A Life Most Fully Alive

Alright, friends, this week we leave the fires of danger, hell, and judgment behind and return to another version of where we started in this season of Lent: God is like fire, and that is actually good news for our lives. 

If we think of a fiery person, we may think of an especially passionate person, or an angry or loving or fierce or intense person. But it is certainly not someone sleepwalking through life. 

Let’s wonder this week about what our version of a life most fully alive might look like. Perhaps a life aflame with passion or energized by beauty and goodness. The God who is like fire does not want to burn us up or make us smaller, harder, or more afraid. Jesus said that he came that we might have life, life abundantly. I wonder what a more abundant life looks like for us all, a life that is larger without ever taking space from someone else, a life that is freer while also focused, a life where our uniquely most loving selves shine bright like stars. 

Can you try something with me?

Think about someone you know about, or that you know personally, who seems fully alive. A life radiant with energy, beauty, goodness. 

  • Who comes to mind?
  • What are they like? 
  • If you know, how did they get there?

The people I think of are not heroes, they are not perfect, if there is such a thing. They are human, but they are perfectly wonderful humans. 

I think of a monk I know. He lives a life bound by many restrictions – vows of poverty and chastity. He is also radiantly present, kind, and insightful. He laughs and smiles and tears up easily. He listens well, tells the truth fiercely and graciously. He encourages people in ways that uplift and empower us. A focused life, a limited one, but also large, free, so good. 

I think of a public school teacher I know who, like most teachers, moves through her days filled with unpredictably chaotic and disordered people and situations and bureaucracy. But she’s also set two of my kids on fire with her work in their lives. She asks really deep questions. She pushes young intellects, keeps her hobby of drumming in a punk rock band going through busy seasons of teaching and parenting. And day after day, she offers passion and presence and grace to her community. Young people like my kids are learning justice and forgiveness, careful thinking and attention to detail, greater hope in themselves and their world through their relationships with her. It’s so beautiful. Her life is beautiful. 

I think of stories I’ve known of elders who visit with their spouses daily, even when their partners no longer remember their names. Their faithful presence, their perseverance in love keeps them and their spouse afloat in what could otherwise be a season of despair. The rest of us wonder at their grace as we learn more about what love looks like. 

Friends, what does your life look like when it’s aflame? Who are you, on fire? 

It has been said that many of us spend enough time thinking about ourselves as descendants but not enough time considering ourselves as ancestors. 

From dust we come and to dust we go. We are limited by our genetics, our circumstances, by all the places – good and bad – that we come from. And we’re limited by the brevity of our mortal lives. We are earth, not fire. And yet we may not wonder enough about the full possibilities of our lives when we are most inspired and set alight by the living, life-giving God. 

Maybe there are still stunning ancestor stories in the making within even us. 

What do our lives look like when they are aflame? Who are we, on fire?

Hear the words of the good news of Jesus. This is a weird and wonderful story, called the transfiguration, from the gospel of Luke.

Luke 9:28-36 (Common English Bible)

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

29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes flashed white like lightning.

30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, were talking with him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t know what your reaction is to hearing this, friends, or hearing it again. What a strange story. So weird and wonderful. No wonder they’re all speechless. What do you say?

I have no idea what happened up on that mountain. 

We know that it was like nothing the disciples had ever seen. Jesus looks like he’s spotlit from the heavens, just ablaze with light. And they see visions of two of the greatest fathers or mothers of their culture, their faith. The great prophets Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. 

It seems like this maybe happened late at night, or maybe at sunrise after they’d been hiking through the night, I don’t know. But it feels like a religious, a mystical experience, so Peter’s like:

I think we should build a shrine, right? 

But then clouds blow through, and they hear God saying, Shutup, Peter. Just kidding, doesn’t actually say that, even if God maybe thinks it for a moment. No, the voice is like:

Jesus is my kid. The one and only. Listen to him. 

Again, no wonder they are speechless. 

The tradition around this text tends to focus on all this scene is meant to tell us about Jesus – how special and wise and important Jesus is, how he too was destined to be among the great leaders of his culture and faith, how like Moses and Elijah, his legacy would not end with his life but would resound for generations, even hinting that Jesus would rise in glory after his death, as we will celebrate in two weeks on Easter Sunday.

And clearly, this mountaintop moment was a big moment, this epic day in the life of Jesus, when his followers and we by their testimony see him most aflame, most fully alive, most revealed for all he is. 

So it’s a weird and wonderful story about Jesus.

But in the Eastern tradition of the Christian faith, the Orthodox tradition, this transfiguration of Christ, isn’t just a story about Jesus, it’s a story about all of us too. 

The Orthodox church teaches that this illumination of Jesus also gives us a glimpse of the transformed state which followers of Jesus will reach in the life to come, and sometimes in part, in this life.

The word for this is theosis, which means deification, or divinization, the process by which we mortal humans become like Christ, where we too become humans who fully embody the glory of God. 

The second century bishop Irenaeus wrote,

“The glory of God is a human fully alive.”

Some people pull this quote out of context as they think about chasing the adrenaline of adventure, like a Red Bull cliff jumping contest. That’s cool, if it’s for you. The thrill of intense experiences can certainly make us feel fully alive, and maybe there’s something of the glory of God we taste in that.

Irenaeus didn’t mean less than this but he did mean more than this. He was writing about Jesus, that in the most fully alive human of Jesus we see God’s glory. But he was doing so inviting both our worship and our participation. He was inviting us to notice how large, how free, how beautiful Jesus is, because he was so fully human and so in touch with the love and purposes of God in every moment. And he was encouraging us to imagine for ourselves and our species a pattern of imitating Christ in this, in our own ways. With the help of God, and with our faith and cooperation, we too can be transfigured. We too have the possibility of being humans most fully alive, transformed from glory to glory, as it were.

This is our best chance at becoming the ancestor people tell stories about after we are gone.

It’s our way toward being the person who comes to mind when someone else is asked:

Who do you know that is most fully alive? 

Let’s think about how this happens, 

First, we’ve got to wake up. 

I think it’s interesting that the text says Peter, James, and John almost missed this moment – we never would have heard about it either – because they just about fell asleep. 

Maybe they’d been hiking all night and just needed a nap.

But maybe it’s easy to sleep our way through some of what’s most important in life. It’s easy to sleepwalk through life in a way, isn’t it?

I was hanging out with a couple of friends this week. And one of them was talking about how he kind of lost it last week after a particularly bad day. He was a little sheepish when he talked about his reaction, like why did I shut down so much? And another one of the friends was like:

hold on, think about all you’ve been through the past few years. Think about how much we’ve all been through the past few years.

And he started naming some of the things we’ve shared about in our circle the past few years – health problems, family crises, impossibly difficult issues at work. But not just our private stuff, but some of the things we’ve all been through by just being alive the past few years – pandemic, and lock down, and bearing witness to threat after threat, violence after violence. He was like:

It’s been a lot. No wonder that you’re tired. No wonder that your tank is empty sometimes. 

Some of us are tired, aren’t we?

Maybe your tank feels empty too. And so you’re just sputtering along. Or sometimes over-reactive to a new problem or a bump in the road. 

The weight of the past is heavy. As we hold our past in our bodies, and receive it again and again in our memories, it’s really easy to assume that the past is always prelude. That the future is going to play out just the same. 

Marjorie Suchocki is a theologian and philosopher I appreciate, who I got to meet online at a conference I was presenting at last month. She talks about how the weight of our past can feel so unchangeable that it becomes demonic. She doesn’t mean that in a spooky, exorcist kind of way, but in the literal sense of that word – accusing, a weight of heavy resignation and despair that there isn’t a better way ahead, that the worst ruts we’re in are just going to stay the way they are or sink deeper.

This happens to us, it happens to me – that our most pressing discouragements and intractable difficulties – personally, collectively – we just get stuck, we feel like things can not change. And we need help to imagine another possibility. 

We need the help of God and friends to interrupt this sleepwalking, stuck in a rut, despairing way of passing our lives. 

It’s a waking up to new possibilities. 

It’s a remembering of what we know from investing, that past performance doesn’t guarantee future results. The future is unwritten.

It’s a hope that what the scriptures say is true, that the steadfast love of God is new every morning. Every morning, the steadfast love of God is coming our way anew.

