Call Out Cancel Culture

*Thanks to conversation partners Howard Kim & Trecia Reavis and scholarship by Cate Anthony,, Reverend Laura Everett,, and

I was at a local spot this week writing/rewriting/sitting with this topic of “Loving Our Enemies,” the current sermon series we are in. And I was trying to call forth some wisdom, “good news” that might offer us all some hope in territory that feels hard and often times absolutely impossible. 

And as I was sitting there this young waiter came over, maybe 20 years old, and he asked me, “oh, are you just here working?” I mean maybe he was questioning what I was actually doing (because I had been there for five hours at that point) and I said

oh yeah, I’m trying to write something about ‘loving your enemies

And immediately he said,

oh I have an enemy

and he pointed at this person across the room.

And I was like,

“oh wow – look at that!?”

And he jumped in,

“yah, you know I dated the head barista here for a while…”

And I thought – do I put on my pastoral hat here  – or just stay in customer mode…?

Turns out they are the same thing… because I said…

“Ooooh, tell me more…..”

He said,

“you know – I don’t know – I don’t know I dated this girl – she left for London over a year ago – and we kind of ended things… and I don’t know if this girl got jealous about our relationship? But it’s been a long time  – and she is still making me an enemy –  she’s just really mean, says harmful things about me… but I’ve got to make money to go back to college….. So I just give her space..”


“Space, huh?” 

So I’m going to talk about the importance of space today in “loving our enemies.”  

The necessity of space –  for us to feel, for God to move, the potential in space – for our enemies to change/grow/repent – space for love to be possible.

We have so much capacity as humans. This wild, wild capacity to love so fiercely and so deeply and also this wild, wild capacity to so fiercely hate and destroy.  

We love, we hate. God calls us to love our enemies, and we love to hate our enemies.  And yet there is a lot of space between those two ends of the spectrum – where a lot of complexity resides, complexity that we often snuff and cancel out.

And I went back to my past self at that cafe, I re-read past sermons I’ve written on this topic of “loving our enemies.” And I was like *dang* those were good sermons… and the stories, the wisdom, the practical invitations still are true….  

Part of me was hoping those past sermons would hit just the same today.  – that I could reprise one for today. But the tenor feels different than even a few years ago – the tenor and state of our nation, the tenor and state of my heart.  The impatience, the eagerness, the rage, the waning energy to keep calling out the evils/the enemies in our day to change our world, to make it better…. All the fundamental components seem to be the same… but it feels different, *amped.*

That was part of the not-so-great feeling of reading my past sermons.  I shared stories that were from years before…

  • 1) where we had major friction with our neighbors – and realizing today it’s the same if not worse.  
  • 2) I shared a story about my brother refusing to marry Scott and I saying “God wouldn’t bless our marriage.” The sting is still there… and the impulse to throw it in his face and say, “Hey! Look at us now – 22 years!! I guess somebody BLESSED us!” that impulse is soooo strong and live it makes my heart pound even now.

And all those old sermons started with the intro,  “and today we are more fractured than ever…  more divided than ever…more polarized…”

And I wonder, “are we getting better?”  Maybe – I should say, “am I getting any better at loving my enemies?”


Well you are in for a meandering sermon my friends, because I’m still actively living my way into those questions!  But today we’ll take a stab at how to love our enemies…with the help of the prophet Jonah, some consideration of this term “cancel culture,” and the space we all need for, and to love.


Jesus thank you that you are unhinged, reckless, risky in showering us in your love – in finding the soft spot of our hearts… and flooding it with grace and mercy and beauty… when we don’t want to find it… when we can’t feel it. .. .

Cancel Culture/Call Out Culture

Part of the beauty of these days is that we can call out our enemies – their destructive behaviors and words all at our fingertips… from our couch, our cars, our desk – wherever we access social media. 

*and I’m not about to go on a diatribe about how bad social media is – there are pros and cons – both of which I participate in. 

And really we’ve been able to publicly “call out” injustices forever but today the ease by which we can practice this is more accessible, more immediate, and potentially more permanent…. and destructive.

In favorable ways the platforms of social media have allowed more marginalized members of society the ability to ‘call out’ – to seek accountability and change – particularly from people who hold a disproportionate amount of power, wealth, and privilege.  Celebrities, politicians, public figures, etc..

I’ve been helped so much by my wise niece, Cate who is an Episcopal priest and has written publishable thoughts on calling out & cancel culture. She says,

“calling out” has the potential to reclaim and redistribute power in systems previously unbalanced.

In this way, call-out culture is a kind of “cultural boycott” which refuses to amplify enemy-voices of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ableism and more. This practice is central to the growth/creation of a more just, safe, equitable world – and it hangs on the belief, the hope, the prayer (perhaps) of the redeemability of what was previously not o.k.

And yet, in all of its potential – we find that social media also risks a kind of dehumanization of those with whom we interact on such platforms. Rather than calling out in order to improve relationships and society, call-out culture transforms into cancel culture. Intention transforms, too: rather than boycott voices of oppression, cancel culture seeks to cut out real people whose opinions, ideologies or identities are not in line with our own. We turn in some ways – in the opposite direction of the thing we really want – and cancel human beings. Cast them out – as irredeemable. Unchangeable. 

This has a kind of allure and in many cases has become an acceptable/default way that we regard and relate to one another in our actual lives.  And this is where I want to really focus today. “Our initial desire to redeem what is broken –  twists into excising what we deem as broken (flawed, different, wrong, bad) – from relationship and community.” –

Cate Anthony Out of sight, out of my mind, out of my heart.

The functionality of cancel culture uses shame, isolation, zero space as tools. And they are pretty effective punishments. But I’m not sure they bring about the accountability, change, repentance, the redemption we really are seeking.

 I want to invite us to look at the story of Jonah – I hope  a) it can help us feel ok about being human and b) it can help us feel thankful that God is God. And maybe help us navigate where we are at with our own enemies…and how to value space to run, or to sit –  physically, emotionally, spiritually  – might be more effective than canceling our enemies. 


We are going to pick up the story here where Jonah is finally going to Nineveh as God had told him to do but it comes after this wild little journey Jonah takes. Where he is pretty clear from the get-go – that he does. Not. want. To. go.  and God is pretty clear about well

‘you do have to go’

and there’s tossing of the seas, and a few nights in the belly of a fish – and then finally Jonah walking about this big city of Nineveh to call them out for their wickedness and deliver a message of God’s impending judgment.  

And wicked the Ninevites were!  Now Jonah and his people were part of ancient Israel and the city of Nineveh was known at the time as the “bloody city,” the capital of Israel’s greatest enemy, Assyria. Assyria was the imperial force of the day, and the Assyrians were horrible, brutal, and they kept their empire together by way of extreme terror, barbaric cruelty.

You would think that maybe Jonah would be up for delivering this message of God’s – declaring judgment and destruction –  to his enemies… but Jonah is like, 

“no – nope, there’s no way I’m doing that!”

I don’t know about you – but if I was directed by God, with God’s backing to go to my enemies and say, “Guess what? The time has come you wicked, bad, horrible people you are all going to pay!”  I don’t know – I would be ALL OVER THAT! It’s kind of what my day-dreams are made of!

But Jonah initially runs in exactly the opposite direction away from Nineveh.

And only semi-reluctantly finally delivers this rousing eight-word message to Nineveh,

“forty days from now Nineveh you’ll be destroyed!”  

And here’s how the rest unfolds:


Jonah 3:10 – 4:11

When God saw that they, (the people of Nineveh) had put a stop to their evil ways, God had mercy on them and didn’t carry out the destruction he had threatened.

This change of plans upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the Lord about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you were a gracious and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. I knew how easily you could cancel your plans for destroying these people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive because nothing I predicted is going to happen.”

The Lord replied, “is it right for you to be angry about this?

Then Jonah went out to the east side of the city and made a shelter to sit under as he waited to see if anything would happen to the city. And the Lord God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there and soon it spread its broad leaves over Jonah’s head, shading him from the sun. This eased some of his discomfort, and Jonah was very grateful for the plant.

But God also prepared a worm! The next morning at dawn the worm ate through the stem of the plant, so that it soon died and withered away. And as the sun grew hot, God sent a scorching east wind  to blow on Jonah. The sun beat down on his head until he grew faint and wished to die. “Death is certainly better than this!” he exclaimed.

Then God said to Jonah, “is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?”
“Yes,” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!

Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. And a plant is only, at best, short lived. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”

  • And that is the end of the book of Jonah!

And we see here Jonah run and Jonah sit and I want to talk about those two things – because Jonah is angry.

OOOoooo Jonah is angry! Angry! Angry!

His primary anger is not at the actions of the Assyrians or Ninevites – his enemies – but it is at God.  

And his primary reason for running  – is not to avoid God – but try to make sense of a God who is merciful, gracious and loving to his enemies.

He says,

“I knew it! I knew you would be kind.” AAAAGGGHhh!  I knew that you were a compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.  But why, why, why show that to my enemies?

“GOD – we want “our” people to live – to be safe. NOT THESE PEOPLE –  who have done so much harm, destruction. Come on DESTROY, PUNISH, CANCEL them – before they destroy anything else!”

I mean – “right on, Jonah!” He is in full on anger mode-

“I hate this. I hate you, God. I hate these people.  You should have mercy on me – by killing them. All of them. And everything… except this plant. I like this plant.”

And God leans in, and is like,

“Cool. Cool. Cool, Jonah.  You want to tell me more?…. Do you think it’s right that you’re angry about this?”

It’s an interesting question – kind of an infuriating question to me… 

I remember when I was telling my therapist about “the absolute rage I had about this really hard season with my neighbors… and she said,

“you know Ivy, anger is a secondary emotion..”

And I replied with such shocking maturity,

you know Ivy.. me ehe ah eheh. You know what’s under this anger – more anger, another layer of anger, and anger and anger… I would run to the opposite end of the earth to convince you of how much anger I have….”

– and of course she was lovely and let me run all over the place and all over myself… and the space to do that opened up all these questions I had

  • “What does this mean about me – can I love?”
  • “Did I listen?
  • Should I try again?
  • Should I apologize?
  • And if so, for what?
  • Will they apologize?
  • Will they mean it if they do – will it change anything? 

I think Jonah allows us to see that “running” might just be the way to make some space to sift through yes – emotions – but also the spiritual, ethical and human questions loving our enemies likely brings up for us.  And to see that jumping to quick destruction – or even to jump to quick ‘forgiveness/love/mercy” – might cancel the space we need.. And what we most need to hear within ourselves. 

Jonah needs the space to think about all this a kind God, people who destroy… He has to work through what that means. And when we do that it is like walking into a storm – and it is likely we will  be tossed around by the reckless waves of God’s love. Because Jonah’s realizing the complexity of what it is for God’s love to truly be for everyone – enemies and all.  And that reality – if we are honest – is enough to make us sick to our stomach sometimes. 

Sometimes it’s ok to run.

Sometimes it’s ok to not rush towards forgiveness.

Sometimes it’s ok to make space. 

Sometimes we need the space of the belly of the whale – as sticky and messy and dark as it can be – to find out that it’s normal to have no empathy for those who destroy our communities, our people, our safety… To even wish them harm. And to wrestle with that reality in ourselves. 

To realize that doesn’t mean we are hate-filled people – but we are heart-ful people. 

This heart-space is not to be condemned but should be listened to.  

It’s not to be covered up – it’s to be exposed.

It’s why I love God asking not once but twice – this very therapy question,

“tell me about your anger…” 

Anger and pain need space,  an ear, and a “route to re-connecting with  life in the midst.” (

It’s where we can wrestle with all that it means about God and us and our enemies – if we love them. God destroying or loving Nineveh raises a lot of questions for Jonah…

“If God destroys Nineveh – then would it mean Israel would be safe forever more?

If the repentance of Nineveh is real – is it enough to turn the whole of Assyria around?

Are the lives of those repenting in Nineveh worth more to God than those who would suffer and be killed under the Assyrian empire?

Is their repentance real – will it last? Will change stick?”  (

These are the questions that can surface – and it’s important that we try to wrestle with them.

Here’s the thing about cancel culture… it allows zero space.   There’s no room to run in opposite directions, there’s no shade, no shelter, no grace = there’s no checkpoint of someone asking, “Hmmm .. I wonder why you are angry about that?”  No space for you to wrestle and question  – and no space for the offending person  to figure out if they are capable of more than the sum of their offense…. No room for growth/change, mercy, or forgiveness.

*Now for some of you – it’s not healthy or safe to make that space … and boundaries are essential… or if you are a marginalized person it likely is not your responsibility to make that space…*

.. but somehow, someone has to make that space… 

In part social media removes space because it is an effective vessel for instantaneous – reactionary – the-stakes-are- all-or-nothing-scenarios. And very large, complicated social issues get condensed into truncated sentences, short TikTok videos or a photo  – and reduces the complexity of human nature into quick categories – ones that fall as swiftly as the punishment – ‘you are all good’ – or ‘you are all bad.’  You are to be praised, you are canceled. You are on my team. You are my enemy. The stakes are high – and the space is minimal.

The waiter I had at the cafe the other day – said

“I make space for her.”

And what he meant was physical space –  they actually have different routes that they follow in the restaurant – enough space to – acknowledge that each other has real fundamental needs to work and that to blow up the restaurant might not work in their favor –  a subtle recognition that somehow they are connected – that their life is tied to one another and they both need the space.

Jonah wanted his enemies to stay his enemies. 

I think I deeply believe that it is important to love your enemies. I think I deeply believe that it matters to live and work in such a way that humility and graciousness allow us to see the image of God in the other person. I think I believe that it matters to have face-to-face conversations even if they are hard.. I think I believe that “listening” to one another can transform.. I think I believe that to love your neighbor – even if they are your enemy should matter.

  • But after living next to our neighbors for 17 years now. I’ve come into a season where all indicators point to,

“Nope. nope. That doesn’t seem to be how it’s playing out here.” 

And let me tell you – this sounds dramatic – (maybe like Jonah) – but it feels like part of me is dying as I wrestle with what it is to no longer want to engage, and feel like it’s impossible to love my neighbor.

I just want to keep them my enemies. 

I just want to cancel them.

And so I have done my share of running and sitting – what does this mean? That this core belief – of my faith – but also just as a human being does not seem to work? 

Where since October I’m literally going in the opposite direction coming and going through my side door because to risk facing people that I feel have been mean to  me and my family over a long stretch of time – makes me feel sick. 

And to face the fact that I know God loves them   – and their kids, and their grandchildren, and their pets – which of course objectively is good – but lived out, sucks the actual life right out of me. 

Jonah goes to the east side of the city and sits. In part I think he waits to see if God would just send a sideways lightning bolt to the city just for him….come on, God!

And we see him sit with the reality that God is gracious. 

We see him sit with the reality that Nineveh is a brutal enemy.

We see him sit because he’s tired…life drained right out of him.

It is so risky and so tiring to extend possibility, nurture, care, to our enemies. Ones that have inflicted harm and oppression and suffering  for a moment , for years, decades, all of history.  What, if anything, is left of our beating hearts is meant to keep us alive – and honestly canceling other things that come against that precious heart-space is very compelling.

Jonah is tired. So weary of violence coming at him and his people every day.
We are tired of  the evil that prowls – tired of the fear of it – the fear of ringing the wrong doorbell – or pulling into the wrong driveway and getting shot.

Tired of hearing as my friend Reverend Laura Everett said,

that we’ve gone through a “racial reckoning” and a “Me Too” movement – when there’s still so much to be resolved.. Tired of being through COVID, nationwide protests over systemic police brutality, collective psychosocial trauma of thousands dead, and an armed assault to overthrow our democracy.”

Our empathy can feel worn out.

Tzvi Abusch (Brandeis professor and scholar of ancient Near Eastern texts) says that,

“Jonah is just no longer in a state where he can empathize with humanity.”

And I think God knows this and embraces his time of sitting. Sends him a plant. A plant that is then killed by a worm. Life and destruction.  And somehow Jonah can see it, and feel it through this plant – more than he can for the people of Nineveh.

Which allows God to teach this object lesson – that

“destruction can not be the only tool for change – because it will  affect us all.” 

This plant is destroyed – and you are so angry about it you want to die – it affects you – there is interconnection everywhere.

God says,

see – Jonah –  “yes” there are 120,000 people that are in spiritual darkness – but there are living animals in this city, there are babies and toddlers walking the streets, there are people who disagree with the oppressive powers, there are people who are resisting building the empire… there are trails of connection everywhere.

We can’t just broad strokes wipe out and give up on humanity  – –cancel culture shames the person into realizing their individual beliefs aren’t always acceptable, but it fails to make the space where the person can learn (if they choose), why those beliefs are problematic and hurtful. Which ultimately allows the hateful ideology behind cancellable offenses to exist unchecked -and amplifies an environment where contempt, disgust and the very ‘wickedness’ we are trying to call out – instead grows wickedly out -of-control. And maybe that affects all of us.

