouwen had taught him from the Taize (TAY – ZAY) community in France. “Jubilate Deo, jubilate Deo, alleluia (“rejoice in the lord, rejoice in the lord – allelulia”).    

As he walked into his workday he would pray,  “Dear God, let some word that is heard today, be Yours”, and not just the spoken words that would be televised, but the numerous decisions that he had to make daily.  This is his biggest concern, that someone would encounter God via his words. Perspective! All others concerns paled in comparison!

I watched countless footage of Mr. Rogers these past couple of days—I watched, I think every commencement speech he’s ever given and also his “Lifetime Emmy Award” speech, and in those videos he would invite entire graduating classes—like BU—and all of the celebrities at the Emmy’s to engage in a spiritual practice as well – he would pose a question, that got them thinking of their own life  – the people in it – give them space and silence to reflect and give thanks – and just like that he gave people the gift of perspectivethe gift to relax for a moment and feel a sense of connection beyond themselves—to feel and encounter the warmth of love as they knew it: The very heart of spiritual practice.

Indeed his life of spiritual practice seemed to cultivate a flow of love from his internal space to the external world and usher in the perspective that the “greatest thing you can do is to help somebody know that they are loved and capable of loving”.  These habitual practices allowed him an internal anchoring in his days –  that allowed him to essentially pour out and lay down his life for so many.

John, in his first epistle invites us all to consider this very same lifestyle – with his words (as on your program):

I John 3: 16 – 18 (NRSV)
We know love by this, that Jesus laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.


Lay down your life for another?
What are the world’s goods?
What’s truth versus word or speech?

There’s a lot in there!


Let me see if I can’t flush this out a bit as I follow up on the story of me and Scott and the parking situation.

A little while ago before I’d fall asleep at night, I started a spiritual practice—not just because of this parking stuff, but maybe an internal tenor of distance that I was  realizing in my heart about our marriage. Each night I started putting my hand on Scott’s shoulder as he slept and saying a short prayer, “God thank you for this person, and thank you for my love for him and your  love for him and the love that resides within him”.

It was a spiritual practice, because it was not the case that every night at the end of a long day I would bound to bed, overwhelmed with radiant, sparkly love for this guy – ehm – it was a spiritual practice because it didn’t always feel natural.

It wasn’t a practice generated by  feelingsit was a practice of intention. I had to remind myself to do it as a habit, and it turns out that Scott was just the focal point of my practice but the practice was really essential for my soul. And how gracious I would find that Jesus is to give our souls just what we need. It proved to be a re-centering.  A prayer that took me back to my own knowing of Jesus and me on the swing: “Jesus loves me this I know”.  A practice that reminded me I didn’t need to defend or fight for or throw up barbs around my value or my uniqueness or more forgetfulness or my mistakes, that Jesus loved me and could be trusted right in the midst. And a practice that helped me not forget grace.  Because without grace I would not experience any life-giving part of relationship in my marriage or elsewhere.

And this helped me live more out of a sense of life and freedom – rather than death. Out of this simple, spiritual practice we now talk across our household with this new language of what it looks like and feels like to be “FOR” each other: to remind each other again and again that we are on the same team.

This is a heroic heart change—and that is the power of a spiritual practice, that it can change and transform your heart at a cellular level. And if we are inclined to talk about spiritual growth – that’s where growth lies! Because the habit of going to God as your anchor each day re-centers you, draws you out of all the real tugs that can vie for your attention, and it ushers in a sensitivity, a generosity of heart that can’t be explained. It stretches and implores you to move with compassion and empathy – even in the midst of disagreements —to lead with love,

So much so that you would as John suggests, “lay down your life for each other”, 

So much so, that you would sacrifice your own very “logical” explanation of parking in the driveway the way you do”,

So much so, that you would sacrifice “having to be right”,

So much so that you would sacrifice your ANGER and frustration,

…and lay it down for a moment to see that Jesus too sings with and loves the person on the other side of your dispute.