One great way to wake up to love and hope and possibility is through wonder and worship. Wonder and worship.

Peter, James, and John are falling asleep when they catch Jesus out of the corner of their eyes and he’s bathed in sunlight. His clothes, his face look aflame like lightning.

I don’t think they’re sleepy anymore. 

And then even when they try to analyze or control the moment – Peter is like,

hey religious moment, let’s make a shrine,

but the voice of God is like:

actually, hold on, you’re kind of right, Peter, but there’s more. There’s more. Just listen. Keep listening. Pay attention.

These same sleepy fishermen, who have themselves been battered by life, and who in the gospels say and do the stupidest things, keep walking with Jesus. They keep listening. They stick around. And in time, with the help of God and one another, it catches. Their lives are set aflame with passion and purpose. They become the dwelling places for God Peter dreamed of building that morning. They become the leaders of the first century Jesus movement, which is to become one of the largest, most influential movements in human history. 

They are some of the spiritual ancestors that get us all in this room today. 

This is why I pray when I do, in my own personal devotional life. And it’s why I come to church too, to get help waking up as I wonder and worship, knowing this is going to make my life larger, freer, and more loving.

Sometimes it’s in the music, when I’m singing with you all and it gets into my heart that the creator God of the universe calls us friends. 

Sometimes it’s in the taking of communion, when I eat and drink and I remember that God shares everything with us all – love, forgiveness, adoption, second chances, everything. Or I look around at you all beautiful people and think I really am part of this community of love and hope that we call the body of Christ. 

Sometimes in a sermon or a moment of prayer, a word will come to me, a word that feels like truth and sounds like freedom. A week and a half ago, I was sleep walking my way through a wall of stress, just gripped more each day by worry and a sense of doom over one piece of my world I really care about. 

And it came to my mind or soul or spirit – whatever you want to call that deep center of ourselves – that God knew it all, that God was intimate with my concerns and stress, and intimately held the object of my stress too. None of us are alone, none of us cut off, we are all connected to the caring compassion of an ever present Spirit we call God. 

And that broke the stress, broke it entirely. And that’s held.

Wonder and worship open us up. They open us up to the steadfast love of God, in all of today’s new forms. They help us wake up.

Now I want to acknowledge that as much as I encourage worship of the God we meet in the face of Jesus, there are ways that wonder and worship reach people who aren’t religious, or aren’t interested in the Way of Jesus.

It can be nature, art, unexpected or profound kindness, an experience of God or of love that is mediated through any form. And it can do this too. God can come to us through many means. 

There’s science to this too, this awakening that comes through wonder and worship. Sometimes it’s called the science of awe. How apprehending vastness or beauty or kindness interrupts us, wakes us up, kind of stops us in our tracks and widens our gaze, widens our hearts. 

Awe takes us outside of ourselves for a moment. It breaks our sleepy, doomsy rhythms. And then if we can really let it in – not analyze it or control it or walk away from it – but let the awe take hold, we can come back to ourselves with more calmness and compassion. This has been measured. 

Trying new things, paying mindful attention to whatever moment we are in so we notice whatever kindness or beauty might appear, even noticing and admiring the moral beauty of others. All these things bring wonder, they produce awe – and that calms us, deepens us, extends our lives – lights us up. 

So for our lives aflame, we’ve got to wake up, to wonder and worship, and lastly, to welcome. To welcome.

To welcome the life that we are in. And to welcome a larger, freer, more loving version of that same life. 

Jesus and his disciples come down from the mountaintop. They have to. They have lives to live, people to see, work to do. We all have to come down from the mountaintop, into the mundane and sometimes disappointing realities of our lives. 

But what if we can welcome our life a little more each day, not as we want it to be but just as it is? Because our transfiguration, our joining Jesus in becoming the glory of a human being most fully alive is going to happen in our lives as they are. Not in a fantasy version of our life where everything is better, but in our life as it is today. 

So we welcome the good stuff, and we welcome the mess, and we welcome things just as they are today, in the hope that this is good enough for God, good enough for us, good enough for fire. 

And then we welcome the largest, freest, most loving version of that life we can. This is language we’ve been quoting from James Baldwin in this season, that a God worth worshiping is one that will make us larger, freer, more loving versions of ourselves. 

Some of the ways of our lives don’t do that. We play by old rules in our family systems. Or we play capitalism’s rules – thinking our funds or our success define our worth. Or just working and working and working and then when we’re not working, letting big tech corporations make money off of our data and our weary attentions. Baldwin said that when we assimilate to racist, capitalist, violent, white world that is much of mainstream society, it’s being integrated into a burning house. 

There are plenty of ways of living we can welcome that won’t make us larger, freer, and more loving. 

In the way of Jesus, we’re invited back to our own lives rejecting and resisting all this. We’re invited to the purifying power of God within us and in our communities to resist or transform everything there that is small, hard, unfree, and unloving. And instead, we’re encouraged to admire what is best and most beautiful in the world, God included. For we become what we worship. And to welcome whatever vision God gives us of a larger, freer, more loving life, that we can be filled with all the fullness of God, shining with our light and the light of God, growing into the ancestors our future world depends upon.

I want to end by a bit from Ada Limon’s poem “Dead Stars” you’ll find in this week’s guide.

But mostly we’re forgetting we’re dead stars too, my mouth is full
  of dust and I wish to reclaim the rising—

to lean in the spotlight of streetlight with you, toward
  what’s larger within us, toward how we were born.

Look, we are not unspectacular things.
  We’ve come this far, survived this much. What

would happen if we decided to survive more? To love harder?

What if we stood up with our synapses and flesh and said, No.
    No, to the rising tides.

Stood for the many mute mouths of the sea, of the land?

What would happen if we used our bodies to bargain

for the safety of others, for earth,
            if we declared a clean night, if we stopped being terrified,

if we launched our demands into the sky, made ourselves so big
people could point to us with the arrows they make in their minds…

Let’s pray. 

Light of Christ, Fire of God, burn in me, shine through me. 

Light of Christ, Fire of God, burn in us, shine through us.

That we too could experience and manifest the glory of God in a life most alive. 

The Way of Resurrection

I serve on the Board of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, with which our church partners to pursue justice in this city. 

Board members take turns chairing those meetings and usually at the start, there’s some sort of brief question that lets us connect personally. And our chair last week’s opening connection question was a really simple one. He just said:

what’s your word of the day? What’s your word of the day? 

People were like, I don’t know, and we said stuff like: joy or troubled or ready or whatever. And our chair that day said:

my word of the day is resurrection. 

And on we went with our meeting. And it was a doozy. We had a lot to talk about and the meeting went long.

But just as our chair was about to wrap things up, he said:

I told you at the start that my word was of the resurrection. And I want to end by telling you why.

Back story here that we all knew already: many of us on the Board were recently in attendance at my friend’s public hearing for termination of his parole. 

This friend and colleague of mine is older than me. And a long time ago, when I was a baby, and he was barely a man – 18 years old – he committed a violent crime. After conviction, he served many years of prison time. And since his release, despite being a model citizen and community leader, he has been on probation for decades, which has continued to cost him money and opportunities and hardship. Recently, he had an opportunity to go before a panel to consider termination of his probation – to some 50 years after his crime – to at last be a truly free man. And many of us had been there in support. 

And now our friend says:

Today, my word of the day is resurrection, because today is the exact anniversary of the day I committed that horrible crime so long ago. And once I had nothing but regret. I have regret still. I wish I could undo the harm. But today I also have resurrection, because I’m a new man. I have a new life. And I wanted to honor that this day.

The way of resurrection, my friends. That’s our subject today. 

In this season in which we reflect on the way of Jesus – some of the most important ways we can live in and honor the life and teaching of Jesus, that we can find love, joy, peace – all the good things here, we are remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus, which are so prominently featured in the Bible’s reflections on Jesus Christ. 

Last week I talked about the way of surrender, how to die.

And this week I want to talk about the way of resurrection, which really is how to live. 

We’re not going to read a passage about Jesus, but a much older one, also a kind of story of resurrection. 

Genesis 18:1-15 (Common English Bible)

18 The Lord appeared to Abraham at the oaks of Mamre while he sat at the entrance of his tent in the day’s heat.

2 He looked up and suddenly saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them, he ran from his tent entrance to greet them and bowed deeply.

