Five Thoughts About Hell

Hey, Friends,

Good to be with you all again. I was preaching last Sunday at Great Road Church in Acton. They’re friends of ours who are connecting with us through the post-evangelical collective. So greetings from out West! And I’m glad to be back with you all exploring our theme of God and us and our world on fire. 

I wonder if you’ve heard the story of Carlton Pearson. He died late last year. Before that, though, he was a fascinating Christian minister made famous by an equally fascinating Atheist storyteller. Twenty years ago, Carlton Pearson was the subject of a full-length podcast from Ira Glass on This American Life. It was so gripping it became a feature film called Come Sunday. 

And the story that the podcast and film tell is how this pastor of a 5,000 person Pentecostal megachurch lost it all – his colleagues, his career, the church he led, even his marriage. And it wasn’t because of an affair or embezzlement or anything else like that. For the people in Pearson’s circles, it was something worse. Based on his experiences of God, and based upon the words of the Bible, he stopped believing in hell. Was he a heretic? A visionary? Something else? 

We knew this Lent that when we talked about fire in church, and encouraged us to sit around fires and wonder about God and life, for some of us, the first and last thing that would come to mind is whatever we’ve been taught or wondered about hell fire. 

For others of us like me who weren’t raised on threats of hell, we may or may not think much about it. But still, hell is a huge part of the history and legacy of the Christian faith. It casts a big shadow over the reactions to this faith still, for believers and non-believers alike. And if you read the stories and teachings of Jesus, as we always invite you to do, you’ll see that now and then Jesus talks about something like hell. What is it? And why does Jesus talk about it? 

So today I’m going to give a sermon on hell. I checked – it’s my third sermon on hell in the past few years. I never thought I’d become a hellfire preacher, but here we are. I think the other two sermons are good, maybe more than enough, but third time’s a charm, so here we go.

I’m going to share five thoughts about hell. 

And we’ll start with one of the places where it seems like Jesus is talking about it, as he does a number of times.

Mark 9:45-48 (Common English Bible)

45 If your foot causes you to fall into sin, chop it off. It’s better for you to enter life lame than to be thrown into hell with two feet.

46, 47 If your eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out. It’s better for you to enter God’s kingdom with one eye than to be thrown into hell with two.

48 That’s a place where worms don’t die and the fire never goes out.

This whole cut off your foot, cut out your eye teaching shows up in different places in the gospels. Elsewhere, it’s applied to lust – how you look at and think about and touch people you’re sexually attracted to but aren’t in committed relationship with. And Jesus argues that learning self-control is pivotal to a good life and good relationships. Sex is good, but we’re not safe sexual creatures without self-control. 

Here in Mark, though, it’s not about sex, but about hurting kids, and Jesus is like:

get any help you need, any therapy, any limits so that this will not happen. 

Because the consequences are grave. He’s like:

enter God’s kingdom or get thrown into hell.

And just to shake the imagination a bit, Jesus is like

hell, you know, that place where the worms don’t die and the fire never goes out. That’s the kind of hell child abusers face. So don’t. 

  • What in the world is Jesus talking about? 
  • What did Pastor Carlton Pearson get in so much trouble for not talking about anymore? 
  • What and where in the world is hell?

You ready?


Hell is a place on earth

At first, from this teaching, you wouldn’t think it was any place at all. When Jesus talks about cutting off parts of your own body, he’s clearly using metaphor. There was an early church father who literally castrated himself to comply with this teaching of Jesus about cutting off parts of yourself, and he lived to regret it. He was like: don’t do that. It’s a metaphor. I take his word for it.

So if Jesus’ advice on self-control and getting help to be safer, healthier people, then maybe his warning for the horrible things that will happen to you if you abuse kids is a metaphor too. After all, we do know that without deep healing work, the lives of both abused children and the adults who abuse them can become living hells. 

But we know that Jesus’ metaphor for the consequences of are harm-doing aren’t totally abstract, because the word he says isn’t actually “hell,” it’s the word Gehenna, which isn’t really a word at all, it’s a place. Ge-henna, or the Valley of Hinnom, in Jerusalem. 

And that gruesome image Jesus says that this is a place where the worms never die and the fire keeps burning, he didn’t make that up either. He’s quoting the last verse of the prophet Isaiah from the Hebrew scriptures, where people who persist in organizing their lives against the justice and peace of God will end up mass graves in this valley, victims of their own wars and moral chaos. 

Friends, I’ve been to Gehenna. It is and always has been an awful place. 

So still now, if you can get to Jerusalem, you can go to hell. You find the top of this narrow but lush green valley of olive trees. At the top of it, there’s this space for seasonal outdoor music festivals for middle class and wealthy Jewish youth. It’s like the Israeli version of a hip hangout spot in Somerville. 

But then you descend down a steep, poorly paved road, as I did on foot when I was in Jerusalem. And conditions deteriorate. You pass an old graveyard, you pass a little monastery that marks the cite where the disciple Judas killed himself in despair after betraying Jesus. You pass the spots of ancient mass graves and spots of child sacrifice, and old dumping grounds for burning trash and corpses. Toward the bottom of the valley, you still see more trash than people. When I was there, I peeked behind a crumbling brick wall and saw a fly-covered, gutted corpse of a sheep lying on the ground. 

And then at the very bottom of the valley is a working class Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem, across a no-man’s land barrier where I was rebuked for running to, where it’s apparently not safe for Jews or Muslims or outsiders like myself to go. 

Gehenna then and now is a spot of enmity, death, fear, and decay. It’s where trash and corpses and the best human dreams of progress and peace go to die. 

And Jesus, wise and teacher and healer that he was, tells the truth about it to his contemporaries in ancient Israel and Palestine. He says:

don’t get healthy, live the life of a fool, and this is where you’ll end up. But you don’t have to. Don’t let this happen.

Hell is a place on earth. Don’t go there. 

Now by the time of Jesus, after centuries of relative disinterest in the afterlife in ancient Judaism, more and more people were wondering how the mercy and justice and faithfulness of God would play out beyond the grave for us all. So sometimes in the times Jesus lived and taught, people would use Gehenna as a metaphor for consequences and suffering we might face beyond this life. And we’ll get back to that in a few minutes.

But first, most primarily, hell is a place on earth. 

But it’s not just one place. It stands for many places. Second point: 

Hell is many places on earth

Jesus warns us about the consequences of hurting kids. I’m going to keep this general, but I knew a child abuser when I was a kid. I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back he was coming into adulthood as a lonely, miserable, broken young man. It took a while before it all caught up with him. He did a world of hurt in kids’ lives before he was caught, but for the past 30-35 years, he’s been in and out of prison, living a pathetic, miserable, small life. It’s tragic.

Now, when I was in hell a couple years ago, running through Gehenna on foot, I didn’t see him there. Because he was in a state prison in Massachusetts. He wasn’t magically transported to a mass grave in Gehenna, because his living hell is a state prison here, where he is confined because he’s been unable to get well. 

Hell is many places on earth. 

It’s prison. 

It’s neighborhoods in our cities and countrysides, where generations of poverty and racial oppression, and class segregation, and bad education and bad environmental stewardship have created whole ecosystems of isolation and despair and no opportunity.

Hell right now is Gaza in Palestine, which for years has been a kind of large open prison, where millions of people are penned in in isolation and poverty not for any crimes of their own, but because of generations of displacement and dispute and repeated vicious cycles of violence that in the past five months, have been playing out more brutally and with more death and suffering than we have seen in generations if ever. 

And now to live in Gaza is to live in hell, where people are sick and hungry and terrified. It’s a picture of the anti-vision of the commonwealth or beloved community of God, where plowshares are turned into swords, and where children suffer from and study and make war. 

I even write in our guide this week about unhappy households and unhappy families as their own kind of living hell. When in our supposedly safest, most intimate communities, we can not really see and hear one another, where we can’t face the truths of our own life and of one another with love and compassion, the isolation and heartache and resentment that grows there is its own kind of living hell too.

I actually agree with Carlton Pearson that there isn’t some place where God tortures people for all eternity with worms and fire. If that’s what we mean by hell, it’s not an idea worthy of God or of us, but I think Pearson and others make a mistake when they say that means there’s no such thing as hell. There is. Jesus warned us about it and wants to help rescue us from it. 

But tragically, there are many hells on earth, at least in this life, maybe in the life to come. On that note, two points about hell in the afterlife.

Hell as eternal punishment for the wicked is fear-mongering spiritual violence and abuse

Friends, I’ve been gentler about my perspective on this in the past, but more and more, I feel like some things have to be said strong and plain.

The Christian doctrine of hell as a place where God tortures God’s enemies for eternity is maybe the most harmful, dangerous, damaging doctrine in the history of the church. 

Early in the 14th century, an Italian writer published the epic poem Divine Comedy, and the first part stuck in our imaginations. Set during the season of Lent, a man who has lost his way in mid-life is guided through nine layers of hell beneath the surface of the earth. There, unrepentant sinners suffer eternally and without hope. Heretics lie in burning coffins. Murderers perpetually drown in rivers of boiling blood. This brutalish, frightening tour through the underworld is meant to shake the conscience and protect the believer from going astray. 

Dante may have had some of his geology right. The earth does get hotter as you go deeper, thousands of degrees hot at the center! But his theology missed the mark badly. By placing fear rather than love at the center of Christian religion, Dante and his many imitators have shaped God in the image of the most controlling and violent tyrants. And they have incentivized anxious, obedient compliance in the church while weaponizing judgment against Muslims, Jews, indigenous people, and all manner of people the church has labeled dangerous or deviant. 

This imaginative vision of an angry God with a violent, fiery hell seems to burn brightest in the imaginations of believers who are afraid and go to war.

Here’s a quote from friend of Reservoir Brian McLaren on this: 

“Fear is one of the earliest childhood associations with fire. We all remember warnings from parents and adults to keep away from the fire. Fire is dangerous and will burn you; play with fire and you will get burned. The church has often used this fear of fire to very destructive effect. This was done in two ways. Firstly, so-called heretics and witches were burned to death at the stake. Secondly, the church colonized the minds of its subjects with fearful visions and threats of hell and purgatory.” (Should I Stay Christian, p. 108)

And here’s one from the late pastor Carlton Pearson:

“I do believe in hell as a state of being or consciousness, and I believe that people can dwell in hell and that many do, right now, today, on this earth before rather than after death. I will argue … that hell is the most erroneous, outdated, misunderstood, and misguided dogma in all of Christianity, and the one that must be discarded if this spiritual tradition is to survive as anything more than a contemptible curiosity…. Hell was never God’s intention. It is man’s invention.”

This kind of hell is used to control and hurt people. Jesus says that it is the enemies of God who come to steal, kill, and destroy. Jesus comes that we may have abundant life. This vision of hell has got to go.

But is there any kind of hell in the afterlife? 

Well, we don’t know. We actually don’t know much about the afterlife, do we, since none of us has been there. But I can say this: 

If there is a hell in the afterlife, we can hope there are ways out.

If there is any hell in the afterlife, we can hope there are ways out.

Before Dante’s Inferno, if people believed in a place of fiery punishment in the afterlife, they likely got the idea from the final book in the Bible, Revelation.

Revelation is a weirdly told story of the great evil of human empires and great, faithful love of God. 

On the evil of human empires, you get lots of fire image, lots of stuff like this, from the 9th chapter:

Revelation 9:16-18 (Common English Bible)

16 The number of cavalry troops was two hundred million. I heard their number.

17 And this is the way I saw the horses and their riders in the vision: they had breastplates that were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulfur. The horses’ heads were like lions’ heads, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and sulfur.

18 By these three plagues a third of humankind was killed: by the fire, smoke, and sulfur coming out of their mouths.

This is one of Revelation’s pictures of evil unleashing hell. God sees it, God doesn’t stop it, either because there’s some greater timing we don’t understand or because God can’t. 

But if we’ve paid any attention to this history or the current news about the war and violence and suffering that large nations unleash, we know what this looks like. John the revelator is telling the truth about the horrible evil powerful nations unleash beneath their propaganda of peace and prosperity. 

But Revelation’s vision is also anchored in the hope that a beautiful and wise Jesus, once slain on a Roman cross, still lives as the resurrected Lamb of God and Prince of Peace.

And in Revelation, there’s a hope that there is a place where all the bad things go, so they will haunt and plague us no more. Near the end of the book, in Chapter 20, this is visualized as a giant pit of fire. 

Now it does say that people who aren’t in God’s book of life go there, and that’s a hard, complex line to wrestle with. But we should read that in light of what comes before and after. Because mostly, people aren’t going there at all.

What goes into the pit are big realities and systems of evil that live beyond any one particular person. Accusation goes into the pit of fire. Lies go there. Violence goes there. Death and the grave themselves are swallowed up in a fiery defeat. It’s not a place to punish people, it’s a place to vanquish evil, it’s a place where all the bad things go. 

This is an image of the judgment of God. Some of the ancient texts make that sound like punishment of particular people, but we can be convinced that because God is love, all of God’s judgment is ultimately restorative, not punitive. The judgment of God exposes and heals. God’s judgment is truth telling about lies and harm and evil, so that all that stuff can get burned out of our human story and we can be transformed. Out of love for the harmed and the harm doer, out of love for the victim and the victimizer.

So when horrible violence or disasters happen on earth, I never speculate whether or not they are God’s judgment, and I’d ask you not to as well. But when the truth about bad things gets told, when exposure of evil and harm occurs, I do think this is in part the judgment of the living God, that healing could come.

