Why I Love Jesus

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

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

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

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

We’ve heard the prophets say things like:

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

We’ve heard:

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

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

Why not now? And how long?

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

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

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

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

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

So, why I love Jesus.

Joel 2:25a, 28 

25 I will repay you for the years

    that the cutting locust,

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

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

        your sons and your daughters will prophesy,

        your old men will dream dreams,

        and your young men will see visions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zephaniah 3:17 

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

        He will create calm with his love;

        he will rejoice over you with singing.

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

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

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

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

Malachi 4:6a 

6 Turn the hearts of the parents to the children

    and the hearts of the children to their parents.

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

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

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

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

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

Zechariah 12:b 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zechariah 13:1a 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks be to God.

Retreat Into Your City!

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

For this week’s spiritual exercise “Paying Attention” led by Steve, click HERE.

For this week’s worship service, click the YouTube link above.

[This week’s sermon has no script, but is captured in the video from our service. Thank you to Reservoir members speaking in the video: Herma Parham, Mardi Fuller, Grace Watson, Lyssa Paluay.]

Wrestling with God Like Jacob

For this week’s events and happenings at Reservoir, click “Download PDF.”

Click HERE for this week’s spiritual practice “Fighting with God.”

Click the YouTube link above to view this week’s worship service.

Genesis 32:22-31

32:22 The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.

32:23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.

32:24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.

32:25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.

32:26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”

32:27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”

32:28 Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”

32:29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.

32:30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.”

32:31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.



God of wonder, we come wandering into this space, seeking, asking, wrestling with a desire to see and know you. Shine your face upon us and give us yourself. That we may be touched with the divine touch that will wake us up we pray. In Jesus Name Amen. 


Genesis. This is where it begins. The stories of God interacting with God’s people, starting with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They are the foundational patriarchs of a nation that comes to be known as Israel, which this story is the origin story of that name. 


Meaning of names is usually a big deal. What does your name mean? And what does that say about you? Right now, I’m trying to think of a boy name, because we’re expecting a boy. Yes, you haven’t seen the belly growth cause online video only capture my upper half! It’s so hard thinking of a name that will determine his destiny for the rest of his life! I mean, he could change his own name and all that but still, we want to birth him into the world with a meaningful intention. 


So this name change from Jacob to Israel is a meaningful moment. So what does this name mean? 


When you are young you are taught things that are simple. Stories that usually have a more concrete moral of the story, good and bad. I heard this story growing up in ways that were generally simple and positive. Although, it’s pretty peculiar and reveals the complex nature of our relationships with God. For the most part I heard something like, hold onto God, and God will bless you. Or you grow a little older and maybe the story gets a little more complex, you can wrestle with God and if you do, in the end God will bless you. Again, still a nice conclusion wrapped in a bow. 


But this character Jacob, is one complicated guy. I mean, he’s got two wives and two maids! But hey, that’s me judging him from our cultural context. At that time I think that was normal. A great example of why we shouldn’t just take things out from the Bible and apply it to our times literally, cause this is a biblical marriage! Anyways, the back story of Jacob has some sketchy parts. 


He’s the guy that had a twin, named Esau. The story goes, Esau came out first and Jacob came out “grabbing Esau’s heel”, and that’s been the case for the rest of their lives. Jacob was a bit of a different boy. Esau was burly, loved to hunt, a man’s man you could say, and Isaac loved him. Jacob, he loved to cook and was loved by Rebekah. One day when Esau came back from hunting famished, and Jacob had a nice stew going, he wouldn’t give his brother some until Esau gave him his birthright, which is probably that as the first son Esau would get Isaac’s inheritance, which is totally unfair and I get why Jacob was eyeing it. Well Jacob gets his way. Esau gets some soup. Later when Isaac is getting older, Jacob dresses up in Esau’s clothes and tricks his dad to give him a blessing, and by blessing I think they mean money. Jacob’s smart! But also, super sneaky! And later he fights with God to get his blessing again. I mean this guy is one of the Bible’s heroes and apparently a great example of faith. You hear these stories growing up, saying, be like Abraham, be like Isaac, be like Jacob. Um, am I supposed to cheat, trick, and fight to get “blessings” like Jacob? 


And the poor guy Esau in Gen 27:36 says, “He has deceived me two times, he took my birthright and my blessings!” And asks his father Isaac, “haven’t you reserved any blessing for me?”

And Isaac replies, “I have made him lord over you and have made all his relatives his servants, and I have sustained him with grain and new wine. So what can I possibly do for you, my son?” Wow. So unfair. Life man! 


So what are we to learn from this story? Be like Jacob and you’ll be blessed? I’ve been saying this thing, the last few times I’ve been preaching these days. As I reflect on the Bible stories I’ve heard again and again, in ways that are too simple to fit into the complex life experiences that I’ve seen, I’m beginning to realize again, maybe, maybe Jacob is not an ideal example of faith to aspire to but a picture of faith. A picture of someone who is the second child, the unfavored by his father child, who had to always cause a bit of trouble to get some attention, who didn’t have things come easy for him but he had to be a little sneaky at times. A boy who didn’t like to hunt but cook. I’ve heard a gay pastor preach on this text and how he related to Jacob’s situation and it was so good. Maybe Jacob is someone who struggled through, always misunderstood, the guy that cheated his brother and that guilt ate at him always. 


I grew up hearing this story with the meaning of the word Israel as, one who prevails. One who triumphs. And that meaning is in there but there’s more. And by reducing it to those words we’ve created a theological conclusion that aligns with the strong worldly perspective and value of winning. Israel, yeah so strong, one who wins, that’s what it means. Well actually it says, “for you have striven with God and with humans” and the root words in Israel are more similar to the word for “struggle”. The definition might be close to “one who struggles with God” or “one who fights with God”. 


A picture of faith then might be, not one who prevails or even is blessed, but one who wrestles with God. And isn’t that a more realistic, relatable picture that doesn’t put faith figures like Jacob on a pedestal but right here with us in the deep of it all, in the places where we have questions, places where we don’t get God, times and seasons in our lives when we’re like, “what are you doing God?” That I believe is a more sophisticated authentic, not sterile or afraid of intimacy faith. A real faith. 


And this story also shows that sometimes God can feel like an intruder at night. God is often named as a protector and a helper, a provider, but in this text we see a God who is challenging. And even leaving Jacob with a limp, and you know maybe Jacob the trickster needed that limp to be humbled, because the next day he ends up facing Esau, remember his brother he cheated? So does God sometimes make us limp? What are we to do with texts like this? 


I don’t think we should draw blanket conclusions to these stories because it’s just a story of one man, in a particular situation that was captured in some form. And the reality, it may speak to different people at different times, sometimes relatable, and sometimes not and that’s okay! We don’t all have to relate with all the characters, especially the big names of the Bible, because it might strike us at different times as we need it. I refuse to take this one story and say, see God is dangerous. Don’t mess with God. or see God strikes us to humble us. Sometimes that can be misused to people’s situations that can be really toxic or harmful. Some of that may be true for you at one time and may not be true for you another time. What is this text saying to you? You might have to meditate with it a bit more and think about your lives. I’d only like to open it up to say, look here’s one example of a complicated man attempting to do faith. 


The lesson I’m learning today from this story is, see, God is relational and an interactive being. You see, I’m not always SURE of my faith. I am constantly deconstructing church baggage, constantly grieving so much of what is not yet, too often praying to God, God I don’t understand, rather than Jesus my faith is so strong. Sometimes to be honest, I don’t relate with a lot of praise songs in worship cause they sound so sure. And I wrestle and struggle with God and my faith a lot, and it sometimes makes me feel insecure like I’m not a good Christian, or is this religion even right for me? Why am I always protesting so much? I don’t know, maybe cause I’m a protestant, that’s where the word comes from right? Asking, seeking, not being satisfied with the status quo. And you know, this story is an encouragement to me because honestly, it’s true. I don’t fight with someone I don’t really care about. It’s not worth it. If someone really hurt me, but they’re like I don’t know, someone who I’m not that close with, I wouldn’t even bring it up, cause I don’t care. But someone who matters a lot to me, it’s important they know how I feel, and how they’ve impacted me, because I want to continue that relationship. You see, God of Jacob isn’t a God who is high on a throne watching down from a distance, but a God who you can get physical with. Someone you can throw down with. Someone you can get in your face with. And if doing that with God is not being a good Christian, then I don’t want to be a good Christian. I want a real relationship with a real divine being. 


What have you been struggling with the Lord lately? Has that “shaken your faith” or made you feel uncertain about your faith? It’s okay. You’re just as complicated as Jacob I’m sure. And we’re all a mix of moral failures, sketchy decisions, questionable motives, and pure desires, aware of our guilt, and seeking reconciliation like Jacob did with Esau. In all of our limpings and in our blessings, may we continue to wrestle with God who touches us, finds us at night, and shows Godself to us face to face. May that intimate God of love be near you and with you today. Let me pray for us. 


God who wrestles with us in the night, helps us to find you in the places where we are limping, helps us to find you in the places we prevail. And through it all would you humble us that we may fight or rest in your presence we pray in Jesus Name Amen. 

Day of Pentecost

For this week’s events CLICK “DOWNLOAD PDF.”

Communion 5_31_20

[Prayer] God, I ask for your presence today. We are seeking you in these times. Would a gust of wind take over now, like you did at Pentecost. Help me to speak, not from my own knowledge, but yours oh Jesus, from your love, your truth, your wisdom. Help us to hear you, through and despite my voice, would you speak to each of our own hearts. Pray this in Jesus name Amen. 


Today, in the Christian liturgical calendar, is called Day of Pentecost. A tradition, a time where we remember this story from Acts. Let me read it for us. 


Acts 2:1-21

2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.

2:2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.

2:3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.

2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

2:5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.

2:6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

2:7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?

2:8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?

2:9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,

2:10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,

2:11 Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”

2:12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

2:13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

2:14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.

2:15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.

2:16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

2:17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

2:18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

2:19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

2:20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.

2:21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’


What a weird story! A tongue rested on each of them, and they spoke in different languages. And some people were like, are they drunk?

This is chapter two of Acts. A book that captures the history of the times following Jesus’ death and resurrection. Chapter one starts with Jesus being taken up to heaven, and then what happens to the community of Jesus followers, the aftermath of resurrection, that becomes the building of the first church of Christians. Chapter 2, catapults this powerful moment when the Holy Spirit comes. These were confusing times. Original followers of Jesus not knowing what to do exactly, gathered together in fear, constantly in prayer. There were even some changes in leadership by casting lots in chapter 1. These were uncertain times. 


Much like our times. This is why I believe that the Holy Scriptures are alive because it hits us right where we are sometimes, even through stories from ages ago. I can see parallels and relate to some parts. Like they’re locked in a room together. And the State power had just recently unjustly executed one of their beloved teachers and friends. People were left with grief and loss, and confusion. 

While others saw the resurrected Lord, spoke with him, touched his hands, and ate with him, others were in hiding and denying they knew Jesus at all. The rules of being a follower of Jesus had changed. His disciples went from being fishers, to traveling and doing ministry with a miracle worker, and then he was gone. Now what. 


I’ve been saying to some folks in these times, I feel like I’m completely learning how to do ministry in this new age in new ways. I did not learn zoom in seminary! And we’re no longer meeting in a sanctuary for Sunday worship, now what! 


Amidst the uncertainty, the chaos. This happens.While they were gathered together to pray, suddenly, a violent wind suddenly came in, making a huge noise. With that collapsing wind, a crowd came together in bewilderment. And each one heard them speaking in their own language. The Holy Spirit comes as a violent wind, and what happens? They all start speaking in different languages and hearing their own language. 

That’s what the Holy Spirit did? I find that kind of, I don’t know, in one sense, that’s it? They just spoke different languages? They didn’t all fly, or all get healed, or all levitate, or all something more supernatural maybe? Just as perplexed as they were, I”m asking, “what does this mean?” And as I say I don’t get it, what the significance of why God decided this was the miracle sign of the Holy Spirit, I ask myself, what does this mean to me personally as I meditate on the words now. And it alivened in me a few thoughts.

In my own personal context as it meets me where I am today, is that God is speaking to me in my own language exactly where I am right now, what I need to hear. Which is maybe the power of the Holy Spirit at work even this week as I prepared for this message. I’ll explain it to you in that context and see if it makes any sense or meaning to you. I don’t know, but this is the only way I know how to understand this text. Through my own experience and language. Maybe you’ll hear it in your own language, wherever you are. 


I am an Asian American. I know you can see that, and also that you see beyond that in most situations, that I’m just Lydia, or I’m a pastor, or a woman. But what I look like has had a big impact on my life on how I understand myself, how I understand how the world sees me. Even as I get older, my culture, my language, my heritage, my tradition rings me back to reality of who I am again and again. How I long to teach my daughter Korean. How making korean food makes me feel a certain way. How hearing Director Bong speak Korean on Oscar awards stage made me feel.  I’ve been a part of Reservoir’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion team and how those words and race plays a role in my life, my work, my church has been at the top of my mind. Race. Diversity….

Sometimes I wish I was just normal, not looking at the world through this lens, just me, just worry about work, and food, and I dunno hobbies instead of race, ethnicity, color. Sometimes I get tired of translating everything from “normal” to me. 