3 He said, “Sirs, if you would be so kind, don’t just pass by your servant.

4 Let a little water be brought so you may wash your feet and refresh yourselves under the tree.

5 Let me offer you a little bread so you will feel stronger, and after that you may leave your servant and go on your way—since you have visited your servant.”

They responded, “Fine. Do just as you have said.”

6 So Abraham hurried to Sarah at his tent and said, “Hurry! Knead three seahs of the finest flour and make some baked goods!”

7 Abraham ran to the cattle, took a healthy young calf, and gave it to a young servant, who prepared it quickly.

8 Then Abraham took butter, milk, and the calf that had been prepared, put the food in front of them, and stood under the tree near them as they ate.

9 They said to him, “Where’s your wife Sarah?”

And he said, “Right here in the tent.”

10 Then one of the men said, “I will definitely return to you about this time next year. Then your wife Sarah will have a son!”

Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him.

11 Now Abraham and Sarah were both very old. Sarah was no longer menstruating.

12 So Sarah laughed to herself, thinking, I’m no longer able to have children and my husband’s old.

13 The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Me give birth? At my age?’

14 Is anything too difficult for the Lord? When I return to you about this time next year, Sarah will have a son.”

15 Sarah lied and said, “I didn’t laugh,” because she was frightened.

But he said, “No, you laughed.”

So this is a story about a lot of things.

It’s a story about hospitality. Abraham and Sarah are with all their animals, all their people one day, just chilling in their giant tent, as one does in the ancient near east, when three strangers come on by. 

And they cook them an enormous meal. Abraham’s like: how about a little bit of bread? And then he yells: hey, Sarah, get like gallons of flour. And he and a house servant slaughter and roast an entire cow. Young cow, maybe baby cow, but still, that’s a large animal. And it takes a long time to do all this cooking. 

The tradition tells us: this is the way. Go all out for your guests. Centuries later, the New Testament book of Hebrews looks back on this tale and says:

never forget to practice hospitality, because in doing so, you might entertain angels unaware. 

Beautiful, you all. Have a ton of food on hand. You never know. 

The three men, angels bit too – this is also a story about the mysterious nature of God. After all, the tradition, even the text itself, can’t decide who these visitors are. At one moment, it says they are three men. But then at the beginning of the passage and in the bit right after it too, it says God appeared to them and spoke. 

Who is it – people or God? 

A lot of the tradition, like that book of Hebrews, splits the difference and calls angels. But that doesn’t help much, because we don’t really know what angels are – the word just means messengers.

Some Christian artists imagine these three people to be three persons, three manifestations of God as Father, Son, Holy Spirit. The famous beautiful Russian icon of this story is simply called Trinity. 

Who knows, my friends? Not me. 

I do know that the Spirit of God can be present to creation in many ways, and God can speak in many forms. We can sometimes sense the presence, even the voice of God through a book, a film, a song, a friend, an ocean. Who am I to say what happened here? 

So again, it’s a story about a lot of things.

But among them, it’s a story of resurrection.

Resurrection is the rising of the dead, that which is dead coming to new life. And there’s a story of resurrection here.

Abraham and Sarah’s dreams were dead. Their sense of God’s greatest, most important promise over their lives was dead as far as they were concerned.

As a young couple, Abraham and Sarah, Abraham’s brother’s family, his nephew, his father – they had all left Babylon and traveled West in search of a better land and a better life for their children. 

Theirs is the dream of migrants, of immigrants – to chart a better future for their family. Like all immigrant dreams, there was suffering too. A grown child – Abraham’s brother – died too young. Abraham’s father was overcome with grief. But even in the suffering, the dream lived on.

And for Abraham, this dream got real spiritual too. Everything he knew or hoped about God was bound up with this dream of a future. This worshiper of the gods of storms and wind and farming and moon believed that a single creator God was speaking to him – promising him a hope of blessing. That blessing to him looked like good land to live on, a good future for his family that would in time become a clan and then a nation, and mostly that blessing looked like descendants – children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and so on to see the blessing forward.

But what happens to a dream like this that seems so sure but year after year doesn’t come true?

He and Sarah move through their youth and into middle age, and year after year, there are no children. New moon after new moon, Sarah sees her menstrual cycle continue over and over, and no pregnancy, until her cycle slows and then stops entirely.

And though there are so many ways we can have a legacy and a blessing, to them, in their imagination, the dream is dead. No children. No legacy. For all they know, no land – they’re still living in a tent after all. No blessing. Perhaps no God.

Maybe it was all an illusion, wishful thinking. 

Until these men, or these angels, or these gods – whoever they are – come on by and share a big, long meal, and then get up, saying,

“By the way, we’re coming back next year to meet your baby boy.” 

Sarah’s like,

“Ha! How can it be!” 

Or maybe,

“Ha, ha. How can that be?”

But the messengers insist it will be so, and the story tells us it was.

Life where there was none to be. Renewed dream. Renewed blessing. Renewed faith. Resurrection.

Let’s pause here, and notice what resurrection is not.

Resurrection is not an undoing or a reversal of the past. Where there is resurrection, something or someone has died. That still happened.

Resurrection is a second chance, a new life, or a new lease on life. That’s amazing. But it also doesn’t change the past. 

Abraham’s brother is still dead. Abraham’s father still died grieving his lost son. We meet the survivors of that family line, and they’re pretty jacked up. And Abraham and Sarah don’t get back the 25 years they’ve been waiting for the child they didn’t have. 25 years of dying hope, 25 years of dying faith is a hard thing, friends. This couple knew a lot of suffering. They made some pretty awful choices as they tried to find their way together. 

They can’t get any of that back. They’re also going to be pretty old parents, and that’ll change their experience, and what they do and don’t see too. 

I think of my friend I serve with in GBIO. He’s a man he never knew he would become. He has a good life. I’m proud to know him. But he still doesn’t know if he’s getting off probation. And he still has to live with the guilt of what he did so long ago. And the lost years, the loss of his twenties and thirties while in prison, many other losses that come with that. 

New life, new freedom, new faith are beautiful gifts. Resurrection is a mighty work of God that opens up life and joy, faith, hope, and love in the present and the future, but it does not erase the death in the past. 

I got a card recently for someone I love who I think can brood over lost chances in the past a bit. The card’s got a quote from the actress Marcia Wallace that says,

“Don’t look back. You’re not going that way.”

The past is over and dead. 

Dreams of returning to some better past, real or imagined, are not God’s dreams.

Making your country great again – whatever that’s supposed to mean – is folly.

Getting back to that way you felt when you were __ (you fill in the age that comes to mind) – it’s not happening. 

Our relationships, our health, our churches, our families, our whole creation has no reverse gear. 

The past is dead. We can enjoy the memories. We can grieve the losses. But we’re only alive today, and we can only go forward. 

But in the present and with our future stretched out before us, the best alternative to regret or anxiety, to illusion or despair, is to hope in God for resurrection, trusting that we never know when new life will appear. 

Earlier this year, I was talking about some of the griefs of my life with a mentor of mine, someone I think of as a pastor to me. 

I was talking about a couple people I love and wondering why certain things were hard for them. And as parents and pastors do, I had regrets – would things be different now if I had been a better or more effective person a few years ago? And I had worries – real, legitimate concerns about how things were going to turn out? Mostly, though, I was just stuck – like things seem bad and I have no idea what to do. And I was a little angry too, if I’m going to be honest. I wasn’t sure if I was angry at God, angry at myself, angry at life in some generalized way. But I was frustrated. 

And my mentor, who knows me well and has heard a lot about the people I was sharing about, he said: would it be alright with you if I share what I see, maybe a different perspective 

And I said:

of course, please?

And he said:

what if what you’re seeing right now are actually stories of resurrection?

I wasn’t expecting that. I was talking about people whose lives I wanted to going better.

And he was like:

well, what do we know about the risen Jesus? 

And I was like:

I don’t know, this one of those “what is the teacher thinking” kind of questions.

And I said:

I know. What do we know about the risen Jesus? 

And he reminded me:

well, he rose with scars, didn’t he? He rose with scars. 

Like Abraham and Sarah’s resurrected dream – having a baby in late middle age, after 25 years of waiting, doubt, bad choices – that is not the same thing as having that baby young when your hearts are full of God’s promise.