And if that kind of judgment extends beyond this life in some way that we can not predict and understand, we can hope that it is not the end of the story. After all, in the next and final chapters of Revelation, as a new Jerusalem is described, as a symbol for a renewed heaven and earth, there are trees whose leaves are good for the healing of the nations, and there are gates which shall never be shut. 

We don’t always see it in this life, but the faith of Jesus dares us to hope that God’s mercy is wider than God’s judgment, that God’s healing is deeper than our evil, and that love is stronger than hate, that love is even stronger than death. 

This takes us right to the final point, friends, that:

God is better worshiped as a firefighter, not a fire starter.

When we think about hell, or when we think as Ivy had us do last week about all the suffering and hardship we face in this life, it doesn’t do any good to imagine that God is somehow starting all those fires. That thought’s mostly not worthy of a loving God.

Instead, friends, we can put our hope in God whose arm is strong to save, in God who isn’t the great fire-starter, but the great firefighter. 

We’ll have an opportunity to hold in worship in just a moment any ways we see or face fires of suffering in this life. We hold those to God in hope for God’s help, for God’s strength and perseverance for all facing the fire, and for God’s help in putting out those fires.

And I encourage us to wonder together, throughout this week using our Lenten guide, and now together as well:

I wonder what you see in our land that is against the loving, renewing, restorative, and just purposes of Jesus for Beloved Community? How do we spiritually and otherwise resist whatever sin and death harms us all? 

I wonder what dangers you feel you are prone to? What does resisting that look like for us? .

I wonder what dangers our cultures and countries are prone to? What does interrupting all that look like for us? 

This week: Each morning or evening, light a candle. If you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace or a firepit, you could even safely light a fire. By yourself, or with a friend or your family, take a few moments to watch the flame. Imagine the flame as representing whatever in you or around you is suffering or causing ripples of harm. 


What will put out the fire? What is your part? What help do you need? 

GBIO Housing Justice BIG Action

Lydia Shiu interviews Reservoir members about the importance of prayer, their involvement with GBIO and the upcoming GBIO Housing Justice BIG Action taking place on 3/3 from 3 – 4:30 at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center at 100 Malcom X Blvd in Roxbury, MA.

A Question That Keeps Our Heads Up, Hands Out, & Hearts Open In The New Year | “What Do You Think?”

Good morning! And Happy New Year’s Eve!  

Here we are – just hours away from 2024! A collective “Congratulations!” are in order – it’s no small feat to have made the journey of the last 364 days – and whether you arrive on the cusp of this new year feeling bedraggled or full of pep – or somewhere in between – here we are.

For me, there’s something sweet and comforting about being here on the threshold of a new year with all of you this morning.  To show up alongside one another  – with all of whatever our years have held – and still have an inclination to discover the love of God, the gift of community and the joy of living *TOGETHER.* Still trusting that somehow the Spirit of God is here too – and that somehow this matters as we teeter into a NEW YEAR.  I’m so grateful for that.

Five Sundays ago we began our Advent season with an interactive service where we populated the envelopes along the Sanctuary walls. “Cussing, Silence & Prayer” were three big categories that we invited you all to consider as you scanned the state of your hearts – and let’s just say, after spending time reading through these envelopes – “Cussing” takes a sizable lead.

My guess is that over the last five weeks this hasn’t changed much. There are things in our personal lives and in our public & global spheres that grieve us – make us angry, frustrated, and mournful… it’s why resolutions and intention setting to mark a new way forward can be so meaningful.  

I think New Year’s resolutions can be like prayers. They touch a deep longing in us – sometimes for freshness, sometimes to shake off and say “goodbye” to all that has been heartbreaking and painful  –  resolutions package our hopes into something that feels a little more do-able  – a ‘next’ good step or practice. And some of us love to set resolutions, goals, new rhythms … and some of us, as a friend reminded me, are still processing the year 2016, and 2018, and 2020, and 2021, etc.. 

I’m a mix of all of all of that…. and in the last few days as I’ve thought about this new year ahead.. I did as I often do, when things feel complex and non-linear – I turn to the poets.  I’ve been reading one of my favorite contemporary poets – Andrea Gibson. They are a Maine native – so I already have a soft spot for them, as a Mainer myself.  As a poet they spend much of their time reading. Their head down in books, essays, articles – words of literary experts & mentors of theirs – both for inspiration and creativity – but also for learning and knowledge…

Recently though they learned that their Stage IV cancer was back, and in the wake of this news – I heard them say,

“you know, I just don’t want to spend my time looking down. I just want to spend my time looking out at the world – even if it’s not guaranteed, even if I might lose it – because there’s so much to learn and love.” 

This really resonated with me – we don’t know what 2024 will bring…and the tendency to make some of it predictable whatever means that takes – often leads me to keeping my head down, and my heart busy. But this poet and the invitation of Jesus is to have more days than not where our heads are up, our hands out, and our hearts open – and to not be so afraid of getting it wrong, or fumbling, or being messy – or whatever it is – that we forget to live! 

Heads up, hands out, and hearts open – this could be a helpful posture to greet whatever 2024 might bring. And I want to offer us a question that I think will help us sustain this posture – one that Jesus asks Peter in scripture that we’ll look at today – it’s a simple one,

“What do you think?”  

I’ll share a couple of stories that get us going in that direction – and then we’ll see where scripture and this question, “What do you think?” takes us.  Let me pray for us.

Thank you Jesus that you are the one who is always here. Always with us. And here we are, God – here on the cusp of a new year – with hearts that brim  with a pleading hope – oh god – for more of you if anything in the days ahead. More of you in our silent moments, more of you in our anger, more of you in our aches, and more of you in our celebrating, in the unknown, in our awe – more of you, Oh God – in all the manner of our days… Could you make your presence known God and convincingly true? So that we can lay our heads on our pillows each night and wonder,  ‘what manner of love is this?’ “what manner of love?” And say as we do this morning…“Thank you God, Thank you.”

A few weeks ago – I came home from work on a Sunday. It had been a full and busy day and it was rainy, and cold, and yucky outside… And my whole drive home I just couldn’t wait to get into my sweats and sit on the couch. Over the years it’s been a bit of a known agreement in our house – that for at least one hour – on Sundays I come home and I do not move. I don’t drive anyone around, I don’t do errands, or get anyone anything. And the way you love me the most – is by letting that happen!

But you know – nothing’s perfect. And this particular Sunday my son had plans to do something with a friend of his, who would be driving him. I hadn’t met this friend, and I’m not super comfortable in general with “other kids driving my kid” around. And I was taking in all this information, just as I walked through the door – and was quickly realizing this would require my energy and movement. I wanted to introduce myself,  and say something like, “don’t speed” – And all of it was making me a bit grumpy. 

A few minutes later I was sliding on someone’s slippers that were near the door, and shuffling/jogging out to the rainy sidewalk to meet this friend.  Hands in my pockets. Head down.  My son leading the way to the parked car on the street. I looked up for a split second and realized there was a big puddle right in front of where the car was, and as I was trying to negotiate in the moment… “whether I should go directly to the driver’s side – or introduce myself across the big puddle?”… but it didn’t matter because I tripped!

Yep – I tripped on a lip in the sidewalk and fell alllll the way down – face down, splashed right in the edge of the puddle… soaking wet – fell out of those slippers. Totally embarrassed, I tried to ‘hop’ up as quickly as possible, look not in pain – find my slippers…  and make my way nonchalantly to the window of the car… both my son and his friend were as you might imagine in shock…  

Resolution for the New Year – don’t run with your hands in your pockets… It’s not even a resolution – it’s just a good, normal, baseline tip! 

Jesus said,

I have come for you to have (and live), life – and have it abundantly.” 

I was grumpy, I was tired, I was cold… my body posture – head down, hands in pockets -was a signal of how little I wanted to engage in this moment. What drudgery it was to pivot, and to show up anyway. . . In love.

And really what does a moment like that matter anyway? I was ok, nothing big was at stake – it was a small moment. Inconsequential. My son knows I love him  – I don’t think his friend cares if I love him or not. . . I could have shown up or not shown up.  What do you think?

Should we resolve to KEEP THINKING about WHY LOVE MATTERS – in circumstances, with people, in moments that are not mountain-top experiences? 

I think it would help us if we could.

Love can become a word that loses its depth – it can fall into disrepair in our human landscape.  We need to be deeply convinced at a feet-to-the-ground, face-to-face-neighbor level that love can be readily found in all of our spaces and somehow it does matter – puddles and all.

THE CONTENT of our lives – OUR LIVED LIVES – is how and where we learn about God.  I love reading someone’s pithy/hot-take on scripture – or a good story – or someone’s life work on theology, or an essay or a podcast of interesting, inspiring voices. They mentor me, they provoke me in good ways- but to look up and see the widest pages of life all around us, is also where it’s at.  When I’m too in the weeds with research, or doubting myself and trying to find some “expert voice” to back me.

The detriment is that I mute the convivial listening with the world and with Jesus – who I believe is always asking

“Well Ivy, what do you think about that?” “why does it matter”?  “How does it make you feel?” “Who does it affect?”

… and this is detrimental – because “What do you think?” is an intimate question of Jesus to us –  and one that is the authentic means to not only KNOWLEDGE but to LOVE. 

I was reminded of this as I was riding in a car with a long-time friend one Christmas. She was talking about her own journey in her faith community, excited about the idea of forming a “women’s ministry” – and hanging in the air around the conversation was perhaps the (unspoken), larger question of just what a woman’s role in the church should be.

Her faith community currently has no women on the Board, as deacons, or as preachers.  And it was interesting because,  our conversation bounced from what her male Pastor thought about women in leadershipto the reality that there are a lack of women mentors in the community … to the seminary books that she was harkening back to, that offered her interesting thoughts and truths to wade in and consider a woman’s rightful place.

It was clear to me that the question, “What do you think?”, was not a comfortable question – external knowledge found in books and other’s voices was more credible.

I wish in the moment I had paused to get a little more curious, and ask –

“well, what is your lived experience as a woman?” 

What do you notice about women who are not given platforms for their voices to be heard?  Why do you think there might not be women mentors in your community?  What do women around you who are pastors …ehm….. LIKE ME! In this CAR! … with you RIGHT NOW!!!!….what do they think? What have they experienced? How have they engaged with scripture?

“What do you think?” is a bold and direct question – slices right to the heart, if we let it, as much as the head.  And if we frame it as a question that helps us lift our head and look around and engage with the life around us, it becomes not a question that rests on a separate doctrine or theology (where we might think only Jesus is found),  but becomes a generative question that is born and explored from exactly where you stand  – and where lo’ and behold Jesus is too.            

Conceptual and Relational Belief
(McLaren,  Spiritual Migration

The interesting thing about what we think – is that it can quickly be tied into systems of belief. That can take on a life of their own – sometimes as an immovable creed or doctrine.

Here, I think it’s helpful to talk a little bit about conceptual and relational beliefs. 

Conceptual beliefs are beliefs that are often easily expressed as statements or propositions – and when expressed in a sentence- are often right alongside the word “that”. My long-time friend in my previous story might say,

“I believe that women can not be in church leadership.”  ‘


“I believe that the headship of a church is only represented by the male gender”

…  it’s a stake, a claim that something is real, true or in existence.

In contrast, relational beliefs are often followed by the preposition in.   And they are less statements – and more birthed out of a personal authenticity, lived experience that offers a confidence and sense of loyalty which permits thoughts like, “I believe in you”, “i believe in scripture”, “I believe in peace”… 

It can get complicated pretty quickly – religion or churches for example, often demand statements of conceptual belief as proof of belonging.   And also – might offer rewards or punishments based on conceptual beliefs.

This gets us into the territory of replacing conceptual beliefs as a construct over our own thinking caps. Placing a thin, invisible barrier in our minds between the beauty and the goodness and the value of the world around us  –  and constricting our own experience of God’s love. 

But relational beliefs – allow for this question, “What do you think?” – in fact to some degree they are built on this – and therefore the freedom and the health that this affords an individual and a community- allows for a foundation of LOVE.  It allows us to stay in the car together – and see the passenger next to us, sort of speak! 

Without freedom of thought, we offer and experience only an impoverished love. 

Jesus invites us to love.

And much of his ministry is spent trying to expand the systems of his day – beyond the conceptual beliefs that so many of the religious experts of his day rest on…. At one point he says to these religious experts,

“how terrible it will be for you…. You give to God a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, but you forget about the more important matters of the Law: justice, mercy, and faith. You blind guides! You filter out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (Matthew 23:23-24)

Oh, how I love it when Jesus talks about gnats and camels!

Here maybe we can see the conceptual beliefs for these religious experts is to uphold the belief that one should give away a tenth of their belongings to God… but it comes at the expense of a relational belief in people!  Where real issues of  justice, mercy, and faith play out.

You can’t have conceptual beliefs – and X -out all the relational beliefs and say you are truly “loving” God. Lest we choke on camels of pride and power.

Is love present?  Is love felt? In a system that erases the eye for our world…  What do you think?  And how do we think in this vein – if we don’t engage an active, living posture to the world around us? 

This is what Jesus keeps prompting us with – through all his provoking and quirky words, stories, and actions,

“Can we imagine a Christianity of the future that gathers around something other than a list of conceptual beliefs?” (McLaren,  Spiritual Migration

Let’s take a look at  this scripture I keep mentioning: 

Matthew 17:24 – 27 (New Living Version)

24 On their arrival in Capernaum, the tax collectors for the Temple tax came to Peter and asked him, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the Temple tax?”