So when I hear that the Holy Spirit flared up into your own language,I think, “God I so want that.” I need God’s work to be spoken in my language without me needing to translate it. And this is what the Holy Spirit does. It gathers disparate afraid people to gather in one zoom room, united by Jesus, and yet speaking in different languages, diverse from all different countries, backgrounds, experiences, stories, worldviews, political views, and the Spirit among us somehow, even though we are so different helps us speak up in our own languages AND hear in our own language. This is what the Spirit does. And may I say, sometimes it’s not very orderly like our Bible story today. It can be confusing, messy, some are astonished and oh, yes, there will be “others” who sneer and say, “They are filled with new wine.” Some won’t get it. Some who say how does that even work? Some who will judge or ridicule. Inside the room and outside the room. That voice will be there. Still, this is what the Spirit does. Spirit does what the Spirit needs to do to speak to God’s people, so that the God’s people hear, recognize, and are empowered by the truth of Jesus. 


My favorite part of this story is what the Spirit did to Peter. In the midst of judgement and chaos,  Peter gets up, raises his voice, and addresses the crowd to set things straight. It’s like this dramatic moment, like that old movie, Dead Poets Society, oh it’s such an old movie now but when the students start standing on their desks one by one in solidarity with their teacher played by Robin Williams. The spirit, an energy, moved around the room and gave them courage to stand. 


And Peter, remember him? Dr. Debra Mumford professor at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary with interest and focus on African American prophetic preaching, pointed this out to me. She says, “Is this the, “I don’t know the man, I have never heard of Jesus,” Peter?” Yeah, in Luke 22, when people recognized him as one of the disciples, “you’re one of them.” He denied, “I am not!” and another said, yes you knew him, Peter said, “I don’t know the man. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” To that Peter, Dr Mumford says, “The power of the Holy Spirit emboldened Peter to speak to the masses.” One who denied Jesus only maybe weeks or months ago, now stands and defends and speaks. This is what the Holy Spirit does. It turns people around. It raises people to speak up. It changes people’s minds. It gives them courage, it gives them words, words of their own to reach those who are different from them. 


So let me riff off of this power of the Holy Spirit, cause it sounds so good, I want some, I wanna try it out. 

Let me stand up and take courage to say something that I really want to say, but I’ll say it in my own language, in my own context, and I pray, that the Holy Spirit will come upon us and will receive my words in your own language as you need. God, preaching is hard, and again I apologize if this sounds political to you, but race, look at my skin, is not political, it’s personal, this is my testimony and my witness. Humbly I speak. 


When I read Peter standing up quoting Joel, I heard this. (You’ll see Joel text on your screen but I’ll share my thoughts throughout it.)


In the last days, boy it feels like last days these days. Daughters will prophesy, my god that’s good news, cause I’m a daughter, thank you Jesus for giving the power. They’re seeing visions. They’ve got dreams, that one day… Even on servants, and this word originally is slave but many translations use “servants” to make it less um, yeah, that’s why it says, “even” them, the Spirit will be poured out. And when I hear the word slaves, I can’t help but think of American history and black Americans, and yes, thank you Jesus, pour out your spirit on these descendants of slaves and for they are prophesying. Show us the wonders in heaven above cause I see the signs on earth, blood on the streets, fire in Minneapolis riots, and tear gas billows of smoke flaring up, Lord Jesus. The sun will be turned to darkness, man this winter was long, and the moon to blood… too much blood…. You say all this happens before, before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord, oh God please, Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord, Yes Lord, Lord, I call out to you. 


Like Peter, I used to deny, as an Asian American buying into the “norm”, benefitting from white normative culture.  “Oh that man, I’ve never heard of him.” I’m sorry to bring this up, the clip of George Floyd’s death, that asian cop standing there, quoting my friend Ophelia Hu Kinney now, “as the accomplice to the murder”. It reminds me of the ways how complicite we can be. Again, I don’t know about you, who you are or how you identify yourself, but I’m speaking from my perspective. On Twitter @braynyang says, “Asians need to reckon with the fact that we are all too often subservient and party to white supremacy because we are seen as model minorities…Don’t play into it.” it’s a reminder to us all, to speak up against anti-blackness. We can not just stand idly by why this happens again and again. 

And when folks say, oh those riots, they must be crazy, they’ve lost it, or maybe they are drunk. or whatever, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King says, “a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear?”

What is it that America has failed to hear? Wow. What is it that America has failed to hear? 


Amidst the chaos, the blood, and fire, and smoke, I am caught by the thunderous and violent wind of the Holy Spirit that rushes in and ignites in each of us the fire of justice in and through our own stories, our own language, may that tongue rest on each of us, and hear in our own language about God’s deeds of power. Because I can’t imagine that this is what God wants for our world. Our tongues, may they be loosed with joy, hope, and love. Amen. 


The Good Death: Loss, Legacy, and Levity

Research tells us that every last resident of 19th century Greater Boston is dead today. It’s true. Odds are that almost everyone in the room right now will be gone by the next century. I did a few google searches the other week for the oldest living Americans – they were born in 1904, 1905, 1906. But every time I’d double check if of these remarkable people was still alive, it’d turn out they too had passed on recently as well.

You don’t get to be the oldest living person for very long, it turns out. 

We are all going to die. And we face these signs of that our whole lives – lost pets, lost loved ones, aging bodies. 

Even in our teens and twenties, in the prime of our health, we notice there are years and times and opportunities we are never getting back. Last week, my teenage daughter’s cross country team had their final home meet of the year, senior day – this year my daughter’s last home meet of her high school career. And the seniors and us – their parents – get emotional. Partly because that day is never coming back. We age, and then we die. Gloomy, but true.

We don’t like to talk or think about aging and death very much, though, do we? In a time and place where we’re as good at extending our lifespans as we ever have been, we avoid and fear death as much as ever. 

Which is too bad, because how we age and how we die is a big part of the life well lived, or not. In fact, there’s an old tradition of the experience of a Good Death, a way of approaching death that is one of the crowns of a good life. 

And today, I want to talk about the good death – how we can prepare for it, and how that readiness can be part of today’s good life.

Today is our final talk in our early fall series, “On the Brink of Everything.” Next Sunday, we’ll start five weeks of an annual engagement with some of our church’s core teachings to encourage you on your faith journey, wherever that finds you today. And after that, we’ll be into Advent, our Christmas season.

But I wanted to make sure we got to end our “On the Brink of Everything” series with the biggest change and threat we’re all on the brink of, that being aging and death. 

As it turns out, I’ve got this old school preacherly way into this, an alliterative three point thing going on about loss, and legacy, and levity. And some stories for each of those.

We’ll start by looking at a famous brush with death in the Hebrew Scriptures that Christians call the Old Testament. It’s a scene of one of the better kings of Israel’s southern land of Judah, and it’s so interesting it’s captured almost verbatim in two different books of the Bible. 

Here’s part of the story from one of them, in the second of the books called Kings. 

II Kings 20:1-6 (CEB)

Around that same time, Hezekiah became deathly ill. The prophet Isaiah, Amoz’s son, came to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your affairs in order because you are about to die. You won’t survive this.”

2 Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, saying, 3 “Please, Lord, remember how I have walked before you in truth and sincerity. I have done what is right in your eyes.” Then Hezekiah cried and cried.

4 Isaiah hadn’t even left the middle courtyard of the palace when the Lord’s word came to him: 5 Turn around. Say to Hezekiah, my people’s leader: This is what the Lord, the God of your ancestor David, says: I have heard your prayer and have seen your tears. So now I’m going to heal you. Three days from now you will be able to go up to the Lord’s temple. 6 I will add fifteen years to your life. I will rescue you and this city from the power of the Assyian king. I will defend this city for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.

So this is a story about so many things. It’s a story about prayer. It’s a story about healing. It’s a story about God’s nature as the great source and being of lovingkindness. God in this story is listening to prayer, is healing, is tender toward this person and people God loves.  

And that is all interesting and important, but this isn’t a talk about any of those things exactly. It’s a talk about the good death, one I’ll suggest that in many ways Hezekiah is not going to have. 

So I want to start by noticing that Hezekiah is utterly unprepared for his own death. He’s sick, it looks like he’s going to die – he’s told as much. Put your affairs in order. And he cannot find the strength to do that. Instead, he cries and cries and cries.  

Now I don’t want to be judgy about this. I might well be the same, if I got seriously ill tomorrow, and was looking at a potentially early death. Who knows how any of us would respond to that news? 

We’re probably less prepared, most of us, than our ancestors were. Again, we’re better than we’ve ever been at postponing death, but we’re also maybe better than we’ve ever been at avoiding it; we’re unfamiliar with this one inevitable possibility. 

100 years ago, in most of the world, most people lived in multi-generational households and most people died in their homes, so most people of all ages, knew what it was to be with someone as they died. 

Most of us, though, do not live in multi-generational community, and most of us die in hospitals, and older and older, and having been unwell longer and longer. So our experience of death is changing. The local surgeon Atul Gwande and others have written about the ways our whole medical complex is bound up with our practice of extending the longevity of our years, but not preparing for death, and so not coming to grips with it, and so not often ready to die well.  

I’ve had the honor to know and pastor people in this congregation who have died good deaths. And in each case, at some point, they’ve stopped fighting it, stopped focusing on a hope for healing and turn-around, and found ways to come to terms and make some sense of their loss. 

One of these people was Julie O’Connor, who’d been a board member here when I started out as your pastor. Julie’d been diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer, which gives you odds of a couple more years of life. With lots of great medical care and prayer, she’d beat those odds – by a lot – but at a certain point, she was out of treatment options and coming to terms with her death. 

We held a final prayer meeting for her right here, which I’ll never forget. Because she stood up in that time, and she thanked her church family for our love and support and prayers. And she said, I especially thank this church for helping me accept what’s happening. She said she’d been raised when she was young to believe that all things that happen on earth are God’s will, under God’s tight control. And she said that in her time in this church, she’d come to understand that a loving and powerful God doesn’t control history and circumstances that way. Things like her cancer are not the will of God. She didn’t need to figure out if she was being punished or tested in some way. Awful things happen, for a million reasons, in this broken and incomplete world of ours. God is a personal and present force of healing and love and peace and help in all things, but in the short run, God doesn’t always get God’s way. And that had helped her accept her coming death, that she was suffering something painful and tragic, but that she was still known and beloved and cared for by a good God who had not done that to her. And that gave her peace. She could face her loss. 

So moving to me, her courage in the face of death. By not having to blame it on God or understand a cosmic reason for why it was happening, she could have peace in the face of death, and she could live well at the end. I honor Julie O’Connor’s good death – I hope to remember her courage when my time comes.

We’ve all known people who couldn’t do this. People whose terror grows as they age, people who long before their deaths are unable to age gracefully – always trying to look younger and act younger than their years. People who nurse regrets and brood over things lost and things they fear losing. Again, understandable dispositions, but ones that keep them from knowing peace, and keep them from inhabiting the wisdom and calling of their life in this season. 

Part of preparing for our eventual good death is by learning to face death today. To accept, even embrace, our aging and our losses. To accept, even if not welcome, our eventual deaths. To accept that life will continue, this world will continue without us living in it. 

There’s an ancient Christian tradition that’s meant to help with this. It’s called the momento mori, Latin for moment of death. It’s the spiritual practice of meditating on the eventual moment of our death. Sometimes doing that accompanied by artwork that displays symbols of death, or viewing the cycle of death in the natural world, as we will this fall, and contemplating our eventual death.

The purpose of this isn’t to be morbid or gloomy. In fact, as I’ll remind us as I close, it’s not best to engage this practice if you’re depressed, certainly not if you’ve struggled with suicidal thoughts before, because the point of it is not welcoming death as an escape. It’s meant to simply grow us in wisdom, in acceptance of our eventual end, in a way that helps us live with vitality, treasuring life today, but not pretending it will last forever. 

There are Jewish traditions that do this as well. I’ve always been really struck by Jewish traditions around death and dying, including their beautiful, multi-layered, communal year-long honoring of grief, after a loved one dies. This includes visits in the home after the funeral. It includes prayers and liturgies, remembrances of loss and grief in the community’s worship, throughout the year after one’s death. 

This obviously is for the comfort of those living, to enfold us in loving remembrance. But these practices also serve to remind a community that we all will die, and to prepare us to accept our losses with peace and courage. 

Friends, life is full of losses. You don’t need me to tell you that. You have your own pains, the ones that have happened, and the ones you fear as well. I pray that you can accept these losses with gentleness, saying as you need – This is a moment of suffering. But this too will pass, and there will be more on the other side. I pray you can hold your losses with that hope as well. 

Loss is the hardest side of aging and death but there are opportunities too – opportunities for legacy and levity. 

Let’s return to our story with King Hezekiah.

Hezekiah is feeling good because of release from double jeopardy. He’s healthy again rather than dead. And a devastating invasion from the empire to his north, Assyra, has been repelled. So when ambassadors from a kingdom further off to the East visit, he gladly shows them around his palace. 

II Kings 20: 14-21 (CEB)

14 Then the prophet Isaiah came to King Hezekiah and said to him, “What did these men say? Where have they come from?”

Hezekiah said, “They came from a distant country: Babylon.”

15 “What have they seen in your palace?” Isaiah asked.

“They have seen everything in my palace,” Hezekiah answered. “There’s not a single thing in my storehouses that I haven’t shown them.”