The same with Jesus. When he is risen from the dead, his closest friends don’t recognize him at first. But in time, they do, in part because of his scars, the marks of his suffering. 

And my mentor shared his perspective on the stories I’ve told. How this person is alive when that wasn’t guaranteed, how this other person may have struggles, but is in a far better place than last year, how a relationship between me and one other had mended and grown so richly. 

He wondered with me – maybe things aren’t quite as you’d hope, but look what God has done? New life with scars maybe, but new life still.

I felt like Jesus’ friends, like how had I not seen it? What my mentor was saying was true. But my despair over things not being perfect made it so I missed the new life that was present.

This shift of perspective was interesting, because it didn’t just lift my spirits, make me more hopeful and thankful, it somehow helped me get unstuck too. 

Like if God was working resurrection, if new life was growing, then there were things I do to help. There were new shoots growing I could water, like little flames I could blow some oxygen on. 

Because resurrection is like this, right? God can work redemption stories, second acts, new possibilities. But we can invest in those new things with our hope and our help. Most things God creates, maybe all things God creates, God co-creates with the universe. We are invited to co-create with God, to co-labor with God in the work of resurrection. 

So with this child, I can write to them and praise all the growth and resilience I see. And with this other person, there’s a way to communicate my trust and availability and love and prayers. 

We’re not always passive in resurrection stories. If we’re people who believe in redemption, if we’re people who believe in second acts, second chances, better futures, then we hope and pray and help see those into being with God. 

This is why I have a semicolon tattooed on my wrist, right where I’ll see it all the time. I was an English teacher, and I just like semicolons, so there’s that. But it’s also a reminder that there’s always more to say. When a dream or a hope or a possibility, or a life seems over. Like there’s a big period there. Done. Full stop. I remember that for God, that’s never true. There’s always something left to say. There’s always something more to do. We can’t ever turn life backwards. But there’s always possibility for some kind of resurrection. And I want to be a person who believes that and who works for that with all I’ve got. 

But it doesn’t come naturally. I need this reminder. So it’s here, to keep me hoping and working for resurrection.

Still, though, no matter what we do, resurrection is the end a gift of God. It isn’t earned or merited. There’s no spiritual algebra equation – like put in this much prayer, and this much hope, and this much work, and this much faith, and here is the new life God will raise. No, it’s a gift. It’s a gift. 

I think about Sarah and Abraham and the joy of their late in life baby. 

They’re a founding mother and father of faith – for Jews, Christians, Muslim. So they have this lofty reputation. But even in the Bible’s stories, they are not good people. 

Their marriage is full of scars from periods of deceit, doubt, unfaithfulness, cruelty. They barely make it as a couple. It’s not always clear they should have. 

And I’ll spare the details right now, because it would be a real downer at this point in the sermon, but they do horrible things to others too. Just violent, horrible things. 

And yet still, they are beloved. They too are children of God, who wants to work to help write the best story possible in their lives. And in their case, resurrection takes this particular form of a long promised, but still quite unexpected child. 

No wonder there is laughter. 

Sarah’s afraid to admit it in front of these holy, important guests of theirs. Like is laughter undignified in their presence?

But really, what is there to say but laugh? It’s just too good to be true. 

But in the end it is. And they name their baby Laughter, because they just can’t help themselves, the joy is so deep. 

There’s a psalm – a song of praise in the Bible – and I wonder if the one line about laughter is in part a reflection on this story. 

It’s Psalm 126. A psalm of resurrection. It goes like this:

Psalm 126 (Common English Bible)

126 When the Lord changed Zion’s circumstances for the better,
    it was like we had been dreaming.

2 Our mouths were suddenly filled with laughter;
    our tongues were filled with joyful shouts.
It was even said, at that time, among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them!”

3 Yes, the Lord has done great things for us,
    and we are overjoyed.

4 Lord, change our circumstances for the better,
    like dry streams in the desert waste!

5 Let those who plant with tears
    reap the harvest with joyful shouts.

6 Let those who go out,
    crying and carrying their seed,
    come home with joyful shouts,
    carrying bales of grain!

I love this prayer. I really love it. 

It’s so full of joy – mouths full of laughter, tongues filled with shouts, nations full of praise, hearts full of joy, arms full of grain. 

But it’s actually a psalm for hard time, for when you can’t see resurrection.

“Lord, change our circumstances for the better, like dry streams in the desert waste.” 

This is a psalm prayed through tears, but prayed in hope.

It’s a psalm for when peoples are at war around Zion, and people are grieving, and children are dying. 

It’s a psalm for when you don’t know if you’re going to get your probation or not. A psalm for when your kids are hurting, but they’re alive, and they’re growing. 

A psalm for finding laughter again through our tears. 

In the Way of Jesus, friends, we never stop looking for resurrection. Where there is death, there also can be new life. It might not be what we call perfect – since there’s no such thing. It might have scars. But it can still be beautiful. God can do it. 

Spirit of the living God, Spirit of the resurrection yet to come, 

We call to mind our hurts and tears and desert wastes. 

Change our circumstances, we pray, God. And reveal something of the resurrection you are working. So we can hope with you, water with you, laugh again with you, God, and open our arms in gratitude to your abundance. 

Happy Birthday to Reservoir – Come and See

Birthday blessings…

John 1:35-51 (Common English Bible)

35 The next day John was standing again with two of his disciples.

36 When he saw Jesus walking along he said, “Look! The Lamb of God!”

37 The two disciples heard what he said, and they followed Jesus.

38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he asked, “What are you looking for?”

They said, “Rabbi (which is translated Teacher), where are you staying?”

39 He replied, “Come and see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.

40 One of the two disciples who heard what John said and followed Jesus was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter.

41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Christ).

42 He led him to Jesus.

Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

43 The next day Jesus wanted to go into Galilee, and he found Philip. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.”

44 Philip was from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter.

45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law and the Prophets: Jesus, Joseph’s son, from Nazareth.”

46 Nathanael responded, “Can anything from Nazareth be good?”

Philip said, “Come and see.”

47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said about him, “Here is a genuine Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

48 Nathanael asked him, “How do you know me?”

Jesus answered, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”

49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are God’s Son. You are the king of Israel.”

50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these!

51 I assure you that you will see heaven open and God’s angels going up to heaven and down to earth on the Human One.”

I’ve shared this story before, but it’s a good one, so I’m going to share it again. Almost nine years ago this church left our old evangelical church association and was renamed as Reservoir Church. To help with the whole branding and website process and all, we worked with a communications professional who knows and loves this community well. 

And at one point, she asked me:

if your church was a person from the Bible, who would it be?

And I thought? That’s a weird question. I have no idea. So I asked her:

who do you think we’d be?

And without hesitation, she said:

Oh, you’re Philip. 

Philip, one of the less known of Jesus’ inner group of students. 

Why? Well, because of this story. 

Phillip is a minor character even in this story. 

There’s Andrew – a very religious person. A student of a counter-cultural radical rabbi out in the countryside, and when that rabbi – John – more or less refers his students to Jesus, Andrew gets to know him. 

There’s Peter – Andrew’s brother. He was apparently not quite so religious, but there was something in his brother’s experience meeting Jesus that is compelling to him. And he begins to have a really important and complicated relationship with Jesus and with the whole movement that gathers around him. 

Later there’s Nathaniel, another complex character. He’s kind of judgy. But he has this transformative experience that the gospel here only hints at the depths of. But it results in a really profound hope that Jesus can show him the way to God, which Jesus encourages.

But in the middle of these three more dramatic encounters, there is Phillip

Phillip isn’t especially religious. Not everything about his encounter with Jesus is dramatic. He gets caught up in this way of Jesus not because he’s looking for it but because it finds him. 

He’s from the hometown of Andrew and Peter, and the text just says Jesus found him. 

So many of your stories with Jesus, and so many of your stories with this church are like this. 

You inherited the Christian faith of your family and something about Jesus in it grabbed you. 

Or you started rejecting the forms of Christianity you inherited but the way of Jesus was too important, too good to let go of. 

Or you came into connection with someone in this church who did you a kindness or stumbled across the building or the website and you decided to visit and it felt like home. 

Our stories are all different. Not just our stories of faith but our whole life stories. This is a really diverse community.

But what connects so many of us is that like these early disciples, we’re finding some of the important things we’re looking for in life in a community of faith connected to the good news about God and life and ourselves we find in the way of Jesus. 