25 “Of course he does,” Peter replied.  

Then he went into the house to talk to Jesus about it.

But before he had a chance to speak, Jesus asked him, 

“What do you think, Peter? 

Do kings tax their own people or the foreigners they have conquered?”

26 “They tax the foreigners,” Peter replied.

“Well, then,” Jesus said, “the citizens are free!  However, we don’t want to offend them, so go down to the lake and throw in a line.  Open the mouth of the first fish you catch, and you will find a coin. Take the coin and pay the tax for both of us.”

Here’s a little bit of context: 

Peter has just come down from the mountain with Jesus, where he’s witnessed the transformation of Jesus.  He watched as Jesus’ face shone like the sun and his clothes turned white – and a voice from God, booming from the clouds said,

“This is my Son whom I dearly love. I am very pleased with him”

(Peter fell on his face in awe –  I imagine it was a good falling on his face, with his hands out of his pockets in praise!)

It’s a pinnacle moment – confirming his loving relationship to Jesus, the human who he’s walked alongside – and linking it to the mysterious love of God.

It’s a moment for Peter, that maybe is akin to one of your more moving spiritual moments in life – where you have felt as though you are on a mountain top – so close to God and God so close to you – that  that love and that experience feels almost unbelievable.

Only of course to be interrupted by the real facts of life. A phone call, a time constraint, someone tugging at you –  needing something from you – or as in Peter’s case a tax collector…. 

A tax collector asking for payment to the temple in Jerusalem that most Jewish men are meant to pay for its upkeep.

This moment of intimacy and love of God, felt by Peter on the mountain top, likely dissipates pretty quickly.

And we see here in these verses, I believe the dynamic again of conceptual belief and relational belief  on the table with the question at hand – should Jesus and his followers have to pay this tax?

Peter’s impulsive answer is

“Yes – of course my teacher pays the tax. I believe that all Jewish men should pay the temple tax.”

An answer that Jesus doesn’t seem to disagree with. But what follows in the text, I believe is a deeply powerful move, that demonstrates Jesus’ love and value of each of us – to keep THINKING.  To keep thinking about the conceptual beliefs that we impulsively answer to …. and to also hold, and not cut-out, the relational wonder-land of Jesus’ love in front of us…. 

He asks,

“What do you think, Peter?” 

It’s an invitation I believe that is going to help Peter see that the mountaintop experience is available in all his settings – even the most mundane and annoying.

If GOD’S LOVE, at its core is about connection of all things (neighbor, self, earth) – that this is what allows for our sense of belonging….then my hope is that the intersectionality of where I encounter God and where I encounter people is all the content and all the knowledge, that I need for an experience of God’s love.   

After I fell in the puddle, in front of two teenage boys (you know every middle-aged mom’s dream), I did go to the window – determined to introduce myself, and give the directive of “don’t’ speed!” that I wanted. But all that came out, as I made my way to the window of the car, was “OW, Ow, ow, ow, ow….”

And my son came over quickly and said “are you ok, are you ok?” And the dude in the car, was stunned and unbuckling to help me – and saying the same – “oh my gosh, are you ok?”  And after a few minutes of really figuring out that I was ok – we laughed, and laughed and laughed as we replayed the video that captured all of this  – from our video doorbell on the porch… 

We are all yearning and eager to be seen and known and included. I wanted my son to show me that love – by honoring my “hour of sitting on the couch.”  But I was shown even greater depths of love as he came to my side in the rain, and paused his plans to attend to me…  *this isn’t to suggest that we should all fall on our face, to experience the love of GOD*

I realize again and again in moments like these – on sidewalks, in the rain, in the most inconvenient moments of life – that I can find a living, breathing sanctuary in the form of another human being, in the midst of the most expansive sanctuary – our Earth. And this is where I want to keep thinking (with all of who I am) – where I go for knowledge… in these everyday, sacred spaces. It’s here that we rediscover our faith as a series of stories and as a series of encounters… as quirky and as insignificant and as messy as they might seem… but as powerful and sacred as all the prayer and scripture and spiritual practices we could muster for a new year. 

Paidrag O’ Tuama, an Irish poet says that

“belonging creates and undoes us both”

likely follows the same sentiment of love…. It creates and undoes us both.

Jesus wants Peter to be undone by his love….in all of life. 

Peter’s quick reply to the tax collector, might have signaled to Jesus that the tendency of his thinking might veer more conceptual than relational and that a mountain-top experience could be compartmentalized in Peter’s mind as a distinct experience, under special circumstances. 

It seems by Jesus’ next move, that a conceptual God is not the image that Jesus is interested in putting out in the world. 

Not only does Jesus ask Peter this most loving question,

“What do you think?”

as a way to bridge the conceptual and the relational systems.

Jesus also nudges Peter a bit.  He helps him get up off the couch and get to really thinking… he says,

“GO OUT.” “Go to the lake, go to the shore – go fishing.” 

A place Peter, as a fisherman knew incredibly well. 

And there Peter encounters a miracle – finding the exact tax needed for both him and Jesus – in the coin in the fish’s mouth.

The places we know so well where we work, live and play – it seems, are teaming with not only God’s deep love – but also miracles. 

Jesus I think says –

“Oh yeah, that’s the treasure… that’s the coin in the fish’s mouth –  discovering all of this in your EVERYDAY fishing zones.”

I wish my friend could have asked me in the car:  

“Ivy, what do you think about the role of women in the church?”

Maybe we could have discovered the treasure//the miracle in the midst of us. Sharing our stories as women, sharing our vulnerability, just how much it hurt at times – and trust that that conversation could have unearthed something we both couldn’t have known ahead of time.

As we THINK, As we become awake with our hearts, and minds and souls – with lived experience as our data and content. We start to perform the miracles of today…. By not only inhabiting  – but experiencing – each day as a sanctuary free of walls, full of God’s love.

May we resolve to fall in love with Jesus again and again in 2024. And may we receive his question,

“What do you think?”

as a way to discover our very lives with our heads up, hands out, and hearts open.


The Way of Surrender

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 9:51-62 (Common English Bible)

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

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

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

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

55 But he turned and rebuked them.

56 Then they went on to another village.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s grumpy Jesus. 

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

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

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

And Jesus seems insulted, offended. 

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

Another person in our group was like:

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

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

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

Well, for some people, yes. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then I hear the teacher saying:

surrender. Breathe. Hold here, keep your focus.

There’s nothing like the power of surrender. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

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

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

Like choosing freedom over addiction.

Or even like dying well.

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

But eventually, we will all die. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Davis says:

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

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

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

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

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

“Let the dead bury their own dead.”

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

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

But man, who wants to live in a hallway

Davis one more time:

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

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

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

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

Go to the Limits of Your Longing

Written by Rainer Maria Rilke

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

These are the words we dimly hear:

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

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

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

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

Give me your hand

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

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

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

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

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

One more announcement: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Profound Belonging

We’ve been in this series called We Are Reservoir for the last five weeks. Trying to share with you all, Who are we? What are we about? And especially, as every organization does, continuing to evolve and trying to figure out each season, what are we trying to be right now? Some of us have been going to this church for 10+ years and many things have changed, including the church name and even the vibe of the church. Some of us have joined in the last few years and religion, Christianity, and our world landscape has changed so much. So we thought it was a good time for us to re-share in this beginning of the new ministry year/ new school year, highlighting a few things about who we are. 

So Who Are We?

Well our Mission, we say at the top of our service every week: We invite everyone to discover the love of God, the joy of living, and the gift of community. 

As for our specific vision for this season in our church, through some visioning process we’ve taken as leaders, members, and staff and the board, in the last few years this is what we’ve come up with:

Reservoir will continue to become the Beloved Community we are called to be.

We wanted to anchor on this phrase “Beloved Community,” a phrase from the Civil Rights era rooted in biblical metaphor for a more just and equitable kin-dom. And we named five particular ways we believe our church is longing to more the Beloved Community. Like, HOW can we be a Beloved Community?

What does that mean? Here’s five ways we came up with:

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

And so in the last five weeks, we’ve taken these five, 

  • Anti-racist.
  • Profound belonging. 
  • Radically generous.
  • Whole life flourishing.
  • Innovating

A bit out of order with week one, Steve talking about the ways in which we have stood on many of our enduring faith traditions and innovate what that looks like in this day and age. 

Week two Steve talked about what it means for us to try to be anti-racist, even as we live in systems drenched in historical racism, how it might look for us to become more and more anti-racist.

Week three Ivy told stories of some radical generosity she’s witness that gave us models and invitation to generosity, a sermon where afterwards I really wanted to print out “New Driver” Please Be Patient” stickers for us all (if you know you know).

And last week we witnessed Steve’s ordination vow renewal and with that an invitation to how our church can experience revitalization and whole life flourishing

And we’re wrapping up this week with our last intentional way we’ve named as to becoming a Beloved community: a church that is welcoming, a place of profound belonging. 

To talk about this, I’d like to read our scripture text from Matthew 12, where Jesus challenges the traditional notions of who belongs, who is important, who matters, uplifting the people out of their imagination of the way things are, into a NEW reality, a new way of being, a radically different system and methodology of belonging.

In light of Indigenous People’s Day I drew our text from the First Nations Version, an indigenous translation of the New Testament. It’s a new, 2021, translation quote,

“birthed out of a desire to provide an English Bible that connects, in a culturally relevant way.”

I share this translation as a way of honoring our topic at hand, Profound Belonging, in that centering contextualized voices in their own culture, they belong, they matter, especially in light of American Christian history. 

The Introduction to the First Nations Versions says this,

“Many of our Native tribes still resonate with the cultural and linguistic thought patterns found in their original tongues. This way of speaking, with its simple yet profound beauty and rich cultural idioms, still resonate in the hearts of Native people.” 

So let me read for us:

Matthew 12:46-50 (First Nations Version)

46 While [Jesus who is called] Creator Sets Free (Jesus) was speaking to the people, his mother and brothers were outside wanting to talk with him.

47 Someone noticed and told him, “Your relatives are here, waiting outside to see you.” 

48 “Who are my relatives?” he asked the person who told him.

49 Then he looked around the circle of people, lifted his hands toward his followers, and said, “Here they are! 

50 The ones who walk in the ways of my Father from the spirit-world above are my relatives–my mother, brothers and sisters.” 

“My mother, my brother, my sisters, my siblings. My grandma, my grandpa, my uncle, my aunt, my niece, my nephew.” 

I wonder if we believe that, about us?

What struck me as I began to tackle this topic of radical profound belonging, the first thing that came to my mind unfortunately is how much that wasn’t and hasn’t and isn’t the case in so many of our churches around the world. How faith traditions and churches have specifically excluded people, whole nations and groups of people, on the basis that they were not a certain way. And not just exclude but expel, excommunicate, exiled, eliminated, eradicated, executed in the name of faith and religion. The Christian history has quite a reputation for not implementing profound belonging, or implementing belonging but only if you do it our way, our style, our specific method. 

There are books on Mission, overseas mission, on how to spread the news of Jesus, evangelize, convert and make sure the faith sticks, by eradicating their culture, their primitive ways, their heretical practices. And the GOOD ones of these books on mission, actually tries to get at, how much more effective Christianity sticks if you actually USE their own culture to make it contextual and integrate rather than eradicate. 

In my current faith journey, one of the things that I’m unpacking is the way in which Christianity landed in South Korea and how Christian tradition has at times trumped over Korean traditions. For example, one of the traditions that Christian practices truncated is the tradition of ancestral worship. Now it was based on biblical texts like,

You shall have no other gods before me and all.

And it is a tradition that has been passed through Buddhist cultures, with like incense and all. But lately it’s made me feel disconnected to my ancestors, to my elders, to the dead, that lately, I wondered what it would look like to have a Korean Christian version of ancestral honoring, if such a thing exists. 

What does it mean to belong, to really belong, like family? Well what happens when for example two strangers decide to become family members like getting adopted or married. Well you might live together. Probably eat together a lot. You learn about each other, about each other’s upbringing, background, their worldview. And you try to merge the two different ways of doing things, and adapt to the other’s ways. 

On this Indigenous People’s Day weekend, I think about ways that I have been trying to make Christianity my own personal faith. That’s included decolonizing faith. What does that mean? It means that the Christianity that was through the white European culture lens, I have found sifting through that to find what’s helpful. From which I have very much been formed by John Calvin and Martin Luther and all and beyond that, really contextualizing and translating into and through my own culture has allows my faith to feel just a little closer to home, a little more familial, a little more my culture. 

Here’s what I mean. 

When I first saw this image of Korean Jesus, it felt silly. And then, it felt like Jesus was so close and that Jesus knew my world. I mean look at the windows around us. They are dressed and in the style of that artist’s known dear to heart culture and context. 

Here’s another one. 

Korean Nativity Scene and what I love about this one is that it’s not three wise men or shepherds, it’s her sisters, aunts, and girlfriends and mom friends showing up with food to the labor and delivery room. (Which I’d love for us to do with my pre/k pastor Aubrie going into labor probably next week. Ask me about her mealtrain). The presence of women, Korean women, showing up for Jesus just hits different. 

Last image, not my own cultural context but as an exercise-

How does it feel for you to see Jesus this way? 