It’s why I think God withholds judgment at the slightest sign of repentance – God creates space.
*God’s call to Jonah and to us is to not destroy too quickly.  

It’s why the only thing that God cancels … is God’s own plans to destroy. 

God cancels plans for destruction. God doesn’t make a habit of canceling people.  It’s a risky, risky move of God’s to give Nineveh this space because the story of Israel and Nineveh is not happily -ever-after. Their repentance was temporary – their wickedness grew. Israel would be destroyed.   

If we step in to do the judging/canceling  what we risk is succeeding at canceling the presence of not only “our enemy” but we cancel the presence of the divine the one that we too, very much rely on to survive.    

God is interested in helping Jonah’s heart remain supple – one that doesn’t abandon the living God.  God is as interested in that as he is interested in offering life to a whole city. God knows that ensuring that Jonah finds his own way back to a life worth living …

is inevitably a life that values other life.” ( 

So God runs with Jonah, and offers grace in a whale –  and God sits with Jonah, and offers grace in a plant.  And the grace of God meets Jonah in those spaces…. So that we can extend space with grace to our enemies too. 

The book of Jonah ends with God’s mercy. And Jonah’s silence. 

Jonah’s silence to me isn’t a sign of defeat or frustration – or a hardened heart…. it is just more space.

  • And it’s God’s invitation to us today –  what space do you need – to love your enemies?
    Do you need to run? Do you need to sit? Do you need to jump on a plane for a hot second?
    It’s not an unproductive space – it’s where God greets us with grace and love, revives where we are weary – and asks us, “Tell me about your anger?” 
  • It’s where God  asks us, “What will we do?”
  • “How do we aid in preventing empires from unchecked destruction?”
  • “How will we love our enemies?”
  • “How do we keep making space to be nimble in heart – to continue to be bold and free – in a culture that keeps suggesting that our enemies should stay our enemies?” 

 If I could give each of you a plant today, I would my friends.  (one without a worm). 

Instead I’ll say,

“grace to you,” my friends… “grace to you..”


I Am Because You Are

The other week during the school vacation, I got to take a road trip with my 16 year old John. 

If you ever get to take a road trip with a teenager, do that. Because the world is a beautiful place, and it’s so fun to travel around with someone who hasn’t seen as much of it yet. And teenagers are often learning to drive, and if teaching a teenager to drive is five parts terrifying, then it’s also like 10 parts great because you’re watching them do it, and they’re actually listening to you. Like really listening, hanging on every word you say listening, and you talk but you also just sit there, and this person is actually driving you around for a change. And then there’s something about all the conversation you have when for hours, there are no distractions and there’s nowhere else to go. 

Anyway, it was a great time.

But as I said, John is 16, and he is our youngest. Grace and I had three kids kind of fast, and even though that seems like yesterday, now they are 16, 18, and 20, and they are all starting to find their way in the world.

In the case of John, we were road tripping because we were looking at a few colleges that he might consider applying to. 

Now when you are sending your kid out into the world, a lot of weird things happen to you. I mean, part of me is pumped, like: get going, kids. Leave home. I believe in them. I’m excited to see what choices they make and all the ways they’ll make us proud and make themselves proud. And now and then, I have thought, hey, we’re going to have more space soon where we live, and more time, and more freedom. And sometimes that seems pretty great. Get going, kids. You can do it. But then of course, sometimes that letting go is terrifying. And I felt a little bit of all of that on this trip. Get going, John. But also, stay here, don’t go!

This time isn’t just a weird time for a parent, though. It’s a weird time to be a teenager too, isn’t it? 

I mean, the world has always been telling our teens: go out into the world, it’s time for you to grow up, while also telling them: it’s scary out there, watch out, be careful! And man, have we said that to our teens a lot in recent years, telling them: you can’t go to school, it’s shut down. Actually, you can’t go anywhere. And we wonder that they seem stressed out these days. 

And then for our kids that go on to higher education, the messages the colleges give them are a little weird too. We got this college brochure and in big letters on the front, it just said:

It’s all about you.

It’s all about you.

I think this was supposed to be encouraging, exciting. Like it’s your time to make choices. It’s your time to live how you want, study what you want, pursue your dreams.

“It’s all about you.”

It’s supposed to sound liberating, I guess, but I think it’s not.

“It’s all about you” sounds an awful lot like you’re on your own – no path to follow, no principles to guide you, no one walking alongside, no one having your back. 

“It’s all about you” sounds like a lot of pressure. It’s your time to accomplish, your time to earn, your time to figure out how to stand on your own. 

Be independent. Be successful. Be happy. It’s a lot. I think there’s another way.

This past week, we began our six week season of Lent remembering we are earth. We are mortal, flawed, vulnerable. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. 

But in the middle of that, we were invited to read a bit of Isaiah 52 as well, where we are told:

Awake, awake, shake the dust off yourself and rise up.

And I asked:

Is there a word of liberation that you need to hear from God today?

As we move into our second week of Lent, continuing to explore how we are earth, members of the fabric of this beautiful creation, I think I have a word of liberation from us.

It comes from a passage in the second week of our guide, day nine. It’s a Hebrew word: hineni, and the message I have for us is:

I am because you are. I am not alone. I am not all about me. I have roots and source. I am connected. 

I am because you are.

Let’s read the passage from Day nine, it’s the beginning of the 6th chapter of the prophet Isaiah. 

Isaiah 6:1-8 (Common English Bible)

6 In the year of King Uzziah’s death, I saw the Lord sitting on a high and exalted throne, the edges of his robe filling the temple.

2 Winged creatures were stationed around him. Each had six wings: with two they veiled their faces, with two their feet, and with two they flew about.

3 They shouted to each other, saying:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of heavenly forces!

All the earth is filled with God’s glory!”

4 The doorframe shook at the sound of their shouting, and the house was filled with smoke.

5 I said, “Mourn for me; I’m ruined! I’m a man with unclean lips, and I live among a people with unclean lips. Yet I’ve seen the king, the Lord of heavenly forces!”

6 Then one of the winged creatures flew to me, holding a glowing coal that he had taken from the altar with tongs.

7 He touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips. Your guilt has departed, and your sin is removed.”

8 Then I heard the Lord’s voice saying, “Whom should I send, and who will go for us?”

I said, “I’m here; send me.”

When I first learned this passage, I didn’t think about Isaiah or anything to do with the ancient Near East. I thought about myself. It’s all about me. 

Here am I, Lord. 

Am I the one?

  • How are you calling me?
  • How will I be sent?
  • What job will I have?
  • Where should I live?
  • Who should I live with?
  • What role will I play in the world? 

Fair questions, maybe, but it felt like a lot of pressure.

Now in Isaiah, this passage is about the calling of this prophet to really just do one thing with his life: to tell the truth. Before that, though, he has a vision of God’s presence in the Jerusalem temple. This beautiful presence of God is made visible to Isaiah’s imagination for a moment, and then he realizes it’s not just the temple, but the whole earth is God’s temple. 

God is everywhere, and God is so good, so beautiful, so holy. All the earth is filled with God’s glory. 

And once God helps Isaiah move past his fear, his response to God is a single Hebrew word: hineni. Which means Here I am. I’m available. What would you like, God? 

It’s a passage of calling for Isaiah, of the launching of his life work for his community.

But I heard this passage as a young adult the way I heard everything, filtered through our society’s assumptions about individualism.

After all, our society is a product of the modern age where we were told that what it means to be a person is to be an individual. 

You stand on your own or you fall.

What does it mean to be a person? It means to be a thinker, to use your own brain. “I think, therefore I am” is the slogan of modernity. 

And so for me, to find my way in the world was to be independent, a solitary doer and thinker, and my religious sense reinforced this. I stand alone before God, who has a call on my life I need to figure out, so I can get it done. 

When I thought I had it right, it took me to a prideful place, a too big place. One time, when I was in my early 20s, one of my brothers told me:

You know, getting more religious has seemed like it’s made you more full of yourself, like you have the answer to everything.

Mostly, I was defensive when I heard that. No way, that can’t be true. (It was, though, and some part of me winced because I knew that). 

Honestly, though, the bigger thing I felt in my spiritualized “it’s all about me” was isolation and pressure. It took me to a too small place. It’s all on me to be a competent, capable adult. And it’s all on me to figure out God’s will for my life and do it, and do it well. 

That was a dead end, lonely, pressurized place to be. 

One of my mentors from a far, Randy Woodley, names this as a disease of the modern Western world. Randy is an indigenous elder and wisdom teacher, a scholar and theologian, and a follower of Jesus too. He’ll preach to us via video next week, and his voice is part of our Lenten guide Ivy and I put together as well. 

Randy says:

individualism as a way of life, as a worldview, is dead. It hasn’t worked for us. Thinking we’re on our own in the world, and being out for me and mine has brought so much harm to the earth. And even if we spiritualize that into doing what we personally think is God’s world without really humbly learning what will serve the flourishing of the greater whole, well that’s got to go too. It’s a diseased way of being.

Instead, Randy says he and his wife Edith, they are seeking to decolonize and indigenize the Western world. 

Decolonize the Western world – help us let go of our highly individualistic economic and religious ways of being? And indigenize the Western world – learn from the wisdom of the first peoples of the lands where we dwell. And learn from our own, more humble, more earth-connected, more communal indigenous roots, wherever we each come from.

With Randy, and with the scriptures, and with the wisdom of our indigenous ancestors in mind, I ask:

Is there another way to grow up? Besides

“It’s all about you.”

Is there another way to understand who we are in the world? Besides

“I think therefore I am.”

Is there another way to live our faith? Besides

“My call, my pressure, my way.”

Well, there is. And part of that way, I believe, is Isaiah’s response to the glory of God’s presence, filling the temple of creation.

It’s “hineni

Hineni” is Isaiah’s response to God. It means

“Here I am.”

I’m with you, I’m available. “Hineni” is said by other people in the scriptures too. In fact, in the Jewish tradition, it’s what you say to God.

Liturgically, at the most important holidays, it’s the start of a prayer: where one says to God.

Here I am – a vulnerable, flawed person – but here I am before you God, praying for this earth – not alone, but with creation – and praying for your help – not alone, but with you God as well. 

Here I am, part of the whole. 

Or as I’ve heard it put it by the philosopher Aaron Simmons:

I am because you are. 

I don’t exist because of myself. It’s not all about me. 

I am because my parents gave me birth and life. Mom and Dad, I am because you are. 

I am because my ancestors stayed alive and passed on that gift to me. The Elliott peoples of Scotland and Nova Scotia, the Bellottes of France and Germany and South Carolina, the Johnsons of Sweden, I am because you are.

I speak today not because I somehow figured out language but because of everyone I heard speak, who talked to me and in front of me, who read me books and sang me songs. My relatives and babysitters, and Sesame Street and the whole world of PBS Kids, I am because you are.

This is true for all of us, and it is the wisdom of the indigenous peoples of the earth. The South African Zulu word related to this is: ubuntu. I am because I’m part of a whole. I am because we are. I am because you are.

The First peoples of this land were right clear on this too. I am not over the earth, above the earth, I am part of the earth, a member of the human and non-human community of nature, gifted with life because of our Creator.

Divine mother and father, and all of this glorious creation, I am because you are. 

Friends, this ubuntu, hineni connected way of being is what our teenage selves, and our teenage children and friends and fellow citizens need more of right now. 

That road trip with my son, the best part of it was not showing him the colleges where he can enroll as a student and develop his mind, his skills, his vocational and financial path in life.

No, the best part of the trip was opening up space to think about the future in a connected, relational way of being.

We spent hours driving and walking and talking together, by each other’s side like 10, 15, 20 hours a day. Life when my kid was a newborn baby, rarely alone, always accompanied. We can’t physically keep living this way all the time as we grow up, but in an experience like this, we taste it again for a minute and that grounds us. 

And in this trip our best times, the highest impact items were with other people. Our favorite school: the one where the tour guide made a connection with us, spoke a word of promise and hope over my kid’s life. Some of the most meaningful moments: meeting up with family friends and with old friends from my kids’ school, where we talked together about their lives and ours, and how none of us finds our way forward by ourselves.

I am because we are.

I am because you are.

Think about it with me. 

I am because you are. 

Who gave you life? Who brought you into this world? Who taught you or encouraged you or took care of you when you were a kid? What ancestors kept the spark of your DNA alive? 

We are because they are.

This is what the humility that people of this earth are called to is all about, not self-debasement, but belonging, owning our small but important part in the broader whole.

In our daily lives, the homes we live in, the infrastructure we use, the earth that grows the food we eat, the wells and the reservoirs that supply our water, as Barack Obama and our Cambridge neighbor Elizabeth Warren have reminded us:

We didn’t build this. 

This church building that we worship in and those of us online get our broadcast from: we didn’t build this. One of our members, Mark DeJon, who lives in the neighborhood, his wife’s great-grandfather was one of the immigrant brick laborers who built this place a hundred years ago. He built this, not us.

We inherit our gifts, we steward them, we co-create new things in our lives. But we don’t start any of it. We are because they were. I am because you are. 

Humility and gratitude, the humility and gratitude to which God’s people are called, in all things. 

When we remember we are not alone in this world, and the pressure is not all on us, we can look around and say: thank you.

I can eat my dinner and say thank you, God, for the land from which this food came, thank you for animals and vegetables that gave their life for me, thank you for the hundreds in the long chain of people that got this food to my plate, thank you, thank you, thank you.

I can walk in Hudson River valley as I did last week, walk the Catskills where my parents honeymooned fifty-five years ago, walk along the cliffs of the Palisades where my grandfather hiked as a young man 95 years ago, walk the little patch of woods I take my dog to in Boston that were stewarded by this land’s first peoples five hundred, one thousand years ago, and say thank you. 

Ancestors of my life, ancestors of this land, I am because you are.

And creator God, from which all life and all gifts flow, I am because you are.

And even in our life missions, in the places to which we are sent, in the work we come to do, hineni changes the vibe for us. It’s not all about me. It’s not about my success or failure. It’s not about pressure.

All of you all, and our teens and young adults in particular, the living God does not care whether you succeed or fail at what you’re doing. 

Don’t get me wrong, God cares about your feelings. God wants you to not feel like a failure. But God’s not worried about your success or your failure.

Whether you’re a middle or high school or college or graduate student, whether you’re in a new job, or you’re a new parent, or in a new marriage, or learning a new skill, God is not worried about how well you do.

Isaiah perceives the glory of God all around him, filling this earth like a temple, and he’s like:

oh, no I’m not good enough.

Me, my whole people, we are a disgrace. And God’s like, let me change that. That whole hot, glowing coal to the mouth moment of purification – God didn’t need that, Isaiah did. 

So it is with the sacrifice of the cross, and the wine of communion that speaks of the blood of Christ, shed for us. 

God didn’t need that. We did. We need to taste and see that God gives all of Godself to us all, and that we are accepted, forgiven, loved as God’s children. 

God’s not worried about our success or failure. God wants us to show up humble, grateful, open, curious to our lives. To not be gripped anymore in fear, but to be able to stand up and say “Here I am” and to show up with our whole messy selves, saying I’m here. I am because you are. And I’m ready. 

We are not alone.

It is not all about us. 

We didn’t make this. We didn’t build this. And it does not all ride on us. 

We are, our God, because you are. 

Our very existence is a response to a higher call. 

We will show up to our lives, to this earth, to your call, with all we are – and succeed, fail, win, lose, it doesn’t matter. 

We are because you are. 




Matthew 19:16-30

16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

18 “Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony,

19 honor your father and mother,’[a] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]”

20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.

24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife[c] or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.

30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

The pastoral staff, led by our senior pastor, often decides the theme or series for preaching sermons together. For this season between post-Christmas and Lent, Steve suggested Seven Big Words, because I think he had some words in his mind that have really shaped him, like he shared last week. 

And as I tried to think of a word, it was hard to think of just one word. Because living in a binary world, and being a Libra (which I’m basically joking about because I’m not that into astrological signs, but I will scroll to Libra if I see a horoscope post on Instagram), but Libra is the one that is holding the scale.

It craves balance, and if it tips one way, my desire is often to also go, ‘well on the other hand.’ So when I think of one word, immediately, I think of the opposite, the other side of that word, that in my mind, is equally important. But the first word that kept coming to me was, not a big word, but a simple word, follow. And it comes from a place of privilege. I’ll explain. 

Lately my life has been taken over by a new and exciting campaign from the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, GBIO. I mention this organization a lot, often in my sermons, because it’s honestly been one of the most impactful and interesting parts of my work, since I’ve started working at Reservoir Church as a pastor five years ago. January 2023 marks my five years here, can you believe it? 