And this is the mystical work of Jesus who transforms a way of living out of death into living whole-heartedly with abundance and flourishing.

And this is deep balm to our souls.

The world’s goodsas John speaks of in the verses we just read—I believe are practical resources we have that we should share, like food, clothing, shelter- practical help like Claire mentioned last week – of seeing someone on the side of the road……   and I also believe they are the unseen goods  – the Jesus’ goods that lay about in our world too…  the compassion, the empathy, the softness , the love – that are the gems – the treasures – embedded in the fabric of our world – because they are IN US.   THAT we are implored to share – to our brothers and sisters -as we unearth them through spiritual practices.


I absolutely ….still …only remember to pull into all of the driveway FULLY, about a ⅓ or so of the time…..


So perhaps spiritual practices aren’t  necessarily designed to make sure we get more things right in life … or that our behavior would become perfection…


BUT Maybe spiritual practices allow us to stand in the midst of all that we get wrong in life – the ways that we hurt each other sometimes – and  become as Fred Roger’s says, “the person that is so apparently in touch with truth, that you just want to continually be in their presence.”  


I want to be this person.  

and I want to be so in touch with truth… the truth of who I am – and the truth of God’s love – that it attracts people…..

I want Scott to WANT to be in my presence…

I want my kids to WANT to be in my presence…

I want my friends, and strangers and my enemies to WANT to be in my presence…. Because the presence of GOD is so apparent…..and so very, very good.

This truth that John advises us to love with – is worth a couple of seconds, I think… because the access to “Truth” is often framed in prescriptive ways – and can become de-personalized pretty quickly…


My childhood song, “Jesus loves me – this I know”—if I were to fill out the rest of that verse—prescribes a very distinct way to KNOW this love of Jesus, and that is through studying the Bible: “Jesus loves me, this I know – for the Bible tells me so”…

Now, let me also say this—absolutely this is correct. If you read the Bible you can read of the distinct love that God has for you without a doubt:

  • John 3:16 “For God so loved you – that He gave you His only son”…
  • John 13  “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other.  Just as I have loved you, “
  • Zephaniah “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love,”
  • 1 John 3:1 “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”
  • Song of Songs 2:4 “His banner over me is love.”
  • Psalm 119:64  The earth is filled with your love, O Lord…”  

And my goodness, I have spent a great amount of time memorizing and studying and reading commentary of scripture as a spiritual practice, and it has been super meaningful and powerful and a way to encounter truth.

I spent 2 years praying the Psalms every morning—I’d pray through 5 at a time (it’s a great spiritual practice, give it a shot!) and it still even now gives me life.

And yet “Truth” can quickly become a way of saying “there’s really only one way to truth”. But if we, as my author friends Emily and Ken suggest, see truth as Jesus sees it—in personal terms, as a personal embodiment of Truth—truth is a “someone” rather than a “something”.

“And when we can see Truth as a someone – then the aim to encounter truth and the aim of all spiritual practices is involvement with a living, personal Jesus.   Truth coming to us in the form of a person, requires all our personal capacities to embrace:  our senses, minds, hearts and bodies. That means we can feel with Truth as much as we can think with Truth”. P. 74, Solus Jesus

And what a blessing it is to know that our spiritual practices can indeed lead to God in a multitude of ways, including Scripture.

This Fall I have taken on the spiritual practice of stopping and pulling over to capture in my heart the glory of God in these turning leaves.  This is huge for me—because I might be the only person on earth that doesn’t like New England Fall. I feel like the beauty of the leaves is only death in disguise. And I don’t like fake representations, so Fall is often a struggle….

But this Fall I’ve stopped on commutes and adored and let the glow of these radiant colors reflect on my face. And often I feel just simply a sense of peace and awe, an internal anchoring: Perspective and hope for my day. And also sometimes Scripture will come to mind, as I’m intentionally making that space with GOD, and it will be so piercingly on point for what I encounter or am feeling that day.