16 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Listen to the Lord’s word: 17 The days are nearly here when everything in your palace and all that your ancestors collected up to now will be carried off to Babylon. Not a single thing will be left, says the Lord.18 Some of your children, your very own offspring, will be taken away. They will become eunuchs in the palace of Babylon’s king.”

19 Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The Lord’s word that you’ve spoken is good,” because he thought: There will be peace and security in my lifetime.

20 The rest of Hezekiah’s deeds and all his powerful acts—how he made the pool and the channel and brought water inside the city—aren’t they written in the official records of Judah’s kings? 21 Hezekiah lay down with his ancestors. His son Manasseh succeeded him as king.

Hezekiah, it seems, is so preoccupied with his own fears of Assyria and of death that he commits this major strategic blunder as a leader. In his short-sighted relief, he welcomes envoys of far-off Babylon to tour his household and all his treasures. 

And Isaiah tells him this was a big, big mistake. Things are set in motion that will lead to the destruction of his nation, and the suffering of his descendants. This becomes his legacy – he did these other great things – waterworks and more – but here he’s known at the end for opening the gates to his people’s eventual destroyer. 

Here’s the kicker – Hezekiah hears the news and is relieved. Like: sucks to be my eunuch grandkids. At least I’m OK. It’s shocking – even more so in the ancient world – how utterly thoughtless he is about his own legacy. 

Politics hasn’t changed that much, I guess. These days our political leaders, some of our business leaders too, seem to also be weighing our current self-interest against the flourishing of future generations. And not making the most favorable choices for their legacy. 

All of us, though, no matter how big or how small our influence, have our legacy to consider. I love that my friends lead a community group for couples over fifty that is called just this – the legacy group. But all of us, regardless of our age, can ask – what is the legacy I’ll be leaving the next generation or two when I’m gone? 

This according to a recent Hidden Brain contest is one of the three main ways humans over the ages have dealt with the terror of aging and death. They’ve tried to live forever – a fools’ errand, but an attractive one, still now. Or they’ve had hopes in resurrection or some form of afterlife. Or they’ve put great care into their legacy, the memory and impact of their lives after they’re gone. 

My maternal grandfather did this. Pop Pop, as we called him, functioned like the patriarch of our family. We all respected his work ethic, his generosity, and his common sense folk wisdom. He organized his finances, in particular, with great care and lived really simply. That, some help and privilege, and some good luck meant that he was able to make a dramatic financial impact for my parents and for me and my two brothers and our families after he passed away. More importantly, we remember and carry in our hearts his love and attention – I carry his name in my name, as do a couple of my nephews. His legacy is strong and beautiful in our family.

Some people go bigger and bolder and more generous on their legacy, extending love and impact well beyond their families. I spent most of last week at a retreat in the mountains of North Carolina, where we focused on leadership for justice and renewal. Our leader was the social psychologist and theologian Christena Cleveland. And she told this story of being propelled more deeply into her work for racial justice. She was working out, listening to a recording with the great Black theologian James Cone, who just passed away last year.

Cone’s work is stunning – his writing is some of the most important writing and thinking about God that anyone in this country has produced. Our staff team discussed one of his books, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, early this year. It’s an amazing book. Anyway, Christena is listening to the recording and hears James Cone say: Everything that I do is for the liberation of Black people. 

And hearing this, Christena stopped, mid-stride on the eliptical trainer, and asked herself: How much am I doing for the liberation of my people? She was busy, she was getting famous, well paid, but this question shifted something in her. It was a watershed moment, that focused and deepened her work and her life choices, that clarified the legacy she wanted to leave in the world.

Legacy is not just a question for older people. Most of us find ourselves thinking more about the legacy we want to leave after 50, if we ever think about it, but considering our legacy throughout our lives is part of how aging can be part of the good life, whether we’re 80 or 20, or anywhere in between. For Christena Cleveland, this moment came to her in her early 30s.

What contribution do you want to make to your family, to your friends, to your culture, to this earth, that will remain after you’re gone? How would you like to be remembered – for your freedom and joy and courage, generosity, and love? Or like Hezekiah, for looking out for yourself, and short-changing the future? 

This is beyond the passage, but I was thinking about it the other day and imagining what might have been for Hezekiah. What if he had heard he had fifteen years left to live, and thought: hey, bonus years! How can I live free? How I live with gratitude? How can I bless the future? How can I approach my own death more light, than heavy? 

I’ve seen that people who prepare for the good death, and people that just age well do so not just making peace with their losses, not just building a beautiful legacy, but learning to live – even in some of their heaviest years – with more levity. 

My favorite Stephen King book is the little novel he published last year called Elevation. He imagines a man who in mid-life begins to weigh less each day while otherwise in excellent health. What happens when gravity ceases to do its work, not on the whole earth, but on a single soul? As it becomes clear that this is isn’t sustainable, that in time he will eventually lift off the earth and soar into the heavens, this man finds he’s able to shake off some of the other heaviness of life.

He starts to live with less regret, with more openness to new people and new ideas. He dares to live with more courage and more joy. 

It’s a weird premise – Stephen King after all – but a beautiful metaphor for the nature of a good life and a good death. To live with more humor, more freedom, more joy, even as our body fails, even as our future shrinks, even as death approaches. 

The first two times I saw someone die, at their bedsides for their final breaths, there was some terror for them – it was not an experience of levity, in that sense not a fully good death. So I’ve looked for others who have gotten lighter as they’ve aged, lighter even as they watched death approach. 

Some of these people have a fierce hope in the loving God they’ll meet after death, and in the loving arms that will enfold them there. So they’re fearless, they feel relief.

Others overflow with gratitude – the crown, I think, of a life of practicing gratitude each day. In one case, I saw a man who couldn’t stop talking about all the ways he loves Jesus. He loved Jesus because his momma taught him to. He loved Jesus because of the people that visited him while he lay on his hospice bed. He loved Jesus because of the kindness of his friends. He loved Jesus for the sky and the flowers, and the taste of communion, and the vitality of his stubborn child. He loved Jesus because of all the life he’s known, and he loved Jesus now that he was dying. So full, his life. And so light with love and gratitude. 

I want to go through my 50s and 60s and 70s and beyond like this – laying down burdens, laughing at the years to come rather than dreading them, treasuring joys and nursing good stories and good times. Free of regret, full of gratitude, full of love. 

When I find myself thinking this way, I think: life’s short. Why not start now? 

If I live in a resurrection faith, why not live more now?

If worship a God who became one of us and beat death, what do I have to fear? 

If risen Jesus took time to enjoy a meal of grilled fish with his friends, maybe I can take time for what brings me joy and renewal.

If Jesus’ friend who lived with the most regret saw Jesus look at him and say – let’s move on, let’s love. We’ve got work to do. Maybe I can let things go; live lighter; move on, love, work, live freely. 

Invitations to Whole Life Flourishing

Prepare for part of a good death – write a will and a living will, and choose a healthcare proxy.

Some of our congregation are leading a practical seminar you’re invited to, on Sunday, November 3.

You can register at their eventbrite site for Death and Paperwork 101.

Spiritual Practice of the Week

  1. Now and then, consider your own death, and pray as you are led.
  2. If that’s not healthy for you, cherish each day’s life, and invest in relationships with those both older and younger than you.

The Steadiness of Improvising

Happy Pride! Happy glorious sunshine and happy morning!

This morning I want to start with some words that have helped me, specifically over the last year, that have really been a guiding force for me in my vocation as a pastor, but really in all of life—words that came to me long before we thought of this “Prophetic Living” sermon series that we are in. They are words from one of the world’s greatest teachers on the prophets, Walter Brueggemann.  I read at some point last year a great swath of his work and I felt like he spoke directly to me when he said that good preachers and teachers help other people make sense of God by helping them “pause long enough” to take in who God is to them. And he said to do this, we need to indulge the metaphors and imagery of God that we’ve gleaned from scripture: “the giver of the biggest dinner party ever,” “father,” “mother,” “divine,” “king,”  “ a powerful sea monster,” “a gentle nursemaid,” a tender friend “who wipes away every tear from all faces” and so on (December 20, 2011 On Being).

Mr. Brueggemann says that what preachers and teachers and the church as a whole succeed at doing however, is often flattening out “all the images and metaphors of God,  to make it fit in a nice little formulation” that works within creeds and doctrines ⁠— a little cleaner. But of course, a formulaic approach to God comes at a loss, because it allows for no flexible, relational connection to God, who we hope is a real and living, loving, moving spirit in our midst.

So his real charge, to me, was that we have to figure out a way to “take time to sit with these images and relish them and let them become a part of your prayer life and your vocabulary and your conceptual frame,” if we want more than a formula bound God. The use of poetry and imagery that scripture and people around us and the whole of this life offers us demands our imagination, and, if we can call it forth, will actually give us more access to God!  It’s the pathway to growth, the deep spiritual formation we are seeking and wanting.

But this growth won’t abide by a linear graph. It’s not a straightforward trajectory, an “up and to the right” picture.

This spiritual life ⁠— that Jesus absolutely calls us to live ⁠— is far beyond what could be mapped out.

It requires us to go into spaces unknown, to take a journey, to open doorways that haven’t been opened, to say things that haven’t been put to air and imagine and explore new ways forward that have not yet been carved into the ground in front of us, to listen and pay attention to the fullness of the world around us (as it’s ever-changing).

This life, with God in the mix,  requires us to IMPROVISE. And this is what I want to spend some time digging into this morning, this improvisation life we get to live.

I’ve been surprised at how defensive I am to this word “improvise.” it calls up so much fear. My most vivid nightmares to this day are walking up on stage without a plan, no sermon text, not knowing where I’m going.

This is just unwise, and disrespectful, and irreverent.  

So I want to clarify today what holding our lives open to improvising can look like ⁠—to dispel the sense, maybe, that it’s a complete free-for-all, and to pitch that to improvise calls us into deep listening of one another and God and allows us to create new pathways.  We can draw from a rich, vibrant history, a bedrock of faithful improvisors ⁠— the prophets and prophetesses that have gone before us, who held their lives open to God’s story in a way that steadied their posture for the future unseen, in an unpredictable world.

Jesus calls us to this life ⁠— a life designed to be improvised ⁠— because our foundation is as true as the great prophets, with this knowing ⁠— the knowing of who we are and who God is to us, (as best we can tell).  This is all we need for the script of life, to move forward with improvisational and transformative ways… that gives shape to our days and the world around us.

Young Ivy ⁠— Improviser

The first two years of my elementary education were spent at a Christian school – where my main takeaway after that time was to memorize everything I could. That seemed to be what we spend most of our days doing! We memorized multiplication tables, and nursery rhymes, and songs, and chapters upon chapters of the Bible, and some poetry.

To visually take in our growth in these areas, the teacher displayed construction paper cut-out balloons on the wall, for each student in a multitude of colors, with our names on each of them.

If you succeeded in passing your oratory tests with the teacher in front of the class, than your balloon moved in an upward direction.

If you did not succeed, your error would be represented by a tack* in your balloon.

And if you got three tacks in your balloon in one day, you got a spank with a wooden paddle.

((*you could also get tacks for lots of other things – beyond just getting things wrong on a tests.))

I was TERRIFIED of getting spanked ⁠— what humiliation.  So I always studied the crap out of whatever we were tasked with memorizing.  

I became very, very good at memorizing.  I loved words, and I loved having my aptitude tracked!

But as my 2nd year at that school went on, I was tiring of straight memorization. I started to imagine and mingle selections that we had to memorize.  I once took the story of the disciples in the boat during the storm and inter-wove it with a poem we had to memorize called Wynken, Blynken and Nod.

And I remember so clearly, reciting the verses in King James Version, :

24 “And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but Jesus was asleep”.(Matthew 8 KJV)

And then going off script (a little bit):

The old moon laughed and sang a song,

  As they rocked in the wooden shoe;

And the wind that sped them all night long

  Ruffled the waves of dew;

The little stars were the herring-fish

  That lived in the beautiful sea.

“Now cast your nets wherever you wish,—

  Never afraid are we!”

  So cried the stars to the fishermen three,



           And Nod. – (Eugene Fields)


I’m not sure if I was testing the limits or not, but it kind of made sense to my 2nd grade imagination to try to make a scary, fearful scene of waves and storm where Jesus is asleep be a more expansive scene where God could be the moon or stars, touching and talking to these fisherman in their little wooden boat.

And I remember those words like they were yesterday, but that little creative burst, that shining moment of improv got me my first ever 3rd tack in my balloon.

Now, I actually didn’t get spanked. The teacher did take me out back, but had mercy on me for my good track record.  But it instilled in me a fear of going off script. And my teacher gave me a distinct lecture of how to think about “learning” and “knowing” specifically, God. Growth on those fronts, could only be found in following and keeping to the plan.

The sting of that moment wore off as I left that school and continued my education elsewhere. And I actually warmed to the idea of taking control of my own trajectory.   It seemed easy enough ⁠— learn material required, demonstrate proficiency, move balloon higher than the rest ⁠— a workable formula for a great life.  Get yourself into this school, get this degree, get this job,  gain power, knowledge and success, which then equals triumph of this whole arc and produces a sense of well-being, ease, and prosperity.

Of course as I grew up and experienced more of life and witnessed the reality of life for a lot of my friends, I realized that this way of thinking and living was actually quite privileged ⁠— this linear advancement.