We’re finding friendship, we’re finding ways to anchor our purpose, finding a way of loving God without a lot of the garbage we thought went with being religious, maybe even just learning to love ourselves more. 

This is what it means to be Phillip, to realize that something good is finding us in the way of Jesus. And to then turn around and say “Come and see” to someone else who’s looking too.

In this story, Phillip’s the first one that uses the words of Jesus – “come and see,” even to a skeptic. He doesn’t argue about religion or God or try to convince anyone of anything – that’s a waste of time. Nobody wants that. 

He just shares his story in an authentic relationship with his friend. 

And we are known for this as well. We’re known for a community that isn’t pushy or pressuring but is welcoming and authentic. Like Phillip, this too is who we are.

We’re releasing some stories on video from the 25 years of this church. There are five or six out so far, all from the early years. And today we’ll watch two of them. Keep an eye out on our social media and YouTube page as more keep coming. I think they’re really great. We hope you enjoy them and consider sharing any that you especially enjoy.

Here’s a story from 2000, from someone who’s still with us. It’s his version of how the way of Jesus found him and how this church invited him to come and see.


Thank you, Manny. I love you and I love everything about that story, how like me, you’ve found yourself sobbing in worship here, how you’ve experienced feeling different and relieved when you feel like a God of love is with you, how in your faith story, you’ve not only learned how to pray, but you’ve “learned about yourself, got to know yourself, and began to love yourself.” 

That’s really powerful. Friends this is your story too, your spiritual path as Manny calls it, to be found by a loving God who knows your name, who wants you to love yourself, and find peace. 

It’s in this community’s DNA for this to happen here for us and for us to say “come and see” when we find someone else looking. 

I want to play one more of our videos – this one a 2003 story. It’s got another “We Are Phillip” aspect to it. A different way we say “come and see” together. 

The movement that follows Jesus’ death and resurrection tried out a lot of names before they were called Christians.

Sometimes they were called “Followers of the Way.” I like that, that faith isn’t mostly about what you do or don’t believe, it’s about a way you follow. 

And sometimes they were called “the Body of Christ.” For some reason, I don’t like how that phrase sounds quite as much. It sounds super-religious to me, and a little uncomfortable, like overfamiliar to think of a faith community as all members of a body. 

But even though the vibe doesn’t grab me as much as “Followers of the Way,” I like the meaning of this metaphor too, the idea that to be in the way of Jesus is to be connected to a God that looks like Jesus, and it’s to be connected to one another too. And it’s to be the body of a loving God to the world, to be God’s hands and feet, as it’s said.

Friends, most of what makes me proud of this community is you – the ways you live this story day in and day out in the world. Most of what makes this church special is what happens outside the church. 

I find myself all the time telling my friends stories about the amazing people I meet here. The way you’re great friends to one another and help each other out, the cool stuff you’re doing to make your part of the world more decent and human and good as you coach youth soccer and do cool and creative and important things in your job, as you live with integrity and stand up in your communities for what’s good. 

Again, most of what makes this church special happens through you out in your communities. I hope what happens when we’re together gives you love and hope and support and ideas that inspires all that being the body of Christ.

But some of what is special here is also what we do together. The impact we have in our community for instance. We started a youth soccer program over a dozen years ago that’s still going strong. I hope many of you will volunteer with it next month. The link for that was in last week’s newsletter. But just three days ago, we together awarded four more scholarships to graduating high school seniors from the neighborhood who grew up participating in this Soccer Nights program and volunteering in it and are now the first members of their families to go to college in America.

It’s so great. I love how this church loves the city, loves the world, lives the story of the love of God for us all together. 

And so we’ll watch one more video about the joy of doing that, Adam and Ann’s story. I play this one for us because sometimes being the body of Christ together is really mundane. It can show up in making coffee and laying out cable for a sound system for worship. And it can show up in how we give to a church campaign to invest in our future, as we last did 20 years ago and are doing again now. 

In the end, the invitational way of Phillip, the way of Jesus and the Body of Christ is real simple sometimes.

To love well, you have to plant roots somewhere. You have to plant roots with people and a place. This story is about Adam and Ann planting roots in this church, and planting roots in this city where neither of them are from. I hope some of you will do the same over the next 25 years. 

And then it’s about loving who and what you find yourself connected to. Friends, our world needs a lot more of that generous love. And so I charge us to keep being a generous, abundantly loving community together. 

Here’s Ann and Adam’s story.


The Threat of Hope

Good morning! I’m Ivy.

Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, the last week of Lent.

Palm Sunday commemorates the entrance of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem, where crowds laid the road with cloth and leafy palms and waved them in excitement and praise for the king they were waiting for – one who would ride in on a donkey. It’s an ancient story, where “Hosannas” filled the air. Hosannas as cheers, of prayers, of pleas and of protest  – and it is a present day story, where we are invited today to wonder afresh – what gives shape to our “Hosannas?”  

I have a friend who regularly checks in on me. At any point in the day – they send a two-word text that says, “Vibe check.” It’s an invitation for me to pause for a second, and think about how I’m feeling… how the day’s going… a true pulse on where I’m at…  it often feels like a pretty sacred exchange.  

The vibe of the Palm Sunday we read in scripture (and we will in just a moment), is often regarded by many of us as celebratory –  a scene where audible joy and jubilant energy is manifested by a hopeful crowd.

And we can feel that alive in us today too – how it feels to hope for something for a long time and finally see it come into view. This crowd has been waiting for a Savior, one who could make their hopes and longings – their history and lived experience of oppression – into a new story. To help them believe that a different world, a new world was finally possible – and it comes into view, as Jesus enters those gates of Jerusalem.

Except an actual vibe check of this crowd, would likely reveal more. Palm Sunday while it is the cusp of joy and hope – is also the cusp of watching the world as they knew it crumble. 

And even as the cheers of “Hosanna! Hosanna in the Highest” reached a fever pitch in the crowd – they are quickly eclipsed by the threat of the Roman Empire.  

Palm Sunday holds more than excited palm waving…it is the story of Jesus’ last meal with his disciples, of betrayal, denial – of threat, his arrest, and violence/ crucifixion.  Palm Sunday, with all the excitement and hope, leads directly to Good Friday. And that is part of our story too – and the ongoing story of our faith.

A faith that is riddled with hopes and threats – and hopes and threats – in our everyday lives.

This morning we’ll read this story in scripture and consider what it is we hope for these days? How it is we might live our way into this ancient cry, “Hosanna!” with integrity – with an energy that flips what threatens our hope – into a triumphant story where the threat of hope – keeps us moving along this road of life with Jesus. 

We praise you Jesus. We bless you – for being the One who comes among us – and is still coming. For the one who walks down our streets and enters our neighborhoods – for the one who disrupts the thoughts that threaten our hope – for the one who helps us disrupt the real forces and powers that threaten our hope. This morning hear our prayers – the ones that are beyond words – the prayers that we are hoarse from shouting – -the prayers that are fresh and the ones that feel ancient.  Thank you for being among – between and in us. Amen.

SCRIPTURE | Matthew 21:1-11 (Common English Bible)

Let’s read the story of Palm Sunday together  – we’ll read Matthew’s version in Chapter 21:

“When they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus gave two disciples a task. He said to them, “Go into the village over there. As soon as you enter, you will find a donkey tied up and a colt with it. Untie them and bring them to me.  If anyone says anything to you, say that their master needs them.” He sent them off right away. Now this happened to fulfill what the prophet said, Say to Daughter Zion,Look, your king is coming to you, humble and riding on a donkey, and on a colt the donkey’s offspring.  The disciples went and did just as Jesus had ordered them. They brought the donkey and the colt and laid their clothes on them. Then he sat on them.

Now a large crowd spread their clothes on the road. Others cut palm branches off the trees and spread them on the road.  The crowds in front of him and behind him shouted,
Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”  And when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. “Who is this?” they asked. The crowds answered, “It’s the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Like so much of scripture – there is scripture within scripture here. Right in the middle of this story we have a reference to the Old Testament – to the words of the prophet Zechariah 9:9… who predicts this moment – saying,

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion. Sing aloud, Daughter Jerusalem. Look, your king is coming to you, humble and riding on a donkey …”

And many of those gathered in the crowd likely knew this prophecy. Because the setting here is Passover. And upwards of 200,000 people from all over Athens and Egypt, Babylon, Damascus and Galilee – join Jesus and his followers in Jerusalem to observe and celebrate this most important Jewish holiday.  Passover celebrates the exodus from slavery in Egypt – it is a festival of freedom. Freedom that God intended for everyone… and one they are still longing for.