GBIO is a community organizing institution. It’s made up of 60+ institutions and if every single of those members came together, it would probably be 3,000 people + strong. And the fact that Reservoir is involved in this work is really interesting.

Because traditionally churches have done ‘mission’ or ‘outreach’ as a means of service-providing or charity-giving. Doing things for others. To help. And so the community organizing model for doing justice is a unique one that many churches might not be used to, that might feel different from… say providing meals for the homeless, a traditional picture of “serving.” There’s a time and place, of course, for service and charity. Churches through generations have played an important role in providing for the widows and the orphans, aid. I mean many hospitals are named after those that started out as ministries. But it also is often from a place of power, and yes, wealth, to be able to give aid or help or charity or service. 

Community organizing is not new to all churches. Black churches in America were doing it during the Civil Rights Movement. And it does have roots commonly engaged with the political spaces. But the way I see it is that it’s a method of moving away from the individualized way of looking at this, but working as a community, as a unit of multiple people, working together as a system. And what’s different about community organizing from traditional charity and service from the church is that–one of the central mantras of community organizing is,

“Don’t do for others what they can do for themselves.” 

“Don’t do for others what they can do for themselves.” 

And so right now, GBIO is kicking off a big campaign called the Housing Justice Campaign. It’s tackling the issue of housing from many angles, from MBTA zoning, to public housing funds, to real estate tax, etc. I’m specifically involved with the public housing fund and we’re working on this tenant (tenants of public housing) and ally organizing and since I don’t live in public housing, I am an ally.

For this work to be done well, effectively and genuinely, the only way this campaign’s going to be a success, is not if a bunch of “allies” come together to rally and speak on behalf of the people that are not in the room, to say that they’re speaking on behalf, in front of the Governor or State Legislatures. That just would not work.

It HAS to come from the power and the leadership of tenants and the people that are directly impacted by this. That’s why the word FOLLOW has been coming up for me. FOLLOW. I need to follow the leadership of others in this work. Even though I’m a pastor and chair of a committee on GBIO, and I have time and energy, and honestly privilege, and that’s exactly why I need to follow. 

And then I realized, the word for many of us is follow in a lot of areas, but the word for some of us is actually the opposite. DON’T follow. Rise up. RISE is the other word that came up for me on the other side. It’s actually time for you to stop following blindly and rise up and lead, like we’ve never seen the way you lead before. 

Okay, I spent the last 10 minutes talking about GBIO, housing, politics (oh there she goes again) talking about politics and privilege and race from the pulpit instead of talking about Jesus, the cross, or grace. Let’s go to the Bible. 

Jesus says to this man,

“go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

You see, this is the thing. We are, yes, curious about spiritual things. And that’s fair. Religion, spirit, our faith. We’re thinking about prayer and Bible and theology. And what does Jesus do? The guy asks about eternal life and Jesus talks about loving your neighbor. Jesus talks about possessions. Jesus talks about the poor. The rich guy asked about eternal matters and Jesus answered him with very earthly matters. 

And really I think that’s when our faith gets hard for many of us. When our faith or theology actually starts affecting our bank accounts. Our time. Our family. Our children. Our lifestyle. Our town.

Can I be honest with you? Can we be honest together? There’s a lot of privilege in this space. I’ve never met so many people that went to Harvard until I got here. It’s like everybody and their mamas went to Harvard here! Now it’s a diverse room. And don’t judge a book by its cover, people have been through stuff you don’t know about. But on the real, in many ways, there is lots of privilege in this room. So what is the word that Jesus is saying to those of us who are privileged? Because the reality is Jesus did have different words for different people, and so context and the audience matters. 

To Zaccheus , a chief tax collector, this is the whole of their interaction:

Luke 19:5-10

“When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”

6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.

10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Jesus’ response to Zacchaeus’s commitment to give half of his possession to the poor and paying back four times back was,

“Today salvation has come to this house.”

You know, that’s really uncomfortable for me. That’s all the dialogue we have between them in Luke. That’s it, they didn’t talk about anything else. Or they did, but this was what was important and recorded and kept for thousands of years. Really? Yeah, Jesus talked about money quite a bit.

But it wasn’t about just money of course. It was about the systems of injustice. About loving and caring for the poor. About inequity. About honesty. About leveling

Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.”

Isaiah 40:4.

About the last being first and the first being last. 

To Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a leader of the Jews, Jesus tells him

“to be born again.”

To be completely naked, stepping into a whole new world where you know nothing. 

I recently joined an online learning community called the Faith and Justice Network, you know, new year, new me, new learning platform (it’s my equivalent of signing up for a gym). Let’s see if you hear about my readings from this teaching platform a few months from now.

But in week one, I had two reading assignments, John three the story of Nicodemus, and a short nine page copied PDF excerpt (it’s so fun to read things like this, a professor’s handpicked pages of a book) titled, Philippine Woman in America by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, written around 1983. And the reading prompt question that was posed was

“How might the experiences of immigrants help us understand what it means to be “born again?”

With such prompt and lens, one could imagine Jesus inviting Nicodemus, someone who knows the land, knows the people, has the power, has influence, to be born again to someone who is new to the place, who knows not the culture, who has no influence or even knows the local language. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt like that, either through an immigration experience, or being an outsider, maybe in a new city, or the newbie in the workplace or a new team. But being born again is not an easy or an uncomfortable thing. 

The invitation of Jesus is for us yes, ultimately that you’d experience joy and flourishing, that you may find rest, but to get there from where we are, actually it’s not necessarily a very comfortable thing. I mean, Jesus did say,

29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:29-30,

but you know what a yoke is right? It’s

“a frame or bar that can be placed on one or two people or animals pulling or carrying a heavy load.”

The yoke’s lighter because Jesus is carrying it with us, but the load we’re pulling is still, you know, life. Life is hard! 

And the message of Jesus is often called the Good News. But why is it that for this rich man in our text today, that when he heard it, it made him deeply sad. You know why? Because the message of Jesus is good news to the poor! At a pinnacle point in Jesus ministry quote this verse from

Isaiah 61. 

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,”

It’s good news to the brokenhearted, to the captives, to the prisoner. 

How are you hearing the message of Jesus?

Does it conflict you?

Does it challenge you, bring up stuff for you?

If it does, that’s okay. Many of us are probably not far from the demographics of Zaccheus, Nicodemus, and this rich man in our text today. And to you, Jesus says follow me. Follow a baby of a God, that came from nowhere-Nazareth, son of a carpenter, adopted child, conceived out of wedlock. A not Rabbinic school educated. Do you dare follow this Jesus? 

And also, if you at all feel uncomfortable or sad, like this rich guy, not to worry. The guy walked away sad, probably into contemplation, which is perfectly alright and good. Discern. But this is not the final word for him. For when Jesus said that,

“it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

And the disciples asked

“Who then can be saved?”

Jesus said,

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

It reminds me of a beautiful picture I saw once, where there’s a fantastical almost sci-fi looking image of HUGE needle, and right at the eye of that needle is Jesus, pulling rows and rows of camels as far as you can see. Yes, with God all things are possible. 

That’s what I’m going in with, to this Housing Justice Campaign. We started with a $50 million dollar ask to the Mayor Wu’s office for Mildred C Hailey public housing in Boston for maintenance and we got it last year. A GBIO team in Brookline built relationships with tenants in their local state-funded housing and the Brookline Housing Authority, and amidst all their conflict, have found a common goal. Which is the opportunity to ask and demand at a state-wide level, funding for all the public housing who are in a state of living conditions that are sometimes truly unbelievable, based on research 8.5 billion dollars. Yes, that is GBIO’s targeted ask to the state government. 

Could a broken system, disparate people, folks with opposing political views, across socio-economical lines, across different religions and faiths, possibly come together to pull $8.5 billion dollars through an eye of needle to a place where we imagine, a heavenly place where its describe in

John 14 “In My Father’s house are many mansions” 

Or in

Revelation 7

“They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; (this makes me think of the homeless) for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters (clean water!). And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” 

Pearl Gates. Streets of Gold. (How about at least gates that are maintained and streets that you can walk on safely without falling and hurting yourself?) 

It too is a vision I have, like Apostle John who wrote the book of Revelation. On earth as it is in heaven. On earth as it is in heaven is my prayer. 

My faith is not apart from works and this is the work we have before us. 

And if you’re not rich or privileged, don’t be like Peter either. Peter answered him,

“We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

I’m kidding actually. I think it’s fine to expect things from Jesus. In the theology world they call this Protest Theology. I call it Tuesday afternoon prayer. The Bible called a Psalmist’s prayer.

“God what are you doing? Are you actually even awake, listening to the cries of your people?” Psalm 44:23 says “Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.”

God what you gonna do for us? When’s it gonna be our time? 

I say to you, Rise up. Lead. Lead like Peter did, and boy did he, when we read the rest of Acts and the early Christian church. To him Jesus said,

“Truly I tell you, renewal of all things”

Renewal of all things. May that be so, not just after we die in heaven, but now, in real ways, in people’s homes. Renewal of all things. 

But I gotta say, some people really do hope that the whole

“last shall be first and first shall be last”

only happens after we die. What do you think about that? Where are you right now? Does this paradigm work for you? Is it good news to you?

Maybe some of you might be saying, I don’t know how to take this “good news” because I’m not poor. Yes you are. Maybe you have lots of money, stocks, savings, properties. But you’re poor in ways that might not be apparent to others around you or even to your own convincing. Whether it’s addiction, spirit, depression, anxiety, numbness, or whatever. There is good news for you too. Don’t be sad. To you too, God says

I will pull you through the eye of the camel. Follow. Follow the humble one through it. 

And to those of us who are poor. Maybe you’ve been struggling financially. Maybe you don’t come from money and money is such a struggle. To you I say,

you are rich and you have power. You can lead. Rise up. You can be the ROCK, just like Peter, that church can be built on. You too though, follow Jesus and he will lift you from the depth, lift you up to new life. 

Last shall be first. First shall be last. Jesus turned everything upside down. What’s Jesus turning upside down in you now? 

Let me pray for us. 

Jesus, you’re always turning things around for us. Help us to know and follow you, to the depths of despair, to the heights of new life. Help us to find you no matter where we find ourselves this morning, we pray, and know that you are with us, that you love us, and that you’ll fight for us that we may find life. Help us we pray, in your name. Amen.

God in Flesh: The Good Shepherd

John 10:14-16 (New International Version)
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me

15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.

16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

Spirit God, you have given us life, woke us up this morning, and brought us here. Everything we do, we do under your care and love. May we become aware of your presence now, that you are with us, within us, vibrating with the power and the creative energy of goodness and justice/righteousness. No matter how we may find ourselves here now, whether we’re joyful and eager to hear your voice, desperate and seeking for you to change something in our lives, or apathetic or indifferent, help us to believe that you meet us here just as we are, with abounding love, we pray, Amen. 

What is your love language? There are words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, gifts, and physical touch. Lately my husband and I have been able to find some time, I’m sorry, I mean MAKE some time to go on walks together. My love language is words of affirmation. I think saying things with words is one of the most direct ways to communicate that is clear.

  • Tell me I love you.
  • Say, I’m proud of you.
  • Write, you mean the world to me.

I think every relationship can become better by saying I’m sorry and I love you often, and mean it. My husband’s love language is quality time. Sorry to gush but man this guy loves to spend time with me. He just wants to be around me and hang out, just being with each other is his thing. I’m always kind of like, we’re so busy, let’s divide and conquer! And he’s like, no let’s go drive together to pick up the take out, I’m like, WHY? I could be cleaning the house! But then we do, like these walks we’ve been taking, and I realize, oh yes, it is good for us to find our steps together, next to each other, and while we walk I get to say things to him and he gets to say things, in words, that I like. 

I can’t believe it’s December already, and we’re getting ready for Christmas. For church, getting ready for Christmas season is called Advent. The word means, “to come” or “arrival.” It’s a season of longing and waiting, a looking toward. And this season of longing and waiting is one that we like to intentionally take a beat on. It’s not 2-day Prime delivery. There’s something that’s meant to be happening in the longing and waiting. That liminal space is meant to be something meaningful. There’s a gift there, if you’ll only let yourself, anticipate. 

We invited you starting last week with these beautiful books, our Advent guide, to pay attention to that lingering of, not yet, of coming. This week’s theme is titled God in Flesh. It made me think about God’s love language. How did God want to show us, as a big omnipotent Creator of the universe, that God loves us and cares about us? Well, God wanted to be with us in the flesh.

And as I read through each day of week two, I thought, through Jesus, God wanted to give a gift, God’s own son, by washing our feet, God wanted to show acts of service, by being a shepherd, God wanted to spend quality time with us, by saying that’s God’s not a master but a friend, God wanted to touch us and talk to us, in the flesh. Jesus is God’s love language embodied. I invite you to meditate on all the ways God speaks God’s love languages to you this week, through this book. For this sermon, I wanted to focus on Day two’s metaphor of the Shepherd. 

In the guide, Steve our senior pastor writes,

“Points of interest: After growing up in a rural agrarian first century region, one of the metaphors Jesus used to understand himself was that of a shepherd. Shepherds in first century Palestine/Israel were low status workers who fed, watered, and protected flocks of sheep. And in Jesus’ religious tradition, shepherding was a metaphor for both human and divine leadership.”

Jesus says,

“I’m like a good shepherd.”

Now, personally, I don’t know any sheep or real shepherds. Not the metaphor, but the actual literal sheep shepherd relationship, I know nothing of. So how am I supposed to understand this metaphor? Well, in some sense I’m not. What are our modern day metaphors to get at this relational, present, loving God? Well I don’t know any sheep or shepherds but I do know some dogs and dog owners. 

I’ll be upfront. I am not a dog person. I’m not really an animal person, so this metaphor is still far from me. I like the friend metaphor more. But actually this is a good exercise in receiving a metaphor you know nothing about. Now, when I see a good dog owner, I am really astounded at the extent and love and care, and cost and time they put in for their dogs. It’s truly a wonder to me. Please don’t judge me, oh Lydia doesn’t like dogs! Gasp! What kind of pastor is that! Look I will pray for your dog if you ask me to but I just will never dog sit is all. 

A woman in my community group, Holly, one day decided to get a dog. She was applying to a bunch of places, looking for an old dog she could lounge on the couch with and one of the places suggested the dog she has now, named Badger, and that she could try it out by fostering to adopt. To which she didn’t particularly have a concept in her head what that meant. Because after he came home with her, she just couldn’t see how he could NOT be with him. She just couldn’t think of returning him and retraumatizing him. and of course now she loves him. 

One day in front of her house, Badger was getting excited about a dog across the street and leaped to cross the street. He was on a leash but he’s a big dog. I met him, and just as a car was coming and they missed it by inches. Holly immediately went inside and started looking for houses in Connecticut. Three weeks later she was packed and moved, and now lives in Connecticut in a house with a fenced yard. In order for Badger to be in her life, she had to completely change her life around to make him fit in her life.

Why? God knows why! The ways I’ve seen and heard how Holly loves and cares for Badger week to week, I literally cannot fathom. It makes me think of the verse in Matthew,

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

I’m not saying Holly is evil, but let’s say she’s not perfect, but she’s a pretty good dog mom. Just imagine, how much more God is willing to sacrifice God’s own ways to fit us into God’s plan? 

Among various views of creations, there’s a theology of creation called zimzum that has fascinated me and grabbed my attention since I first heard about it in seminary. Some say the world was created out of chaos into order. Some say it was created out of nothing. Jürgen Moltmann, a notable German theologian born in 1920’s, took the concept of zimzum from the Rabbi and Jewish mystic Isaac Luria from the 15th century. Zimzum, a Hebrew word, means contraction. That, at the moment of creation, God was all encompassing and decided to contract, creating a non-God space, for creation to exist, that is other than God-self. This theology of creation has implications for our understanding of free will and so forth. They call it, “a primordial withdraw.”

It’s the concept that God withheld God-self for us. A self withholding God. In his book Science and Wisdom, Moltmann says this,

“The idea of zimzum probably goes back to the contraction of the womb at the birth of a child, just as the Hebrew word racham means the birth pangs, and is only inadequately rendered as compassion or mercy. Where God withdraws into Godself, God can create something whose essence is not divine, can let it co-exist with Godself, give it space, and redeem it.”

Womb, yes. I moved around my organs for a baby. I permanently shifted the shape of my bones to carry a child in my womb. 

I love this idea of zimzum. God contracted. God humbled Godself into a man. God’s love is one that is self-sacrificial and self-giving of oneself. 

There’s a Korean word called Yangbo. Translation says, concession or yield. Korean culture has a lot of high valued manners. Someone having “good manners” is not just a nice thing to have, but a matter of great importance, especially for family members interviewing and sizing up their beloved child, sibling, or cousin’s romantic partner. Did they bow properly? Did they have “sense” to help clean the kitchen? Did they yangbo? Yangbo is insisting you take the best seat. Yangbo is letting you take the first bite. Yangbo is giving you room to look out the window with the view. Yangbo is holding the door and letting you walk in first. Yangbo is sacrificing your own needs for the needs of others.