It assumes at its baseline that things will go our way, things will be in our control (and that we all have equal access to resources). And this is just not reality for most people.  God calls us into an improvisational way of thinking and living because God knows that to be made human, means our life comes with limitations, whether we are born into them, or crash into  them ⁠— a life where things go wrong, off-plan.

And so the the credentials that God wants us to come around to, that are required for this life, are a deep yet evolving knowing of ourselves and God.

I’m so helped by revisiting the stories that still live on in our midst ⁠— the lives of those who took in God’s story in ways that shaped them, and the world around them. And it’s why today I’d love to look at the prophetess Miriam.

Miriam ⁠— Improviser

We are going to read a bit of her story here on your program in Exodus… And where we enter this story is a setting found in ancient Egypt, where the Pharoah of the time, has become frustrated with the rising Hebrew population.  He’s concerned that they are becoming too powerful, despite his efforts to keep them down through forced labor and slavery…. So his next attempt, as we enter into here, is that he has just ordered midwives to kill all male babies born to Hebrew women – by drowning them.  

So let’s read this together:

Exodus 2:1-9 (NLT)

1 About this time, a man and woman from the tribe of Levi got married. 2 The woman became pregnant and gave birth to a son (the son’s name was Moses). She saw that he was a special baby and kept him hidden for three months. 3 But when she could no longer hide him, she got a basket made of papyrus reeds and waterproofed it with tar and pitch. She put Moses in the basket and laid him among the reeds along the bank of the Nile River. 4 The baby’s sister, MIRIAM, then stood at a distance, watching to see what would happen to him.

5 Soon Pharaoh’s daughter came down to bathe in the river, and her attendants walked along the riverbank. When the princess saw the basket among the reeds, she sent her maid to get it for her. 6 When the princess opened it, she saw the baby. The little boy was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This must be one of the Hebrew children,” she said.

7 Then the baby’s sister, Miriam, approached the princess. “Should I go and find one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?” she asked.

8 “Yes, do!” the princess replied. So the girl went and called the baby’s mother.

9 “Take this baby and nurse him for me,” the princess told the baby’s mother. “I will pay you for your help.” So the woman took her baby home and nursed him.

Miriam was born at a time when the bitter enslavement of her people was reaching its depths of despair. The constraints of her life by the hands of the Egyptians were strong with inequity, entrenched in power dynamics, and systems that were oppressing and abusing her people. Any concept of a linear path for her life was certainly not in the cards! Her credentials were only, it seems, this deep knowing of God.  A God that maybe her mother had whispered to her of a God that loved her and her people, one that would provide and raise them up out of slavery one day to become a great nation.  Her only training seems to come out of that foundation, the steadiness of who she can believe God to be. And so she trains her imagination as a young girl without pedigree to imagine a world where someday these promises could be true. And it seems that this foundation, of tradition and imagination  is enough to propel her into the Scriptural canons of high regard as the first female prophet, and the mother of all female prophets to come.

And it seems to me, she gets there by improvising.  Holding her life open, flexible, just as it is – to the story of God.

In the world of music, most notably jazz, to improvise is to not be a showy, solo act, that attracts all the attention. It doesn’t rest on one’s ability to be original, or clever or witty or spontaneous. It’s about being so steeped in the foundation of the musical structure that its rhythms and patterns and harmonies and melodies become and shape a known & familiar inner voice of the musician, from which they then can create new shapes and forms of music, from.

And all of that doesn’t come from only practicing scales and memorizing music ⁠— it comes from the steadiness of watching and listening.

Miriam in this scripture does just this ⁠— she watches and she listens. It’s the first thing we see her do 4: it says she stood at a distance, watching to see what would happen to the baby.

And she stays there, observing the scene ⁠— taking it all in. And she doesn’t move until the other player comes onto the stage ⁠— the Pharaoh’s daughter.
And she listens to the Pharaoh’s daughters words, who when she sees the baby says, “This must be one of the Hebrew children”.

It’s so wise that Miriam listened. There’s a lot of information in that one sentence that helps Miriam know how to improvise.

If the Pharaoh’s daughter had said, to her attendants,  “oh! – a baby – check to see if he’s circumcised or not,” it wouldn’t have been good if Miriam had jumped in and said, “Oh do you need a Hebrew woman to nurse this baby?” because Pharaoh’s daughter wouldn’t have known that information yet, and Miriam’s approach and words would have been suspicious.

Or if the Pharaoh’s daughter had said, “Look! One of the Hebrew children, KILL HIM – carry out my father’s orders.”

Miriam’s reality would have been different, and required a different action.

To improvise in life requires great listening to others and the spirit of God. This listening allows us to create new ways forward ⁠— paths unseen. I can imagine that Miriam’s first steps into the Nile River were taken from listening to God, where God nudged her “go, Miriam, go” and all of the steps to follow, unknown and unpredictable, were bolstered by this knowing of  God’s steady voice. It allows her to work within the limitations of her reality as a slave, and yet utilize a social structure that she knows where royalty, upon seeing a baby, would need a nurse-maid.

Our life with God is a life where we are welcomed into a story that is continually being created in the moment with players and actors that we have never met. And yet the call, that I think Miriam responds to and that we are all invited to, is to say “yes” to all of that before the plans are laid out and to take what we do know of ourselves and God with courage to the scene, and trust that that is enough to create something we can’t predict.

Miriam wasn’t concerned about being “clever.” In improv, this is the number one ticket to becoming paralyzed on stage ⁠— this preoccupation of being clever. But she was listening to the voice within herself, and the voices on the scene, and responded to a call that was greater than herself and her own understanding.  

A sister in the Catholic order, Joan Brown, who’s voice I love says, “We are called to be larger than who we can imagine being in the moment.” This is the call of the Spirit of God.

Who knows if Miriam understood as a little girl that her actions would open the gateway for the great Exodus and liberation of her people. She might have just wanted her baby brother back, but her willingness to listen and improvise allowed her to be a large force for her people.

Sometimes, though, our moves to improvise fall flat. We get tacks in our balloons and we plummet hard to the earth. But I can look back at my moment of co-mingling scripture and poetry in the 2nd grade, and see how clearly God was moving and laying a firm foundation (even through memorization) ⁠— a steady foundation of a knowing, a knowing of who I was, what I loved, what mattered to me, to see that I still love words and metaphors and text, and also a knowing of who God is to me ⁠— an encourager of growth, of creating new things ⁠— and God’s deep desire to partner with me in all of it!

For the many years I’ve thought about content or spiritual growth in any capacity as a community group leader or as a parent or as a friend, I am always weaving poetry and scripture together. Ask my kids ⁠— they might roll their eyes, they’ve gotten a taste of it for sure! And this requires great listening in those spaces where I put out content, because I have no plan of how it is going to land (whether that is a strength or a fail, i’m not sure). But I don’t have an end result in mind, and so listening is crucial and this is growth,  is to watch for the spirit of God, and move from there ⁠— to improvise from there in the moment. I think it’s the most dynamic gift that we can bring to wherever we are (this Sanctuary space, your work places, your homes). We get to bring the improvising personality of the HOLY SPIRIT  ⁠— always working among people ⁠— and bring that out among people who are learning to see and know and trust one another in community and witness the extraordinary things that God can create with quirky and limited resources. That is spiritual growth, and WOOO! It’s not linear.

“There is a yearning – for energy in a world grown weary” (Walter Brueggemann). We long for a life that is improvise-able. And wouldn’t it be amazing if God invites us to energize our world — our future — to invite people to wade in the water with us, to bring out the mystery of  how and where we find the Holy Spirit, whether it’s through a gesture, or an act, or a collection of words mingled.

Or through Broadway musicals.

Lin-Manuel Miranda — Improviser

I want to show you a video clip of a master improviser — one who I think you’ll recognize! Lin-Manuel Miranda:

This clip is from 2009, six years before Hamilton ever hit Broadway.  No one had heard that song other than his wife, and he said if that song had landed flat in that room that evening he was going to scrap the project and start something new.

The reason Hamilton works is because through Lin-Manuel’s improvisation, there is no distance between the story that happened 200 some odd years ago and now.

Because it looks like America now.

It creates a connection from the stories of old, to our stories now.

And isn’t this what we can hope for with scripture — that the stories of the Bible would be connected to our stories, in ways that continue to open and open the image of God in each of us.

The way Lin-Manuel Miranda improvises in so many ways — the music, the cast (nearly all people of color), the language — allows our history to be opened up with a new lens, new energy.

He imagined that Hamilton was a hip hop story and that wasn’t just a random stroke of genius (well certainly not random!) — but it was an evolving concept built upon the foundational traditions that Lin-Manuel treasured so much. He said, “It wasn’t enough to rhyme at the end of the line, every line had to have musical theatre references, it had to have other hip-hop references, it had to do what my favorite rappers do, which is packing lyrics with so much density, and so much intricate double entendre, and alliteration, and onomatopoeia, and all the things that I love about language”

And the result is this powerful mingling, connecting musical pasts with the musical present, and the historical past mingles with our present realities.

This mingling, through improvising, allows a process of constant growth and invites us to create too.

There’s a principle in improv, that I’ve been learning about this week from many people I’ve talked to in the performance arts — this principle, called “yes…and…” It’s the nexus where all creation is birthed from!  It’s this idea that you validate what is coming at you in a scene as true. You say, “YES – I receive this as reality”. And you agree to become a partner in that, to add your “AND” to whatever that reality is.  You’ll build upon it, whether it’s messy or imperfect (or incredibly off-script). And you trust that this is actually the growth and the beauty of the scene — the new creation.

With God, I feel like this principle applies. It’s a journey of “yes – ands”…  and it’s certainly a journey of messiness and imperfection!

And of course the stakes feel higher in real life!  There are lots of things that we don’t want to say “yes” to — circumstances that surround us that are unjust and unfair. So when we say “yes” we aren’t saying that we agree or like it, but the invitation of God is to consider “how can I improvise and bring to this circumstance the most wholeness?”  How can I create new goodness, and love here?

After the scripture we read about Miriam we don’t see her enter the scene again until decades later.  When we greet her again, she’s a grown woman.

On your program is the later part of Exodus — Chapter 15 — where she is a central force of this historical exodus of her people from slavery.  She leads her people in dancing and song and celebration, as they cross the Red Sea. We don’t know for sure what she did for all the years in between, but we do know that Moses went into hiding for decades, building a new life with no intent on returning to his people.  So we can assume that during that time Miriam was the people’s prophet, their only prophet. 

She continued to improvise during those years. She continued to listen to her people, to live alongside of them, to reassure them and offer them the steady story of God. A God who was real and did hear their prayers — that would bring them freedom and liberation.  She continued to usher in the wholeness and goodness and love of God, even when freedom was not yet found.

And I think this is exactly what is so compelling to me about Lin-Manuel Miranda — his flexibility to use the platforms that he has, beyond the Broadway stage, to offer wholeness to the world around him. He doesn’t just vocationally exercise improvisational methods — but he is someone who embodies an improvisational way of life.  Who walks and engages with the world, and asks us to play, to create and to imagine.  A writer friend of mine, Jessica Kantrowitz, wrote an article for Sojourner’s magazine  where she talks about the priestliness of Lin-Manuel.

And I agree with her!  His twitter account is one of the most WHOLESOME twitter feeds that I follow. He calls out the reality of life, acknowledging its complexity and harshness and it’s non-linear paths.

And over the last three years this has become more of a regular pattern in his tweets.   They have become known as “gmorning” and “gnight” tweets. And often they are a reprise of each other.  

My friend Jessica says, they have become a structure of her days, like a liturgy, where she can receive blessings and benedictions for her day. To me, they are a capsule of the Holy Spirit, deposited to me on my phone in less than 280 characters. There is a generative energy that comes and invites me to say “yes…. and,” to keep moving and creating in this life — a gentle nudge of the spirit of God, as was to Miriam, “go, go, go”.

It was hard for me, in those early years of memorization,  to tap into the spirit of God, to understand what a relationship could be with someone I couldn’t see! I think that’s why I started looking for other sources, other words that would bring story and life to my imagination — that would unlock the mystery of the verses that felt flattened out and life-less.  It’s why I’m thankful for voices like the prophet Miriam’s and Lin-Manuel’s to remind us of God’s steady goodness — to keep opening it up in new ways. Because it’s STILL sometimes not that easy for me to feel like God’s steady voice or heart or love is easy to tap into.

This is why we need to keep improvising. Because God is not a static being — one who sits in one specific pew or chair on a Sunday morning — or one who is only found in the memorized lines of scripture. But God is one who is found in the living love of the Holy Spirit, nestled in the corners of our days, and found in the most expansive of places and people!  And its why Walter Brueggemann’s words hit me so hard, because it’s up to us to keep opening and opening and opening those places up — to roam around in them whether it’s found on our phones through tweets, or through wading in the waters of our unknown life, or stopping at a monastery on Storrow Drive… or playing on a soccer field with 200 kids!

We need to lead a prophetic life of improvising so that we don’t give way to dying, flattening metaphors of God. We need to do the great work of living this life as fully as we can, as we see it with our limited perspectives in the hopes of untangling God from the one-dimensional graphs we try to place Him on.

I’d love for us now to improvise a little — nothing crazy or zany — but to play with the words of both Miriam and Lin-Manuel Miranda here.

There are two tweets and one verse which holds the song of Miriam.

We are going to do a simple writing exercise called erasure, which means you will circle words or phrases that stand out to you and erase/ cross-out all the others.  Don’t over think this process, trust that you are connected to God and that God can highlight words for you:


Pain, joy, frustration, euphoria, everything.