Decolonizing my faith doesn’t mean getting rid of everything (which is what we’ll talk about in my Godly Play Spirituality class starting next week). Traditions, practices passed down from others, history helps but at some point you got to ask yourself-

  • Who is Jesus to you?
  • Right now?
  • In your life?
  • What would it mean for Jesus to be your family?
  • What would you share with him?
  • What would you show him from your life?
  • What’s important to you and who you are that you would incorporate Jesus into? 

Lately I’ve been trying out tapping into my own Korean indigenous roots, which just means like really really old raw ways of operating and thinking before democracy, capitalism, and cement came into picture. Not to say those things are bad, I love me a nicely paved cement sidewalk, but have you TRIED trail running?

I don’t know how it came to me, okay probably from comparative religion studies called doing yoga, a practice that’s been central to healing my body from trauma. I tap into Jesus when they say, thinking about a spiritual leader or grounding. And as I’ve been doing lots of yin yoga, which is like the you know the yin yang sign, yin is a bit more passive, feminine energy, I’ve been thinking maybe this is more of that not Jesus the victor energy but Holy Spirit presence and power that you only need to receive and lean into what God is already doing.

And then I realized, hey that yin/yang sign is literally the middle thing in the Korean flag. This way of thinking of energies working together to understand and be, it’s probably already familiar and in my blood. So I’ve started calling in yin spirituality and I’m Christian so it’s a Christian practice. And it’s been really nice to recognize and flow through life with this yin spirituality that’s made me feel both empowered and flow through life with a kind of trust, like the ground holding your up during shivasana or not pressing into your stretch but holding your pose for five minutes for your muscles to just gravity into flexibility and strength. 

For me thinking about Jesus, not as Daily Bread, but daily rice, a daily bowl of rice has been interesting. It’s warmer. It’s cozier. Because of my own affiliations to it. When I’ve practiced the Lord’s supper, communion with Soju or Makgulee (rice wine) and a little bit of rice wrapped in seaweed, I cried. It’s that feel of HOME. That feeling when you’ve been traveling for so long and eating unfamiliar foods and you finally get home and eat home food. 

Jesus was saying this is not just a religion or a system of belief, it’s about belonging. And that’s what we try to mirror in our membership, what it means to belong at our church, isn’t that you confess your faith in some particular way but you just simply say, I belong, I’ll bring some food to our membership meeting potluck. Jesus was like, don’t make this into just laws to follow, let’s be together and be with each other and here, you be my mother. You who are so different from me, let’s be family, let’s belong to one another. We don’t have to agree but let’s eat dimsum together. For me that’s what it’s meant to be family.

Even though this profound belonging is what we’re after, I realize it can be hard still. Many of us are maybe introverts, and have social anxiety. And even though a lot of us are grown ups, it can feel like a high school lunch table situation, where the cool kids hang out here and the remnants awkwardly dispersed. And I want to say to us the same thing I said at a youth group retreat once. My sermon title was, “don’t be cool, be warm.” 

Sometimes we get into analysis paralysis,

“should I do this, do they want me to do this, are they okay with me doing this,”

But I say to you, when you get a thought to text someone something thoughtful or a prayer, do it. Just say yes. When someone shares with you something hard, and you don’t know what to say, just lean into it, and say,

“do you wanna pray, like right now? Can I pray for you?”

When you think of someone struggling through grief or a season of depression or just life hardship, just stop by and drop off a bag of chocolate, or flowers, or fruit. Just say yes. When we talk to each other at church, asking how are you to each other, ask a follow up question to them, “I’m good.” And respond by sharing vulnerably about yourself.

And then say, “what about you?” Be quick to connect people, “Have you met my friend Carol?” And include them into your conversation. Say yes to a thought/idea and start a ministry about something that you’re passionate about, with just one other person, whether it’s about climate change, or farming, dance, or whatever. This is how we create a culture of belonging by ourselves taking risks and vulnerability to lean in. Don’t be cool, be warm. Just say yes to the community as we have been saying.

Because you never know what one extended hand can mean to someone. And that’s what Jesus did over and over again throughout the scriptures. Reaching out to the most unlikely characters. He talked to stuck-up snobby rich folks (Nicademus, Zaaccheaus), called them in, he talked to nobodies and the lame sitting outside of the temple, too unclean to even enter the building, and brought them in. He talked with a lonely woman at the well. And touched lepers when he wasn’t supposed to. 

Like I said in the beginning, sometimes churches weren’t good at being welcoming or inclusive. And at some point because I felt judged or rejected, I had stopped going to church for years. And then one day I went back to church, just cause I was kind of depressed and I wanted something familiar. That day, I heard this story that I want to share with you today at a time when I was feeling especially lost. When I was in a dark place, isolating myself from even the few communities that I had some ties to, and really even from family, not really returning their texts or phone calls because it was too much to explain and come up with a good answer to, “how are you these days?”so I didn’t even stick around after church to do any small talk to lean into community there. And then I heard this story that really broke me open. I reached out to my old pastor for the story he used. The story is from Garrison Keillor, a singer, writer, speaker, about a girl named Lydia. 

“Lydia grew up in the staid Lutheran community of Lake Woebegone.  Lydia tired of it, tired of this narrow, conservative community, so she took off for New Orleans.  There she imbibed (uhm-BIBED) in all the revelry of that city, drinking, partying.  She longed to be precious and valuable to somebody.  She found a boyfriend.  They lived together; their own apartment.  She got a job as a bartender; he got a job laying on the couch watching TV.  She got tired of the parties eventually, and eventually she got tired of him.  All she longed for from that life of freedom didn’t really pan out.  Kind of humiliated, with her tail between her legs, she wrote a check out for a month’s rent for the apartment, slipped it under one of the beer bottles on top of the TV set, and while he was asleep on the couch she slipped out and headed back home to Lake Woebegone.  

She didn’t live with her folks; she found her own place.  She found a job in the local diner, but around town everybody regarded her as the checkered woman.  Everybody knew her story; it was a small town.  Everybody knew she was the girl who had gone off to New Orleans.  Everybody knew the way that she had lived.  She’d see them whispering about her, pointing at her as she walked by on the streets.  She went to her parents for Thanksgiving.  They ate turkey and polished off the pie, and when all the dishes were piled in the sink she made her way out to the living room away from everyone else just for a few minutes of solitude. 

There she found herself standing at the mantle in the house, just looking at the different family knick-knacks that she cherished from her childhood.  She suddenly came across a picture of her.  It was her high school graduation picture.  It was a different time in her life.  She looked so innocent, so clean, so pretty, every hair in place.  Then she noticed the strangest thing on the bottom of that picture in her parent’s house was a little label that had been glued on to the bottom of the frame.  The little label had been typed out on her father’s old Remington typewriter, and it only contained two words: “Our Lydia.”  Instantly she knew what they meant.  I mean how strange to be labeled in one’s own house, and yet Lydia knew the purpose.  Before the world and against all the whispers this was her father’s declaration to everyone who came into the house and knew everything about her.  “This is our Lydia.”  It was the “our” that meant so much.  Those three letters were as jewels to her, each a diamond to say that in this house our Lydia is treasured, she belongs to us.“

Just as this father claimed his own misfit daughter, God claims you God’s own. In God’s House, God has a label under your picture, Our Grace, Our Daniel, Our Matthew, Our Vivienne, Our Sophia, Our Micah, Our Karen … I really want to say all the names but I won’t creep you out any longer by saying your name specifically. God loves you. No matter who you are. What you’ve done. You belong. You belong to us. We love you. That’s the kind of church that I hope Reservoir will be.

Let me pray for us. 

God I’m wondering, what would it mean for each of us to really feel like we belong. Like we are your family and you God are our family. May we walk with you in our days, at our tables, in our homes, in our holiday celebrations, would you show up uniquely in our own tongue, in our own native language whatever that might mean for each of us. Thank you for showing us that you love us and know us through the person and work of Jesus. Would you give us that audacity to be your beloved child, and move through this world, reclaiming the broken, healing the sick, feeding the poor, with your power. And bind us to one another, as relatives, as a Reservoir family, show us how to be that, through your grace we pray in the precious holy name of Jesus, Amen. 


Transfigured Life: A Different Way Is Here

Good morning Reservoir friends! 

To those of you that I haven’t had the honor and privilege of meeting yet, my name is Howard Kim. I have been working with Reservoir since March as the Social Justice Intern. Shoutout to the Rev. Lydia Shiu for making a place for me here, thank you so much for everything. 

Because I haven’t had a chance to meet with all of you, I figured I would break the ice a little by introducing myself! I’m from the Greater Los Angeles Area, the ancestral land of the Tongva: born in Anaheim, raised in Claremont, found myself in Los Angeles, and now I reside in Providence, RI, the ancestral land of the Wôpanâak (Wampanoag) & the Nahaganset. But home will always be Koreatown Los Angeles. I am a proud child of Korean immigrant parents & a community college enthusiast. I’m married to the love of my life. I deeply love food, Korean ballads, and seeing the look on people’s faces when they discover the holiness of Korean Fried Chicken for the first time! 

Thank you again for having me. Let’s jump into the passage. 

Today, we’ll be sitting with the words from-

Luke 9:28-36: 

28 About eight days after Jesus said these things, [Jesus] took Peter, John, and James, and went up on a mountain to pray.

29 As [Jesus] was praying, the appearance of [Jesus’] face changed and [Jesus] clothes flashed white like lightning.

30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, were talking with [Jesus].

31 They were clothed with heavenly splendor and spoke about Jesus’ departure, which [Jesus] would achieve in Jerusalem.

32 Peter and those with him were almost overcome by sleep, but they managed to stay awake and saw [Jesus’] glory as well as the two men with [Jesus]. 

33 As the two men were about to leave Jesus, Peter said to [Jesus], “Master, it’s good that we’re here. We should construct three shrines: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—but he didn’t know what he was saying.

34 Peter was still speaking when a cloud overshadowed them. As they entered the cloud, they were overcome with awe.

35 Then a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, my chosen one. Listen to him!”

36 Even as the voice spoke, Jesus was found alone. They were speechless and at the time told no one what they had seen. 

This is the word of God, for us, the people of God. Thanks be to God. 

Can I pray for us? 

I know that you are here with us God. May your presence fill this place, fill our hearts, minds, souls, and flesh to receive what you have for us today. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts, be like a fragrant offering that brings a smile upon your face. Amen. 

Some Context 

This passage is often referred to as the “Transfiguration of Jesus.” Transfiguration, at its core, is just a fancy word that means ‘transformation.’ Throughout Christian history, people (and by people, I mean cis-het White men) have been debating about the significance of Jesus’ Transfiguration. Questions like:

“What does the transfiguration reveal about Jesus’ nature?”


“Is Jesus just a human, just God, half & half, fully both?”

Church leaders of the ancient era literally held council after council, continuously arguing over these questions, and there still isn’t a real consensus around those questions. But can I just be honest for a second and say that…I’m not really interested in that conversation. To be frank, I don’t really care because I’m not really invested in the conversation. Now, I’m not saying that that conversation isn’t important, because the result of those conversations ultimately set the theological foundation of Christianity as we know it…but…as I was meditating on this passage, I found myself fixated on something else:

What were Jesus, Jesus’ disciples, and Jesus’ people experiencing during that time that would warrant Jesus’ transformation? 

During the time of the passage, roughly late 20 CE, Jesus and Jesus’ people were deeply oppressed. They were colonized by the Roman Empire…paying heavy taxes to Rome and dealing with inflation…deep military presence in the streets…rights were being taken from them…maybe this sounds or feels familiar to us today, maybe even too familiar.

I imagine that the air was constantly thick. Thick with tension, thick with uncertainty, thick with fear…it makes so much sense to me now why Jesus’ disciples would leave their families and professions to follow Jesus because they were longing for something different. And this Rabbi from the sticks had something different, was someone different, and it felt like if anyone could cut the tension and bring about something new, it was Jesus. And so Peter, James, John, and us in this room find ourselves up in the mountains, trying to stay awake, and we find Jesus transfigured. 

The Lesson 

I used to find it profoundly annoying that in the midst of great political turmoil, of deep poverty, of uncertainty, of fear and tension, that Jesus would get a holy makeover and a brand new fit! I mean,

“Jesus?! You know what’s going on in the world right? Why aren’t you doing something about all this? Why aren’t you swooping in and saving the day?!”

Now, let me be clear, I’m not saying that I’m against rest or treating yourself, I’m all about that! I’m just trying to be honest and admit that I still fall victim to this capitalistic way of thinking. What I’m also feeling at the same time is that I’m finding myself in deep, deep awe of Jesus. 

Jesus could have sent legions of angels and/or amassed an army of freedom fighters to take out the Roman Empire, restore the Davidic monarchy, and bring peace to Middle Earth, but instead…Jesus transfigures, transforming into Jesus’ full self, in full splendor, in full glory, to the point that his closest friends and chosen family couldn’t recognize Jesus, at least initially. I wonder why Jesus did this, during that time & in that context, choosing to be their full self versus a warrior king… 

I believe that Jesus did this, this holy drag show, this transformational coming out, this unapologetic refusal of binaries and incarcerative adjectives because there’s something beautiful and holy when someone comes into their full self, shedding away closets and breathing the air of freedom. And what’s beautiful about all this is that when this transfigured, transformed, trans Jesus showed up as their full self…God in heaven not only fully affirms this Jesus, but also celebrates this Jesus, and invites us all to follow this transfigured, this transformed, this trans Jesus. 