Because sacrifice is also a very highly valued attribute in Korean culture. And well, maybe that’s why Koreans love Jesus. Cause in Jesus, God yangbo’d. God is a god who doesn’t need to overpower but in fact makes space for us. What a god! What kind of God is this? One who doesn’t exert power but freely gives it away? 

Now, zimzum does not mean God is absent. It just is referring to a concept where God is not taking up all the space. God is not micromanag-ey. God is right there, with you, next to you, watching you and seeing and being a witness to whatever you’re doing. 

And when I think about a Shepherd too, what would it mean to be a good shepherd? Cause there are bad shepherds. There are bad coaches, bad bosses, bad presidents. I think I’m a bad coach. 

I didn’t grow up doing sports, so I don’t really have experience of a good or bad coach. I’m full of metaphors I know nothing about today. 

Recently my four-year old girl took up ice skating. Well, she didn’t take it up, we signed her up for a class. We’ve been to about eight classes and we’ve noticed something. Everything her dad goes on the ice with her, she has a blast and she does really well. Every time I go on the ice with her, she slips and falls more. Afterwards when I ask her how it was she says, “it wasn’t fun. It was too hard.” whereas after with her dad, she says, “it was fun!”

So Eugene and I talked about why this might be so in one of our walks. I think I try too hard to have her follow instructions and try to make her do the drills or practice what the teacher is doing. Eugene, he just goes where she goes, which might be totally on the other side of ice from the instructor. He said he just wants her to have her get used to ice and build confidence. Whereas I wanted to make sure she learned the lesson for the day, which would often frustrate her and make her just lay down and make snow angels on ice.

Eugene grew up playing tennis and he said this,

“You know Nadal and Federer play really differently. So there’s no right way to swing.”

Yes we’re comparing our four-year old daughter with the greatest of all times tennis players. And I said, “But she’s gotta learn the basics.” And “I think maybe I’m just a more strict coach.” And Eugene said, “Well kids who had strict coaches at four years old I bet burn out of the sport, I’ll tell you that.”

But I think we think of God as a strict coach a lot of the time. A God who really wants us to get it right. And if we’re doing life wrong, God’s standing there trying to fix us. God is not concerned if we’re learning the lesson we’re supposed to be learning this week. I am, Sophia needs to know how to turn on ice! She doesn’t know how to do that yet and it concerns me.

Even as a Shepherd, Jesus doesn’t say,

“I will teach you and lead you where you need to go and what you need to do for each step in life.”

He says,

“They know me and I know them. My sheep know my voice.”

It’s much more general and relational. It’s the context of a connected relationship not the content of the teachings. 

They say this about marriages too, that it’s not what you’re saying, or the task you’re working on together, whether you’re parenting together or working on a maintenance project. It’s not the content of the thing that might be the problem, she doesn’t know how to listen or he’s being stubborn, it’s a context problem.

  • Have they spent time together recently?
  • Have they connected about other things?
  • Do they recognize each other’s voice, moods, body language? 

God isn’t trying to tell you what God wants you to do to be a better Christian or even a better person. God is simply trying to connect with you. Be with you. Do you realize that? That’s prayer. Prayer is less about what is said, what you said to God, what you may or may not have heard from God, but it’s about sitting with God long enough to know whether it’s your own voice of ego, or your deeper grounded beloved voice of the divine speaking through you. Only you know the difference. 

Our theology is simple at the end of the day. God is love. And I think through Jesus, God was speaking God’s love language with us, saying,

“I just wanna be with you.”

Why are we trying to make it so complicated sometimes? God just wants you to have fun on ice. You’ll get it. You’ll glide. If you need me I’m here. That’s all. God loves you. God the shepherd. God the dog owner. God the mother who made space for you in her womb. God the coach. God is good. And God loves you. That’s it. 

What’s a metaphor that you know well? Are you a manager? A director, a CEO? A teacher, doctor, consultant? What does it really mean to be a good manager, director, CEO, teacher, doctor, consultant? You know best. You know better than anyone what it really means to be a good _(fill in the blank)_.

That’s how God wants you to see God. That’s how God wants you to relate to God. Think of a time when you had a “win” moment in your job or role. When you were in your flow and you really were good. How did you feel? How did others around you feel? 

Somebody sent me this week a one-star review of our church on yelp. I didn’t mind reading the “scathing” review to be honest. He was mostly correct in his assessment, yes we care about racial diversity, LGBTQIA, and women leadership. He also said we didn’t really care about spiritual salvation. But I think there’s a difference in what he thinks spiritual salvation is and what I think spiritual salvation is.

No I am not as concerned about our ticket to heaven after we die as traditionally have been focused about spiritual salvation in some Christian rhetoric. I think Jesus cared about the spiritual salvation of people who were living their lives as shepherds and cloth makers, builders, dancers, cooks, politicians, and so forth. I think that’s the whole story leading up to Christmas, wondering Why did God decide to enter this earth through this person of Jesus? Because God cared about your life now, here. Your body. Your flesh, so much that God took on flesh. This is how I believed Jesus saved. Jesus saved us by being with us. Salvation is here. Right here, with us. Jesus is here, with you. Do we believe that? 

Let me pray for us.

Jesus Jesus, our loving friend. Our good Shepherd. Thank you for being with us. Thank you for walking with us. Thank you for your voice that tells us again and again, that you love us. Help us to hear that fully and drive that deep into our hearts. May we fully know and experience the ever present self-giving love of you in our lives today and this week, we pray. Amen.


Today we are going to continue in our new series called, “God Is Here.” This series is inspired by a friend of Steve’s – Rabbi Toba Spitzer.  She’s written a book with this same title, and it is an extraordinary book that not only has given us teaching material for the next few Sundays that I think is really expansive and helpful (by the use of non-human metaphors for God that we’ll explore), she also has given us spiritual practices that allow us to experience God through these metaphors and of course help us live our life with the presence of God “close,” beyond a Sunday morning.

Today, I’ll speak on God as Cloud – and we’ll touch on some of those spiritual practices.

We’ll take a look at the use of the cloud metaphor in the Old Testament, as well as how it carries through in a New Testament story – particularly as we think of “going into the thick of a cloud” at certain moments in our life, when obstacles or challenges are present.


Oh God of the clouds – and all of creation. Thank you for days like yesterday that were sunny and beautiful – reminding us so strongly of the warmth of your presence. And thank you for days that are cloudy and rainy reminding us that you seek to nurture and cover us – and remind us of you – in droplets of your love at every turn. Help us to notice God – help us to notice you. Amen.

History of OT | Cloud

The nearness or farness of God is at the heart of so many of the conversations and stories of Scripture.  How and where people have perceived the presence of God. How they’ve been guided by closeness of God – or felt abandoned by God. The question that arises is,

“Where is God to us?”

It’s why the use of metaphor is so helpful – particularly the use of metaphor that speaks of God with renewed meaning that opens up rather than closes down the ineffable mystery of God – because sometimes we need metaphor to help us have access to an experienced way to think about and talk about God.

Walter Brueggemann, an OT scholar and theologian,  says that teachers and pastors often succeed at

“flattening out all the images and metaphors of God, to make them fit in a nice little formulation,”

one that works within creeds and doctrines,  easier to make sense of, wrap our minds around – a  little cleaner, neater… visible (in some ways) God.

Rabbi Spitzer says that likewise her biblical ancestors tried to shrink the presence of God into

“material objects – into idols made of metal or wood or clay. But the divine could only be glimpsed, not fully seen, heard but not entirely comprehended, encountered but not contained. … but with the metaphor of Cloud, the biblical authors found a way to convey a sense of nearness to ‘Something Close By/God’ that could not be touched.” (154).

OT Examples:

Throughout the Old Testament we see the presence of God as Cloud in numerous instances: 

  • The Israelites, as they fled the bondage of Egypt were accompanied by a column of cloud and fire.
  • It becomes an ongoing feature of the Israelites journey through the wilderness. 
  • Ever-present sign of God’s “abundant lovingkindness – that did not abandon them in the wilderness.”
  • The children of Israel did not move unless they were led by the cloud of God’s presence. The God -cloud was guidance.
  • It was also a sign of divine nurturance, protection and presence *protective between Israelites and the pursuing Egyptian army.
  • A shelter from heat.
  • And an indication of the availability of water.

God and cloud are a known partnership to the Israelite people.

The thing is –

“the nature of clouds is that they obscure things from view – while also making something that is usually invisible – visible.”

  • Water vapor is always in the sky – but invisible.
  • And yet – when water vapor interacts with dust/ice/salt it becomes visible as a cloud.

Clouds make visible that there is something life-sustaining and ever-present (whether water vapor or the divine). Both hold the mystery of being unseen, and very much there.

Whether in private or public moments, throughout the OT – God as cloud was often recognizable to the Israelites – AND reassuring.

HOWEVER there are times when the appearance of the cloud is not reassuring – and instead frightening and daunting.

Let’s read these few verses in Exodus this is shortly after the Israelites were redeemed from Egypt – and where they met God as a nation at the foot of Mount Sinai, where Moses received the 10 Commandments.

Exodus 20: 18-21

18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance

19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

21 The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness/dark cloud where God was.

So this is an interesting passage because the all familiar form of God as cloud – is seemingly one the Israelites don’t want to explore here. 

They keep their distance because it’s a thick, stormy, lightning and thunder-filled cloud.  Makes sense to me. It’s not my first reaction to go toward something that feels hard, looks like an obstacle or is just altogether scary. 

And Rabbi Spitzer says,  “exactly” – the Israelites represent us on any given day! Especially where we encounter something in our path – that looks like an obstacle. When we encounter a hindrance, like this cloud to the Israelites, we naturally want to back away – keep our distance, push away any of the unpleasant feelings associated with what’s happening in front of us…hindrances operate by distracting us from our actual experience.

And as we create distance – we also shrink our awareness/perspective that God is likely present in the thunder and lightning too. 

And this can obscure our ability to perceive what is actually happening in our mind or hearts. 


This summer at the end of my sabbatical we decided to take a family vacation. It was in some ways our last opportunity to spend time with our daughter who was leaving for college, a steady-ing chunk of days for our other kids, and a great way to finish off my sabbatical.

We went to a small town in Mexico that we have visited many times in the past. A  setting, where we know the town, the streets, the local doctor (who we visited in the past) – etc.  A special place where we’d taken friends and my Dad a couple of times. It’s where we went to grieve my Dad’s death – this place is meaningful and healing and familiar.

We took off, we touched down. Arrived at the rental car place – which is still part of the airport proper… and while waiting for our car, my husband Scott’s backpack was stolen.  At his feet, as he turned in “this” direction it was swapped out for an identical – but empty one

  • Which held all of our passports
  • And two laptops
  • And you know a bunch of other stuff


As you might imagine, that was an “unpleasant” experience.

Now the good news is …that because it happened 40 minutes into our arrival – we had the WHOOOOLLLLEEE  vacation to figure out how to get the appropriate documents from the consulate, get passport photos done, travel to various government offices, get a police report written, navigate short working hours at all these places -and find a laptop and printer to do all this on. 

I did not want to deal with this, any of this.  I wanted it …”to be other than it was.” This frantic desire though, made me (even more) miserable – and became its own obstacle.  (164 – 165)

I was preoccupied with figuring out how and when this unpleasantness would end.  Constantly calculating

  • – if we can get an appointment tomorrow at the consulate
  • – then we could potentially have emergency passports by Friday
  • – which means we could really start enjoying our vacation by the weekend.
  • And every possible scenario from that…

My aversion to the reality of my own experience, the more I tried to push that reality away, to keep distance from it, the unhappier I got. And the grumpier everyone else got.  Awesome!

One of my kids as we were playing UNO one of those first nights – picked up on my “salty mood,”  and she was like, “listen if you and everyone else are just going to be in a bad mood, and not enjoy this time together – we should just go home now.”

*which was funny because I was like

oh honey, – WE CAN’T GO HOME!*’

But I got her point –

“pay attention to the reality that is in front of you, mom  – ‘Yes’ this stinks, but everything is actually NOT ruined – you are playing UNO with me, connecting as we had planned, outside in warm weather, with the sound of the ocean in the background.”

God’s presence is in “both sides” of the clouds, the pleasant and the difficult.

Rabbi Spitzer says,

“obstacles can become an opportunity for awareness and connection.”

When a cloud obscures your view from the mountaintop – or you can’t see while driving when a fog rolls in – all you can do is slooooww down, and sit with what is – and sometimes that does mean we “go into the thick of the cloud. And just be in it.” 

Challenging moments litter our human experience. In micro ways, in macro ways – in ways that have been unjustly intertwined in our systems and institutions. We live in and out of the clouds.  The ones that are wispy and beautiful – that create the breath-taking sunsets – and ones that we can see from miles away that say “storm coming! Evacuate!” 

It’s helpful in those more stormy clouds to slow down and notice what our reaction is  – do we want to lean in? Pull away? Lash out? 

“When we can take a breath and notice what is happening internally – this is how we can short-circuit the feedback loop of aversion.” (Spitzer)

Moses here, goes directly into the cloud.  Expecting that God is in that thick, foreboding place. Expecting that not only is God’s presence there – but that it will be insightful, liberative – and aid in the spiritual growth of a nation.  I think Moses knew that he had to draw near to this experience, this cloud – to move forward. 

*Which makes me wonder, what are the obstacles or hindrances that I have to draw near to, in order to move forward?*

By turning into the “cloud” Moses discovers the truth that awaits him and a whole nation. And while Moses’ moment here feels kind of big – you know, the 10 commandments for a whole people.  I think often the truth we discover is much like my moment of playing UNO – a truth that is already present in our reality  – anchoring. The truth that God loves us and is with us. When we can encounter that truth – God does help us – to act with clarity and wisdom.


We feel so much in those moments – moments like passports being stolen, that sideline us out of nowhere, or long-term grievances with neighbors, or feelings of rejection from a friend or partner, or frustration with a family member  – or feeling unseen by your boss – or by society.  IT IS A LOT to keep walking into those thick clouds and find anything with clarity, when fear and anger and sadness are also their own micro-climates!

In fact I would prefer if someone could just bring the message to me, that I’m supposed to glean from this scary/overwhelming situation or person.  The Israelites are like,

“Go ahead Moses, go right into that scary cloud, we’ll be right here, over here – so you can report back to us.”

God though, it seems –  is interested in more than departing a “lesson” to us – right? And God knows that when we stay at a distance in hard things – we end up trying to teach ourselves a lesson…

  • Ex: My bag wouldn’t have gotten stolen if I had/hadn’t ..
  • My kid would be better if I had/hadn’t…
  • I would have gotten the job if I had said this…
  • or gotten the grant if I had written that..

And that my friends is the scariest of storm clouds…guilt, shame, self-judgment…rewinding, replaying…not moving.

God just wants us to experience that God is with us. The 10 commandments, even, were more than a list of rules to follow – they tell us of the generosity of God, who liberated God’s people – a God whose love sets us free from all that enslaves us…and is present in all the storms of life.  

In the New Testament in the Gospel of John – we see this same dynamic with the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 and the disciples.  Crowds of people had started following Jesus and they gathered in a field, to be closer to Jesus. And the disciples are figuring out how to feed all these people….

JOHN 6:8-12, 16-21

When a boy offers his five small loaves of bread and two small fish  … that is more than enough, resulting in 12 baskets of leftovers…

It’s an idyllic scene where people are close to Jesus, fed to abundance – sitting on a grassy, sunny, hillside.

*And then evening comes and we read this,

16 the disciples went down to the lake,

17 where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them.

18 A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough.

19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened.

20 But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.”

21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

Jesus In the Storm

The disciples- are at one moment sitting in the sunshine – in an expansive grassy field… filled with the bounty of not only a meal of bread and fish … but fed with comfort, peace, abundance, the presence of Jesus, seen and known in their midst. A recognizable “cloud” if we keep up with the metaphor.

And then everything changes – as they find themselves in a storm.
The sea, once a familiar landscape for many of these disciple fisherman –  is now unrecognizable and:

    • The darkness of the storm overtakes the moon… 
    • The waves overtake the boat…
    • The wind overtakes the disciple’s balance…
    • All their bearings are lost…
  • And they find themselves in a previously known…. but now, overwhelmingly scary and unrecognizable place.

We move about our days with rhythms and patterns – and we absorb what is familiar/recognizable as good – evidence of the presence of God.  We can gauge our days as  “good” or “bad” by how much or how little our sense of the familiar is disrupted.

But our life is not either/or… not “always sunny” or “always cloudy.” I mean it can feel like that – but the reality is – it is just changing. Our life is always changing. And the contrast of clouds and light – help us to realize this. 