It all passes. It all keeps moving.

Wherever you are is temporary.

Let’s go!

Oct. 20, 2016, morning tweet


Rage, bliss, fatigue, rapture, everything.

It all passes. It all keeps moving.

Wherever you are is fleeting.


Oct. 20, 2016, evening tweet

And  Miriam’s song found in verse 21 of Exodus 15, that last verse where she sings:

“Sing to the Lord,

   for he has triumphed gloriously;

he has hurled both horse and rider

   into the sea.”  Miriam – Exodus 15:21

As a spiritual practice this week:

Take these words with you, whether they make sense to you right now or not, and hold them loosely, and improvise from them as your week goes on.  Offer them as a prayer to God and offer them to the world around you, watch to see what it yields, how it expands and evolves.

And as a way to end and as a whole life flourishing tip to take with you, let me pray for  us:

May you let the steady story of Jesus be the story that gives shape to your life.  And may you live out this story with other people as best you can, at Reservoir, in your neighborhood and in your city.  And trust that you hold within you the perfect script for life — the ever-evolving/improvising story of Jesus.


Love of a Sinful Woman (Money, Sex, and Power)

Good morning, My name is Lydia. We’ve been in a series called “Training in the studio of LOVE” in the past 7 weeks, talking about love of neighbor, unselfish love of self, love of our world, and we’re wrapping up with love of God today. Training because we think even a simple thing like love, takes practice, we can get better at it, so we’ve been training, working it out, in this studio, so let’s go, on how to love God. Let me read this story from the Bible, I’ll pray and get us started.

Luke 7:36-50 (NIV)

36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,[a] and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Let’s pray. Loving God, we come to you this morning, longing to experience something bigger than ourselves, curious of what you might have to offer us today. We come into this place, for some of us with great shame and distress, unsure of how we could possibly find love. Or for some of us, things have been so mundane and steady that we’ve become numb and uninspired to the holiness around us. Or for some of us, we’ve been so busy and distracted, it’s nice to just have a moment of quiet. Wherever we are this morning, would you remind us, that you created us in your image, and called it good. That no matter how far you might seem in this moment, that you mean to pursue us with abundant enduring love, and you run toward us to restore us wholly and completely. Would you convict us of that today, perhaps through this story, we pray, Amen.

So, we read this story in a Women’s Bible Study Group I lead last year. It was through a practice called Lectio Divina. Where you read, sit in silence, and reflect. At this particular meeting, after we read, we sat in silence together, waiting for someone to share—holy zoning out I call it. I think I might have said something like, “touching feet, that’s pretty weird.” Cause you know I like being awkward—just saying, it is weird! But then a woman started sharing, that her grandfather had just passed away. She shared how they sat around him in the room in the last few moment before his death. She remembered how irregular his breathing was, and whenever he would stop, they’d all sort of hold their breath together, wondering if he was still “with us”. And as they did so, they would constantly check his feet, because apparently when someone is getting close to passing, the temperature of their hands and feet drop. She remembered lifting the blanket, and touching his feet, checking up on him again and again. She’d never touched someone’s feet like that. It was how they were able to care for her grandfather in that time. What a picture of love and intimacy. Of care, tenderness, and connection. Feet. Touching. Love expressed. Hearts poured, body mended.

What was it that compelled this sinful woman such devotion and release of love? Something utterly and totally took over her being, leading her to this intrusive and courageous act. What caused her to treat Jesus as someone she loved and cared for so dearly and intimately?

She loved because Jesus loved her first. How? What happened? The Pharisee was confused too. Why was she acting like this?  To explain, Jesus tells this story.

A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii,[b]and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?

Last week Ivy used a text about taxes to talk about God’s love. This week, I’m using one about moneylender and debt! Well, I’m not. Jesus is. And there is something here. Why is Jesus telling this story to explain her love? We take this lightly in Christian jargon—Sin, debt, forgive our sins as we forgive our debtors—almost interchangeably. But what is the relationship between sin and debt?

Let’s look at debt first. To be in debt means essentially be tied to, responsible to, one could say even enslaved to the one whom you owe money to. During the housing crisis, people who couldn’t make their mortgage ended up losing their house to the bank. They owned your home. If a house was foreclosed, it’s as if someone died there or something, like a disease that took over the house, a darkness. I had a close friend who ran a fashion boutique for a while, but then during the financial crisis in 2008 had to close down and apply for bankruptcy. Not only was she out of money, but her livelihood, her purpose, her moral, took a hit as well.

The Pharisee in this story calls her a sinful woman. And to most of us we simply think that she must’ve done something wrong or bad. The word sin, not only describes someone who was morally deficient but a sinner was actually “anyone who was outside of the law”. And outside of law meant those who were considered “unclean” and couldn’t participate in the temple rituals. Which include the disabled, slaves, those in debt, even those who just gave birth. According to Leviticus 12, after a son you were unclean for 33 days after giving a son, for a daughter 2 weeks, and you would bring a lamb or a dove for purification. Then you’re clean. Then you are reinstated back into the temple life (which was basically all of life, it’s where the farmer’s market happened, where the festivals were, where you paid taxes—everything). There were many rules that would consider one a “sinner” which would thereby cut you off from the community. Frankly, for the Jews, any Gentile was pretty much a sinner.

And it’s also curious that most people assume this sinful woman was a prostitute, when the text does not say so. Even in the popular bible translation the Message, Eugene Peterson writes, “Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot…” when the original text says nothing about that. Just like the Pharisee here, and pretty much the rest of the religious leaders thereafter, tried to make it about “sin” to exclude people, when the reality was, that was just their way of categorizing someone who is unworthy of a flourishing life. Unworthy of being touched. Unworthy of entering the temple.  Unworthy of power.

Maybe this story of two debtors that Jesus tells isn’t just a hyperbole. Whatever “sinful” state this woman was in, it probably simply meant that she was an outsider with an impossible “debt” to society that locked her in that indebted role. Jesus was saying, whatever debt you think this woman owes, I forgave it. And so of course the Pharisee’s like, who is this guy who think he can “forgive sins” aka “erase debt”. It’s like if I walked up to Sallie Mae and I was like, hey you know all these student loans, they’re fine, it’s taken care of, don’t worry about it. They’d be like, “don’t worry about it?— who are you?”

What if the point of the story isn’t that Jesus forgave her sins, but liberated her from the system of debt that oppressed and kept people locked in their label bracket—”sinner”.

Economy historian Michael Hudson, in his book ...and forgive them their debts: Lending, Foreclosure and Redemption From Bronze Age Finance to the Jubilee Year (what a name of a book!), makes the case that the Bible and Jesus was actually more occupied with debt than sin. And in fact, that’s what got Jesus killed.

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, in Luke 4, Jesus stood in a synagogue reading from Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

   because he has anointed me

   to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

   and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

With this he announced the “year of the Lord’s favor”. He was talking about the long tradition of the year of Jubilee. Jubilee was the fiftieth year in which you return the foreign slaves to their home lands and return the property to the original clan. It was the year of debt forgiveness and liberation of slaves. This was Jesus’ mission: “to proclaim the good news to the poor, free the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and to set the oppressed free.” Jesus came to announce and fulfill the year of the Lord’s favor, mercy and freedom to all. This proclamation of Jesus confused and angered the elites. It was too political. Too dangerous of a uprising, a revolution! And it ended with the execution of Jesus.

And that’s why this was good news to the poor. And again, the word “poor” wasn’t just about people who didn’t have money, but outcasts, foreigners, thieves, ethnic minorities, the sick, the unemployed—the other. Jesus turned the order upside down by telling the story of the debtors, and lifting up the woman to be greater than the Pharisee. Through this story Jesus was reinstating this woman from sinner to a free person, liberating her from the economic system and bringing her back into the fold of the society and community. Jesus was turning classism upside down.

But not only class but gender and sex too. This whole story is actually altogether quite sensual. She’s sitting behind his feet. Crying. She lets her hair down, which in that culture was a no no, and she’s wiping his feet with her hair. Like I said, feet, weird! I guess I’m like the Pharisee, seeing this story, going, “gasp, how could she!?” But Jesus defends her. He sees this very physical sensual moment and doesn’t twist it.  He normalizes her act. He honors it and lets it be, in fact he lifts it up to be the right act.

We twist things like money and sex. Both of them aren’t inherently evil. The love of money is evil. And sex, well the church does a horrible job of talking about sex for the most part, well except, my 2nd or 3rd Sunday at Reservoir was about Patriarchy and Speak Out Sunday about the #metoo movement, but seriously THAT’S so rare. Usually churches are like—sex, just don’t! Unless you’re married, then do. And like that’s about it on sex.

For Jesus to let a woman touch her was crossing gender boundaries. For her to be able to let her hair down and touch him was to respect her sensuality. It wasn’t creepy or weird or awkward. He accepted and received her love and physical expression of that love. What would it be like to see sensual, sexual love as a revelatory metaphor for loving God? It’s like the biblical understanding of God’s love according to the book Song of Songs. Which is actually long erotic love poetry about a man and a woman. Why is this in the Bible? Again and again, it always found its way into the Bible even when some didn’t think it belongs, because God isn’t even really mentioned. The whole book is about sexual desire, and it’s been kept because romantic love is a strong metaphor for how God loves us. (And side note: it doesn’t mean that you can’t know or experience God’s love if you’re asexual or not in a relationship, it’s just one of many metaphors that only help. Like we’ve never had a king but we use that metaphor all the time.)

When we were taught in Youth Group to not date—cause it’s sin—and that Jesus is our boyfriend, I always asked, how do you make out with Jesus? The Bible Study leader didn’t like that question. But jokes aside, what would it be like to see God as our lover—our intimate partner? I think it could be helpful because we think about love or finding the one or romance, a lot in our culture (it’s a bit overemphasized and put on a pedestal—I think that makes the metaphor even more accessible for us, more than a king I’d say!). Could some of the ways we think and feel about romantic love shed light to how we are to be in loving relationship with God? I think so! God seeks intimacy with us. God wants to know us deeply and honors our sexual bodies.

I got this from one of your Instagram, a quote by Rob Bell, a popular pastor—he says, “The word sex comes from this ancient Latin word where something was “sext” – meaning “cut off”. So your sexual energies are your desires to be reconnected with everything you’re here to be connected with. So we in some ways are born in these disconnections and we know they’re not right. And for many people, they’ve been taught that sex is just two people fumbling around rather than sex being the transfer of energies that happens all the time because we’re all longing for connection.”  

God wants to connect deeply with us and seeks to restore our sexuality with the self and with one another, and express God’s love through such connection.

In a new book called Shameless: A Sexual Reformation by pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, she was talking about how churches often use people’s financial giving, tithing, as a sign of spiritual health. And she adds, “Maybe a good sex life—whatever that looks like for who we are as individuals—can also be a sign of spiritual health. As your pastor, I want that part of your life and your relationship to be good. I want your sexual life to be free from fear and shame and to be joyful and true to who you are as individuals, because it is a holy gift from God.”

What would it be like for you to see your sexuality as something God wants to restore, accept, and love? What would it mean for God to affirm your sexuality, healthy and good and I don’t mean just pure—sigh… is feet touching pure? It’s real, it’s bodies, it’s humanity. I’m pressing this point because I think that some of our evangelical history has been not just toxic, but detrimental to our sexuality with things like purity culture. It was like a thing for folks to do a ceremony with young girls and their dads (like that’s weird—why not moms?) and get these promise rings to not have sex. I do believe there were good intentions and wisdom they were trying to get at but it’s also been a cause of so much shame and isolation of our sexualities. Look, sex is complex so I’m not here to lay out a new sexual ethics for us right now but, don’t you see? God is not afraid of your body. So much so that God decided to become a body as Jesus. And be kissed by a woman, with long hair, with oil. And if you’re feeling uncomfortable, I mean, I feel kind of vulnerable talking about this as a woman here to be honest, but we’re all feeling that because we’re human and we have bodies—we’re sexual beings, and we have senses, and that’s okay!

Friends, our finances and our sexuality, money and sex are important to us. And God sees the corruption of our economical system and our sex culture. Jesus was never about be a nicer person, but he was raising the bar on everything and turning whole eco-system upside down. He wants to liberate us from it all, to restore us to freedom, in and with our money and with our bodies. And when we realize that, that’s exactly what happens, freedom and power with our money and our bodies. I should’ve named this sermon, money, sex, and power, because here’s what happens.

This woman, having been so moved by the message of Jesus’ liberation, and being accepted wholly with her full being as a woman, her response was this powerful bold move. She walked into this Pharisee’s house, mixed in with her tears and shame, I just imagine her shaking nervously but also strangely determined to do this. That jar she poured out—they say it might been worth a year’s worth of salary. This was an expensive sacrifice. I mean, I have a nice skin care product from Sephora, a serum, that I got as a Christmas gift. It’s got this fancy dropper, and it’s glass, and every time I use it, I’m like so afraid I’m gonna drop it. Skincare products are so expensive—why, they’ve got little viles costing 100-200 dollars! But her, she was able to generously pour out her precious perfume at the feet of Jesus.

It doesn’t say this in Luke, but this similar story is in each of the 4 gospels and other accounts of the stories actually has her anointing Jesus for his burial. And Jesus points to her and says, wherever the gospel is preached, it will be done so in memory of her.