At this time the Jewish people were under the brutal empire of Rome.

“They were a colony; a subject people – living in a new kind of servitude, a new kind of bondage. Now, not in Egypt, but in their own land.” (Bishop Michael Curry)

So while Rome allows the Jewish pilgrims to gather for the Passover festival – any real action, any real resistance that would push against that power of Rome – call out the oppression –  would not be tolerated. And just to make sure that is communicated – that complete loyalty and submission is obeyed – they send Pontius Pilate and Roman agents into the city with a full entourage – soldiers, horses, calvary, weapons. The Roman Empire puffing out its chest, making its greatness, its power shown through intimidation and threat. 

Jesus enters Jerusalem with a rag-tag bunch, no cavalry – on a donkey – a procession of what many would regard as the  “powerless” and the “explicitly vulnerable.”  Where strength and power are demonstrated through subversive action, humility, nonviolence, and hope. And Jesus invites those in the crowd – some of whom had witnessed his recent healing miracles (and some who hadn’t), some who still hoped for a savior (and some who couldn’t), some who knew who this man on a donkey was (and most who didn’t) but nevertheless Jesus invites them ALL to find their way into this song from exactly where they are at,Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!”  

Jesus’ entrance – riding in on a donkey doesn’t just offer a parallel picture of what a “king” or a “savior” or a “hero” could be –  it is a move to counter everything – the common expressions of authority and intimidation of the emperor’s norm. (enfleshed.org)

Historians tell us that it is likely that, Pilate entered the city from the west and Jesus entered the city from the east.

A meeting of sorts –  a meeting where the power of authoritative threat and the power of indelible hope face off.

Now here’s the thing – the threats for the Jewish people are real… not just empty intimidation. Ever since the time of exile  – the Jewish people have – for most of that time – suffered under some sort of foreign power. Just a few decades earlier the Romans crushed an attempted rebellion of the people  – where 2,000 of those suspected in the resistance movement were crucified. Their lives have been impacted by fear and violence for a long time.

And yet the crowds watch as the words of Zechariah unfold in their streets, and the hope of their spiritual ancestors rises, the cries of “Hosanna!” swell. These voices echoing a proclamation of trust in a different type of power, a different type of LORD and King.

And it’s a gritty – graspy- sort of hope. One that recalls God’s great works – of manna appearing in the wilderness, of the Red Sea parting …and the struggle, death and oppression – it’s a holy remembrance – one that forms an active, courageous cry of “Hosanna” – a resolute present day cry that protests injustice.

And the Roman powers feel this … they are threatened.

Many in the crowds hold on to a faith that is not run by militaristic conquering authority – but on the power of justice – the power of collective hope that has formed over anguish and centuries – through the bones of their ancestors –  that sticks to their spirits as they stand on that dusty road to Jerusalem.

And everything they do  – from  raising their palms to shouting “hosanna!” are subversive acts and messages to the empire. A message of hope that threatens and puts Rome on the alert  – as much as Rome had hoped to do with their war horses.


It’s why celebrating Palm Sunday is worth it – even when we know how Holy week plays out.

It’s why harkening back to our spiritual ancestors matters. Because sometimes we need to re-tell a story, even re-enact a story of our history that reminds us – and tells us again – of how good and faithful God has been  – a source of life-giving hope – even when it isn’t realized in our story yet.

Vernee Wilkinson was up here last week leading us in a participatory service – along with Reverend Laura Everett – that centered around the plant, indigo. Indigo, the source of blue dye that you recognize in your jeans. And she shared that as a descendant of enslaved people – her ancestors were likely forced to plant, tend and harvest the cash crop of indigo.

Their lives likely bought and sold with indigo. Lives that were threatened and terrorized. And yet these ancestors gathered together for hope, for the promise of liberation – they sang songs together – they cried out “Hosanna” in their own ways for a freedom that is still sought  – and fought for today.  And today, Vernee turns to indigo for healing, to make new things as a prayer of protest. – Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!” –  To suggest that we, collectively, can reclaim, redeem, make reparations – return Indigo to its healing properties, honor its potent artistic expression and WORK TO free it from a history of violence and oppression.  

The leaves of the indigo plant are dried, crushed and fermented  – placed in a big vat of liquid-y solution that becomes a live –  living thing.  It speaks of a history and story full of threats and violence – and – hope/beauty and freedom.


The palms that were laid in the streets and waved in the air,  by the crowd that surrounded Jesus spoke of the same. Before Roman occupation – there was a time when the Jewish people had been free and self-governed – and they had their own currency. On their largest coin – a palm branch was prominently displayed – a symbol of Jewish rebellion. 

The choice to cut palm branches and lay them ahead of Jesus was an act of defiance and a message to the Roman authorities. “We want to be free – we want liberty.”  And they look to Jesus – Jesus who learned early

“how to resist an unjust system. His entire life plays out in the shadow of empire. All his teaching and storytelling, his healing and preaching, his praying and miracle working – all of it takes place under that same shadow of the occupying power of Rome. (Tim Hart – Anderson)

And so they think – maybe this Jesus can help us, can save us. The scene that day in Jerusalem is not particularly religious. The palm-waving is not part of a worship service – but a welcome for a hoped-for liberator that is meant to stand up to the dehumanizing power of empire and privilege. 


And so they shout “HOSANNA! HOSANNA IN THE HIGHEST” as they wave palms, a freedom song. They do not recite the Roman pledge of allegiance which was, “Caesar is Lord” – but instead say Jesus is Lord – “Hosanna”! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  They hail a new king.

A subversive action.  

The word “Hosanna,” is not only a cheer – or only an expression of adoration. It is a political and religious word – made up of two Hebrew words: hōša῾and nā.  Hōša means “help us, save us, deliver us,” and nā which means “we pray” or “now!” “please!” (Tim Suttle, www.patheos.com).

They remember this word “Hosanna” – from their ancestors which we can read in Psalm 118 where they say,

Lord, please save us!  Lord, please let us succeed!”

Words that the pilgrims would sing as they came into Jerusalem, and as Jews would recite on the Passover holiday. And their hope hung that day, on those words as they walked into Jerusalem – as a ritual of faith – a hope woven into their story – unfolding as a direct challenge to Roman authority.

HOSANNA is a risky word.

  • A vulnerable cry.
  • An exhausted plea.
  • A protest prayer.

An ancient word – a modern word – a word that bridges and connects us to a cloud of witnesses, a company of saints, lovers of God and lovers of people. All connected to the life-giving source.

It’s how the past becomes present on Palm Sunday – and our ancestors’ words, our own. (Enfleshed.org)

…… and how they still hold an urgency to them.

This crowd is shouting,

Save us! from Roman occupation, economic struggle, hunger, poverty.. And do it now.”  

It’s desperate, it’s real, it’s the vibe of this crowd. 

And it’s our vibe today. 

We cry –

“Save us! Oh God! Please! We long for freedom from all that destroys life.

God hear our cry.”

And help us hear the cries of others.

THIS WEEK we had another mass school shooting – *firearms, now the leading cause of death among children.*

Trans rights are threatened.

Women’s rights are threatened.

Affordable housing & affordable healthcare is threatened.*SO. MUCH. LIFE. IS. THREATENED.*

We are still on the road to Jerusalem today my friends.

So much to right. So many crowds to push through.

So many of us are anxiety-filled, stressed, tired. . . crest-fallen… 

Held in the bondage of poverty, racism, misogyny, corruption.

And we fumble to gather our words into a “prayer” – our emotions pour out over the top of the bitter cup of sorrow… it’s too much … it’s too much to swallow…. Alone.

Jesus as he entered Jerusalem wept over the city –

he knew he would not immediately fulfill the hopes of these people, and violence would ensue. (Luke 19:41)

We too walk along the road as much as we fall along the road, and we believe and shout in adoration – as much as we weep and grieve in disbelief.  Hope can feel futile – foolish even.