And so I’m thankful for the ways that a personal Jesus and these personal spiritual practices allow us to have space to be who we are, to make space for what are schedules are, and space for where we are with Him on our faith journeys.  That feels like the only way to get the nourishment/the right amount of balm for our souls.

God’s love is vast and deep and wide. His love stretches our hearts to this great capacity, and it compels us to try more ways and more spiritual practices that help us enter into all those dimensions of His love!

Following Jesus is our ongoing choice—to accept invitations, to consider that our lives take some practice and a lifestyle choice, to intentionally spend our time, money and energy toward these practices that will open your life to the abundance of goodness that God has for you”. But can I encourage you today to see that our spiritual practices are actually crucial and essential and always timely, that it is in some ways urgent for the heartbeat and health of our world that we practice sitting in love, being love and extending love.

Congressman, John Lewis asked a “what if” question as a tool for social alchemy: what if the beloved community were already a reality, the true reality, and we simply have to embody it until everyone else can see it?

What if we could lay down our lives for those near us – what if we could harness the love that is within us – and find that in the trees, in the touch , in the scripture and in the words of a friend or stranger –  world around us?

What if spiritual practices set us up well to help the struggle of humankind?

John Lewis says – we need to do this – and it WILL Take practice – that it’s not something that is natural.. He said we have to be taught the way of peace, the way of love, the way of nonviolence.

Because we are wired to give up  on one another, says John Lewis.

So he says, in the spiritual sense, in the moral sense, we have to be able to practice saying “that in the bosom of every human being, there is a spark of the divine.  This is why we practice – to see and to say…. “Yes,, you too – are made of love”.

Chapter 4: 19

19 We love because he first loved us.

The simple statement that John makes at the end of the scripture on your program – is one that is not simple at all , because it is stocked high with intentionality, habit and practice – to trust that indeed he does love us… .

Mr. Rogers would say to his TV viewers over and over again – without fail, every episode –  “you are special”, “I am so proud of you”, “I like you just the way you are…. It’s you, yourself, it’s you – I like.”  

We gain in our practices of being with God….  a deep belief that “Jesus loves me – this I know…”, not only that he LOVES me, but that he “likes me, just the way I am”.. That he finds me special, that God is proud of me – and that I have value…    These things I know – .. because I have experienced and practiced trusting the truth and the love of Jesus…

Here at Reservoir we  hope to set the stage for you to take DELIGHT in the abundant life – that you craft with Jesus .   We will give you some opportunities to TRY and engage with that –  but most of all we hope to clear away any impediments to receiving, allowing, trusting and participating in that foundational love.

This week though take some time to reflect – to orient toward God.  Start with:

Whole life reflection prompt:

Take time this week to reflect on the words, “grace”, “trust” and “love”.  As you consider your relationship with Jesus, how do these words resonate? How have you experienced these words with Jesus?  How have you not? When you engage with others, which of these words are easier for you to embody? As you try the below spiritual practice, try each of these words as you sit in the presence of God.

Spiritual Practice:

Light a candle to represent the presence of God’s Holy Spirit. Sit in silence for a few minutes. As best you can, release any thoughts and distractions. Take several deep breaths in and out. Slowly breathe in, meditating on this belief from God to you, “I love you”.  Slowly breathe out, meditating on the phrase “..and I love you”, as a belief from yourself to God – or yourself to others. Sit in silence for several minutes.

Try 2 minutes to start.

“Love is at the root of everything – all learning, all relationships – Consider yourself to be invited to be God’s favorite student and favorite expert as you discover that love together”.