This story, actually is one that brought me into ministry. I’ll wrap up with my personal story.

At the end of my time at UCLA, I was feeling pretty worthless and defeated. I was actually graduating “late,” I walked the ceremony but had to take like extra 6 classes over the summer to graduate in time, which was a huge source of shame, especially in the Asian culture—you are like considered like, “oh she graduated late, yikes”. I didn’t have a job lined up after college. And part of it was—honestly—I partied a lot. Los Angeles has a way of seeping into your skin, and as a young woman it’s not the best influence. Like, I’m not even a football fan, but a few weeks ago I was like yeah L.A. sucks, go Pats! Beat L.A.! Oh L.A. L.A. L.A. I remember one time, I was hanging out with some girlfriends who were all models, cause that’s what you do in L.A., all tall skinny and beautiful, and it was the funny that got to tag along, they said we were going to some fashion show or something so we got dressed up and ended up somehow all getting into this Hummer Limo. And then I saw at the other end of the limo that they were doing cocaine! I was like—where am I, and had this realization that made me go, I’m very lost. And by the way, we finally got to that “fashion show” and it wasn’t a fashion show at all, but a VIDEO of a fashion show was playing on the screen! I think promoters just called it that to get models to come—so fake. So L.A.  As I occupied myself with the L.A. Thing, going to certain parties that “industry” people showed up—so cool—I became more and more distant to God and stopped going to church. I had once grown up in the church and that’s where I usually had community, but I started to become very isolated.

So when one day I decided to go to church, which I did from time to time if I wasn’t out the night before, and heard a sermon on this story, I just began to sob uncontrollably. It all came crashing down on me—the shame. How that Pharisee talked about her, that’s how I felt. Growing up as a pastor’s kid, I was always judged for not being the kind of good quiet Korean Christian girl. I wasn’t shy, I didn’t laugh like this, I’d walk around laughing like this and it confused them. So when Jesus, stood up for her, and said, “do you see her?” I felt so seen by Jesus. I felt embarrassed to even be at church—how dare I, knowing the things I’ve done. I talked to myself like the Pharisee.

Even when I started feeling a call into ministry, I thought, how could I preach from the Bible? People will say, do you know what kind of a person she is? That she is a sinner! And I still feel that. I’m not the most holy person, or the most patient. I’m not that Christ-like and I don’t pretend to be. I really tried to curse less when I first became a pastor, and now I don’t even try. Honestly, it is a scandalous thing that I should be up here preaching the gospel.

But you know what? I’m here for Jesus, and damn it, Jesus says it’s okay for me to be here, to worship him with all my guilt and shame. To sit at his feet and let my hair down. And if I can, since he lets me, I don’t mind bringing all my gifts—my most precious things, my time, my energy, my money to his feet to bring him glory, to honor him, to anoint him. And then as I grew in faith I realized, Jesus wasn’t just forgiving me my sins but turning everything new. It was bigger than my own personal moral failings. God was changing the economy, racism, sexism, and that gave me greater hope with greater audacity to serve. Like her, I wanted to anoint the feet of Jesus. And I thought, well the Church is the body of Christ. Maybe I can serve there, and that would be okay.

Will you let God see you? Will you come sit at the feet of Jesus, no matter what anyone else might say? My invitation to you this week is that you try doing that. Come to the feet of Jesus. To the places where others might say, what are you doing! Why are you doing that?

Stories of Jesus interacting with people are powerful because we get to see and experience God’s love for them. Just as this story personally impacted me, there might be a story that God speaks to you through the Scriptures. Try picking a story, maybe a story you’ve heard about, Zachhaeus, or the rich young ruler, or the one where Jesus healed the paralytic. Whichever, here’s what I suggest to people often. If you’re not sure what’s in the Bible, google it! And then go look up the text in the BIble, and read it slowly. Let it wash over you and enter into that story. You can try that Lectio Divina, with the guide in your program. Let God enter into your whole being: your mind, your heart, your body, your everyday life, and know that God loves every bit of it and wants to restore and transform it completely. Will you let God do that?

Let’s pray:

Holy and Gracious God, You have created us good. And then things got kind of complicated, with our own mistakes, systems and culture. Would you take over every part of us that is broken or tainted and bring it back to your original intent. We long for that loving healing power in our lives. Spirit would you move in us to see and experience that love, that we may be humbled and kneel before you, with all that we are, ready to serve as you call us to do. We pray in Jesus name. Amen.

An Invitation to Whole Life Flourishing

Come down to the feet of Jesus. To the humble places. To the dirty work, and make it holy. Anoint the least with your presence. Notice the unpleasant places and try engaging it. Pick up trash and throw it away. Do something that is unglorious, behind the scene, that no one cares about.

Spiritual Practice of the week:

Try doing a reading of Scripture in the practice of Lecito Divina (holy reading).
Here’s how:
  1. Read the text aloud once. Simply receive and notice the story. What word or phrase stood out to you?
  2. Read the text a second time. Analyze what’s going on. What do you have questions about? What did you notice further?
  3. Read the text one last time. What came up for you personally as you read the text?
End the time with some silence to bask in your experience.

Disability and Grace: A Primer for the Strong and for the Rest of Us

Before I was a pastor, I was a public school educator. And I’m embarrassed to admit that early in my career, I wasn’t that knowledgeable or sensitive around the education of youth with disabilities. I think I wondered how many people kids really had learning disabilities. I mean maybe they weren’t working very hard, or maybe they hadn’t had great teachers or parents.

Now there were a lot of reasons I thought this way – like most teachers, I hadn’t had enough training on disabilities. There were some biases I had from my own childhood too. But deeper than that, I guess I just thought that people are tough and strong and can do whatever they need to, or at least they should be able to. I thought: I’m scrappy, I’m a hustler, a fighter. And everyone else can be too.

I can’t point you to the exact moment this changed. It was more of a process, but I can point out some milestones in the journey.

I remember when I was training to be a principal, I was learning how to manage programs for students with learning disabilities, and we were talking about technology that helps students access curriculum and learning experiences, and someone pointed out my glasses as an example of this assistive technology. And I thought – really? I don’t have a disability, and this isn’t assistive technology. But then I considered, you know it’s true. I can’t read things more than two feet from my face, I can’t make out faces as people approach, I can’t drive safely. Unless I’m wearing my assistive technology, my glasses, that compensate for my physical disability. There you go.

Later I remember also being diagnosed with hearing loss. For whatever reason, this was embarrassing to me. I first failed a hearing test in my early 30s, but I didn’t like the idea that there was something wrong with me. It made me feel like I was getting old before my time too. So I did nothing. I put off getting hearing aids. I didn’t get tested again for years.


But then I had this group interview, in a room of nearly 20 people, and I mentioned in advance that it was hard for me to hear in a room full of people… and the HR manager running the show told me a “reasonable accommodation” would be to give me a printed copy of all the interview questions, which he did. And it actually helped me interview well enough to get the job. And I realized I’m being treated like I have a physical disability, because in fact, I do. I can’t hear high pitches without help, and most consonants in English are high pitches. Hey, I’m not perfect, I’m not strong in the sense of totally self-sufficient. I need things.  

And then eventually I get these hearing aids I’ve been wearing every day for the past six years. And suddenly, I can pick up on all the conversations going on around me. I’m a little more socially engaged again. I rediscover the beautiful sound of rushing water. Help, grace, strength for me in my weakness.

And then there was my experience I shared about at the start of this series, when

This past year, I was diagnosed with ADHD… and again, there was this mix of really… I have that? That can’t be so. And oh, wow, that explains so much… And in the ADHD world you realize, oh, this is a pain… There are some difficulties to yourself and others when you have ADHD. But this is also like a superpower too. There’s good that comes with this. I wouldn’t want to not have ADHD. I wouldn’t be the same person. Maybe it’s cliché, but I’ve learned I’m not disabled, I’m differently-abled. This so-called disability is part of the good of who I am, even in the ways it makes me need help.

Here’s where I’m going with this.

We’re in the seventh and second to last week in our fall series, An Embodied Faith. We’ve tried to dispel this notion that faith is only concerned with our souls or our spirits. The idea that there are a small set of so-called spiritual topics that are suitable for faith and church we’ve called disembodied faith, because it’s faith as just abstract ideas, faith that ignores the reality we live in these bodies of ours. We’ve talked about how Jesus-centered faith is very much an embodied faith. It sits in an ancient Hebrew legacy of earthy experience of the intersection of our real lives and a hope in God. And it claims the reality that God has entered our experience in a body, proclaiming all of our embodied reality spiritual.

I’m going to wrap things up next week thinking about what it means that we’re made out of dust, but this week we’re going to look into a really specific topic that I think has interesting implications for all of us.

I’ve called it Disability and Grace: A Primer for the Strong and for the Rest of Us. Because I suppose there are some of us in the room who are in no way disabled. Who are strong in all respects, physically and mentally and emotionally. But the truth is that most of us are disabled. We are physically disabled in some way – as I am with issues with both sight and hearing. Or we are learning disabled in some way, or at least differently-abled – as I am with my ADHD. Or to be broad about it, we are emotionally disabled, we have mental health challenges or uniqueness to our emotional make up that requires particular attention and care.

If we grow up and are honest with ourselves, or have to confront our limitations, most of us discover that we are not our culture’s perfect ideal of a human being or a human body. And it’s not just that we’re not trying hard enough, it’s that it is entirely out of reach.

If you’re one of the few, the strong, I hope you’ll get something good today. And if you’re one of the rest of us, I hope you’ll hear or discover or consider again some important things about disability and grace. That perhaps our culture’s perfect ideal of a human being is more idol that gift, more distraction than goal. And that all of us are in fact impossibly strong and resilient, but our strength in not in our self-sufficiency or perfection. Our strength is tied into our abilities and also to our acceptance and experience of grace in our dis-abilities as well.

I want to begin with a look at two scriptures, two experiences of followers of Jesus, around this topic, and then I’ll invite another member of our congregation, a friend Laurie Bittman, who’s lived her whole life with physical disability to share a few thoughts as well.

Our first scripture is:

John 9:1-3 (NRSV)

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 

Now at first blush the disciples sound “CRA-zy.” Such a weird notion they have upon meeting a physically disabled person to ask, not just what’s wrong with him, but is it because of his sin or his parents sin, that he is blind?

Truth is, though, that Jesus’ students are in a long tradition of interpretation around faith and disability – to see something wrong with people and to ask whose fault is this?

Jesus weighs in here on this old tension in their Hebrew scriptures. Because a lot of this Scripture, what Christians call the Old Testament, teaches that people get what they deserve. A little like karma, there’s extensive teaching in the Hebrew scriptures that God rewards the faithful, and punishes the faithless. The good receive good in return, the bad receive bad. You see this in parts of the Torah – the first five books of the Bible known as the Law, that announces blessings for people who do what God says and curses for those who don’t. You see it in much of the historical books as well and the related prophetic teachings. Again and again, the favorable and unfavorable circumstances of Israel are connected with the trust in God and obedience to God, or lack thereof, of Israel’s leaders or of that nation as a whole. You get what you deserve, so if you’re disabled, we might ask – whose fault is it? Yours? Your parents’? Maybe God’s fault? This is what the disciples wonder.  

But there’s a counter-tradition in the Hebrew Scriptures, a minority voice you could say, that challenges this. You find it in the Old Testament’s poetry and songs – books like Psalms and Job and Ecclesiastes. These teachings push back and insist that life is more complicated. People often don’t get what we deserve. There’s some mystery and chaos in why things happen the way we do in life. Perhaps we can’t fully understand.

This kind of nuance and humility, the capacity to see shades of grey, and not just black and white, is a mark of maturity within the scriptures’ tradition, just as it is in human development today.

And Jesus here profoundly weighs in on the side of this counter-tradition. He sees the blind man, and hears the disciples question about fault, and Jesus thinks, “Fault just isn’t an interesting word.” Like many things in life, it’s nobody’s fault. There isn’t really an answer to this question. It’s just the wrong question.

I know when we have things go wrong in our bodies or lives, or in our children’s or other people that we love, we don’t usually ask if it was their sin or their parents’ sin that caused the problem. That question comes from another age maybe. But we often do wonder whose fault is this. Did we mess up? Did they mess up Did God mess up?

I wonder if Jesus suggests here that when we do this, we’re asking the wrong questions. Jesus instead greets things the way they are, he radically accepts life as it is today and wonders what is possible. What is things are the way they are so we can see the work of God in this?

Jesus says, this man is how he is so the work of God can be revealed. And what does “God’s works being revealed” mean? What does healing look like?

Well, in this case, it means a miraculous restoration of sight. But we know that both in our experience and even in the scriptures, this isn’t normally what the work of God looks like. It’s awesome when it happens, it’s very much worth praying for, but it is not the norm.

So to keep asking this question, let me take us to the second scripture, from the letters of Paul, a first century follower of Jesus who helped start several communities of faith around the Mediterranean world.

For Paul, healing and grace and deep experience of the power of God sometimes looks less like change, and more like acceptance.


II Corinthians 12:1-10 (NRSV)

12 It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

So two weird things to clear out first. Paul is talking about mystical spiritual experiences here. He’s using language that’s more at home in the first century than today, like this idea of layers of heaven. And he’s kind of awkward about it, like he’s compelled to share about this particular mystical experience, but that it’s sort of private and hard to put into words, as is true of all spiritual experience, so he’s uncomfortable. He shares it, though, both because it’s the story behind this big insight he’s had and because this experiential connection to a living God is at the heart of a point he wants to make about disability, weakness, and strength.