The interesting thing about indigo is how that rich blue color comes to be. It is all about how many times you return to that big – live – fermenting dye vat. How many times you return to dip your cloth into the mix of sugars, bacteria, and plant leaves – is what deepens and enriches the color. 

This is the invitation of Jesus on that Jerusalem road,

Keep returning to the source – it’s where you will be strengthened.”

It might not look like you thought it would… but keep reaching to God, your ancestors, one another … there we can find a vat of love – of courage – of vision – that strengthens and multiplies our capacity to hope in the face of threat.

Last Sunday many of us folded our prayers into these indigo dyed cloths. ((Hopefully if you were here last week – you were able to grab yours on the way in this morning.))  These prayers were left to rest – to breathe this week – to deepen in our spirits –  as they were laid in the company of one another’s prayers. 

It was in preparation for us today  –  for the Hosanna’s we will shape as a community, the body of Christ together. Because as much as “Hosanna! – help us“ is a cry to God … it is also a cry to one another. 

“I need your help, we need each other’s help – to keep walking this well-worn road of life – to fix our gaze upon Jesus and figure out what our Hosanna’s even mean.”

This is how the song of collective hope is sung.

Standing alongside one another – lifting each other up when we can’t see Jesus at all in our days. Sending one another vibe check texts – dipping ourselves elbow-deep in the ferment of God’s love and promise of freedom … So that we can cut through the empires of despair – of oppressive lies…. So we can change the world we live in. And believe that this road to Jerusalem isn’t a forever road to Good Friday – but one that leads to resurrection.

A resurrection that releases unchecked hope into our world which is dying for it.’ (THA)

In a few minutes we will sing the song “Hosanna,” together.  And however you find your way into that word this morning – whether it’s out of defiant joy, or a hoarse whisper…  know that we are naming – above all else – what we love in common – Jesus. A God who has saved. Will save. And does save us today. Reminding one another that Jesus will forever be riding into our lives in the most unexpected ways – and we are here to help each other notice as best we can along the journey. The poet, Ross Gay says

noticing what we love in common is a practice of survival.

It’s how generations that have gone before us – have survived.
Pleading, singing, praying, shouting – together- “Hosanna – Hosanna in the highest.”

It’s how the generations that will come after us – will survive.

Pleading, singing, praying, shouting -together- “Hosanna – Hosanna in the highest.”

 And it’s how today on this Palm Sunday, we form our Hosanna’s  – with pleading, singing, praying and shouting – together… so that our hopes will survive. We know things are not resolved, and far from fixed… we know the days ahead in our holy weeks still hold more work, more sadness, more threats…

But today – we rest and we breathe – we come alongside one another  – with the Spirit of God, with our ancestors and we strengthen.

And we wave our palms today – our indigo cloths – our hopes. 

We cry, “Hosanna, Save us!” with remembrance that the God we cry out to lives within all of us. And that when “Hosanna, Save Us” – departs our lips – it is a calling of truth to power to the imperialistic forces in our day. And it is a call to the power of hope. The power to right injustices – to steady our quaking ground – to revive us again…a power that is not commanded from a king on HIGH – but one that is altogether mighty, as it rises up from deep within us – as we gather here right now –  and in the streets of our neighborhood, our city – our schools – our workplaces… our abiding places and our in between places. Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!

VIBE CHECK: Where are you? Where is Jesus? Where is your hope?  

Prayer: Today God – we offer our “Hosanna’s” just as they are. We ask you to break open our hearts for what breaks yours in this world. To revive in us the imagination, strength, courage, to believe that your steadfast love does endure forever. .that it isn’t foolish to hope . . remind us how much we need it. Remind us how much we need you. Amen.


Glory, glory, hallelujah…

I start us out by singing today because at least for me, it takes me somewhere. Somewhere less burdened, somewhere more joyful, more free. 

I would love for us to go there together, my friends. 

We are burdened people, I believe. We are anxious, stressed, weighed down, carrying a lot of troubles. For some of us, it’s more true than others. 

Some of us are more prone to stress than others. Some of us more prone to worry or anxiety. 

Some of us carry trauma in our bodies. That internalized fear and pain – old or new or some of both – can be a burden. Awareness of others suffering can be a burden. Those of us in the helping professions and those of us who are parents may face this kind of compassion fatigue a lot. But all of us, in our wired up, globalized age know more about more people’s suffering than any of our ancestors did, and that’s a lot to know when most of it we can’t do anything about. 

I’ve talked with women of color in my life about what it means to have both your culture and your gender be frequent targets of violence and frequently experiencing inequity and harm, knowing that there’s generations more of this in your backstory. There is growing research on how the effects of trauma can be passed down through generations. That’s a lot of burden too.

We are a burden-bearing people. 

I’m not an expert on all this. This is also a sermon, not a treatment course in trauma, anxiety, or other specific forms of burden.

So know that I’m not pretending to have the last word on getting free from our burdens today or anything. But I think there is wisdom, there is invitation in the scriptures, in the faith tradition of Jesus and his ancestors and his followers too, that we also easily forget or have never heard or don’t put into practice very much.

So I’d like to tap that tradition a little today, share a couple of stories and tips around what to do with the burdens we carry, how to maybe pick up a few less and lay down a few more, and find more of that Glory, Glory joy and freedom in our days. 


I’ve got three scriptures. Here’s the first:

Psalm 55:22 (New Revised Standard Version)

Cast your burden on the Lord,

    and he will sustain you;

he will never permit

    the righteous to be moved.

I first heard that verse when I sang it. In high school, I joined a community chorus with my dad where we sang the choral dramatization of the life of Elijah the prophet. And in the middle of it, there’s this beautiful setting of this verse. 

Cast your burden upon the Lord. It’s beautiful. 

How do you do that, though? How do you throw your burden onto God’s back, so God can carry you, strengthen you?

When I first sang this verse, I was both picking up and starting to put down burdens at the same time. 

I had experienced secrecy and neglect around some trauma in my life, and that was still buried at the time. I was just starting to become an ambitious and driven person to be able to put a life together for myself, one that I love and am proud of but that 25-30 years later, in my 40s, I had to stop and reevaluate parts of. We’ll come back to that, but this was in some ways a season of accumulating burdens.

And yet, the beginnings of laying down my burdens were happening too.

I became convinced in my teen years that God, the creator of the universe, knew and loved me. That spoke to my lonely self, so that was a laying down of burden. 

After I moved out of home, I started to be able to name and understand my trauma story. I got help learning about it, I got curious about what was going on inside me. I was able to see a therapist for a while. And this work was hard but it helped me know more acceptance and love for myself and freedom, helped me let go of some of the shame I carried. So that was a laying down of burdens too. 

I started learning how to notice my feelings when they happen and talk to someone about them – basic I know. But I was learning how to pray and learning how to have better friendships than I ever had as a kid. And this was freeing too. 

And I realized that I was entering my adult life with a ton of fear of failure – fear of career failure and fear of financial failure too. And the spiritual resources I found in my faith community helped me start to lay that burden down.

All these layers of starting to lay down burdens as I grew up, none of them happened by myself. They all happened in relationships with God and friends. 

This laying down of burdens, I think mostly we don’t do it alone. We need partners, people to help us pull stuff off our back and let it go. 

I love this old documentary called Strong at the Broken Places. It’s the story of four people who came of age facing immense trauma. And all four of them find enough healing in their broken places, enough recovery in their trauma, that their very weaknesses, healed in part, enable them to help many, many others find their recovery. 

One of them, Max Cleland, was profoundly disabled during the Vietnam War, and then faced depression and PTSD after returning home before finding the help he needed to heal and to serve others in public life, even becoming a US Senator. He quotes Hemingway, who wrote:

“The world breaks everyone but afterward many are strong at the broken places.”

And Cleland says that’s his story, and it’s a story he’s seen in others, that with the help of God and friends, we can be strong at the broken places.

We don’t do it alone. The help of God and friends is the key. Life’s too hard to be a solo sport. We all need help with our burdens. None of us can carry them, or even give them to God, alone. 

This is one of the reasons this church has community groups – places to know and be known. Grace and I pull together an online group Thursday nights for parents of younger kids. We check in over Zoom, often about our burdens or those of our kids, and pray together. That’s it. Pretty simple. But a place to not be alone in our burdens.