Saying Yes More

Well, I’d like to tell you about an invitation I got this year that started with my own road trip. In my case, it wasn’t anything particularly adventurous. It was more that near the end of this summer, our family found ourselves stuck in the car more than normal — all five of us driving around Massachusetts on various errands and little trips. And you know if you have kids or if you were a kid, the end of the summer is the cranky time, when your family’s seen too much of each other to be spending all this time driving around. And if you know our family in particular, you’ll know we have two teenagers and one pre-teen, and two kind of stubborn, opinionated grownups too, so that’s a lot to keep stuck in a car together, and the end of the summer, and not get on each other’s nerves.

But my wife Grace had another one of her brilliant plans that I didn’t buy at first. Her awesome parenting hack to keep our kids peaceful and engage them with some useful life skills was this. To play them these audio-recordings of long lectures by an academic researcher. That’ll do it. That was her plan. Now, it wasn’t just any academic researcher. These were lectures by Brené Brown – she’s a great storyteller, her talks are really popular. But still, lectures.

Anyway, Grace starts to play them. And turns out, of course, she’s absolutely right. Brilliant. These lectures are riveting. To everybody. Ride after ride, this or that kid asks us to turn them back on. We start hearing our kids pepper their conversations with comments about vulnerability and shame and courage. Brené says this or that. Wow – go, Momma – I did not see this coming.

So this lecture series we were listening to is called Rising Strong as a Spiritual Practice. And Brené is talking a lot about the qualities that help people live wholeheartedly.

We use other verbs for this around Reservoir. Our vision statement is that as many people as possible in Cambridge and Greater Boston and beyond would connect with Jesus and with our community and thrive as a result. Thriving is one of the key words there — a life that’s full of life, deeper, truer, richer. I usually use a different word for this — so much so I’ve been teased for it  I like the verb from the natural world flourishing. We had a whole series on this word a couple summers ago — this desire that our lives will grow and prosper regardless of our circumstances, that we’ll choose into deep vulnerability and at the same time deep agency that help us blossom into our best self for the world – a self of joy and love, purpose and power and peace.

Well, I think Brene Brown’s word for thriving or flourishing is “wholehearted” — this internally free and robust approach to life.

So Brené’s talking about the different qualities of wholehearted people, according to her research. And she’s telling stories, and kind of sideways inviting us all into more wholehearted living, and she says this line that stops me in my tracks.

You know that experience where you hear something or you read something and it’s like it’s spoken exactly to you, in this exact moment. It was like that. We’re driving home from some too-long errand, all five of us, using Brené Brown’s so-deep words to keep us from arguing, and she has this segment and when it ends, I pause the recording while I’m driving. And everyone’s like — come on, Dad, we want to hear more of the lectures. And I’m like — whoa, I need a break, because that was so deep it’s blowing my mind. Can we pause for a bit?

She’s been talking about forgiveness as one of the qualities of wholehearted people, how it’s hard to be resilient and grateful and calm and all these other good things when we’re gripped by our pain, or when that pain settles into resentment or bitterness. And she says, here’s the hard thing she’s learned about forgiveness, why we practically never really do it, or why we do it in a fake, shallow, moralistic way that doesn’t bring us freedom. She says she’s learned that forgiveness always involves death – it involves accepting that a person said or did this awful thing that can’t be taken back, and we can’t get back the innocence or intimacy or whatever we had before it happened. We can get some other form of it in the future, but not quite that. The bad thing happened. There was a loss, a death of something. And so part of forgiveness is grieving, naming and feeling the pain of that loss, before we can really let it go. And we hate pain, we hate to grieve, because it hurts. So it’s hard to forgive.

Bam, this hit me. Because I entered 2018 in a lot of unexpected pain from some wounds in my past, and when I told a friend of mine about that pain, and how I thought I was better, so I didn’t know why I felt all this stuff, he told me, Steve, you’ve put a good life together, and that’s a form of healing, but I’m not sure you were ever able to stop and grieve your loss. And when we don’t grieve, we can’t leave things behind. We can’t be free.