Things change, moment to moment.  Destinations – like the shoreline for these disciples disappears in the mist,  the destination of the promised land for the Israelites only looks like wilderness for so long… and our dreams change. Dreams we hoped for in our lives – the way we thought our partnerships or career would play out … the dreams we had for our kids … 

We’d love for them to be sunny… but we experience heartbreaking things in our lives – the sun is often times covered for a long time. We weep – we rejoice  – we grieve – we give thanks…  We weep – we rejoice  – we grieve – we give thanks… this is the pattern.

Everything comes and goes.

And GOOD can feel as though it is eluding our grasp.

GOD, can feel as though God is eluding us….

The disciples in the midst of the storm … Have lost so much that was once anchoring and known to them – the visibility of the JESUS they knew -and the question that is in that boat is,


All that is left for them is what they are experiencing in the moment, what they are feeling…
The feeling of being afraid, isolated, anxiety-ridden, overwhelmed by their circumstances…

These feelings can rock us – as much as the waves of life – so much so that like the disciples – or the Israelites we create a distance between God and us… so much so that even as Jesus might be approaching our boat, walking on  water – making himself as visible as possible – we remain frightened.

Jesus says, “do not be afraid” to his disciples

Moses says to his people, “do not be afraid.”

And I wonder if part of that command is to not let the fear that is so prevalent become the sum of our experience… to not let it overtake us and strike everything good from view. 

Rabbi Spitzer says that as a practice we can start to recognize things in our environment that have beginnings and endings… to attune ourselves to this reality- 

“like a sound we notice on our day – as it rises and passes…. Or as we are out for a walk  – to notice the trees, and cars, and buildings that we pass by – as they come into view and fade from view…All these things arise, and change and pass away.” (spitzer)

This helps us to learn that even our mind-state/emotions are not permanent.

Like everything else, they arise and pass, if we can simply let it be. 

And with that realization the power over us is lessened… 

It can help us separate from the story,  that gets caught up in our emotions.  And as we can turn toward what we are feeling, not away from it – we make more space for the presence of God… and this helps us see that,

“I am not my anxiety, I’m not my sadness or my happiness – or my anger – or my confusion.”

Emotions and mind-states come and go – and I can keep steady in their passing, as I welcome the presence of God.  Whether I, like Moses go toward the cloud and sit in the midst of it – or like the disciples, we await the presence of Jesus that comes  to find us – comes to companion us wherever we are. 

Pretty quickly I realized that every single day we were in Mexico – there was going to be something we had to do to make sure we could get home.  It was just the reality – and that was maddening and disappointing to me, so I went outside in the dark one evening and asked God,

“Where are you? Are you even here? Do you care about us?”

…Waiting.. Waiting…

And then I noticed my kids spill out onto the beach, they didn’t know I was there. And I heard one of them say to the other,

“aaah look at the moon – come, see the moon.”

*And for some reason those words brought God back into view.. .Maybe the same way the disciples heard Jesus say,

“It is me. It’s me, I’m here with you.”

My deep fear was that God wasn’t close  – and that even if God was, that God’s presence wouldn’t make a difference in the midst of what felt like stolen moments from my family.

The wisdom of clouds is ‘yes’, that everything is changing –  BUT IT’S ALSO THAT THE PRESENCE OF GOD LOVES TO ENGAGE with us just as we are… our salty tears and our dust covered hearts – it IS where God is most felt and encountered and VISIBLE.

I can’t wrap my mind around  – why a moment I witnessed with my kids about the moon – shifted me back to a sense of closeness with God – but I can wrap my heart around it. I felt it. Even in the midst of no circumstantial change.

It’s part of why I continue to follow Jesus – despite the growing roster of hindrances on a societal and national level that suggests Christianity has a duly earned bad rap.

It’s that deep down I want to believe in something bigger, something that I CAN NOT fully comprehend or capture in a box.  I find it unbelievably meaningful and  precious to continue to search for ways to define the Divine (the undefinable).  (Thanks Andrea Gibson)

The galaxy, the universe, the MOON, the wonder, the sitting in something  – being a part of something – knowing that I too have stardust in my own being – feeling that I am connected to all of that grandness – but not fully understanding how all of it works… that’s the part I love.

Because it keeps me believing that in circumstances and situations that do not play out like a cosmic moment, but actually feel gritty and burdened and hard. Somehow that the universe-sized- bigness of God’s love will play out in the end  – will walk across water, or come down from a mountain to find me.

The stories of God in a big trembling cloud at Mt. Sinai, the feeding of the 5,000, the stormy sea, our trip to Mexico – and whatever your cloud-stories are…  are not separate, different stories – they are a continuous story –  the story of our lives. 

And within, is the GREAT thru-line of Jesus’ presence, which is altogether nourishing, guiding and protective.  ALLTOGETHER THE ALPHA AND THE OMEGA – the beginning, (the becoming), and the end.

As we close in prayer,

Consider what kind of cloud represents God to you these days? Fluffy, wispy? Fleeting? Stormy?

* What do you feel as you approach this cloud?
* How far or near does God’s presence feel?

Dear God, in whatever form you take – however your presence is known to us – could you let us know of your great love for us? Your great guidance? Your great freedom for us? Your great mystery? And could you hold us in the waves and in the storms – with a nearness that both defies and affirms your greatness…



Dancing feel so good! It’s been a while…

There is a good feeling we get when we find freedom, isn’t there? 

The capacity to move as we’re meant to move, to be as we’re meant to be, to learn and grow and love as the deepest parts of us know we need to.

Yeah, a free person shines like the stardust we’re made out of, like the lights that we are. 

But woah, it’s hard to get there and stay there, isn’t it? 

Real talk – how many of you had fun a minute ago? 

OK, and how many of you were like: what is happening? 

Do I have to get up? Do I have to move? Who’s looking at me? What in the world is Steve doing?

Don’t worry, it was my idea and I was thinking every one of those things. Everyone, don’t worry.

Yeah, we have a lot of resistance to freedom. We want to not be constrained by conventions that don’t suit us. But man, we also don’t want to be that weird person who’s unconventional. 

We want to dare to live by our deepest convictions, to flow in the world in consonance with our deepest truths and hopes, but can we? Is it safe? Is it normal? Will it work?

Freedom and resistance – resistance to our own freedom, sometimes resistance to others’ freedom – tend to show up together. 

Freedom also isn’t just following every one of our instincts without impediment. Freedom is nuanced. Freedom lives within constraint. With great freedom comes great responsibility, they say. It’s true. 

But freedom is really important to us and our flourishing. It’s important to God too. And it’s important to this community you’re in right now. 

This month, in our We Are Reservoir series, we’re preaching through our five core values – Connection last week, Everyone, Humility, and Action yet to come. And freedom is up this week.

Here’s how we defined this years ago when we changed our name to Reservoir Church. 


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

This is a really important value of this community. I think it’s a really important value of Jesus’ whole Beloved Community, what Jesus, in his teaching, called the



the family or the commonwealth of God. 

And I think all of us don’t just prize whatever freedom we have, we’re kind of longing for more liberation, yearning to be more free. 

So today, we take a glance, from a Jesus-centered perspective, about what freedom is or isn’t and how we get there. 

Here’s our text, from one of the earlier letters in the New Testament, written by Paul of Tarsus to the little house churches in Galatia, a region of the Roman Empire that’s now part of Turkey.

It’s kind of the climax of the whole letter. Here we go.

Galatians 5:1-14  (Common English Bible)

5 1 Christ has set us free for freedom. Therefore, stand firm and don’t submit to the bondage of slavery again.

2 Look, I, Paul, am telling you that if you have yourselves circumcised, having Christ won’t help you.

3 Again I swear to every man who has himself circumcised that he is required to do the whole Law.

4 You people who are trying to be made righteous by the Law have been estranged from Christ. You have fallen away from grace!

5 We eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness through the Spirit by faith.

6 Being circumcised or not being circumcised doesn’t matter in Christ Jesus, but faith working through love does matter.

7 You were running well—who stopped you from obeying the truth?

8 This line of reasoning doesn’t come from the one who calls you.

9 A little yeast works through the whole lump of dough.

10 I’m convinced about you in the Lord that you won’t think any other way. But the one who is confusing you will pay the penalty, whoever that may be.

11 Brothers and sisters, if I’m still preaching circumcision, why am I still being harassed? In that case, the offense of the cross would be canceled.

12 I wish that the ones who are upsetting you would castrate themselves!

13 You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only don’t let this freedom be an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses, but serve each other through love.

14 All the Law has been fulfilled in a single statement: Love your neighbor as yourself.

You don’t have to, but I want us to remember this line I’m about to say, so if you’re willing can you say this line with me, say it after me:

“For freedom Christ has set us free.”

Here’s what’s going on. 

A number of people in this region have heard about the way of Jesus, and they are in. Listening to the words and stories of Jesus before they were even written down. They were learning to worship and trust the God Jesus loved, pray as Jesus taught us to pray, live in love and live by faith the way Jesus taught us and showed us. 

And then some people told them:

there’s more.

They were like:

there are customs. There are rules. There’s a whole tradition you need to uphold, to fall in line with to be Christian.

Maybe these were visiting teachers from another church, maybe members of their community that had picked up these ideas, maybe their own local pastor, we don’t know. 

But we know that one of the customs, one of the rules, he/they were insisting upon was male circumcision. Male Jews had their foreskins of their penis removed at birth or conversion – it had been so for centuries. It was so for Jesus. It was so for Paul. 

And these teachers were like:

you need to do this too. It’s part of the system. You want to be Christian, you want to follow the way of Jesus, getting circumcised, or getting your son or husband or boyfriend or whoever to get circumcised, is one of the things you have to do.

Now I mean, I hate, I hate the way some Christians talk about this text. They call these teachers the Judaizers and act like having Gentiles pick up a few Jewish customs would be this awful thing. It sounds totally anti-semitic to me, and I’m not having that. 

And on the surface, it’s no big deal, I would think. I mean what’s wrong with a few rules? Nothing. What’s wrong with giving respect to the ancient faith tradition from which Jesus himself came? That seems beautiful to me, even if it were to involve a painful medical procedure for the men. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? Who cares?

Well, Paul, one of the people who ended up writing bits of our Bible cared, and he cared a lot! He himself is Jewish. He loves his culture, his ancestry, the faith from which he came – he’s proud of it. But these teachers of the rules and customs required for belonging, they anger him. He’s like:

brothers, if you want to circumcise these folks, you ought to go ahead and castrate yourselves instead.

Not polite words. 

Here’s my take on this. 

I think what’s at stake is not at all about Jewish or not Jewish, not at all about rules or no rules. We all need some rules to live by, after all. No, here what’s at stake is at the heart of what God wants for us in Jesus. What’s at stake is freedom.

Jesus set you free so you can keep getting more free. For freedom Christ has set you free.

But we keep putting yourselves in prison, and that is a tragedy.

I want to talk about two sets of ways we tend to imprison ourselves, that Paul uses as sort of the opposites of the freedom for which Christ set us free, OK?

They’re the imprisonment of tower, and the imprisonment of field

Now this whole prison/slavery language… it’s hard, it’s loaded. 

We’re in a country whose real practices of slavery and imprisonment have been brutal and violent and racist, physical horrors we need deliverance from. So we can’t use language like this casually. 

On the slavery front, the same was true in Paul’s Roman empire, for what it’s worth – common and brutal and violent then. Some of the members of the Galatian house churches were slaves, and it was awful. 

So I don’t think Paul used slavery as a metaphor casually. He was trying to convey the desperate violence and entrapment of all the ways we fail to walk in freedom, saying we need deliverance from the literal imprisonment and enslavement of humans by humans, and we also need deliverance from the metaphorical, internal imprisonment and enslavement of persons by the systems we swim in and by ourselves as well. 

So there’s the metaphor. Let’s talk about our two big opposites of the freedom for which Jesus has set us free.

So the first I’m calling the Prison of Tower

The prison of tower is the need to be correct, stable, and secure. It’s the belief that you’ve got to always be right and better than. 

It’s often, the prison of tower, born out of insecurity or pride or both. The idea is: mark out your territory, your safe zone, build your tower, your fortress of superiority and protection, and the resist and judge everyone outside. 

For Paul’s opponents, they were like: morally, religiously, spiritually, this is a dangerous world. There are the Romans and the Pagans and the Persians and all kinds of people and beliefs and cultures and customs in the world, and they’re not good. They’re not true. 

Uphold the customs, follow the rules – circumcision included – that set you apart, that make you right and pure and pleasing to God. This will protect you, protect you from assimilation, protect you from the displeasure of God and the judgment of your community. 

But Paul’s like,

this is not the point of the way of Jesus. Faith in Jesus is not a better moral system to set you apart from the world or make you better than anyone else.  

Faith in Jesus is walking with Jesus in a relationship of trust, not a code of certainties. 

Faith in Jesus is a living, breathing relationship with the Spirit of God that leads you into right ways in all circumstances. 

Faith in Jesus is grace, the gift of knowing you’re loved by God, you’re a child of God, that God is always with you, never giving up on you, and can always guide you into greater goodness, greater joy, greater truth, greater freedom. 

Prison of tower still shows up in religious rigidity and superiority. When people say believe the codes we’ve taught you, obey the Bible the way we read it, follow the rules the way we teach them, and you will please God, you will be well, that’s an insecure prison tower. It claims righteousness and honor and safety and superiority, but it’s just smug superiority. 

Nationalism is the same. Loving your culture or your country because it’s home and it’s meaningful to you, that kind of pride is cool if you’ve got it. But confidence that your country or your culture are the best, the chosen, the ones deserving the most power or wealth, that’s prison of tower again – pride that builds walls and props up our little egos, but doesn’t bring us or our communities freedom. 

Put these two together with religious nationalism, in this country, Christian nationalism, and you’ve got a doubly toxic idolatry, claiming God’s backing and favor for our own petty, selfish, violent project. Paul’s like:

curse that kind of attitude. It will estrange you from Christ, lead you away from God It’s no good.

Now friends here at Reservoir, some of us have left prisons of tower. We were once part of Christian cultures, churches, ways of doing faith that we now see as fence-building, wall-building, narrow, rigid, smug, or judgmental. In our honest exploration of faith, we’ve walked away from conformity of belief or behavior. Maybe we believe the Holy Spirit is revealing some truth to us as we seek God. 

I believe that the Spirit of God has been revealing truth to this church, for instance, about inclusion, about good fruit in our lived experience as an important litmus test for healthy, liberating faith. I celebrate the paths of change and renewal going on here and in other places in the Body of Christ. 

But if we’ve left behind prisons of tower. Or if we’re offended, scandalized, angry about other systems of tower we maybe were never part of, I think we’re encouraged to two things, though.

One, spend our energy on our own journey of love, faithfulness, and freedom. Don’t get caught up judging the places we come from, or the tower-making, fear driven projects we were never part of.

Once on Twitter, I made a comment about the really bad behavior and imprisoning tower thinking of some American Christians. And the phrase I used was “so-called Christians.” And one of you messaged me, and you were like:

Steve, that so-called Christians language is smug and judgy, and you’re better than that, and our church is better than that too.

And I was like:

thank you. You are right. And I try not to do that. Judge not, lest you be judged.

And then two, don’t trade one tower for another. Don’t trade white supremacist Christian nationalism for rigidity or fundamentalism in more liberal convictions, for instance. Speak your truth, live by your convictions, follow the way you believe God is leading, but stay generous, stay loving. Be curious, not judgmental, you know. 

And don’t trade religious rigidity for rigidity about your diet or exercise or politics or whatever. It’s good to have convictions, it can be great to have rules to live by – I have mine. But don’t make the rules with the truth, your way in this moment with the way. None of us ever sees all truth. None of us has a God’s eye, complete perspective. We all see in part. We all live by grace. We all find our freedom best when we stay humble too, when we seek to live in love.

Alright, so that’s the prison of tower. I’ll be briefer here, so I can wrap up, but Paul also contrasts the freedom for which we’ve been set free with another prison, what I’ll call Prison of Field

 I made up this phrase, prison of field, but here’s what I mean by it. Unlike the tower – this fortress of rules and custom and superiority and pride that hides our insecurities, prison of field is like you see the whole field, you see everything you don’t have, and you need it all.

Prison of field is the need to have new and more and better people, experiences, and wealth. It’s like being a good American consumer – I want that, so I’m gonna get it. 

It can be born of lack. Like I’ve had so little, so now I’m going to get what’s mine. Or it can be born of entitlement, like I deserve all that. 

Prison of field is thinking: I’ll be happy when….

I’ll be happy when I have more money or better stuff.

I’ll be happy when I have a new or better job or lover or house.

I’ll be happy when I’m not sick anymore. 