About nine years ago, I was a student leader for a major evangelical campus ministry. At the time, I was on my journey of challenging the conservative and fundamentalist theology I grew up with and was receiving from the ministry. I was really trying to find the theological language to justify why I was breaking away from all that I knew, from all that formed me. So during the end of the year conference, at an island off the coast of Southern California, a dear friend of mine, who was leading an LGBTQIA+ affirming ministry within the campus ministry, asked me to pray for a student of hers that was considering undergoing gender-affirming procedures.

When I was praying for them, I got this image of a sword in a stone, kind of like King Arthur’s Excalibur, but instead of a stone, the sword was lodged into a neo-gothic spire. I then saw the phrases, “You are my son” & “You are my daughter” falling from the sky into the sword.

And then, the words stopped falling, and when the last phrase went into the sword, the sword transformed into pure light and the neo-gothic spire crumbled away, leaving the sword in its true form. At the time, I didn’t really know what it meant. It wasn’t until a year later during some private prayer time, that sword of light image returned to me and I heard a voice say to me:

“I am doing something new. Are you in or are you out?” 

Return to Home Base 

We live in a world where we’re constantly being told to not be who we are, and those in power literally strip away rights and access to resources and care to make sure that the lie of the gender-binary, the lie of racial supremacy, the lie of capitalism and wealth, the lie of the powers and principalities are upheld. And y’all, I know I’m preaching to the choir at this point but the forcing of the incarcerative boxes is killing us! 

Jesus transfigured because the world needed to know that a different way is not only possible, but it’s on its way! 

Jesus transformed because showing up as your full self shakes the foundations of those in power and breathes new possibilities into the world! God affirmed our trans Jesus and invites us to follow them because God is doing a new thing, and we are being invited to bear witness to the new work that God is doing in the universe. 

My friends, the time for us to not only be our full selves, but to bear witness to the full selves of those around is here. There are a lot of ways to bear witness and a lot of ways to show up, but the one I invite you into is the one that God models for us in this passage:

Let us fully affirm and fully celebrate the beauty of the transfigured Jesus’ around you, and bear witness to the beautiful work they bring into this broken world. 

Let the people of God say, Amen.

What Forgiveness Is and Isn’t

I experienced a trauma in my childhood that was significant enough that I couldn’t reckon with it until I left home. But at 18, I was old enough and had enough space that I could start.

One of the places I started talking about this was with people in the Christian student movement I was part of. They were to me what we call the body of Christ, the hands, the feet, the kind and accepting listening ears of God to me. I’m very grateful I landed in such supportive community. 

But in one case, I told a young staff member in this movement about the trauma I was trying to reckon with, and he made some not so great choices. 

He offered to pray with me, which I appreciated. I appreciate that impulse, that offer still. But looking back, I don’t appreciate what happened when we prayed. He tried to engage the trauma with me too much, in a way he really had no business doing. He was in his mid-20s, not much older than me and had no real training or experience in this. 

His intentions were good, but impact was not. 

There are so many other questions he didn’t ask me.

He didn’t ask me if I needed a therapist.

I had seen one but way too briefly and I really needed to go back. 

He didn’t ask me if I’d reported the crime done to me to the authorities. It had been years, but not too many and I think that might have really helped me at the time. It certainly may have helped some other people. 

There were actually a lot of things he didn’t ask me.

But he did ask me if I felt ready to forgive a perpetrator of the trauma in my life. He was wondering if I wanted to forgive my enemy. 

Again, I get it. Forgiveness – God’s forgiveness of us, and our forgiveness of others, is a big deal in the way of Jesus. 

But I want to ask:

Was this encouragement to forgive appropriate or not? 

And more broadly, when it comes to what we might expect when we’ve harmed others, and what Jesus wants for us when we’ve been harmed, what is the role of forgiveness? What is it or isn’t it?

Let’s read one of a number of teachings from Jesus that touches on this topic.

Matthew 18:21-35 (Common English Bible)

21 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive as many as seven times?”

22 Jesus said, “Not just seven times, but rather as many as seventy-seven times.

23 Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.

24 When he began to settle accounts, they brought to him a servant who owed him ten thousand bags of gold.

25 Because the servant didn’t have enough to pay it back, the master ordered that he should be sold, along with his wife and children and everything he had, and that the proceeds should be used as payment.

26 But the servant fell down, kneeled before him, and said, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’

27 The master had compassion on that servant, released him, and forgave the loan.

28 “When that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him one hundred coins. He grabbed him around the throat and said, ‘Pay me back what you owe me.’

29 “Then his fellow servant fell down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’

30 But he refused. Instead, he threw him into prison until he paid back his debt.

31 “When his fellow servants saw what happened, they were deeply offended. They came and told their master all that happened.

32 His master called the first servant and said, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you appealed to me.

33 Shouldn’t you also have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’

34 His master was furious and handed him over to the guard responsible for punishing prisoners, until he had paid the whole debt.

35 “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you if you don’t forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

So Jesus is really into forgiveness. Can you see that? Seven times, seventy-seven times… that’s a lot of times to forgive your brother, your sister, your enemy, anyone really.

Jesus is serious about the way of forgiveness, so serious he tells this story that is so weird in at least three ways. 

I mean how does one come to owe 10,000 bags of gold? The term Matthew uses is meant to be obscenely large – it’s something like 160,000 years of wages. That’s even more than a mortgage in Boston these days. Yeah, a lot of money.

And who settles their debts by selling whole households into slavery? Well, it turns out a lot of people do that around the world. We used to do stuff like that in Massachusetts too. But it’s horribly cruel. 

So the first weird thing about this story is that the details are all way over the top.

The second weird thing in Jesus’ story is that the cruel, rich money-lender suddenly has a change of heart and wipes out the whole debt. Paid in full. Someone’s life, their whole household is in ruins, the kind of ruin that is going to curse the fates of multiple generations to come. And, was  canceled.

It’s weird that Jesus would make any kind of comparison between God and this crazy mafia boss figure. But I think the connection is about God’s intentions, to initiate this kind of extravagant transformation in the world, to so release people from ruin and shame and bondage that generations find freedom and blessing because of the power and impact of God’s love. 

That’s an awesome word, that God wants to do something so deep among us. 

But the story doesn’t end here. There’s a third weird part, which is that this first person who’s managed to rack up all that debt runs into an old gambling buddy who owes him maybe a few hundred, maybe a few thousand bucks, and he is after him. He’s like:

If you can’t pay me, you’re getting payback. 

Have you ever had a blessing enter into your life? Unexpected favor or kindness or happiness or good luck or whatever, but find yourself still nursing a grudge, still bitter, still easily provoked? 

Jesus is like:

This is worth interrogating. This is worth paying attention to. 

Then the story ends with a twist. That bitter, ungrateful fool gets arrested by the authorities after all, who go ahead with the original sell-this-man’s-family-into-slavery-for-generations plan, because if he’s gonna be like this, then he’s going pay every last cent of that multi-million dollar debt, no matter how long it takes, no many how many people have to suffer.

Thus sayeth the Lord. Amen. 

Friends, Jesus drew crowds. He was an entertaining and provocative story-teller. He knew how to get people’s attention.

But sometimes, the church has misconstrued Jesus and spun his teachings with a meanness and a rigidity that I don’t think he meant to convey.

So, you get a degraded interpretation of this teaching that goes like this:

Forgiveness is transactional. 

We are so thoroughly evil in God’s eyes, that God’s disappointment in us is like a billion dollar debt. One that merits us an eternity in hell. God, though, is willing to cancel that debt, rescue us from everlasting suffering, if we forgive other people the smaller harms they do us. Don’t go for payback, no revenge, be nice instead. And maybe God’ll be nice to you. 

Now, if the church had followed even that teaching for centuries, we might be better off. There would have been a lot less war, a lot fewer prisons.

But still, it’s a degraded teaching, to treat forgiveness like a transaction and say if you do or don’t do this, then God will or won’t do that. 

We can do better than this. 

I read this teaching more like Jesus is describing a whole economy of forgiveness. There is a way of Jesus. There is a way of Jesus that we can more or less live within, and the way of Jesus is about mercy. 

We get a negative example. The newly debt-relieved servant is like my working class European ancestors who (as soon as they found themselves accessing a little bit of security and standing in American society) joined the people above them in anti-Black, anti-immigrant, anti-indigenous attitudes and policies. 

And I think Jesus would say:

That’s not the way of grace. That’s not the way of mercy. 

Jesus is announcing an economy of universal spiritual liberation that he puts in terms of debt and status and all to emphasize that everything is spiritual, that the economy of God’s mercy should touch everyone and everything. The way of Jesus has no room for profiting off others’ misery. No room for harshness, bitterness, punching down. Jesus wants to be in the way of mercy, to be vessels of kindness and mercy. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. 

But Jesus also isn’t teaching isn’t some kind of spiritual obligation that will keep vulnerable people more vulnerable. 

As Lydia preached, forgiveness is not a summons to stay in relationship with someone who harms you.

As Keri preached last week, forgiveness is also not a license to leave injustice or bad behavior alone. 

Forgiveness is not necessarily a change in our feelings, so that we feel warmly and kindly to people and forces that harmed us. Sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn’t. 

What is forgiveness? 

In our small, day to day annoyances with each other, forgiveness a lot of the time probably looks like a way of empathy, of understanding, of letting go. Most people don’t mean harm most of the time. Love covers a multitude of evils, the scriptures tell us, so day to day, a lot of forgiveness is probably just letting go.

But in this love our enemies series, we’re talking about the bigger stuff, the stuff we can’t, we should just ignore and let go. 

So what does forgiveness look like with our enemies, with the big debts, the big harms? 

It’s two nos, and one yes. 

No #1. Forgiveness is not seeking payback. It rejects the cheap resolution of retaliation or revenge.

No #2. Forgiveness is also not forgetting or minimizing the harm. In fact, forgiveness is how we deal with the very real hurts we still remember. 

And now the YES: in between retaliation and forgetting is a way of mercy, where we reckon with past hurts we can’t change, and where we hope for a new way forward that is redemptive for us, and maybe in time even for our perpetrator. 

But this reckoning doesn’t start with forgetting or niceness. It doesn’t start with good feelings or reconciliation. It starts with grief.

That campus minister who prayed with me, who wanted to know:

Have you forgiven your abuser? 

This is what he should have asked. He should have asked:

Have you grieved yet? This is such a big hurt. This is such a big hurt. Would you like to grieve some more together? 

One of the surprising aspects of the good news economy of forgiveness is that forgiveness starts with grief. 

My friend Matthew Ichihashi Potts, who’s the minister of Harvard’s chapel, has helped me see this better. He has a fascinating scholarly book about this called Forgiveness: an Alternative Account. 

Minimizing and retaliation are both ways to keep us from the pain of grieving. Minimizing and retaliation pretend on the one hand that it’s not that bad, and on the other hand, that we can make it better by payback.

But the truth is that we can never undo our past hurts. There’s no reverse gear in life. Never. 

We can’t make our childhood traumas, if we have them, not have happened. Impossible.

We can’t take back words said, trusts betrayed, failures to act – whether they were ours, or whether they happened to us. 

What we can do, though, is grieve. And as the scriptures say, we can grieve as people of hope, grieve as people who believe in resurrection.

We’ve been taught there are five stages of grief. A lot of folks in the field have expanded this list. It’s called the Kübler-Ross Change Curve and it talked about seven aspects of grief.

They’re not linear, step by step in a row. They’re not a path or a guide, they’re a reference to recognize what grief looks like.

The eight aspects are:

  • Shock
  • Denial
  • Anger and frustration
  • Depression
  • Experimentation with how we live in our new situation.
  • Decision to move forward in our new reality.
  • And Integration 

When it came to my childhood trauma, I had plenty of shock and denial as a child, as a teen. When I first faced what was happening, I had some depression too. 

But all this encouragement to forgive and move on for me actually kind of slowed down the grief, slowed down the healing, and so slowed the deeper work of mercy.

A number of years ago, I discovered that decades after that person encouraged me to forgive, there was still a buried well of anger and frustration in me. And a number of years ago, circumstances drew that out, and with the help of God and friends, I was ready to feel it and face it. 

I needed that anger and frustration over a lot of things I’d lost. I needed a lot of it. And friends, I needed some help for that to not eat me up, and I needed some help and some hope to integrate this anger and frustration into my life. 

Only after significantly completing this grief do I have freedom around this trauma. I can’t erase the past. There are still impacts on me. But I feel full and loved and whole, including in those parts of my past. And I don’t always want to be connected to the people involved, but I see their own hurt and weaknesses now, and not only do I wish them no harm, but I wish them wellness if they can find it. You might call that love. 

I would. Now I love the ones who harmed me. I’m not in relationship with them all, but I’m free from them. They don’t define me. And I wish them well. 

That’s what forgiveness looks like. 

Friends, knowing that forgiveness takes grief means I can do it a little faster now, faster than decades at least. Maybe you can too.

And this is the miracle I’ve experienced during this series.

When Ivy preached on making space in our second week, I thought of an old friend with sadness. I thought: too much space, too much space. And I prayed as I have many times:

God, I’d love for that friendship to get better.

But in the moment, as has been true in many other moments, I felt:

There’s nothing for me to do just now but hope and pray and wait.

This is a friend who in some big ways had let me down. I hadn’t been perfect myself by any means myself, but the hurts I experienced were enough to need to recalibrate my expectations of this relationship. 

I had noticed some things that had been true before, would probably always be true. And there wasn’t a way for me to undo that. Again, the way toward mercy, the path of forgiveness was in grief. So I spent some time with this space, where I could work through the the shock and denial, the anger, frustration, and sadness around this deteriorating friendship before deciding what to do next. 