So that set me into some grieving, and near the end of the summer, there was somewhere I was still stuck in all this, and I had a sense there was another particular loss I had to let go of, some other stuff I might need to grieve, and then here comes this stranger through the speakers of my car, naming it as clear as day. I’d actually heard this line from Brené Brown before — maybe I’ve even taught it here when I’ve taught about forgiveness, but this time, it’s like Brené’s got her hand on my shoulder, looking right into my eyes, saying Steve, there’s freedom and wholeheartedness ahead of you. There’s thriving and flourishing, but there’s this loss you’ve got let go of, and that’s going to take a bit of grief.

Boom, so hard, and so good. Now I don’t know if this sounds abstract to you because it’s inner work I’m describing, but it’s been concrete and powerful for me. This one moment the lecture at the end of the summer has given me a road map for my spiritual life and inner work this fall.

It’s been my version of this thing Claire was describing, of life handing me this invitation to life — to deeper, better, richer, more — and I get to notice it or not, wave it off and forget about it, or take this invitation by the hand, and say yes, and see where it takes me.

The notion I want to explore in today’s talk is that this is a thing for all of us – that life can be this dynamic journey, that life gives us these invitations, these opportunities to get unstuck and move forward into more life. If we’re people of faith, we might even consider these invitations as coming from who or what we call God, the center of life, inviting us closer to God and into thriving or flourishing or wholeheartedness, into more and better life.

And our role is to notice these invitations or not, to see if we can put ourselves in the position to see these invitations, and to say yes when they come.

Like Claire, I call these invitations from Jesus, because my faith is that Jesus is the clearest picture of God I can see or know in this life. And because — as we’ll see today — I think this is Jesus’ way – a compulsive invitation-sender, always looking for ways to invite us into greater, fuller, more abundant life.

Today is the first of a four-week series, Your Faith Journey at Reservoir, where Pastor Ivy and I will offer, or re-offer, some of our very best insights on an abundant, healthy faith journey, starting with today’s Saying Yes More.

Let’s take a look at a teaching of Jesus that’s been important to us over the years.

Luke 14:15-24 (CEB)

15 When one of the dinner guests heard Jesus’ remarks, he said to Jesus, “Happy are those who will feast in God’s kingdom.”

16 Jesus replied, “A certain man hosted a large dinner and invited many people. 17  When it was time for the dinner to begin, he sent his servant to tell the invited guests, ‘Come! The dinner is now ready.’ 18 One by one, they all began to make excuses. The first one told him, ‘I bought a farm and must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ 19 Another said, ‘I bought five teams of oxen, and I’m going to check on them. Please excuse me.’ 20 Another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ 21  When he returned, the servant reported these excuses to his master. The master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go quickly to the city’s streets, the busy ones and the side streets, and bring the poor, crippled, blind, and lame.’ 22 The servant said, ‘Master, your instructions have been followed and there is still room.’ 23 The master said to the servant, ‘Go to the highways and back alleys and urge people to come in so that my house will be filled. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will taste my dinner.’”

So earlier in the chapter, it seemed like Jesus was teaching about how to behave at parties, or maybe how to throw parties, which is sort of not surprising, because when you read the Jesus stories in the Bible, you notice that Jesus is always at a meal or a party and often talking about meals and parties too. This was one of the sources of criticism he faced from some people, who said he ate and drank with sinners, as if that was a bad thing.

For whatever reason, though, while Jesus is at this party, and talking about how to act at parties, a guy stands up and gives this toast — Happy are those will feast in God’s kingdom. He thinks there’s this place called God’s kingdom off in the future sometime, he likely has some assumptions about who will or won’t be there, and he’s looking forward to it.