Or even I’ll be happy when my kids are happy, or when my kids have no problems, or when they achieve this or that. I call that notion in myself the idolatry of the perfect child. 

It’s not fair to you or your kids and doesn’t bring us freedom.

Paul says don’t let your freedom in Christ

– your I’m beloved, God is with me no matter what –

don’t let that be an opportunity to be all about your own selfish impulses. 

Instead, serve one another in love. Love your neighbor as yourself. 

Pursue the well being of friend and stranger and enemy as you pursue your own and then you’ll stay free.

Because we’re not free when we’re living by compulsion, when we’re imprisoned by the endless discontentment and hunger for more that all the marketers want us to have. 

And we’re not free when we all can’t get free together.

When my consumption hurts your land, when my need for a new and better phone every two years piles up toxic trash in your backyard, we’re not free. When my ungoverned appetites for food or sex or whatever subject other creatures to my violence or my lustful gaze, then we’re not free. When my never quite enough feeling means I can’t ever commit to a person or a place or a calling, then I’m not free, right? 

For freedom Christ has set us free.

Wherever the Spirit of God is, there is ever-increasing freedom.

Friends, with all its flaws, best as we’re able, we’ve grown this church to be a place where conformity of behavior or belief is not expected. We’ve grown this church to be a community that encourages us all to honestly explore God and goodness and faith, trusting that the Holy Spirit reveals truth to all who seek God.

And Jesus has lived and died and lived again to set you free. To call you a child of God. And to inspire and guide you toward love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against these things there is no law. 

Don’t settle for prison of tower or prison of field. 

Walk with God, listen to the Spirit, live by faith, and love, joy, and peace will be yours.

For freedom, Christ has set us free. 

For freedom, Christ has set us free.


History of Pride

  • Hi, I’m Becki. I’m glad you’re here this morning. Today’s service is celebrating Pride. It will vary from our traditional service format. Members of the Reservoir community who are also part of LGBTQIA+ community will be leading this service and I’ll let them introduce themselves. This service will consist of prayer, reflection, liturgy, and spiritual practice. We are glad you’re with us here today. 
  • I want to offer some context behind pride. Pride marches commemorate the seven days of the Stonewall riots, an uprising during a police raid on June 29th, 1969 in Greenwich Village. The riots were led by queer and trans people of color like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy. At Pride each June, we celebrate how far we have come and we protest for how much farther we have to go. Our society is nowhere near perfect in terms of inclusion and acceptance.  
  • But we have a social and cultural view of “perfect” that we assume matches God’s view of “perfect”. But God’s view of perfect is so much wider than ours. I believe that God sees perfect when he looks at people celebrating and protesting at Pride, God sees the fullness of themself in the margins of society and says “this is good” at people being wholly and beautifully themselves and among community. We don’t even have the capacity to fully understand God’s depth of love and capacity for inclusion but we can awe and wonder at it. 

Now we will have a spiritual practice led by Emmett. 


  • Hi, I’m Emmett, my pronouns are they/them.
  • Sometimes, when there are reframes in perspective like God’s view of perfection, we lean into affirmations to try to convince ourselves of truths we don’t yet fully believe or remind ourselves of truths we tend to forget. For example, pay attention to what you feel in your body when I say affirmations like the following: 

“I am enough”

“I deserve love”

“I am wonderfully and beautifully made”

“I have everything I need”

  • Notice what you felt in your body and your initial gut reaction. Was it comforting, anxiety-producing, annoyingly over-used, or did it make you a little defensive. All of those reactions are valid. I learned today’s practice from a TikTok account by Christine Gibson. She called the practice “iffirmations.” You add the phrase “what if” to the beginning of an affirmation. Pay attention to your body again as those same affirmations become iffirmations: 

“What if I am enough?”

“What if I deserve love?”

“What if I am wonderfully and beautifully made?”

“What if I have everything I need?” 

  • Notice again what you felt in your body and your initial gut reaction. That shift in language for some of you may plants seeds of possibility that feel true while affirmations sometimes feel like you’re trying to trick yourself into believing something. That flexibility of mental response can be very healing. Other phrases that people like using are “Imagine that” or “I am open to the possibility of.” I invite you to (respond in the chat) and try writing an affirmation from a favorite source of wisdom, God, the Bible, or others that you could try as an “iffirmation”? Notice how the shift in language feels in your body. You may like affirmations more and that’s totally okay. But What if an iffirmation engaged your curiosity? I invite you to (respond in the chat). 
  • Chat question: What is an affirmation from a favorite source of wisdom, God, the Bible, or others that you could try as an “iffirmation”? 


  • Thank you so much for sharing your ‘iffirmations’ and I encourage you to keep playing with this practice. 

Rainbow Prayer 

  • Now I’d like to share a prayer that has excerpts from the Prayer for Pride Flag Raising by the Rainbow Pastor and the Rainbow Christ Prayer by Patrick Cheng and Kittredge Cherry as well as my own prayers. I’ll share an image of the pride flag for reference. Pray with me. 
  • Rainbow Christ, you embody all the colors of the world.  Inspire us to remember the values expressed in the rainbow flag of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual community.


  • Red is for life, the root of spirit.  Living Christ, you are our Root.  Free us from shame, and grant us the grace of healthy pride so we can explore, question, and follow our own inner truths. With the red stripe in the rainbow, we give thanks that God created us just the way we are. 
  • Orange is for healing, the mending needed desperately in individuals and our community as a whole. Let us heal one another through love, radical acceptance, and coming alongside each other in our hurts, losses, and burdens. Lord, may we lay those hurts and burdens at your feet and allow the wholeness of community and self to be reconciled.  With the orange stripe in the rainbow, be a balm to our wounds and sorrows. 
  • Yellow is for sunlight, the brilliant light of queer joy. The smile on Your face shining down upon us. Interconnected Christ, you are our Wisdom, creating and sustaining the universe. With the yellow stripe in the rainbow, may we feel Your radiant light reflected in our innermost beings. 
  • Green is for nature, the grounding of life. May we seek nature to commune with you and all of creation. May we see ourselves reflected in the beauty and purposefulness of every rock, raindrop, and leaf. With the green stripe in the rainbow, connect us with others and with all of creation.
  • Blue is for serenity, the sense of tranquility and calm that comes with knowing you are exactly as God made you to be. God knew your true name when you were in the womb and They smile as you come into your own. Serenity is also inviting the most marginalized into an open and welcoming community. Liberator Christ, you are our Voice, speaking out against all forms of oppression. Free us from apathy, and grant us the grace of activism. With the blue stripe in the rainbow, let us find peace within our Body-Spirit and motivate us to call for justice. 
  • Purple is for spirit, the union of one’s spirit with the Holy Spirit and the spirit of community. Lord, may we find connection with you and one another. May we offer love and compassion and encourage those around us to live their authentic lives. Fill our hearts with untamed compassion for all beings. With the purple stripe in the rainbow, may our spirit find rest and encouragement in our truths, one another, and the Holy Spirit. 
  • These colors come together to make one rainbow, one symbol of Pride. Free us from rigid categories and grant us the grace of interwoven identities.  With the rainbow, lead us to experience the whole spectrum of life. 
  • Bless our pride in who we are, in all our diversity, as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, two-spirit, and questioning people, as an expression of your creative love. Bless our differences that we may draw strength from them. 
  • Bless our celebration that it may show our joy in living and hope. Bless those for whom it takes great courage to be present, that they may not feel alone. Bless those for whom this is one in a long series of Pride celebrations, as they continue to teach us about courage and wisdom. 
  • Bless our calls for equality as we seek justice for all your people. Bless those who support us and are also working for freedom and justice. Bless each of us here with your presence, and our presence, one with another. 
  • Amen. 

I invite you to join me in a breath prayer. We will do it twice together.

Breath Prayer

Inhale: I am enough

Exhale: God blesses me. (2x)

I’ll pass it over to Noelle for a time of honoring queer ancestors.


Tom is also going to sing a song he wrote as we reflect on those who came before us. 


Know me. Know me.

I am all that you are longing for.

All that you desire, everything you need, and so much more.

I am the God who called you. I am the God who rescued you.

I am the God who sets your heart on fire.

I am the God who walks with you.

I am the God who talks with you.

I am your God, and this is my desire,

that you will know me, know me, know me. I am your God.

Know me.


Breath Prayer 

Inhale: We are of our ancestors.

Exhale: May their stories speak through us. (2x)


I’d like to share a prayer from Rev. Megan Rohrer called “A Prayer for my LGBTQ Kin.”

Shepherding God,

Be palpably present with us when we dance,


                                                                        and enjoy the sensations

                                                                             of the creation you declare good.

Help us to name, define, redefine, deconstruct, claim, and properly pronoun our fabulousness. We commit to properly naming and pronouning the fabulousness of others.

Dwell with us,

     both when we are able to articulate our pride for ourselves and others

     and when we get stuck in a cacophony of negativity, bodily shame, or unjust laws.

When we are tired, weary, and exhausted,

     grant us the rest and renewal we need to keep on marching, advocating, and living openly.

When we have all that we need to live fully,

     help us to share with others who lack.

And when it feels like time is moving too slow,

     or change is not possible,

     take the lead

     block the wind

     refresh our hearts

     distract us with passionate love

     give us purposeful work

     anything that helps those on the edge to choose life

          to get through the month, the week, or the hour

          to move time a bit closer

               to the safety, acceptance, and love we all need and deserve.

When we cannot hear you,

     scream louder,

     love more tangibly

     silence violent voices of opposition

     whip advocates into a frenzy

     fill us with memories of times when we felt closer to you

     and love us anyway

          as we were

          as we are

          as we are becoming

          as we wish we could be in a safer time and place

          as you know us

          as we seek to know ourselves.

Remind us of the victories our ancestors won,

     with their storytelling and coming out,

     with their lobbying and work from the inside,

     with bricks and sugar shakers thrown through windows of oppression

Help us to live and act with bravery,

     working within and without,

     educating ourselves and those around us,

     so that we can do the work generations to come need us to do.

Stir up our hearts,

     so that we always remain on our tiptoes

     looking for additional ways

     we can remove the barriers unjustly placed in front of our LGBTQ kin,

     especially those embodying multiple intersectional identities.

Make us plumbers,

     capable of unclogging all the places

     where the ever-flowing stream of justice has been dammed up or clogged.

Shepherding God,

Be palpably present with us when we dance,


                                                                      and enjoy the sensations

                                                                            of the creation you declare good.



Cole Arthur Riley 

In the words of poet and writer, Cole Arthur Riley:

“For those who were taught to hate their queerness:

For those who still have to hide to be safe:

If you still haven’t said it out loud:

If you already know your beauty:

God is proud of you.

God is proud of you.”

Murray will now be leading us in a scripture reading

Ephesians 3:16-19 (New Living Translations) 

16 I pray that out of God’s glorious riches that God may strengthen you with power through God’s Spirit in your inner being,

17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,

18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,

19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

The love of God is abundant, multi-dimensional, and it is what has given you – your fullness, wholeness and uniqueness. God is so proud of who you are. 

Breathe with me two times,

Inhale: God is proud of me.

Exhale:  God is proud of me. (2x)

Now Lee is going to lead us in a time of communion.


We will now move to a time of communion. 

Where we give thanks for the presence of God  – God’s presence that is not at a distance –  but intimately in our lives – as intimately as our own flesh/skin.

God gifted us with bodies and through them we come to know God:

Through touch.

Through taste.

Through struggle.

Through rest.

In God’s love for us and for all creatures and creations, God took on skin like ours, entangling, forever, the Holy with our flesh. God showed us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that we love through our bodies, we seek justice for bodies, we live out our faith in these bodies – not despite them.

Jesus took care and rest of his own body – he fed people, healed people, ate with people. 

He met the physical and spiritual needs of bodies.

And when his own body was threatened by political and religious execution, he turned to the Table. He sought, first, in his hour of need, to share in a meal with his friends.

On the night of his arrest, he gathered around a table with his companions.

He took bread, blessed it, broke it, gave it to his disciples and said,

“This is my body which is given for you.

Do this in remembrance of me.”

He did the same with the cup after the supper, saying,

“This cup that is poured out as a sign of the new covenant.”

A new way forward with love. 

The body of God was crucified.

And the body of God was resurrected.

Not only in spirit, but in flesh.

God has shown us that our bodies are good, holy, precious, and full of possibility.

Let me pray for us:  

Spirit of God, Come, bless this bread and this cup, so that we can encounter your presence as we touch, and we taste, and we feel. As we come to the table, may we become one body. And may we be relentless pursuers of your Kin-dom, until every body has its needs met, every body is recognized as beloved, and every body is treated with dignity and care. Amen.

Invitation to Communion

Right now, wherever you are, grab something to eat and drink as you are ready. 

Know that even digitally everyone is welcome to the table. There are no prerequisites at Reservoir for participating in communion. 

Come to the table. 

Closing Moment– Breath Prayer  

Inhale: God, you know my name.

Exhale:  God, you are proud of me. (2x or 3x)

What to Do with People You Can’t Stand

So, I was talking with a friend of mine a while back and he said, “So, you’re a pastor, can I ask you for advice about this thing going on?” and I said: Sure. I can’t promise I’ll have any great advice, but sure.

And he says: Well, I have a brother, and we’re very different. We don’t live too far away but we don’t see each other often either. Anyway, we had this really hard conversation the other week, and I’m not sure what to do about it. So I asked: What happened?

And he told me that his brother believes in a lot of conspiracy theories, mostly about politics but lots of other things too, and one of the things was that his brother had a lot of theories about the government and the COVID vaccines and the whole pandemic too. And they had kind of mocked him the past couple of years whenever he took any COVID precautions.

But his brother had reached out because his wife and him had both gotten COVID and one of them actually got very sick. And they missed some work and had some medical bills and were in a bind, and they were asking my friend for some favors to help them out. 

And my friend told me he was really torn, because he helps his brother out all the time, but part of him felt that his brother and sister in law got what they deserved this time, and he wasn’t sure that he wanted to come to their rescue. Maybe they had to learn a lesson or something.

So he told his brother: Listen, I’m sorry, I can’t help you out this time.

And his brother got really angry with him. He yelled at him, told him he was an awful person, swore at him, including one bit I’m not going to quote here but just say that it was hate speech, totally degrading. And then my friend’s brother hung up on him.

And my friend asked me: So, did I do the right thing in not helping him out? And what should I do next?

And I thought to myself as I usually do: I have no idea. I mean: who am I to know?

So I just said: Did your brother really call you those things? And he said: Yeah, it’s OK, though, I’m used to it. And I said: No, it’s not OK. I’m so sorry you heard your brother speak to you that way. I’m so sorry you had to hear that from your own family.

And my friend said thanks and then said these words that really struck me. He said,

You know, Steve, I’m just so angry with my brother, not just for how he acted in that phone call, but for the person he’s become. I’m so angry. And I feel kind of disgusted by him too, like I just have contempt for the kind of person he is. 

And so I said:

Well, I don’t know if you’re right or not to not help him out. It certainly sounds fair that you didn’t. I mean you’re not obligated to. And I don’t know what you should do next either, but is it OK if I make an observation?

And my friend said:

Yeah, of course.

So I said to him:

If I were you, I’d stick with the anger you feel. I’d be angry too. And maybe the anger will teach you something, or the anger will give you some energy for whatever you want to do next. I’d roll with that anger for now. But the part of you that feels disgust or contempt, like it’s hard to even see your brother like a person anymore, I’d be careful with that. I’d try to kind of separate that from the anger, and see if you can let that part go.

And we talked a little more about what that might look like, and as we did so, I learned, or relearned, so much from that distinction. My friend, with all his emotional intelligence, had noticed that he felt anger for his brother, but he also felt this other thing on top of the anger. He felt disgust or contempt, like he wasn’t just mad at this brother but looked down on him as worthless, as detestable, scum, trash, whatever. 

And those aren’t the same thing. One of those – angerhas the chance to be productive – to teach us about our fears or the harm we’re facing, or to help us make changes or make boundaries to protect ourselves. But the other – contempt – doesn’t add anything good to us or our relationships. Contempt is a kind of armor that doesn’t protect or heal. It just makes us proud and smug and rather than building boundaries that protect, it just estranges and eliminates, and it brings shame – none of which heal anything in us or them or really do any good at all.

Today we’re talking about people we can’t stand and about the difference between anger and contempt, and how to lean into one and not the other.

It’s part of a little spring mini-series we’ve called How to Heal the World about mending and repair, about leaning into the Christian notion of salvation for ourselves and our world in really practical ways. 

I want to go next to some really famous words from Jesus on this subject. These words are often read or quoted, but still rarely applied. They’re from this famous collection of teachings of Jesus on how to live, called the Sermon on the Mount.

They go like this.

Matthew 7:1-5 (Common English Bible)

1 “Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged.