And my decision was: I still wanted the friendship in some form. We all know that you don’t just replace people in your life. Some you need to let go, but some you fight to keep. And I thought, this is a keeper, even if the friendship can never go back to what it was. I want it in some form still. 

So I decided I’d accept friendship back in a different form, and I’d pray for and look for an opportunity. 

A few days after that sermon and that prayer, it came. The person reached out. They didn’t reach out about how they’d let me down. They reached out for other reasons, but we had a warmer, more honest conversation than we have in years.

There was even a window where it was appropriate for me to share one of the ways I’d been hurt. And I found myself able to do that in a way that was real, but also that wasn’t like unloading on my friend. I could share the truth in a way that was also constructive for my friend to hear. And they did. 

And as Jesus says, friends, the truth will set you free.

Something is resurrecting here. I won’t get the old friendship back. But I’ve got something, something that looks like it’ll be different but still pretty good.

And forgiveness, which looked a lot like grief, paved the way for that on my end. 

Friends, here’s the teaching.

Forgiveness for our enemies is a command of Jesus. It’s one part of his way of mercy for us all. No shaking it.

But forgiveness is not a lot of bad things. It’s not forgetting, it’s not minimizing, it’s not necessarily reconciliation, it’s not always good feelings, and it is not changing or undoing the past.

Forgiveness is actually the refusal to minimize and the refusal to retaliate.

Forgiveness is participating with God in God’s great arc of love and redemption and mercy.

It starts and sometimes it ends with grief. 

You can’t rush it.

But when you grieve honestly and well, you find the truth setting you free in all kinds of ways. And one way or another, you make room for resurrection.

Slow Time

Thank you for the good and holy word, Rose J. Percy. May slowness be treasured here. We’ll continue exploring this invitation, “May slowness be treasured here” in the sermon today. 

I’m Cate Nelson (she/her) and so glad to be with you today. Greetings from Philadelphia! Reservoir Church is such a special place to me – thank you for having me, and thanks to Pastor Ivy and the team for inviting me!

I’m grateful to be joining you all in this season of Lent at Reservoir Church. The focus of this year’s season is “Earth,” and exploring what we call ecotheology—a way to understand the interdependence of all things on earth, and to look at Jesus’ words and teaching through his value and love of the earth. 

Let’s begin today with two scripture readings from the “Seeds” chapter in this year’s Lent Guide, Earth. 

From MARK 4:26-29

Then Jesus said, “This is what God’s kingdom is like. It’s as though someone scatters seed on the ground, then sleeps and wakes night and day. The seed sprouts and grows, but the farmer doesn’t know how. The earth produces crops all by itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full head of grain. Whenever the crop is ready, the farmer goes out to cut the grain because it’s harvest time.”

The kin-dom of God that Jesus talks about is one that connects the slowness of the earth to bringing forth fruit.

“This is what God’s kin-dom is like,”

Jesus says. Seeds are scattered to the ground. The earth moves through the slow time of days, nights, a stalk, a head, the full head of grain. Jesus treasures the time it takes between the labor of planting and harvesting, the work of dirt and water and sun to bring forth a stalk and a full head of grain. Jesus naming this treasured slowness of the earth and time as central to his understanding of the goodness of God made visible in and with the world. 

We go on to read MATTHEW 13:24-30

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like someone who planted good seed in his field. While people were sleeping, an enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat and went away. When the stalks sprouted and bore grain, then the weeds also appeared.”

The folks who work in the field are concerned about this, and ask if they should pull up the small weeds that are sprouting alongside the grain sprouts.

“But the landowner said, ‘No, because if you gather the weeds, you’ll pull up the wheat along with them. Let both grow side by side until the harvest…’”

Jesus is pointing towards the slow work of the earth to make clear what is fruit and what is weed, and the time and the patience to let roots take hold. Seeds take time to become strong enough to become fruit to harvest – and to separate from the weeds that grow up alongside them. Sometimes slowness needs to be treasured to let things grow up to what they need to be, to be mature enough for harvest, or to discern (divide) the good fruit from the weeds. Jesus treasures that this is how the earth bears fruit – slowly, with time and discernment. 

The thing about treasuring slowness, though, is that it sits in a tension – that we actually often despise slowness, and we despise the earth for being slow.

This week, the UN put out yet another alarming report about our earth and climate change. Unless industrialized nations cut emissions of greenhouse gasses in half over the next decade, and eliminate the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by 2050, the earth’s temperature will increase to a critical degree such that climate disasters, crop failures, and species extinction will become increasingly the norm.   


We have seven years folks, seven years, to slow down our collective reliance on fossil fuels. We humans have despised slowness, and dishonored the rhythm of regeneration of the earth’s natural resources. We have enacted this fast, frenetic extraction and consumption that allows our lives to continue moving fast. (examples: fast food, packaging, amazon, heat, etc.) It will take a willingness to embrace a slow earth – rather than demand the earth keep pace with our frantic pace of extraction – to push against the capitalist and supremacy structures that teach us to despise the earth and its luscious slowness. 

How can we treasure slow earth? I love what Rose says in her poem:

We can choose the journey of gestation, to witness the miracle of being whole that only seeds, dirt, and water know. -Rose Percy

We can choose the journey of gestation.

We can consume less. We can move at the pace of the earth, putting our feet along an outdoor path or using our hands to grow food. But really, there is a collective world we need to enact together. For our local, national, and global policies and social practices to reduce our use and dependence on fossil fuels. No amount of individual practice or commitment can respond to climate change.

We need to be a Beloved Community, and find ourselves in communities that share resources such that we don’t need to irresponsibly pull them from the earth. To treasure the earth is to treasure slowness – and we see how Jesus treasured slowness in his love, care for, and understanding of the earth. May a slow earth of seeds and grain be treasured here, that we might witness the miracle of being whole.

Jesus’ words about seeds also relate to time. The slow time it takes for seeds to grow and bear fruit. So let’s talk about treasuring slow time. 

To treasure slowness is to practice treasuring slow time. Time itself is neutral – in the sense the sun rises and the sun sets, giving cadence to the rhythms of the earth and all living things. Time is also political, as it has been given days and weeks and hours and seconds to govern our sense of living. While time as a baseline is neutral, our experience of time and how we use it is not – it is marked and it is measured.

I share a sense of many of us here in the modern and postmodern age that time moves really fast. The default is that there are a lot of demands on our time, there is a lot of activity in our lives, to move quickly from one thing to the next – and part of this that we experience here in the US is the demands of a capitalist system that requires production and productivity. I call this fast time. Living in the frantic, urgent, rapid pace of everything that needs to be done. 

And yet the invitation from Jesus, from Rose’s poem, from the wise sages of our world is to treasure slow time. And by slow time, I mean when we can live with room, and space, and cease from our frantic and rushed relationship with time. 

One way slow time has been practiced over the centuries is through Sabbath. Sabbath, or what our Jewish siblings call Shabbat, is perhaps the most time-honored “time” practice in our faith tradition. In the Hebrew Bible, YWHW commands and commands to us a practice of keeping Sabbath – six days to labor, and a seventh day for all humans to cease from labor, to rest, to connect with others, to worship God together and to celebrate the goodness of life. 

We read in EXODUS 20:8-11 

Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. 

Six days you may work and do all your tasks, 

10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Do not do any work on it—not you, your children, your servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you. 

11 Because the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them in six days, but rested on the seventh day. That is why the God blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

The entire community is called to Sabbath. This practice of marking a slower time is an interdependent practice. If someone is still working, it’s hard for everyone to rest. If everyone’s pace is fast, we feel pressure to keep up. 

Writer Judith Shulevitz* reminds us that Sabbath was never meant to be experienced alone. It has always been understood as a communal, collective practice. She says that’s why any of our efforts to practice Sabbath—or really any form of slow time—by ourselves can be a very lonely effort. The call is to rest together, to worship together, to celebrate together. Shulevitz points out that Sabbath keeping would be a whole lot easier if the larger communities of our towns and cities practiced it too – if the options of activity were limited so that we might choose each other and choose rest. 

*Judith Shulevitz’s wonderful book, “The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time.”

Slow time can happen beyond a practice of Sabbath. We can do it throughout our days and weeks. I find that playing with kids is a tender way to treasure slow time, as is time for prayer or meditation, a long meal shared with friends, or a gentle walk just for the sake of walking. Rose Percy says:

Lay slowly, you are treasured here: Take up compassion for your withering, you who make haste and cut corners, fold into rest for a day or two breaths…. -Rose J Percy 

So even now, for two breaths, we can fold into slow time and rest. 

I wonder where in your world – whether in your home with housemates or family, in your community group, or even here at Reservoir, there can be shared experiences of slow time—that center rest and joy. Matt Henderson is leading the final Pause Service of Lent not this Wednesday but next – Wednesday, April 5. That might be a place to enter into slow time with others.

It is the interdependence of a community and what it treasures that makes experiences of slow time sustainable over the long haul. 

One place where I see Cambridge treasuring slow time is in the longstanding tradition of closing car traffic along Memorial Drive on Sunday mornings and afternoons (and in some recent years, Saturdays too!). This has been happening for 40 years! Cars are diverted to Storrow Drive, and from Gerry’s Landing to Western Ave., the slow, joyful movement of pedestrians, roller bladers, folks in wheelchairs, and kids in strollers and on bikes, and dogs on leash are given right of way.

It is a place where Cambridge celebrates slow time together, transforming a space marked by the fast time of commuting and running errands and hustling kids to activities and allows it to take a deep breath and become a place that honors slow time, valuing connection and play. Slow time is treasured here.

*Sara Hendren, a Cambridge based designer and academic, has a great article about this in the New York Times. What she called ‘designing for time’

Our bodies can also be a way to experience slow time. Particularly when we come into sickness or disability, pain or aging, and our bodies become a prophetic testament to slow time – and an invitation to those around us to enter a slower experience of time than the default culture of fast time. One of my sibling’s disabilities means their body moves at a slower pace – and so my relationship to time is altered when I am with them. To treasure his body is to treasure slow time. When I attempt for us to move too quickly, or do too much, the treasuring of slow bodies and slow time is forfeited and needs to be reclaimed. 

Like these little seeds – our slow bodies are to be treasured. Like the grains of wheat – the earth needs time to bear fruit. Like the seeds – our lives need slow time to nurture and care for one another, and to celebrate the goodness of life. 

Let’s rest a day or two, even now. 

Here in our breath is the holiness and the earthiness of slow time,

“settling scattered parts of us into a rooted remembrance” (Rose J. Percy). 

May you treasure slowness in the days ahead, dear friends. 




1 Corinthian 12:12-27

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.

13 For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.

16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.

17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?

18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as God wanted them to be.

19 If they were all one part, where would the body be?

20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”

22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,

23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,

24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,

25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.

26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

27 You are the body of Christ. Each one of you is a part of it.

Let me pray for us. 

Divine Love, Thank you for bringing us here together today. Thank you that you called us, no matter what week we’ve had, what morning we had, that you invite us with love and grace and mercy to be in your presence and receive your love. Help us to open ourselves up to something new. 

There’s a Ted Talk from a social psychologist named Amy Cuddy called, “The body language shapes who you are.” It was the one with the study where people took powerful, expansive postures for two minutes, and some would take the opposite, small powerless poses, and then they took their saliva samples for signs of hormones that equate to confidence.

She talked about the universal body language after you win a race — like this, raising your arms up and feeling big. And the universal body language for feeling insecure or scared, like scrunched over, holding your arms. One of her questions was,

“so we know that our minds change our bodies, but is it also true that our bodies change our minds?”

And her study results were, yes. Smiling when you’re sad can make you happier. Lifting up your chin and taking up more space can make you feel more important and powerful. And so they applied this to situations that particularly could influence and matter, like a job interview. Again, they found the study that those who took power poses before their interview were more likely to get the job. 

The feedback she got though was,

“well I don’t wanna fake it and get there and feel like an imposter.”

Because this method did feel a bit like

“fake it till you make it.”

She went on to say,

“I get it, because I know what it feels like to feel like an imposter.”

She tells a story about how when she was 19, she got into a really bad car accident that threw her out of the car. She woke up in a head injury rehab and her IQ had dropped by two standard deviations, which was very traumatic to her because she had identified with being smart, called gifted as a child. She was taken out of college and as she tried to go back, she heard them say,

“You’re not going to finish college. There’s other things you can do, you know.”

She struggled with this, having your identity taken from you, your core identity, that equated to being smart. But she worked hard, taking four years longer than her peers to graduate college. 

She ended up at Princeton and then Harvard, fighting through the imposter syndrome. One day, a student who had not talked in class the entire semester came into her office. She came in totally defeated, and she said,

“I’m not supposed to be here.”

That’s when she realized, oh my gosh, I don’t feel like that anymore. but she does, and I get that feeling. And so she told her,

“Yes, you are! You are supposed to be here! And tomorrow you’re going to fake it, you’re going to make yourself powerful.”

The student came back months later, she had not just faked it till she made it, she had actually faked it till she became it. So she had changed. And Cuddy tells the audience,

“don’t fake it till you make it. Fake it till you become it. Do it enough until you actually become it and internalize it.” 

Now when the Apostle Paul was writing to the Corinthian church, he had heard the same thing, in our text today,

“I don’t belong here.”

“I’m not supposed to be here.”