The other weird thing here is all the talk about boasting. In first century Roman culture, boasting about your gifts and strength was kind of part and parcel of being the man, of male dominance, and male leadership, as it has been in many cultures. Sometimes our own included. Most leaders, if you pay attention, spend a lot of time tooting their own horns, or making sure someone else is doing this, or telling you about someone else who is doing this.

Paul seems to think this might not be especially healthy, but he wonders if he needs to play the game. And he gets sucked into this for a bit, until he subverts this game entirely. He says: you know what’s really interesting for me is that I have this profound problem, this profound point of suffering.

We don’t know what this is. There’s been loads of speculation that Paul could have had a chronic illness or that this thorn in Paul’s side could be emotional suffering, what we might call a mental health challenge. Some have wondered if this could be profound, persistent temptation, and what’s great about Paul not saying just what this thorn is, is that it could be any of these things for us. We can see ourselves in this passage. Most likely, though, the thorn in Paul’s side is a physical or learning disability – a stutter or other speech impediment, a condition like epilepsy, or chronic pain. Brother Paul, the writer of so much of the Bible’s New Testament, was disabled too.

And Paul says, here’s what’s special about me, not that God changed me. No, what’s special about me is that when I’ve prayed about this, Jesus has spoken to me, and Jesus has said you won’t ever be what you call perfect.

You will remain incomplete. You will remain weak.

But that’s good enough for me. You will experience grace and power in that place of weakness, and that will be part of how you know God, and how others know God through you. Your strength will be tied to your weakness.

Hold that thought. Before I bring this home, let me introduce you to a friend of mine, a member of this community to share about her experience along these lines. Welcome, Laurie Bittman.

Laurie, could you introduce yourself however you like?

Hi there! I’m Laurie! I have been a part of this church community since 2001. I have my Masters Degree in Counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and I’ve worked in healthcare for almost all of my adult life. For 12 of those years, I worked in the Spiritual Care services department at a local hospital, so I have spent a lot of time thinking about the intersection of spirituality and health on a professional level as well as on a personal level. I was also born with a birth defect called Spina Bifida.

Could you tell us a bit more about what spina bifida is, Laurie, and how this has impacted you?

Spina Bifida is a birth defect where the spinal cord does not form correctly. The best way to visualize it is to compare the spinal cord to an electrical cord. Spina Bifida kind of like a frayed electrical cord. As a result, the body cannot transmit and receive nerve impulses correctly.  

Each person who has Spina Bifida is impacted in different ways. My symptoms fall in the moderate range. I have had a total of 4 surgeries related to Spina Bifida and I wear a brace on my left leg that helps me to walk more easily. 

I do not have any feeling in the backs of my legs from my hips down which is quite dangerous. A few years ago I went on a walk in the woods while breaking in a new pair of shoes.  When I got home from the hike, I discovered that I had developed a large blister on my foot that I never even felt.  Unfortunately, the blister ended up tunneling through my foot and caused an ulcer that took over two years and a major surgery to fully heal. 

And then there is the emotional and financial toll of living with a lifelong disability. I worry about my future. I worry about what happens if my health deteriorates and I cannot work. God forbid I lose my health insurance. That could break me. How would I survive? To me, the fear of the unknown future is the hardest part of living with Spina Bifida. 

However, even though I have a lot going on, in all reality, I live a pretty normal life! Spina Bifida is just a part of who I am. It does not define me.

I know that some parents, when the mother is pregnant, hear their child will have spina bifida, they consider, or are counseled to consider terminating the pregnancy. Without getting into the politics of abortion, Laurie, I want to note, here you are, living a wonderful life. How might parents think about the possibility of a child having a physical disability, or how might parents think about the experience of their children with disabilities?

This is such a sensitive topic and I am actually really glad that you are bringing it up, as there may be people in our community who have had this experience. So I want to start by saying that if there is anyone here who has ever been in this space, my heart is with you. I can only imagine how difficult this must be and I trust that whatever decision you made, you made it based on the best information that had been given to you from the medical professionals and that it was a decision that you made with love and with the best of intentions for your child. 

Learning that your child has been diagnosed with a significant health problem can be a very overwhelming experience. Families are faced with reconciling the fact that the life they had envisioned for their child is not going to look quite as they thought.

While medical professionals can speak from a clinical perspective, they may not understand what it is like to actually live with these diagnoses. Thankfully, we live in an age where there are so many different resources available to meet others who have the same condition. Through the years, I have been a part of a wonderful online community, that is made up of adults with Spina Bifida, parents of children with Spina Bifida, and parents who have just learned of the diagnosis. In this group we all share our non-sugar coated reality with one another, but in a way that the new comers to the group can see that even though we face serious challenges, that we actually lead pretty fulfilling and normal lives. Groups like this are where it is possible to start to reshape the medical information and start to better understand and envision what living with a particular condition could look like. For example, many people think that it is a hardship to be quote “stuck in a wheelchair.” However, for the user of that wheelchair, it is a tool of freedom and independence. By engaging with people who are living the experience, one is able to able to find new hope and possibility in what can feel like an overwhelmingly dark time.

How have you experienced what Paul calls “God’s grace for you in your weakness?”

I should have been diagnosed with Spina Bifida on the day I was born. My Mom is a nurse and from the very first time she saw my back, she suspected that I had Spina Bifida, but the medical team dismissed her concerns. Nine years later, I began having difficulty running, walking, and even writing.  My parents took me back to the doctor but once again their concerns were blown off. Thankfully they persisted in looking for a doctor who would listen to them and finally found one. It was at that time that I was finally diagnosed and was scheduled for surgery on my spine. 

Some of you may be thinking, “misdiagnosed for 9 years? Where’s the grace in that?”

During the 9 years from my birth to my diagnosis, medical technology advanced quite a bit, including the development of equipment that would allow a team to monitor intra-operative nerve impulses. At multiple points during surgery, the alarms from this equipment sounded, alerting the surgeon that he was getting too close to key nerves, and he was able to back off, therefore preserving nerve function and quite possibly my ability to walk. 

A 2nd example is from this great church community. Almost two years ago, I underwent a major surgery to reconstruct my foot. I was out of work for 3 months and I could not put any weight on my foot for 10 weeks. Now let me say, in many ways, living with Spina Bifida has made me a proud, fiercely independent woman. I am stubborn too. I have had to overcome a lot in my life, and now I was being faced with a situation where I was going to need a lot of help. It was humbling! Thanks to this amazing church community and beyond, I basically did not have to cook a single meal during my recovery period. I had friends and family who not only visited me, but also drove me around or shoveled my car out after snowstorms so that I could get to medical appointments. God’s Grace through community encouraged me and kept my spirits up on those dark winter days. 


And I know that we’ve talked about how for many people with visible disabilities, they can be the targets of other people’s prayers. Like can I pray for your healing? I heard an interview with two people who took a pilgrimage in Spain. One friend pushed his physically disabled friend in a wheelchair the whole way, and they realized everyone that saw them was feeling pity for the friend in the wheelchair, and people were sometimes stopping them and offering prayers for healing, but what was going on in these guys’ lives was that the non-physically disabled one had every bit the troubles – maybe more troubles – than his friend in the wheelchair. And the guy being pushed didn’t need their pity at all. He was offering his friend as much help, in different ways, than his friend was giving him. So all those offers of prayers for healing weren’t helpful. They just felt really misunderstood. All to say, how have you come to understand what Jesus calls “God’s work being revealed in us”, what some would call healing?

Through my work in the hospitals and also my own journey, I have learned that healing is not just a physical act. Healing can take on many different forms.

Whenever I have the opportunity to pray for someone in person, I will ask them, “what do you want me to pray for?” If the response is “healing” I try to dig a little deeper. “What does healing look like for you?” Some people will indeed want you to pray for a physical healing, and if that is the case, go for it. But oftentimes, you may find that it is more nuanced than that. One of my chaplain colleagues once asked a patient who was dying how she could pray for him. “I want to go home.” She probed gently “do you want to go to your house, or do you want to go home?” His response, “I want to go home to God.” Through this line of questioning and prayer, she was able to help the patient and family to understand that for the patient, healing meant letting go of life in its earthly existence, and walking into God’s embracing arms. The context of that conversation was able to bring this family peace as they were grieving the eventual loss of their loved one and it gave the patient the strength to refocus the time that he had left on his family instead of his illness. 

For me, there was a time when I spent years praying for a physical release of my symptoms, but it did not happen. And for a while, this was detrimental to my faith. Was I doing it wrong? Should I be praying harder? Why was I still carrying this burden? But over time, I learned that for me, healing did not necessarily mean a cure. For me, healing was being okay in my own body, just as it was. Healing was recognizing that each and every day that I am alive here on earth and enjoying all of life’s joys and challenges, that is a gift from God, and that is good. God never promises us that there will not be suffering or pain in life, but what He does promise us is that He will be there in the thick of it with us. And that is where I found healing. 

If someone could snap their fingers, and make it so you’d never have spina bifida, would you want that?

There are definitely some aspects of Spina Bifida that I wish I did not have to deal with, such as some of the physical symptoms or the financial burden that comes from living with a disability. Those things are can be challenging to cope with at times and have brought a fair amount of stress and anxiety to my life at times. So if someone could snap their fingers and take those burdens away…go for it!

But in terms of the experience of having Spina Bifida, no, I would not want to lose that. For all of the challenges that arise from living with a permanent disability, the positives far outweigh the negatives. Living with Spina Bifida has given me passion. It has given me empathy. And it has given me a drive in life to work in the medical field, with others who have disabilities or serious medical conditions. Living with Spina Bifida has shaped the way in which I view the world and allows me to see God’s beauty, in all of His creation – even if it not as one envisions it would be. My life feels richer because of what I have experienced and I do not take a single day for granted. And to me, that’s a gift.

Thank you so much, Laurie, for sharing with us.

If you’d like to read a bit more of Laurie’s thoughts and experience, she has a blog on faith and disability on ReservoirChurch.org.

Well, where does this take us? Let me some up, and invite us into our two weekly invitations to flourishing in the world and to spiritual practice.

First, we have got to rethink our expectations for the human experience – our own, our children, our friends and employees and bosses. Because if perfection or strength or the good life means low weakness, low problems, not disabled, then we are going to be continually disappointed in ourselves and in others and we are going to be continually angry with God. This life of ours is a weak one. It is often a dis-abled one. To find joy in our lives, and to love pretty much anybody, is to accept this. To make peace with disability.

Secondly we need – as Laurie told us – a broader picture of what healing is, of how God’s work can be revealed in us. Sometimes God’s work of healing is change – through scientifically understood means or through miraculous, hard to explain means. That’s awesome. But often healing means profound acceptance and peace with the way things are. That too is a work of God. And that kind of peace opens us up to possibility, to see redemption – good coming out of what we might call bad. Purpose coming out of our pain and limitations. This too is the work of God.

And lastly, I think in faith and disability, we discover one of the most salient features of Jesus-centered faith. We discover what grace is. None of us is self-sufficient. We all need help. We are all vulnerable and weak, and the goal of a life of faith is not to change that. To try to be self-sufficient, to hope to be invulnerable, is actually called idolatry. That’s counterfeit faith, dishonest faith, to think we will ever be perfect or whole or complete in this life. And it does us no favors.

Grace, though, is to know that even in our not enough, we are good enough. In the acceptance of our limits and vulnerability, we find a part of our true selves, beloved and made special and strong by God. In our need for help, we’re made open to the help of God and friends. Right where we see weakness, we find we’re strong.

This is good news faith, my friends.

A Tip for Whole Life Flourishing:

Where can you practice more grace and more respect for specific people you know with disabilities? Do you have power in your public life to better advocate for the full inclusion of people with disabilities?

Spiritual Practice of the Week:

Identify an area of significant weakness or disability, in you or in someone you love. Each day, consider one way in which you or that person has found strength in that weakness, or one way in which God has goodness has been revealed in this area of weakness or disability.

The Technology of Paradise

I love the way kids show up. I love that Conrad can hear about asking God for big dreams and say, “I want to be a superhero,” and then talk with his mom about just how he might do it. One of my kids, when they were about Conrad’s age, once wrote, “When I grow up, I want to be a frog”. Hey, maybe not possible, but why not want what’s impossible for a day or two if that’s what’s on your mind!

Kids, you have been leading our country lately. We’ve seen kids showing up a lot. I bought a sweatshirt online the other day from an 11-year-old people call Little Miss Flint. She’s gonna be president someday, she says, and she’s maybe the best known public water supply activist in the country. For four years, she’s kept showing up, asking why her city can’t get safe water pipes.

Kids from Florida and Chicago are teaming up to try to change old ways of violence in our country. And their speeches – speeches given by a 17-year-old girl from Parkland and an 11-year old girl from Virginia – have left me spellbound, taking notes on how be a better speaker myself. These kids aren’t stuck in the past, they certainly aren’t just waiting around for the future, they are showing up to live. Today.

I love that we can give Conrad and Rosie capes, and they just might wear them a bit. I’ve noticed that when young kids get to pick their own clothes to wear, they make some rad choices sometimes. When you run marathons, no matter what place you come in, you get a medal, and the first time I finished a marathon, I wanted to wear that thing all year, but I only kept it on a couple of hours because I felt goofy wearing it. Sometime in childhood, we start getting self-conscious. And right around the same time, a lot of us stop showing up for life in the same way.