2 You’ll receive the same judgment you give. Whatever you deal out will be dealt out to you.

3 Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye?

4 How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your eye?

5 You deceive yourself! First take the log out of your eye, and then you’ll see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s or sister’s eye.

Jesus says that in general,

What you put out into the world tends to be what comes back to you.

If you’re friendly, cheerful, kind in your disposition to others, you are more likely to draw that kind of attitude back toward yourself.

Treat people with judgment, criticism, and contempt, and you are likely to elicit that kind of thing in them as well. Look at my friend’s brother – in his frustration and shame, he wasn’t just angry, he yelled and swore and hurled hate speech at my friend. And the first thing my friend felt back was contempt and judgment of his own. 

We can live by grace, or we can live by judgment. 

We can cut people down, or we can be healers. But we can’t be both.

You know, I think our resistance to this teaching of Jesus, our troubles with contempt, are most obvious in our public life. 

SNL had this sketch a couple months back about three couples out for dinner trying to talk about the COVID pandemic. And even though broadly speaking they had similar views, took similar precautions, the joke of the sketch was that they just couldn’t have the conversation. It was just too tense, there were too many landmines.

Say the wrong thing, even wonder out loud with the wrong question, and you’ll be held in contempt like you’re a science-hating, pandemic causing fool. I remember feeling this contempt in myself once inside this Dunkin Donuts. There was an indoor mask mandate in my community, and I went into Dunkin, and I was paying attention to who was wearing their mask, and who wasn’t, and was wearing it kind of hanging down below the nose, or below the mouth, or you know, below the chin.

And at the time, I was feeling tense, like I don’t want to be in this store, I think I’ll wait outside while they make my coffee. But honestly, I was thinking about who was doing what with their masks and writing stories in my head about why some of them were as thoughtless or careless or ignorant as I felt they were. And I thought: these are bad people here. In just a few seconds, my fear had metastasized in me into judgment and contempt. 

Toward the end of the skit on SNL, when people are sharing their true feelings, there’s this laugh line when someone says: To be honest, when an anti-vaxxer gets Covid, I feel happy! 

And someone’s like: No you don’t. But the joke’s there because the feeling is. 

We’ve seen this kind of contempt writ large in our politics. Our last president seemed to hold everyone but himself and his fans in contempt. His words sometimes were just a stream of mocking takedowns, schoolyard bullying kinds of lies and mean, cheap insults again and again. 

He’d realized early in his campaign that fear and contempt can rally people to action. One of the most effective ways to mobilize and aggressive “us” is to find a set of enemies we can call “them” and make them out to be as scary and stupid and contemptable as possible. 

But it wasn’t just him, right? His opponent in 2016 had that fundraising speech that went viral where she said you could put Trump’s supporters in two baskets, one basket of people who are worthy of compassion or pity maybe, and another basket of people she called the “basket of deplorables.” The homophobes, the xenophobes, the misogynists, and the racists. 

And I mean, at some level, I get it. Homophobic behavior, racist action and all that are cancers. 

But how many people have been shamed into changing? Who has ever said to their judge:

Thank you for showing me how contemptible I am. Now I’ll do better. 

No one wants to be put in a basket. 

Whatever you deal out will be dealt out to you.

Contempt is the curse that keeps on cursing. It only pushes more shame and more contempt into the world.

This gets us in our private lives too. 

The past couple years I’ve had a couple important relationships in my life that have really gone south, that have just gotten much, much harder. They were perfect before, but they’re damaged now. For various reasons, though, these are people I don’t want to just walk away from. I want to stay in their lives, and they in mine. 

But it’s been hard work. 

With one of these people, I endured just a string of criticisms from them, in interaction after interaction. And most of them seemed baseless to me, really unfair. But one of them struck home, spoke to a way I’d really hurt them. And I thought: it’d be fair for me to apologize for that, it’d be right to do so. 

So I wrote this apology letter, and I showed it to a person I trust for feedback before I sent it. And they were like 80% of the letter is really great.

But that bit in the beginning where you say you have a lot of reason to be angry with them, and they’ve really done you wrong, but there’s this one thing you want to apologize for, so here we go… Why do you need to keep that bit in there? What’s that doing for you?

And I was like, well, it’s the truth. I want to apologize but I want them to know they’re wrong too, that really, they’re mostly wrong. 

And my friend said maybe so, but if you leave that in, what do you think they’ll remember about this letter, what will be their takeaway. And I thought: oh, it won’t be the apology anymore, it’ll be my contempt for them. Like you’re awful, by the way, but oh, yeah, I have this one thing to apologize for. And I thought: that’s not the kind of person I want to be.

So I cut that part out. It hurt my pride a little bit to do so. But I cut it out. And I’m glad I did. 

The Bible’s got this other line that I think builds on Jesus’ teaching on judgment and contempt. It’s from this little letter to the Ephesians, where the author is talking to a community of faith about how to follow Jesus, how to be people of grace, people who can love each other and get along together, even amongst differences. And at one point it says:

Ephesians 4:26-27 (Common English Bible)

26 Be angry without sinning. Don’t let the sun set on your anger.

27 Don’t provide an opportunity for the devil.

So anger is not sin, because you can be angry without sinning. But in our anger, dangers can arise. We can make room for the devil, the satan, the accuser.  

Early in our marriage, Grace and I tried to take this teaching very rigidly. Like most of the too rigid ideas we had together, I’m pretty sure this was my fault. But we had this idea, or I had this idea I foisted on to us, that it was critical that if we had any anger toward one another, if we had any unresolved conflict, we had to make peace, we had to resolve it thoroughly before we went to bed. 

After all, the scriptures say:

Don’t let the sun set on your anger. 

I never realized, come to think of it, that the words actually talk about the sunset, not going to bed. It’s weird how even our most rigid ideas we think come from the Bible aren’t actually there. I was convinced this principle – don’t go to sleep with your spouse until you’ve resolved your conflict – came from this verse, but that’s not even what it says.

Anyway, what trying to apply this principle mainly did was create a series of late night conflicts about conflict. Like how are we going to resolve this and make peace when to be honest, we just were ready to yet. Maybe one of us just needed to be angry for a bit. Or maybe one of us needed some time to think. 

Later, it became clear to me that this scripture is more about the course your anger and criticism take, not about whether or not you can eliminate before sundown, or bedtime. 

And I think it’s helped us to chill out a bit, let go of some of my rigid, silly rules. 

You know, this insight is affirmed by some of the experts in couples work. There are these folks, the Gottmans, they’re got an institute for healthy marriages and relationships called the Gottman Institute, and they’re like the premier voice on this stuff. 

And in their research with couples, they’ve identified what they call the four horsemen of relationships, the four forces that tear down marriages. They’re criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling (which means withdrawing all the time from conflict), and contempt.

And the worst of the four horsemen, the most lethal, in their experience, is contempt. 

Because contempt attacks a person’s self, with insult or abuse. Contempt says:

You are worthless. I’d be happy if you got sick. You’re a deplorable. You’re dead to me. 

It’s contempt, not anger, that leads us into sin. Contempt truly does make room for the devil. Jesus said once:

The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy. The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but I come that you may have life, and life abundant. 

Friends, when I talk about the devil or the thief here, I’m not talking about an invisible boogeyman, or a pitchfork-wielding, angry, horned red devil. I’m talking about any forces inside of us, among us that steal, kill, and destroy, that rob us of connection and life, that tear down our lives and relationships, and society. 

And our persistent habits of judgment and contempt are high on the list of these thieving forces. 

Jesus is like

Don’t do it, there’s a better way.

We’ll come back to his words, but here’s how the Gottmans put it. Their antidote to contempt is to build a culture of appreciation, to remind yourself of your partner’s positive qualities and to find and express gratitude for positive actions. More reasons to build up those gratitude habits we were talking about last week. 

Ruby Sales, who we talked about on Easter and the week before, put it this way. She said:

You know, in our world, it’s easier to think about who and what we hate, then who and what we love. It’s easier to think about who and what we hate, then who and what we love. 

My friend, my colleague Ivy, reminded me of this wisdom a few weeks ago, and it was right as I was getting ready to have another hard conversation in one of those difficult relationships in my life. 

So I took it to heart, I asked God for help in remembering what I love about this person. It was easy to think of what I was angry about, what I feel critical of, what unchecked would just again and again turn to contempt in me. But I asked God for help to remember what I love and respect about this person. And things came to mind. And I spent time thinking about these things before our next conversation. And it made a big difference. It didn’t change anything in them right away, but it changed a lot in  me. 

Christena Cleveland put it this way.

When dealing with someone that makes you angry, that you might be inclined to hold in judgment or contempt, say a little prayer: May the image of God in me greet the image of God in you. It’s kind of what the Hindi word: namaste means. And it’s very much the wisdom of Jesus as well. 

May the image of God in me greet the image of God in you. May I see in my friend, my spouse, my family, and even in my enemy not just what I hate but what I love. 

This is a big way that we do what Jesus commands, that we take the splinter out of our own eye, and then seek to heal our neighbor’s sight. There are other sins, there are plenty of other splinters we’ve got my friends, but there are few that are as sharp and lethal, and as common and deep as judgment and contempt. 

If, with the help of God and friends, we can pull that contempt out of us, if we can see and treat others with the dignity that is their birthright too as a child of God, made in God’s image, then we’ll go a long way toward healing our relationships, healing ourselves, and healing the world.

I’d like us to close today with a practice on this. We’ll call this exercise Dropping The Stone.

It’s got five parts to it. We won’t just assign this one for homework, we’ll take a minute, if you’re willing to try it together.

Here’s how it’s going to work.

We’re going to take a few moments of silence now.

I invite you to close your eyes, if you’re willing, or at least turn your gaze away from me or anyone else, and think of a person that you feel anger or contempt toward.

And with a story from the life of Jesus in mind, one where he sees people wanting to throw stones at someone else and gets them to drop their stones, imagine the person at whom you wish you could throw a stone.

To whom do you feel anger or contempt? Take a minute, let the name come to mind. See their face.

Now ask yourself:

What do I feel toward this person? Why am I angry? What is the source of the contempt?

Imagine that all that anger and contempt is inside a stone in your hand. Validate that for a minute. 

OK, try the third step now.

As you imagine this person, as you call them to mind, as you see them, ask yourself:

What do I love about them?

And focus on that quality.

And if you can’t think of anything you love about them, ask yourself,

How would it be possible to love them? What is the good in them? How do they bear the image of God? 

Now, in your mind, put your stone down.

Say to God:

God, I would like to set aside the contempt. I’d like to be free of it….       I can be angry, but I will not harm. I will not seek revenge. I will not judge. I will not seek to rob my fellow human of their dignity. 

And lastly, ask yourself, ask God,

Free of my contempt, what will I do next instead? What will I say or do with this person? 

The Overwhelming Waters

Welcome again to our second week looking for Water of Life together. Just a reminder that if last week’s talk and guide on baptism intrigued you, you can contact for interest on the upcoming info sessions about kids baptism and dedication and me – for interest in or questions about adult baptism. 

Now this week, we look for help in the things that threaten and overwhelm us. Water may hydrate, cleanse, refresh, and restore us. But water can also flood and drown and destroy. In the scriptures, springs, wells, rivers, give life. But large bodies of water – they are associated with chaos and terror. In fact, the very first line of the whole Bible evokes old myths of the watery, chaotic depths from which God first created life. 

This week, in our sermon and in our guide, we look at how God can meet us when we or those we love are overwhelmed, facing danger, threat, or stress. 

After all, we are watching a tyrant’s violent war play out in Ukraine. It’s happening far from us. There’s little we can do, but still, we are bearing witness. And it’s heartbreaking, it’s frightening, and it is enraging to watch. 

This is on top of our season of interruption, chaos, division, and loss we’ve been in due to the global pandemic and more. 

And that on top of movements to expose racial violence, gender and sexual violence, violence toward LGBTQ kids and youth. Movements for critical, long overdue change, but movements that stir and expose trauma and trouble as they do so. 

And on top of that, we have our own personal lives – some thriving and happy, others not so much. Some of us are facing overwhelming trauma and suffering ourselves. And even those of us who aren’t bear witness to it in others near and far, again and again.

What do we do? In threat and stress, what is the Water of Life way of faith, hope, and love? How do we find God? How do we find anchors, peace, companionship in the overwhelm? 

That’s what we explore this week. Let’s read today’s passage. 

John 6:16-21 (New Revised Standard Version)

16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea,

17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.

18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.

19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified.

20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”

21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

What is going on here?

The storm we get. The Sea of Galilee is really a huge lake, not a sea, and some of these guys were professional fishermen, but still…I remember once as a teenager being in a canoe at dusk in the middle of a lake much smaller than this one. And the skies darkened as a sudden storm swept in and we heard a crack of thunder. I have never in my life paddled as hard as I did then to get off that lake before lightning hit. Storms are terrifying. 

But then there’s Jesus, walking on the sea. 

What in the world is this? Three out of the four gospels have a story of Jesus walking on water. They’re kind of famous. But what in the world do they mean?

Truthfully, we don’t know. 

A little aside here. Many Chrisitians are quite confident they can tell you exactly what different Bible passages mean, not just for them, but for everyone, for all time. They hold to what they consider a common sense or literal interpretation and think those are always correct. Or they think what their pastor or favorite Christian author or their slice of the Chrisitan tradition has taught and assume that must be right. 

Me, I love knowing that different people have wrestled with these biblical texts and come away with some different ideas of what to think about them and what to do with them. I think it’s beautiful to engage a tradition and a set of holy texts that are rich and deep enough that there’s always more to learn, always more to think about, even argue about.

This is in keeping with this church’s core value of humility – that when it comes to Jesus and the scriptures and how to love God with our whole being and love our neighbor as ourselves, we are always learners, not experts. 

We are disciples – students – of the way of Jesus, not masters. 

So, when it comes to these walking on water texts, there are lots of readings here too. 

Some people think Jesus – through his divine powers – suspended the laws of nature for himself and walked across the top of the water, either to comfort and help his struggling friends or perhaps to prove that he was God in the flesh.

Some people think these texts have like an epic, legendary quality to them. There are stories of sea walking in the tales of a number of great leaders, including Alexander the Great, and Xerxes, king of Persia. In the time of Christ, apocalyptic literature that used symbols to capture deep truth, was very popular. Maybe this is that kind of story.

Some people even think the disciples were half mistaken. I mean John says they were just about back on land when they saw Jesus. Maybe with the darkness and fog of the storm, Jesus was walking to them along the shore, and they thought he was out on the sea.

I have my own guesses and wonderings about what might have happened in this history behind this account, but it’s really not the point of the sermon, so I’ll keep my own wonderings about this to myself today, like Jesus’ own momma, pondering them in my heart.

 Here’s the takeaway, though, for us. No matter what historically happened behind this memory of the disciples, John describes this as what’s called a theophany. A theophany is an appearance of the divine. It’s something so beautiful, so moving that in the eye of the beholder, they believe that they are experiencing God. 

It’s not about science. It’s not about trying to prove God’s presence. We can’t do that one way or the other. 

And it may not even be about what God is doing any differently. Often a theophany is about us seeing or sensing differently, about a deeper seeing, a deeper understanding, a deeper attention to what’s true and real, that God has been there all along, but just now we are catching it.

John gives us a number of clues that for the disciples this was a theophany, an awareness of God with them. One is Jesus’ words. When they’re like: who or what is this coming to us? Jesus says: It is I. Literally in Greek, he says, “I am.” Which is one translation of the Hebrew, personal name for the divine, Yahweh:  I am that I am. In the gospel of John, Jesus says, “I am” again and again. In me, Jesus is saying, you are experiencing what God is like.

And there’s the whole presence over the waters. Again and again, John tells and retells parts of the creation story from Genesis, the first book of the Bible. And Genesis starts with the spirit of God moving, flying across the surface of earth’s primordial waters, bringing order and beauty out of chaos. Just like Jesus is here.

John knows, Jesus knows that when we’re terrified, when we face the chaos and stress of threats and suffering, we need theophany. We need to know in a deeper way that God is here with us – water of life over the overwhelming water we fear will overtake us. 

I’ve had my moments when it seemed like life would overtake me. Abuse, trauma, loss, fears. Like you all, some hard moments in recent times too.

But as I prepared for today, two things came to mind.

One, I didn’t really feel like talking about myself more today.

And two, I thought of people I know and respect throughout this community whose losses and traumas have been immense and who have found ways through them, are finding ways through them still. 

And I wanted to learn from their stories, and share what I learned with you. So I reached out to eight people in our community who I knew had faced the overwhelming waters of loss and chaos and asked them, what gave you hope? Or what gave you peace? Or how did you keep the faith or just keep going? 

I told them I’d keep them anonymous for today but that I’d share some of what I learned from their stories.