Jesus maybe shares some of his assumptions, not all of them, though, so he sticks with this party theme and takes it somewhere unexpected. This is a thing in Luke’s gospel in particular — Luke has Jesus emphasizing that what God is doing, and especially where and with whom God is doing it, is unexpected. And sometimes Jesus gets at this through these little stories he tells called parables. Parables are not allegories – where every character and action represents some timeless truth about God and us. They’re both simpler and more complicated than that. Parables are short, ordinary stories where something extraordinary happens. They’re meant to provoke us, to lodge in our imaginations and hang on, and teach us something unexpected about ourselves or our world or our God.

And in this parable Jesus tells, we’ve got an ordinary situation — some rich guy throws a large dinner party — maybe a wedding feast, maybe a birthday or anniversary party. But his family and friends make these lame excuses and don’t show up, and our host turns really angry. I’ve got to check out my land. I’ve got to break in those new oxen of mine. I’ve got to stay home with my spouse. Come on, people!

So our host channels his anger into a new plan – a whole new set of guests off the streets. People no one had thought to invite in the first place. People whose lives aren’t so full of new purchases. People who’ve got some time on their hands. People who won’t make excuses but would love to be at this dinner party.

This story reminds me of the most important metaphor we’ve used at Reservoir to talk about how we practice community and how we practice faith. We’ve called this centered-set faith.

The center of our faith is Jesus. At Reservoir, we welcome people of any religious background or no background at all, but we’re anchored in a tradition that says that in the teaching and life and especially in the co-suffering, sacrificial, compassionate love of Jesus, we get the clearest possible picture of the one God that is behind and at the center of all that there is and all that there ever will be. That faith is also that Jesus has risen after death and is knowable now through the Spirit of God as well.

And centered set faith says that Jesus at the center is kind of like the party host in the story — eager to invite people to good things — to more and better and deeper, and also not particularly discerning about who gets to be at the table. The more, the merrier — everybody turns out to be welcome.

You’ll notice from the picture we’ve drawn, and from Jesus’ story, that what doesn’t matter at all is how far or near you are from Jesus, whether you’re supposedly “in” or “out”. Instead, it matters whether you’re moving forward toward Jesus or not. Like in Jesus’ story, presumably a lot of people on the guest list who didn’t feel like coming to the party were friends and family. But at least in this instance, they didn’t act like friends or family, and they didn’t get the feast either, as Jesus points out at the end.

Instead, these nobodies around the neighborhood gladly come to the feast and they get food, company, honor — anything else the host is offering.

The difference isn’t religious status or any other identity, it’s just whether or not they pay attention to the invitation and whether or not they say yes.

This is why I think it’s so great that in practice, we can find Jesus’ invitations everywhere.

I caught one in a Brené Brown lecture Grace was playing for our kids. And in the wise counsel of a friend who helped me interpret my crazy emotional life last fall. I’m doing some hard inner work this year, but it’s bringing forth new peace and new freedom and new energy.

Claire heard an invitation from Jesus in the unusual circumstances of a trip she took, and the sense that she had found a new way of living to bring home. And she’s learned that now she’s put herself in the position to notice more daily invitations from Jesus, often in the circumstances and people around her.

This weekend I felt this desire to show up with my Jewish friends and neighbors at a couple of local synagogues, and then when I wanted to back out because, you know, weekends, my best friend told me I had to keep saying yes, I had to go. And that was so rich for me, and apparently a gift to my neighbors too, they kept telling me.

You’ll notice that none of these things I’m calling “invitations from Jesus” are audible words we heard or messages written in the clouds. They’re feelings and people and circumstances — the stuff life throws at us. But as followers of Jesus, we look at our lives and wonder, how is God calling to me these days? What is Jesus speaking through my life? Where is the invitation to more life?

And we try to say yes.

A lot of us have found that it’s easier to notice these things when we’re engaged in some kind of regular spiritual practice where we’re trying to connect with God, be shaped by Jesus. So Ivy will talk next week about why we’re so committed here to deepening lives of spiritual practice and formation.

But regardless of how the invitations from Jesus come, Jesus says that our part is to show up and say yes.