We start living in the past or living in the future, life defined by our regrets or losses or fears. Lately, I’ve been haunted by this question posed in this Walker Percy novel Second Coming.

The narrator asks, “Is it possible for people to miss their lives in the same way one misses a plane?”

Later Percy describes a character like this: “Not once in his entire life had he allowed himself to come to rest in the quiet center of himself but had forever cast himself forward from some dark past he could not remember to a future which did not exist. Not once had he been present for his life. So his life had passed like a dream.”

Does that resonate with you? Do you hear Conrad’s story, or see today’s youth activists, and ever wonder when did you stop showing up for your life as much?

What would it take to show up again? To be present this day, and the next, and the next for all life has to give you, for all that you can be. To rest in the quiet center of yourself, and live with passion and courage.

Today I want to look at what Easter has to say to us in this regard. How the hope of Easter can give us power to be present today and show up boldly for our lives.

A New Heaven, a New Earth

The past few weeks, a lot of us in this community have been reading the last book of the Bible, Revelation. It’s a weird, screwy book of obscure apocalyptic symbolism, but it ends with a flourish of poetry that still speaks right to our souls. I want to read a couple sections of that today.

Here’s the first bit, from the beginning of the second to last chapter.

Revelation 21:1-5 (NRSV)

21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 

A holy city, a wedding, and a whole new heaven and earth. No more death or mourning or crying or pain, and every tear wiped away from our eyes. This sounds good and beautiful and also utterly unlike the world we greet each day.

The poetry continues into the last chapter of the whole Bible, as the landscaping and architecture of this city gets fleshed out.

Revelation 22:1-5 (NRSV)

22 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

I like this passage even more. God’s here, living in the city, and all kinds of good is flowing from that. There’s a tree that’s really a whole orchard of trees, and it’s nourishing and sweet and bountiful year round, and the leaves have this herbal medicine that heals all the stuff – the wounds of the nations. Poverty, war, corruption, violence. Unjust justice systems, failing infrastructure, crushing debt – all solved, all healed here.

Traditionally, these passages – with the word heaven in them – have been read as a vision of our future – some people individualize it and hope this is what they’ll wake up to after death. Other people have pictured it as a collective thing God will do someday for all the people who live with God together beyond the grave.

And maybe the image here that’s most been associated with a future heaven is the river of life. A river of Paradise.

Christians, Jews, Muslims and others have all pictured a future paradise with rivers there. You go to the gorgeous tombs in Northern India built by the Muslim Mughal empire. The Taj Mahal, the I’timad-ud-Daulah, the so called Baby Taj, and they are these extraordinary works of art – huge, perfectly symmetrical buildings built from Makrona marble that gleams in the sun, inlaid with jewels and calligraphy. And they’re surrounded by these mini-garden paradises, built along riverbanks, with pools of water to mirror the rivers of paradise they hope their beloved dead are now enjoying.

And, hey, why not? It’s a beautiful image of our destiny, that God will transform the earth to a paradise garden city, where there is no death and no harm – and only bounty and healing and peace and joy. That’s a future I hope for as well.

But in Revelation, this poetry isn’t just future-looking. It’s also about helping us show up today.

Heaven, in Revelation, isn’t only a future where all things are made new. It is that future invading the present. The most salient, central feature of this new heaven and new earth I just read about is that God lives there. This experience is one of the very titles of Jesus, Immanuel – Hebrew for God with us. And Jesus himself liked to talk about what he was up to as bringing the kingdom of Heaven to us.

This is why even the pretty conservative pastor and scholar Eugene Peterson says that heaven in the gospels and in Revelation and really throughout Scripture is the metaphor that tells us that there is far more here than meets the eye. This doesn’t mean it isn’t real, it just means that it’s a reality that’s inaccessible at this point to any of our five senses. It’s the invisible realm of God invading us. God’s land settling into our world.

This is why this beautiful teaching of Revelation didn’t just give the early followers of Jesus hope for the future, but it starting rocking their present.

One example from the text, and we’ll bring this back to us.

Right after we hear that heaven has no room for anything that is accursed, we read that God’s servants will worship him and we read what life will be like for those servants. Well, our translators have tried to lighten things up here because the actual word, which gets mentioned again later in the chapter, isn’t servants but slaves. It says God’s slaves will worship God, and will see God’s face, and have God’s name on their foreheads, and reign with God too, which is doubly weird – because when do slaves ever reign alongside their masters, and who’d want to be God’s slave anyway?

But here’s the deal. Scholars estimate that in the Roman Empire’s urban areas, large numbers of the population – maybe up to a third of the residents – were slaves. And being a slave in Rome was an accursed experience. You didn’t have your freedom, of course, you were also subject to all manner of violence and indignity, and you’d be branded on your forehead if you ever tried to escape.

The Technology of Paradise

Now when these lines from Revelation are read out loud to the house churches in urban Asia, every person hearing them is a slave or a slave owner or a person who knows a slave or a slave owner. And what they hear about God’s realm, how God is making all things new, is this: they hear that God’s slaves really aren’t slaves at all – they are God’s partners, as they reign with God. And they don’t have to cast their gaze down in deference or fear – they look at God face to face. The dignity and joy and freedom and delight of all God’s children is for slaves as well.

This is probably why the early followers of Jesus began a movement that changed the empire. Slaves were given the same burials and funerals as citizens. They took communion and worshipped side by side with their free brothers and sisters. And then followers of Jesus starting freeing their slaves entirely. They saw that God making all things new meant getting rid of this curse of slavery.

This is what I’m calling the technology of paradise. It’s heaven made operational. It’s the beautiful hope of the resurrection of Jesus from death to life, a powerful factor in our real, lived experience.

I got this idea from a philosopher who said that what churches have to offer today is this radical technology of grace. Embedded in our teaching and tradition and symbols is that God loves and accepts and delights in all people, just as we are today, without exception. We believe this isn’t hard for God, it’s not something God does begrudgingly, but it’s the nature of what it means to be God. To be love. To welcome. To embrace. And for us to practice this with one another is to apply the technology of grace – for theory to become real, as we make a community of radical hospitality, radical love and acceptance and welcome.

And so we’re invited, I believe, to similarly apply the technology of paradise. To live into the present experience of this beautiful vision of a new heaven and a new earth.

Two days ago in this space, on Good Friday, we remembered the death of Jesus. That in God’s mortal life on earth, God too experiences that death has the last word. That entropy gets everyone and everything. That betrayal and failure and suffering and death win.

And yet on Good Friday, we find that all of this death and suffering and constant missing of the mark we know doesn’t separate us from God.

And if that was the end of Jesus’ story, it would have been a stunning climax. For us to no longer be separated from God, or alone in our pain, would have been enough.

But that is not the end of Jesus’ story. On the third day of his death, women that followed him visit his tomb and he is no longer there. Men walking away from God in despair find Jesus walking along side of them. Jesus’ friends and followers huddled up in fear meet Jesus, wishing them peace, eating a meal with them, and letting them know that God’s activity among them has only just begun.

Because Jesus tells his friends and followers that his win over death changes everything. It means that God will live with us on earth. Everyone who asks can be filled with God’s spirit. The home of God is among mortals. God will dwell with us, and we will be God’s people.

The technology of paradise is to welcome this today and every day as our lived experience. When we cry, to invite God to be with us and wipe away our tears. When we’re lonely, to welcome God to dwell with us. When we’re wounded, to welcome God’s healing. When we’re confronted with all that is tired and broken and accursed in our world, to believe that God is making all things new, and to show up and participate in that renewal.

I think when we see people that are showing up with power and hope and freedom in the present, we see people living this technology of paradise. Liberated from regret or anxiety, empowered by hope, they’re able to show up and make something new.

We love people that do this. Kids that I was talking about at the top, that show up with courage and conviction and passion – they’re living like justice is possible, like evil and death in their many forms don’t get the last word.

I saw this first hand this winter, when I took a trip with a few of you to the slums India, to visit the work of Asha that we support. We were in a slum called Chanderpuri. It’s a Muslim neighborhood on the Northeast outskirts of Delhi. A couple of thousand people live there in squatters apartments that have become permanent over generations, with extended families of maybe a dozen people sharing tiny apartments with no running water, no bathroom, no kitchen.

During the day, we’d often meet with groups in a community center, which was right next to a vacant lot where all day long, little trucks would dump the city’s trash on the ground and men – trash pickers – would pick through the garbage with no masks, no gloves, for scraps that could be salvaged and sold, to earn them maybe a few bucks a day.

Next door to these trash pickers, we’d meet each day with children’s groups organized by Asha. And those groups are like after-school clubs, helping slum kids end up going to university more and more, which is an awesome thing. But there’s more than just that going on. These children’s groups are also places where the new heaven and new earth is being birthed. Because they’re centers of hope and empowerment. Kids are learning a set of values to live by, values that are rooted in the teachings of Jesus, and then they are empowered to show up in their neighborhood with hope and courage.

One of their values is generosity, so even though the kids are extremely poor, they collect small amounts of funds each month and pool them so they have resources to be generous with. While we were there, the kids decided they wanted to provide food for one of their neighbors, a widow whose child had also died and was totally destitute.

So we were able to watch as they presented this widow with oil and rice and tea, what looked like food supplies for month or more. I remember saying to myself, this looks like heaven. And it was – the curse of poverty and hunger being driven away, the curse of kids thinking they don’t have enough to do something good and beautiful in the world driven away too, as these kids showed up with what they had learned from God, and in that time and place, things were made new.

Show up with Courage

We see the new heaven and the new earth in beautiful moments like this for sure, but also when we show up with courage to everything that is hard as well. I’m learning a lot about this in this season, trying to at least.

Because we live in hard times. The other week, the news was filled with protests about violence. And when it wasn’t, it was gearing us up for another scandalous reveal on prime time television. And beyond this, my pastor twitter feed was filled with hot takes on alleged unethical and illegal behavior by the one of the most prominent and respected American pastors, someone’s whose work I’d appreciated and benefited from in the past. This was all just in one week. Strange, unsettling times.

It’s personal too. Each week I talk to another person or two or three in this community about your profound challenges and pain. This is my world in some ways in this season too. I’ve been shaken in this season. Circumstances have pushed me to reevaluate old stories I’ve told about my own life. Pushed me to examine old ways of living that I’m tired of too and realize all this has some pretty deep roots in me that are going to be hard to untangle.

And in my own hard times, I’m learning that I’ll do anything but show up. I’m more like Jesus’ closest male disciples than his female ones. When I’m confused or torn up or disappointed, I don’t go looking for Jesus.

I hide.

Or I turn my back and walk out of the city, or try to find something concrete I at least know how to do. I go fishing, so to speak.

But even then, I eventually feel again that I am not alone. That Jesus is looking for me, walking by my side unseen as I walk away. Showing up to serve me a meal and eat with me when I’m hiding.

I’ve hoped for and looked for the risen Jesus too much in my life for me to not sense it’s still true.

In the strangest, the most confusing, the most disconsolate moments this winter, I’ve been struck again and again by this strange and admittedly kind of mystical sensation that God is with me, arm around my shoulder, telling me everything is OK. I’m here. It’s all going to be OK, Steve.

Because Jesus is alive, the new heavens and new earth have begun, if only with God dwelling with you and wiping away your tears as they fall.

It won’t stop there. God will drive out all that is accursed within and among us. The river of love that flows from the center of the heart of God will reach us all. Slaves will be free and reign with God. God’s nourishment and healing will abound.

But sometimes, just knowing that God dwells with you still, that God’s hand is on your shoulder, telling us it’s OK, is enough resurrection for today. That lets us rest in the quiet center of ourselves, and be still, and tend to the seeds of passion and courage that we know we grow again.

Let me leave you with two small invitations for this, for welcoming the technology of paradise into your life.

“Applying the Technology of Paradise”

1) Welcome a risen God to dwell with you each day.

Take a quiet moment as you drink your coffee or as you walk to school or drive to work to not think about yesterday or the day ahead, but to say, Here I am today, not alone, because a living God, a risen Jesus, an unseen Spirit can be with me.

This God can be with me in all joys and sorrow, can wipe away my tears, can drive out all that is accursed, heal all that is broken, bear abundant fruit in any desert.

This is the day that God has made for my joy and my courage. I can show up to today.

Welcome a risen God to dwell with you each day. And secondly:

2) Go deep with a community that will foster more faith, hope, and courage.

It’s hard to stay in faith, hope, and courage by ourselves. Our broken world, and our crazy-making lives will drive it out.

We need people to travel with, to encourage us. The kids of Asha show up to their desperately impoverished lives and community because they have each other and their teachers and mentors to encourage them. When I was talking with Nate Proctor about their family’s story at the top, he said there’s nothing special about me finding passion and courage, Steve, it’s just that I have lucked out with this church and with such good friends. My own hope, that sense I can’t shake that God is with me and that makes everything OK is spurred on by good people in my life that remind me it’s true.

Friends, stick with that community, value those people wherever you find them.

But know too that this church would love to be that community for you, if you need one. If you’re new here or circling around the outsides of this faith community, we’d love to encourage you, to invite you to touch base a little more with a community that hopes Jesus is alive, and so God is with us, and that God is birthing and building that new heaven and earth around us right now. We’d love for you to be part of that story.