“ I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,”

“ I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body.”

As the church was facing conflict, corruption, divisions and just general drama, the church sometimes didn’t know how to be the church. What is the church anyway? What are we supposed to be doing? Paul said, the church is the body of Christ. 

We’ve been in a series called Seven Big Words, simply focusing on one word each Sunday to unpack and our word for today is Embodiment. I want to dig deeper with you together, what does it mean for us to be the Body of Christ, to embody Christ? Maybe we’re not facing conflict, corruption, and division as a church, but we sure are set in a world, post-pandemic, often politically and racially divided, and maybe how can Reservoir be an agent of healing and a voice of love just as Jesus was in his time and culture?  How can we, Reservoir Church emulate and be the body of Christ in our word today? What would that look like? 

What is embodiment?

Embodiment: is a tangible or visible form of an idea, quality, or feeling.

The representation or expression of something in a tangible or visible form. It is our thoughts, feelings, ideas, theology, values, coming alive and taking a bodily form.

  • What do we believe in?
  • Maybe hope, love, justice, mercy. Well how is that embodied?
  • What does that look like?

That’s what a church is supposed to be. Not just a building with a pastor who preaches such concepts, we all listen, and go back to our homes with feel-good thoughts, but the church is supposed to SHOW that in action all throughout the week in our hands, in our work, in our bodies. The church isn’t what the building looks like, what it says on its website, or even what’s preached. It’s the people. 

I’ve heard people say sometimes,

“I really wish the church would…”

as we’re standing in church on a Sunday morning. And the question I always want to ask is, who is the church? Is the church Steve? Is the church the staff? It’s not! The church is you. The church is you and you and you and you. The church is you leading a community group. The church is you coming to church at 8:30am to set up the coffee and you running late into worship when the sermons started. The church is you sitting up in the front with your arms crossed and you sitting in the back with your head down low. The church is you standing by the bathroom striking a conversation with someone you saw crying during worship. The church is you texting on a Tuesday morning to someone you know who has a surgery that day with words of hope and encouragement. The church is you laughing out loud about the hard things that went really wrong during the week with someone who can laugh with you because they too had a crazy annoying week at work. Do I need to go on? 

And it’s almost funny how similar our text is to what I hear sometimes. I have heard this from some of you, actually many of you.

“Oh I am not (fill in the blank) so I don’t belong.” 

“Oh I don’t come every Sunday, just whenever I can.”

“I did not grow up in church.”

“I’ve been coming on and off for about 6 years.”

“I don’t really know how to be Christian”

“I’m fairly new to church. I only started coming out right before the pandemic.”

All spoken to me by people I literally met at church. It’s funny how many of us feel like outsiders. 

Let me shift for a minute to talk about what it means to be the “body of Christ,” I’d like to unpack the word Christ. Sometimes we use the words Christ and Jesus, interchangeably. Like Christ is Jesus’s last name. It’s not. What does the word Christ mean? It comes from the Greek word, Christos, meaning, “the anointed one.”

So it simply means Jesus the anointed one. If we understand the “body of Christ” as simply, interchangeable name for Jesus (which is how it has often been by many recent understandings) and by that I mean, in the last 50 years conclusion and assumptions and theological implications –which most of us in this room have probably been most exposed to by pure incident of time, but there were other understanding of Christ, not just the person of Jesus. Why does this matter?

Church is the body of Christ, often just meant, church, be like Jesus. Be Jesus in this world. And in many senses that is true. Because Jesus did very visibly show us how to be in this world with divine love. 

In the book titled The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr, a notable Franciscan priest, he talks about the beginning of the Gospel of John, 

“In the beginning was the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him and nothing was created except through him.”

Now in the past, even though this text made no sense to me, here’s how I was taught about it. See? The Word, he’s talking about Jesus. The Word, is Jesus. So you see, Jesus was there all along. Jesus was at the beginning of Creation. Nothing came into being except through him. 

And again, it made no sense, but I just chalked it up as, Oh John, you are just so poetic. And I didn’t ask, how is the Word an unmistakable reference to Jesus? But just like any metaphor, it is and it isn’t. John was being poetic, which means it has this meaning and so so so much more to offer us than one conclusion.  

Richard Rohr says

“The word became flesh” in (John 1:14), (John is) using a universal and generic term (sarx) instead of referring to a single human body. In fact the lone word “Jesus” is never mentioned in the Prologue! Did you ever notice that? “Jesus Christ” is finally mentioned but not until the second to last verse.”

It is true that in Jesus, what happened is that a thought became a body. Word became flesh. And it is a visible sign and a reminder that God indeed is one who made divine things into earthly things. As Rohr says quote:

“This infinite Primal Source somehow poured itself into finite, visible forms, creating everything from rocks to water, plants, organisms, animals and human beings–everything we see with our eyes.” 

Though many Christians think of baby Jesus when we think of the word “Incarnation” but, Rohr calls the creation first Incarnation, because the word “incarnation” simply means that

“God joined in unity with the physical universe and became the light inside of everything,”

including and perhaps quite powerfully and so sweetly in the person of Jesus. Rorh says that Franciscans say it like this,

“Creation is the First Bible and it existed for 13.7 billion years before the second Bible was written.” 

Stay with me please. I know I’m throwing a lot. 

Again, what does it mean to the Body of Christ? 

Some of us have confused the Christian mantra to be, be like Jesus. Be like Jesus. And again, that’s one way to put it. But, And also, it means, You are the body of Christ. Christ – the anointed one. YOU ARE THE ANOINTED ONE! The question isn’t, “what would Jesus do” but “what would an anointed one do?”  You are the concept of the anointed one embodied through who you are, what you do, how you live right now, right here. 

“Follow Jesus” wasn’t just about trying to be like him, taking on his character, learning his ways, which again, is one way to follow his ways, but another way to think of it is, Jesus knew how close and intimate he was to God. So much so that he called God Abba. Now learn from that. Call God Abba, and feel in your body what it means to be a beloved child of God. Understand just like how Jesus understood his own holy anointing, that you are my child, in whom I am well pleased, which is the voice from the heaven spoken when Jesus was baptized and the voice we are to hear in our baptism, You are my beloved. 

Please hear me. You’re not just a sinner who needs Jesus. You are a beloved child of God, just like Jesus. Look at him. Look how he shined. It’s not meant that his light is just supposed to rub off on you even though you are despicable and undeserving. That was a wrong message and how torn I am to realize, how many years I spent, of my life, thinking that GOSH, why won’t his light rub off no matter how hard I try. The message was always that that same light is in you all along. 

So what does the call for the church, for our church to be the body of Christ, mean? It’s not, let’s try our hardest to be more like Jesus. It’s not a call, “be more like Jesus”, it’s a pronouncement.

Verse 27 says,

“You are the Body of Christ.”

You are the anointed one. 

That’s the beginning and the starting point of what it means to be Christian. It’s not, oh dear, do try to be more like this good boy Jesus. It’s, you are loved and holy and anointed just like I am union with Jesus, so I am with you. Isn’t that a pretty big difference? 

I get emotional about it because it’s something that has made all the difference. 

You see, when I first felt like I was being called to be a pastor, I too said the same thing. I do not belong. I am not supposed to be here. Do you know who I am? Do you know what I’ve done? If you saw me in my worst moments in my life, heck in my week, you would not approve of me standing here preaching to you. Most every one of you might say, “you’re one to talk.”

Just to be clear, I’m not a pastor because I’m some kind of role model. I just have had enough grace and mercy spoken to me that has covered me so well that I’m okay with being visibly publicly a stumbling bumbling mess of a person who struggles with her faith. Who struggles with embodying her faith to even her own children when they are relentlessly crying literally for no reason. Who struggles with feeling tired, overworked, overwhelmed, like I’m not enough, like I’m not producing enough, replying to email fast enough, like I’m not enough. 

And you know what? That’s alright. I’m not the whole body. I’m just a pinky. Or let’s give myself a little more credit, maybe I’m a hand. But a hand needs a wrist, a wrist needs an elbow, an elbow does well with a shoulder and a shoulder with shoulder blades. 

You belong. You are the church. You are needed.

I was going to go on about the challenges of embodiment, and how much our body actually has experienced trauma and how much healing we need. That Ted Talk I mentioned, she said as a passing comment, when she was talking about powerless postures,

“So women are much more likely to do this kind of thing than men. Women feel chronically less powerful than men, so this is not surprising.”

And the reality of how chronically women and people of color feel less in their bodies… but alas I’ve run out of time. You know the whole body metaphor of how much it suffers the whole body when you have one toothache. It’s in the rest of the text, how,

“those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.”

Go back and read it cause I didn’t have time to touch on it.

Let’s heal one another through our church. Let’s not just talk about it or think about it or believe it but let’s really really do it and be it. Let’s be the holy and anointed ones who do everything from the groundedness of knowing that we belong, that we are inextricably connected through the divine love who holds and cradles our aching bodies. And as we figure it out, if we’re not sure how to, let’s fake it till we become it. Let me pray for us. 

Holy and Loving God, you have given us your light in each and every one of us. Give us the eyes to see. Help us to know how absolutely belovedness, that from there, everything we do will derive. Help us drive that deep into our hearts we pray. Amen. 


Do You Love Me?

Good morning – I’m Ivy.  So great to be here with you on New Year’s Day!

First off –  Congratulations!  – you have made it to the first day of 2023.  Well done.

 It’s the time of year where there’s a flurry of talk about reflecting and making resolutions…

And likely we all have a variety of opinions and feelings about both. I don’t love resolutions, but I am resolving to drink water in the new year…like more water, more regularly.

Today – I’m going to talk a little bit more about reflection – than resolution – and I’m going to invite us to pause and to entertain a question from Jesus – that feels like a helpful and anchoring one to start the new year. 

The reality of course, is that I don’t know exactly what 2022 held for all of you and maybe some of you underestimate what this year has held for you.  Often I hear, “well – you know, it’s been a year… or hey, look I’m here.” Kind of a protected, or neutral response… Like “nothing to see here.” 

But my guess is that it’s been a FULL year, even fuller than your first pass at reflection might reveal.

I felt this a couple of weeks ago in a staff meeting where our Executive Pastor, Trecia Reavis, led us through a reflection exercise.  Inviting us to name the many things we’ve done through our work as a team… spaces, events, bbqs, classes, baptisms, check-ins, little things, big things, things visible, and things behind the scenes… in some ways to celebrate all that we’ve done – and to *not forget* all that 2022 had held.

And there was something so validating about seeing it ALL in dry-erase marker on a whiteboard. . .  “WOW.  We did do a fair amount of things.”

I expected the next part to be similar to the business-y model of review, “Stop. Start. & Continue” – start categorizing the work we’d done into these funnels – so we can figure out where to prioritize our work and capacity in 2023.  A valid, helpful tool – one though that often gets you moving in a “do-ing mode” pretty quickly… so I was gearing up for that energy…

And there was this slight pause and Trecia turned to us and said, “Now, I want you to think about your personal life over this past year…”

And I froze. I don’t know what the rest of the sentence was  – probably something normal like, “think of your personal life, and all that it held – or all the work in that realm…”  

A couple of people shared stuff – and then our time was up, our meeting was over…

… and I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me…

Was that a “good” wind-knocked out of me feeling – or was that like, deep- pain-wind-knocked out of me feeling?” 

I remember as I went to get up from my chair, I put my hand over my heart. Like I had to hold it in as I moved, to make sure it would still be there for my next breath…  

I’ll unpack some thoughts around this in a minute… but…

This familiar, kind of short- 15 minute exercise that Trecia led us through, was not only an invitation to *reflect & not forget* what we had DONE… it was an invitation to *reflect & not forget* who we are. Our whole human selves that we bring around with us everywhere. With the layers and layers we are comprised of… the layers that make our vocations enriched, the layers that are a mess and weigh us down and the layers we carry and are shaped by –  from years and years gone by… not just 2022.

And it was an invitation to PAUSE, and not forget who God is in all of the layers.

To realize that when we feel like all we have to offer at the start of a new year is a neutral comment like, “well I’m here,” … God celebrates that, GOD LOVES THAT. God goes over the top and reveres our presence as holy, meaningful and sacred.  

For me it’s been an intense year. A hard year, a joyous year, a year with constriction and stretching, of letting go…  And in between my moments to reflect and my moments to make resolutions – There’s always a moment to <pause>. Yes, where any question can come at me, where my feelings can jump before my mind can put the reaction all together – but also where Jesus says,  “I’m so glad you are here. I’m so glad you are here.”

And that pause builds hope. It’s neither a reflection or a resolution – but a truth  – a promise even – that as much as I can lose my breath at the pain and the sorrow and the exhaustion of a year – I can find it again with the love of God.  

So as we start today – and as we stand on this first day of 2023, I’m going to invite you to pause with God as I pray for us. You can close your eyes if you’d like, and  think over the past year – as memories come, let them roll through you – acknowledging, bringing to mind the ones that your heart and body allow.  As they do, suspend any self-judgment or analysis – don’t rush to resolutions… but just pause and take in the full expanse of your whole life over the last year (all the corners of it). As whole people – with all the threads of life (whatever those might be for you); celebratory threads, threads that feel like live-wires and unresolved threads.  Open yourself unto God in this… 


Oh Loving God,

The Sustainer of our soul,

The source of our breath,

The one who resolves to love us endlessly,

The one who reflects back to us our divine beauty,

Thank you for being with us, within us and between us today.