I was telling my boys the other week about what it was like for me when dozens of us from Reservoir showed up to a large public meeting for justice the other week, and I got to speak and offer a bit of leadership there. And I told my two boys, I wanted them to know that when they grow up, it’s never too late in life to try new things, to take new risks to try to do good in the world and to try to really be alive. And one of my boys was like: yeah, Dad, that’s obvious. And the other one was like: well, Dad, it’s too bad that grownups usually stop doing this.

Wow, so true. It’s obvious, but a lot of the time grownups stop showing up. We stop saying yes. We settle into what in the high school English classroom, we call the life of a static character — one that is kind of flat, one that doesn’t develop or move or change. The characters we love, though, are the dynamic characters – the ones that move and change and grow.

Jesus calls this dynamic life in God the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God. It’s the biggest topic of his teaching, in the story we’ve read today and in many, many others. In contrast to a kingdom like the Roman Empire, the Kingdom of God isn’t a single place with borders and armies. It’s more like anywhere on earth where things are going God’s way, it’s the spaces where people and maybe all of creation is saying yes to God’s good freedom and life.

As I’ve taught before, some modern scholars have noticed that this kingdom language is kind of archaic and patriarchal — we don’t live in a feudal age anymore. And they’ve suggested that a world like kindom — dropping the “g” and emphasizing the family of God — might capture the spirit of Jesus’ original teaching better. So I’ve taken to writing kingdom with little brackets around the (g) to remind me of both meanings.

I’ve taken a stab at defining this kin(g)dom along these lines – it’s the places and spaces and community where the life of God is flourishing. And Jesus tells us that the role of the living Jesus, the role of our ever-living party host is to keep inviting us forward – to keep inviting us into the places and spaces and community where the life of God is flourishing.

For what it’s worth, this is actually how we understand the purpose of our community at Reservoir — to have a church be a site for the ongoing Jesus dinner party. To have our church be one of many local centers for the kindom, another place and space and community where the life of God is flourishing.

We want to teach and inspire each other to keep looking out for Jesus’ latest invitations to us. We want to remind each other that Jesus is calling us to a dynamic life – to more and better and richer and deeper. We want to even find a few invitations for life and purpose together, things we can do not just on our own but in community. We want to flourish, and be people who help make flourishing possible where we go as well.

As a centered-set faith community, we love whatever connection — however small or big — people want to have to this community. One of our core values is freedom, so make of this place what you want.

But if you like this community, if you feel some life here, we hope that you can consider yourself a co-host and not just a guest here, that you can be one of the people who helps throw the party we’re offering our city. For us, that doesn’t mean signing a faith statement or promising to live by a certain code or anything. Everyone is welcome here, without exception, as a co-owner too, not just a guest or a renter.

We simply ask, we invite you, to make this community your own. So membership at Reservoir is understood on the terms of the passage we read today. A member here is a guest at the party, but also a co-host. A member at Reservoir shows up to the Jesus party — being around the community here, and looking to say yes to invitations from Jesus. A member at Reservoir treats all the guests well — committing to love and respect for others in the community. And a member at Reservoir helps throw the party — giving time and money to the community, and inviting people as you are able.

And if you like this church and haven’t yet done these things, or really said, “This is my church”, all you need to do is tell us that you’re on board. So, our membership forms will be at the info kiosk in the lobby all month. Simply fill one out and drop it in the baskets on Sunday, or give it to any of our staff, scan and email it to one of our pastors, and we’ll welcome you gladly.

So if you’re not a member yet, I’ll mention this again next week, but consider that our first invitation today.

And here’s our last two:

An Invitation to Whole Life Flourishing

Where are you stuck in life, more static than dynamic? Could there be an invitation here from Jesus towards your own movement or your generosity to others?

Spiritual Practice of the Week

Ask Jesus each morning for the attention to hear that day’s invitation to abundant life and for the courage to say yes. Listen for a moment, and notice what comes to mind.