Let me tell you first, friends, that in this community, you are surrounded by amazing people – amazingly courageous, resilient, faithful people, what the Bible calls a great cloud of witnesses.

These people I reached out to, they have faced untimely deaths, unjust imprisonment. They’ve lived through divorce, abuse, cancer, loss of children, loss of homeland. So when I talk about things learned while facing overwhelming stress and threat, these folks know the real deal. 

And they all responded to me with honest, vulnerable, wise reflection. I’m so grateful for each of them. They honor us with their stories. And I’m honored again to share this community with them, and with each of you. 

The first thing I learned was that no one thing gets us through. I can’t mesh these eight stories into one. Every experience was different. Each person has our own pains and our own ways of getting through it. 

But there are some themes I heard. I’d asked each person:

What gave you hope? What gave you peace? Or just what kept you going? What helped you keep the faith? 

And what was interesting was that people didn’t have much to say about hope and peace, especially not about peace. None of them, not one, talked about a deep peace in the middle of suffering. One person told me explicitly that he had no peace in his worst moments. Another told me there was no belief that gave them hope or peace. None. 

I wondered in asking about peace in particular, if I was asking the wrong question. Sometimes peace while overwhelmed just comes to us, but often it doesn’t. Sometimes, when we’re overwhelmed, we’ve got to just fight to hang on when peace can’t be found.

If you’re overwhelmed and you don’t have peace, that might be just fine. It’ll come back to you someday, but sometimes we just can’t find it. We’ve got to struggle through without for a bit. 

But when it came to faith, people had a lot to say. I mean, a lot. 

Some people talked about explicit faith in God.

One person talked about memorial stones ancient Israelites laid down as they made it through hard times, thinking: they didn’t die. They lived and learned to thrive, and I can too. Remembering was powerful to other people too, remembering markers in their lives when they were sure God was good to them, helping them remember that surely they would know that again in the future. 

Another person told me they took solace that God was not the source of their problems. She said:

God wasn’t teaching me a lesson. God didn’t want to hurt me. God is on my side, seeing me through. 

Another person wrote to me about her mother’s lessons of faith she carried. She wrote:

My mother taught me at a very young age to listen to God’s whisper. So I have learned that even when I am crying out loud when I have experienced loss, I have to be careful to listen to what God is whispering. It has been a challenge for me because my pain and outcry sometimes is so loud that I can not even feel myself. But what listening to God’s whisper has taught me is God is listening, and that and only that has given me hope even in the midst of it all. 

For some, their own faith was hard to hold onto, but others showed up with faith for them, just when they were running out.

One friend talked about phone calls from his brother telling him to hang on, coming just when he had run out of hope. Another person talked about friends and mentors at church and people that believed in her and loved her when she didn’t have faith, love, and belief for herself.

And then there was one more kind of experience I heard again and again, which I’m calling a kind of faith too.

One person found my questions about hope, peace, even faith challenging. He wrote to me, 

There is a certain estrangement that I felt from God, mainly because I felt cursed. And it would have been hard to convince me intellectually that I’m loved when I had lost so much. And that seemed unjust and cruel, something God might have stopped any time he might have wanted to. 

More conventional faith in God sometimes falls out of reach when we’re suffering. 

This person let their faith fall apart where he needed to, figuring parts of it would return, as I think parts have. But they said, I did keep going, didn’t I? I had friends that loved me, and that gave me meaning. I didn’t think God loved me, but strangely I was still determined to try to love others as Jesus did, as Jesus taught. That seemed like a path forward to the life I needed. And I found myself again and again grateful for all the small things, grateful for the lights in the darkness, so to speak.

Even as his faith failed, the person that faith had formed him into carried him. He knew his life, others’ lives still deeply mattered and were worth investing in. 

This hope, this conviction that no matter what, we still matter. Others still matter, this world matters. Life still matters. I call this faith too. Because it’s something that matters so much to God, for us to know God matters, but also that this world matters, others matter, we matter. 

To hold onto that is its own kind of deep, strengthening faith. 

What I heard from all my friends, though their experiences may be different than mine, matches the worst of what’s carried me in all my worst troubles. 

That in all that is overwhelming, we can still know three things.

  1. That God is here too. God is always here.
  2. That we matter to God. And
  3. There is always a way forward.

God is here.

I matter to God.

There is always a way forward. 

This is what we learn from theophanies. Whether it’s Jesus walking on the waters, or a brother calling us right when we’d run out of hope, or a pastor we’ve never met visiting us in prison, or the memories of Bible stories and childhood faith, when God appears to us, it’s not always to change our feelings. It’s certainly not God trying to make some point to impress us. It’s God again assuring us that God is here, that we matter, and that there is a good way forward for us today, wherever we are. 

This is my prayer for each of you who’s overwhelmed, for everyone you love who is overwhelmed, and for every Ukrainian resident today who suffers the loss and terror of war, that we will know God is here, that we matter, and there is a way forward for us today.

We’re going to close with a short prayer practice we’ll encourage throughout the week in the guide, but before we do that, one other invitation for you.

If you’re not overwhelmed right now, or even if you are overwhelmed by parts of life, but you’re not in trauma, put out a stroller.

We’ll see a picture here.

 Here’s what I mean by that. 

War makes refugees. As has been true in Palestine, Afghanistan, Sudan, Yemen, Iraq, today Ukraine, millions have fled their homelands seeking safety. And throughout Eastern Europe, we’ve seen these pictures of moms leaving strollers at railway stations, so Ukranian moms who’ve been carrying their children for days, for miles, could place them down safely upon arrival.

It’s a beautiful gesture of love and solidarity and hospitality, which is what everyone suffering pain and loss needs.

Not advice, not being saved or fixed. But hospitality – making space for their body and their story, and a little loving help and solidarity, being with them and making it just a little easier to bear. 

Anytime you know someone personally suffering loss, anytime you hear about it around the world, put out a stroller. Or however that metaphor applies to you.

And then when it’s your time, sit with God in it, knowing God sees, God hears, God knows how big this is to you, and God is glad to be with you in it.

This is a form or journalling we invite you too this week each day, to think of anything that causes you stress, any loss or pain and to call it to mind, knowing God is with you, and to ask God how it is that God pays attention to you, how it is that God empathizes with you and is present with you. 

Let’s try that now for a moment.

We’ll hear a bit of the music Matt has written for the season, and I invite you to close your eyes, take a deep breath, and call to mind something that causes you stress or pain.

-I see you.

-I hear you.

-I know how big this is to you.

-I’m glad to be with you in this.

Love is…Mussing Up Someone’s Hair

I’m coming to you from my house, pre recording this sermon because, surprise, I’ve been exposed to Covid. Hope you are all well, and getting through these times with some sustained energy. 

We just started a series called Love is… and all I can think of is, “What is love? Baby don’t hurt me~” Sorry, it’s an old movie reference, called A Night at the Roxbury, if you don’t get it.  

The question is legit though. It is THE question. What is love? 

When I started developing crushes, this was a very important question for me. 

I remember being in the 4th grade, and there was this kid named Robbie, who was just so cute, even gave me a hand written Christmas card, and no we weren’t doing an activity in class where we had to write a card to everyone, it was just to me. 

I got the card and it said, “I stole this card from my sister. Merry Christmas!” 

And I thought, is this love? 

Often when I had questions, I’d go to the library to find answers. And there was this one book that I still remember to this day, that guided me along these heart wrenching times, called ‘Love is… walking hand in hand’ from the Charlie Brown and the Peanut gallery. Each page gave me real examples of what love was, that were clear and defined. One page said that “Love is meeting someone by the pencil sharpener.” And that year I sharpened my pencil a lot.

Today I want to specifically talk about, as pastor Ivy showed us in our Spiritual Practice, Love is Mussing Up Someone’s Hair. 

I saw this kind of thing happen during Christmas, with one of my friend’s kid, a 10-year-old boy who has selective mutism, who didn’t really know how to interact with my son, a 1-year-old baby. And he would just come up and touch his hair, it was so cute. 

I’ve also been watching this reality dating show on Netflix. Don’t judge me, it’s not as trashy as you’d think, being a reality show. It’s called Single’s Inferno, where a bunch of single people are placed on an island, kind of like Survivor show style.

They’re sleeping in a tent and have bare minimum to eat and not much to do except date. They have some games and prompts that if you win, you get to pick your partner to go to “paradise” with, which is literally a hotel and resort called Paradise, and you get to stay in a suite room with room service with the date of your choice for one night. 

And it’s so hilarious and cute how small things matter so greatly when there isn’t much else to do except think about feelings for each other. When someone decides to sit next to someone at the bonfire, when someone takes a walk with this person as opposed to that person, or when someone touches someone’s hair while talking–the drama!

One guy starts falling for a girl because she said to him, “you look nice in pink. Pink is my favorite color.” Or another guy pointed out how cute it was that someone said to him, “hurry hurry go up!” while they were walking behind them on the stairs. But one of the biggest sacrifices one makes for love, or show of affection here is that they would rather stay in the Inferno (the island) rather than go to Paradise with another person. 

You know why I call myself Christian? Because I am enamored by God’s grand gesture of love. Pastor Ivy put it really well recently. She said,

“God comes to the edge of God’s own divinity and knocks on our human hearts and says, ‘May I come in?’ ” 

God decided to leave paradise, all that’s associated with being a divine being, gave it all up to be with us and one of us. 

Philippians 2 says that Jesus “Instead, gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position, was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form.” 

And when God decided to do this, I think God came to mess up our hairs a bit. God came into our space, got in our realm, and began to shake things up a bit. That’s what’s compelling to me about Jesus. Christian theology says,

What does God look like? It looks like Jesus, who came into this world as a helpless baby, born not in a palace but a manger, rode not on a high horse but a humble donkey, and instead of exercising all his might, humbled himself actually to death. 

Who is God? What does God do? Who is Jesus? What did Jesus do? There are many things we can say, that have been said, that Jesus died for our sins, or God saves us, or God protects or Jesus cares  or whatever. But at the end of the day, why, why did God do any of these things? 

1 Corinthians 13 talks about prophecies, fathoming mysteries and knowledge, and faith to move mountains, giving all I possess to the poor or surrendering bodies to the flames, and says all that is nothing, if you don’t have love.

All of theological debates can be ended with, God is love. God did all that because God loves you. Why do we care about justice, welcome the refugees, normalize pronouns to expand our concept of gender binary, include the outcast, why do we confess our sins, why do we gather together as a community, why do we bother to do any of these things, because of love! 

How have you been enamored by God’s love? There are many different kinds of love that can help us understand the love of God and romantic love is definitely a metaphor that’s used even in the Bible. Song of songs is all about love, sensuality, flirting, and even sexuality, and it’s been included in the Bible as a way for us to know God’s love for us.

So think about romantic relationships or love interests in your life. Think about your dating life. I think it’s interesting to think about dating love because love after marriage is one thing, but when you’re dating, things kind of heightened, like the show I was telling you about. Like first walking into their apartment. Or the first time you have a misunderstanding. At every step of the way you’re looking and aware, and asking, could this be love? There are seasons in our faith journey where our relationship with God can feel like that. You’re looking and seeing, God, are you speaking, are you initiating, do you love me?

  • And how have you involved God in your life?
  • How have you been open and vulnerable, inviting God into your messy room or seen you without your makeup?
  • Or have you ghosted God?
  • Have you invited God to parts of your life that you’re not so proud of?

Would you believe it if I said, God sees that insecure, dark, shamed parts of you and still loves you and moves closer to you? And calls you back for the next date? 

Or even if you’re thinking about a long-term relationship, after a long season of unemployment, depression, or physical illness, maybe even years after, they don’t go anywhere, but says I’m here, I love you, no matter what. 

How have you developed lovey dovey relationships with God? How has God messed up your hair and got all up in your space, every nook and cranny of your life? Do you even expect that from God? Or is God far off in a distance, perfect, and you only go near God when things are good? 

1 John 4:16 says that God is love.

Whatever you think love is, or love should be, or the love you hope for, that, that is God. 

And it goes on to say in

verse 19 We love because God first loved us.

20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a sibling is a liar. For whoever does not love their neighbors, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.

Because God loved us first, let us love one another. 

And what does it look like to love one another? Honestly, it’s really hard. 1 John and other New Testament writers wrote a lot about this, loving one another, because they ran into problems of actually not loving each other well! In Ephesians, Paul is writing to a church in Ephesus with some words of encouragement. But they weren’t just words of encouragement, they were pleas and discipline.

Chapter 4 starts with,

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,

You don’t beg someone to do something when they’re already doing it. He was begging because they were acting up. He is petitioning them,

verse 2, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.

I want to spend the rest of our time talking about this 2nd verse and I’ll close. 

These were his tips and advice on how to get along, because this church, they weren’t getting along. The content of Paul’s letter lets us know that there were factions and divisions happening, external influences to the church that were causing problems, there were marital and family problems. He gives this wisdom to, please please you guys, I’m begging you, be humble, gentle, patient and bear one another. 

Now I don’t want to use this verse just to tell you, be more humble. Be more gentle. Always be patient! Because that’s not preaching, that’s nagging. And frankly, churches and systems have used this verse to tell people to know your role, get in line, and obey. Again I’d like to remind you that Paul didn’t write this as an instruction on how to love at all times. He was RESPONDING to conflict with these invitations.

And they are good advice generally. Yes, lead with humility and gentleness. Let’s be patient with each other. And then there are times when we need to be strong, confident, and urge one another. What I’m saying is that when you try to love one another, be a community and be a church, conflict is bound to happen. In fact I’ll go as far as to say, that’s what it means to love, to engage in conflict, to like I’ve been saying, mess up someone’s hair? That’s really vulnerable.

It’s getting entangled with one another. It’s sharing space to show your faults or weaknesses. It’s putting yourself out there and leaving the possibility of getting hurt. It’s caring too much that sometimes you might get disappointed or angry. Cause if you didn’t care? You’d be indifferent. If you didn’t care, it’d be perfect. If you didn’t love, your hair would be perfect and no one would mess it up. The most important thing that I want to point out from this verse actually is, BEAR. Bear one another. 

Bearing is holding up a burden. Bearing is tiring. Bearing means that there’s stress and struggle. It’s not free of difficulties. And you know what else it means? It means, you stay. You show up. You engage. You endure.

You know, showing up to church, even logging onto Youtube, it’s not ideal. It’s not the easiest thing sometimes. Engaging in a relationship, texting someone not knowing how they’ll respond, it’s work. 

I’ve been alluding to the metaphor of dating in talking about love today. Love is… Not breaking up. Even when things get hard. 

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not condemning breakups or divorce. Sometimes there is, when you’ve done all the humble, gentle, patient, and bearing, a time to give up. A time to heal. A time to change. And all that, we do it for love. Love of God, love of others, and love of self. That’s the work of love, trying and being there, showing up, again and again. 

We’re so isolated these days. It’s hard to engage even with church with all these restrictions in place with masks, can’t see any smiles, can’t sing sometimes, can’t even sit next to or hug someone. And well we definitely can’t mess up each other’s hair.  Maybe let’s find our way somehow, to figure out how to do that.

Let’s get in each other’s metaphorical spaces. Let’s call them. Let’s face a new person that you don’t know. Let’s Zoom as dreadful as it feels sometimes but it’s a nice tool. Facetime someone. Show up on someone’s porch even if it’s a sad wave from the stairs. One of you did that last week for me, dropped off a covid test and waved and it meant so much. 

I know many of you are tired of this pandemic. And I am too. But you know what, we’re strong. We’re resilient. We must bear through these times, and we can. To live is to endure. Endure one another. We must. 

So I beg you, much like Paul begged the Ephesians, let us bear one another. Let’s get in there, even if it’s easier to just check out. 

Steve’s been telling you about the relational meetings in last week’s email and through the blog in your inboxes. Check it out. Give it a try. Like downloading a dating app and creating your profile for the first time, it’s hard at first. But put love out there. You can fill out this form in the chat and get matched with someone. Maybe you’ll go to paradise together! You never know! May we, reach out, and love one another, because Jesus first loved us, with sweatpants and messy hair don’t care, and hop on a Zoom call. May we love one another, especially right now. 

Let me pray for us. 

Good and gracious God, do you see us right now? Maybe with a messy bun, no shave, maybe not even a shower. Do you see us, kneeling maybe in a pool of our own loneliness and depression tears, or at the top of our arrogance and ego? Do you see us busying about the best we can, as we work from home in this pandemic? Do you see us, afraid to get vaccinated no matter the pressures we feel? Do you see us, waiting on vaccination for our little ones? Do you see us? We cry out to you. 

The God of our friend Jesus, who has shown us that he sits with the outcast, eats with the poor, heals the broken, —be with us now. Sit with us. Heal us, we pray. May we be open to the love that you are pouring into us, open up and maybe even let that love overflow to this dry land we find ourselves in these days. Wash over us we pray these things in your love. Amen.