Trecia in some ways helped us navigate this notion of liminal time.  The roots of this word in Latin mean “threshold”… And so liminal spaces are these threshold places, where we transition from one state or status to another.

Many of us have probably been in liminal times – when we’ve lost a job, or we’ve moved… or entering a new school,  or on the cusp of a new friendship. These are all transitional, liminal spaces AND THEY ALL find commonality – in the fact that we are “not in control” – and there’s nothing “certain” that we can rest on. It’s also why resolutions are so popular. Or goals, or plans – you have something that you can at least put shape to, control to some degree – as you move into the unknown.

I love the “idea” of liminal space… the idea that there’s some entrance/beginning to walk through that could possibly usher in new ways of thinking and seeing the world around me. BUT as I’ve lived through these liminal moments in my life, I’ve realized I don’t really love so much the part about “not being in control or certain”… or how LONG “liminal time” can be.  The week between Christmas and New Years – I can handle that version of liminal time – but think about the pandemic as liminal time and it’s toooo intense.

This is part of what knocked the wind out of me – when Trecia said now think about your personal life this year. There were a couple things in my personal life that earlier in the year left me feeling unmoored – and somewhere inside I had formed a plan. If I do, “ x, y, z over the next couple of months – with a bonus sabbatical month in there – with all the attention, presence, time and intentionality this pain point will be “resolved” by the end of the year.”  And in that moment of reflection in staff meeting, my body felt the grief that it wasn’t – even before I could put together why my body was responding in that way…

Jesus invites us again and again to consider that our lives aren’t linear – from one year past to one year forward… this continuum of sorts. Our lives are multi-dimensional  – they have the capacity to hold a MESS OF LIFE – and also a MESS of wild and crazy love – that is all over the place… and So while Jesus invites us to reflect – I think he invites us to FIRST RESOLVE to fall in love with Him day after day after day…  

And He gets us into this space by asking us a great, piercing question – one that’s kind of akin to what Trecia’s question did for me.

My Story

And it’s a question interestingly enough that my husband, Scott asked me – in our pre-dating history (which now was 25 years ago!).  And this pre-dating period – is important – because it was this liminal space… where no real commitment of relationship had been made….. well, at least not by me.  

For Scott I think in his mind (in his dreams) he was already convinced that we had crossed the threshold into being an official “couple.” Despite the fact that I had told him on multiple occasions that that was definitely not the case.  

Still Scott pursued me. Hard. And in his pursuit he was quite heroic actually in laying out the reasons that he was a good catch… “I play the guitar, I cook  – really well… I’m good-looking, nice, and sensitive and humble, etc…” (I thought … are you humble?)

And deep down I think I knew all these descriptors to be true. And it was obvious he loved me – and cared for me – and extended such tenderness to me, but honestly I didn’t know what to do with it all, with that display and level of love.

I had no container for a guitar-playing, sensitive chef.  My examples of “real men,” in my life up to that point, played football and stuffed all their feelings inside and didn’t extend themselves in vulnerable ways…
And so I was happy to engage with Scott at a surface level – I’d go to see a band or to dinner – but I wouldn’t ever engage at a heart level… that was really too unknown for me… and if that was liminal space, I wanted nothing to do with it… 

But a person can only extend himself so far and REMAIN SANE!  And we would have rhythms of intensity – a few months “on” where Scott would really lean in and engage – and then a couple months off where I think Scott would recover from the fatigue of putting himself out there with me. And then he’d gather up the energy – to go back into the fray of my unresponsive heart…

But ultimately the turning point came one night on the phone – after a series of intense “on” weeks…

When Scott asked me,

“Ivy, do you love me?”

This question, “do you love me?”  turned out to be the most piercing of questions for me… 

A question that seems could illicit only 2 possible responses:   

“Yes, I love you” or

“No, I don’t love you.”  

I think though, there’s some layers in either of those answers – that in my story and in the story of Peter and Jesus that we’ll read in just a moment – add another possible, third compelling answer… if not just more conversation than just a “yes” or a “no.”

So let’s take a look at the story here:
This part of scripture is the 3rd post-resurrection appearance Jesus makes.

And where I’ll pick the story up today, is after a long night  – where Peter and some of the disciples have been trying to catch fish – with nothing to show for it.  And Jesus appears, unrecognizable to them, along the shore, and says,

hi friends, cast your net on the other side”

and then they do and they have this miraculous catch of fish… And then we read this early morning beach scene:

John 21:15-17

15 After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”

“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.

16 Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”

“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.

17 A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said,

“Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

Jesus said,

“Then feed my sheep.”

For three years Peter walked with Jesus in a liminal space, having left his old life of fishing behind, embracing a life with Jesus  -never knowing what exactly the next day would bring – where he would go, what was going to happen. Who Jesus was going to ask him to talk with or eat with or sit with? And all of that time – culminates with Peter denying his friend Jesus – three times.  And then his friend, Jesus died.  And so Peter still sits in a space of not knowing – but it doesn’t seem worth it anymore… 

And like any you who have ever been a witness or participant in a life transition might know at least a bit what this feels like. …whether it’s been loss or birth of something or someone. 

Sometimes in the swirl of all the emotions that such a time can conjure up –  it’s easier to retreat to what we know, the tried and true, to go do something that feels normal again.  And for Peter this is fishing… 

And so, after Jesus’ death – he returns to the old, familiar world of being a fisherman. …

“I know how to do this – I know what to do… I catch fish.  And I know I can live by fishing.”  

And so he fishes….all night…. And catches NOT.ONE. Fish.    

Same boat, same nets, same waters… nothing is working as it once had.
This has got to be a pretty poignant night for Peter. To him he couldn’t get the world with Jesus right – and now – he can’t get a world that he once knew so well right.  

Where does he stand?

Perhaps in the early morning dusk  – tired, defeated Peter looks out to the shore – and asks,

“what do I have to show for my life? Nothing.  All this time with this Jesus – who I have known and believe to be Savior, the comforter, healer, the bread of life, the good shepherd…..  and nothing.”

Except Jesus is standing on the shore – and he answers-

“You got to try something new.” 

What you don’t realize is that in those three years together – despite a sense of day to day uncertainty – we were building something new, something indestructible – that won’t allow you to go back to your ‘old life” the same way.    We built a relationship, we built a flow of love – that is ALIVE and LIVING in YOU.  And it matters – it matters in your life and the church to come and the world to come… 

And as Peter’s OLD world is falling apart –  Jesus shifts his net – and his perspective. To see the abundance of what hanging out in liminal space has brought Him…

And Jesus breaks this open with four simple words over breakfast….. 

“Do you love me?”
Do you love me?

Do you love me?

Now when Scott asked me this question: 

“Ivy, do you love me?”

I quickly answered,

“No, I don’t love you”

… and just for good measure I added a little extra…

“..and I never will.” 

Peter, when posed this question – has a more generous answer,

“Yes Lord, you know I love you.”

Both Peter and I – despite our disparate answers to this same question –  have a deeper, common underlayer…   The underlayer- I think is that we are both fumbling, internally –  with this question, “do you love me”?, because we wish there was a third available answer on the table, that reflects the status of our heart:

“I don’t know HOW to love you”.  

Scott,  I don’t know how to love you in the face of all this tremendous, tender love that you are lavishing on me…. I don’t have a gridwork for this and my love back to you could never match it –

“no, I don’t want to love you – because I don’t know how, and I’ll never get it right.” 

Jesus – I look back at my year – and my thoughts can’t help but hovering over these hard moments. When I feel like I’ve messed up or missed opportunities – or in turn when things have just happened – and I’m left pondering and regretting and angry and annoyed…

Peter says 

“I’ve messed it up too much already, Jesus”

I couldn’t even say I knew you to those authorities – and I thought I loved you???   I think  Peter too, is fumbling with the question and his answer…

“yes, I love you”

But actually I really don’t know how to?  How do I get it right?  

Jesus answers us – he waves at us from the horizon of whatever space we are in… this shoreline on the beach… and says

“Hi friend!”

Hey here’s a great place to start…. start by identifying yourself with a heart of love.  That’s what it’s made for. You’ve got it….  It has great capacity to love actually…

The conversation starts with love,

“Hi friends – I’m so glad you are here.”

Love is not something you can bargain for, plan for – RESOLVE for? It is not something you can attain or work up to—love “is our very structural and essential identity— because we are created in the image of God.” (Rohr)

Jesus – it seems is not that interested in STARTING A CONVERSATION about our past, how far we think we’ve come, what we think should be resolved, all the perfect laid out plans that should work in our relationships, that FAIL – the disappointments, the rejection, the denial – he’s much more interested in a conversation that starts with love….  That helps us open our heart – with all that it holds. 

This kind of conversation allows Peter to reorient, to move his identity from being a fisherman, or a failure, or a person who only disappoints  – to the identity of being love… 

“Do you love me?” 

“Can you find the love in yourself that is and always will be there?”  

This is what will move you into a whole new, big world – where a heart of love matters.

AND Jesus shows Peter what LOVE feels like – right?  He says ‘here’s the new way” – cast your net to the other side.  And Peter doesn’t just catch one fish, right?  It says in the scripture he catches

“153 fish, and the net did not tear.”

That’s the thing about Jesus’ love. It’s going to swing right beside the heaviness of your days and your year – and how you might be feeling about yourself and the HEARTACHE OF life. And you are going to feel the weight and TUG of His love too, right beside you – like a net bursting with fish… but that doesn’t for a second threaten to break.

In our staff meeting – what hit me first – was the feeling of how I might break – if I looked too squarely at the year gone by. Realizing that so much was ALIVE, UNRESOLVED.  I wanted to just move forward – let’s make a plan, let’s get to work – 2023, let’s go!

To pause though, and consider this question from God,

“Do you love me?”

Can open up conversation from exactly where I’m at – right?  To be able to say,

“I’m kind of disappointed God –  this stuff still stings with pain, and it rises right to the top as I think about my personal landscape…” 

And in turn I can sense God raise God’s eyebrows and say,

“YASSS – the host of those memories are going to live with you – in your body, heart, mind  for a very long time.  I get it.”

Validation that so much of life  – so much of being human – and being loved  – is intimate. Vulnerable. Exposing live wires.  Our experiences are often NOT resolved aspects of a year/a past gone by… they are most often unresolved, LIVE parts of us now.

And all of us, over the past year have witnessed chaos – personal,  national, health – you-name-it-chaos,  we have embodied compassion, we have shaken with rage and we have lifted our voices for justice ….we have lived through this year, and this year now lives in us.   

Howard Thurman says,

“We can use our memory of the past with creative discrimination.  We can lift out of the past those things that will give us reinforcement as we face the future, that will give us courage, that will lift the ceiling of our hopes as we look toward tomorrow…..

In this way, ‘we can let the past (our experiences), become something more than history, something that tutors us as we move into the new year. The past is history, but the past is alive, because the past is in us.” (Thurman, 180,181 – The Mood of Christmas)

And when we forget –  as we tend to do –  that part of the aliveness in us is the Spirit of God that  – this red hot fire of love between God and Jesus that is always burning within us.  It’s mysterious.  But Jesus gives us this practical question to tip us back into this flow of love – 

“Do you love me?”

Pause and ask yourself this BECAUSE it activates and TUTORS our hearts – at a deep, opening level. 

Thankfully after I completely shut Scott down by saying

“I don’t love you – and I never will”

Scott paused in silence on the phone – and then being the super logical, practical guy that he is- replied with,

“mmmmmm……Right – well I really don’t believe you’”

And over the next few months, he continued to ask me this question,

“Do you love me?”, “Do you love me?”, “Do you love me?”

IT was a question that I no longer wrapped in his qualifications, “ I’m a “dashing, smart, super chef of a  guy”… it was just a question of the heart.   And it did the mysterious work of opening and transforming  my heart more and more…

So maybe that’s how we stand here on January 1st and look at the New Year ahead

“we lead with Love….”

It’s out of this opening heart space – that things we care about that we want to get better in 2023 –  become flesh and dwell among us – THROUGH us..   It’s how words like mercy and justice and equity and compassion and empathy, don’t waver- with these strong nets of Love to catch us and get us back out there…

Jesus says to Peter – if you love me – or if you are figuring out how to love me – then go feed my sheep, take care of my sheep…BE with other people.  Feed them with this type of Love…it will grow…THIS NEW YEAR have people at your tables, sit with them – eat with them. Call people, text them, send them a note.  Have conversations of the heart, listen. Be present… Tell someone,

“I’m so glad you are here.” 

This love matters. 

Richard Rohr says that ancient cultures call liminal space “crazy time.” And if liminal space is all about sitting with God and falling in love with God – then I totally agree…Falling in love  – is  crazy.  Opening your heart is indeed “crazy” – You open yourself to the unknown, to newness, to pain…unto new depths.

But it’s what motivates us to jump out of our known boats – to trudge through the deep waters of this crazy world….  to get to a fire, where our disappointments and our hopes – find a great big meal with enough sustenance for all of our days found in the simplest question,

“Do you love me?”

So two things for you in this New Year – consider Jesus’ question,

“Do you love me?”   

consider it over breakfast, and whatever your answer is, or whatever conversation this opens up – Sit. eat. Talk with Jesus.  From EXACTLY where you are at. 

In the New Year, consider praying for many people all at once.

Those you know, and those you don’t.

Those you know are suffering and those you’ll never know if that’s true or not.

Those you love to hang out with and those you never will.

Pray for their wellness, their protection, their freedom.

Pray for them – feed them with love.