In my Saturday morning Bible study here, we study the Bible but we also each share some way we’ve found life this past week or some way our lives could be better. It’s also a place to not be alone in our burdens. 

Because I’m a pastor in this community, I also have friendships and groups outside of this church where I can make my burdens known. Without those circles of friendship, I wouldn’t even notice many of the burdens I’m carrying, and I certainly wouldn’t have the kindness and empathy and prayer and support that helps me not keep carrying them. 

So, friends, we don’t cast our burdens unto God all by ourselves. We do it together. 

I’ve also mentioned prayer. And I want to say a little more about that. Prayer is a lot of things, but one thing it is is when we offer our burdens and our gratitude to God, and God gives us God’s peace. 

I get that description of one kind of prayer from these powerful lines in one of my favorite chapters in the Bible, the fourth chapter in the letter to the Philippians, where it says:

Philippians 4:6-7 (Common English Bible)

6 Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks.

7 Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.

I share this and pray this for others a lot, that they won’t get stuck with their burdens dominating their mind, but that they can ask God for help and as they do remember there’s so much to be grateful for too. Because that combination of gratitude, perspective, and reaching out to our Mother/Father God for help has brought so many of us profound peace, peace that keeps us safe, peace that keeps us well, peace that goes beyond our understanding.

Last month, I needed help remembering this teaching for myself. I was in a lot of conversations with people who were facing high stakes problems – big, big burdens. And normally it is not hard for me to show up as a pastor and a friend to other people’s pain. I feel sad with them, sad with you, each time this happens, but to be a friend, a support, a help in it is actually fulfilling for me. 

But last month, it was getting to me for some reason. I was thinking about other people’s problems at random times of the day, having some of the sadness and stress of other people start to feel like my own, and I was telling my therapist about this, and remembering this way I’ve prayed for burdens, out of this teaching in Philippians.

If I can, I share with God – I say it out loud, or I write it down – here’s something, someone I’m grateful for right now. Gratitude is a great perspective maker – there’s always more than our burden.

And then the burden prayer has four parts.

I picture the burden, and I say I really care about this, God. 

And then I say, if I think it’s true, I’ve done what I can. I’ve done my part. Or if I haven’t yet, I say to God, I will do my part. I will do what I can.

Burden releasing is not an excuse for apathy or irresponsibility. We’re called to do something about our burdens and the burdens of the people we love. But we’re not gods either. We can’t do it all.

So: I care. I’ll do my part. Or I’ve done my part.

And then I say to God:

this is too big for me.

And I tell myself, and I tell God what I can’t do, or what I don’t know how to do.

And then I usually stick my hands out, and I say:

I release this to your care, God.

I was telling my therapist about this, and she was like:

do you want to do that now? 

And so, in front of my therapist, who does not share the details of my faith at all, I named a person I love whose burden felt so heavy and I prayed my way through this, naming to God: 

I care about them.

I have done and I will continue to do my part. 

But also, this is bigger than me.

And God, Abba, Mother/Father, I release them to your care. 

My therapist affirmed the peace she saw this bringing me, and she stretched me a little too. She said:

Steve, you know sometimes you need to release the people you love not just to God but to themselves.

You have to remember that parts of their stress and problems, you can help with, but parts are for them and not for you. You have the trust that they too will own their healing journey. And so, I’m adding that to my prayers, saying before God, you know, God, that this isn’t mine to keep carrying.

The scriptures after all admonish us:

Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.

To bear one another’s burdens is one way we fulfill Jesus’ law:

to love our neighbor as ourselves. 

But it says: bear one another’s burdens, help carry them for a while, be a friend, but it does not tell us to hold on to another’s burdens or make them our own. 

A lot of the inner work, the spiritual work I’ve been doing in my late 40s has been about learning to live with less driven-ness and less stress, to live more present, more free and joyful, and with more peace.

This giving God my burdens is part of it.

And rest is too. Rest, what the scriptures call sabbath rhythms. 

We let go of our burdens with partnership and help. 

We let go of our burdens in prayer.

And we let go of our burdens, and pick up fewer in the first place, with rest. 

Jesus said:

Matthew 11:28-30 (Common English Bible)

28 “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.

29 Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves.

30 My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”

Jesus reminds us that heavy loads and struggles are never ours to bear alone. We need the help of God and friends. Jesus pictures himself as a leader and a partner to us in our struggles.

Walk with me,

he says.

Learn from me.

And Jesus offers and encourages rest in this. 

Jesus was born into a culture and a faith where this was really important, still is really important. As people whose founding stories go back to enslavement, Jews were commanded to practice regular rhythms of rest, worship, joy, and delight.

God said:

don’t forget you once were slaves, and don’t ever let that happen to you again. Be free people. 

And part of how they did that was by not working at all one day per week. And using that day for connection, for worship, for rest, and for that which brings joy.

In Hebrew, it’s called shabbat, or sabbath. 

And that refers to a weekly rhythm of not working and resting, but also to daily and over the course of years, seasonal times of rest and delight, stuff that helps remember that the earth and the labor of other people is not there for us to always work and exploit. And our own lies are not to always be worked and exploited.

We were made for freedom. We were made for joy. We were made, in part, for rest.

I have the blessing of regular rhythms of this. Even when life is busy, when life feels burdened, I try to practice daily small rhythms of rest. Reading something I enjoy almost every night before I go to sleep, listening to a song I love or taking a five minute stretch walk between meetings, rather than cramming in just a little more email. 

But whether or not I keep rhythms of rest throughout my day, I take a day off every week, where I will not work, and I make sure to for at least part of it, spend more time than most days in prayer, and where I get outside for longer because that brings life to me, or where I do something else I love for at least a little, when I can with a person that I love. 

Lastly, I’m blessed to be in a job that allows for longer periodic bits of rest. Our staff at church all get four paid weeks of vacation a year. And our pastors are allowed to apply for a paid, three month break – a sabbatical – once every seven years. This kind of thing is really rare in our driven form of capitalism. I feel almost awkward announcing it, but this summer, I’m taking three months off. I’ve been granted a sabbatical. 

I’m going to hang out with my kids much more as they start to become adults and leave home. And I’m going to get outside more. And my family got a clergy renewal grant to take a big trip too that we couldn’t afford otherwise. 

I’m aware that this is an immense blessing. I feel incredibly lucky, really grateful for this. 

I’m aware that for many people, these kind of daily and weekly, and longer, seasonal periods of rest can be much harder to find. For people who don’t get paid time off in their jobs, for parents of young kids, for people just scraping by economically, for lots of us, we wonder: how can we take a break? 

And listen, friends, I’d be the last person to ever minimize those struggles. But I will just say, that if we follow Jesus, we do into a tradition that invites and even commands rhythms of rest as part of a flourishing, unburdened life. 

We don’t get joy, and we don’t get freedom without it.

So a few ways I’ve known people to be creative with their needs for daily, weekly, and seasonal rest.

I’ve known people who prioritize their sleep hygiene. Like, maybe my waking life has no breathers, but I’m at least going to do what’s in my power to get better sleep. So they do stuff like not have their phones by their bedside, or at least have them off for an hour before bed, and other stuff that we know helps us sleep better.

I’ve known people who make lists of 5-10 things that bring them joy, because life’s hard enough they can forget those things, and when they have an unexpected break – some extra childcare, an easy day at work when they don’t have to push so hard – they let themselves just have joy for a while.

I’ve known people that when they are between jobs find a way to take a month off to just not be a worker for a season, people who ask for and get short medical leaves at work for their mental health, people make deals with their housemates or families they live with to change the rhythm of life in their household for one day a week.

People that take in less social media and less news, since they realize we’re not called to know everything or have an opinion about everything but to be people who do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly – and joyfully and freely – with God. Less exposure, more connection, more action, brings a lot of rest.

You get the idea. We all need daily and weekly and seasonal rest. We’ll never find much joy or much freedom without it. 

Friends, I hope you found this little tour through laying down our burdens through help and prayer and rest useful to you.


Genesis 3:8-9 (Common English Bible)

8 During that day’s cool evening breeze, they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden; and the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God in the middle of the garden’s trees.

9 The Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”

Holy and Loving God, you first called to them in the garden,

“where are you?”

And maybe you’re calling out to each of us now,

“where are you?”

Well we’re here at Reservoir Church this morning, but where’s our heart? Where’s our mind at? Maybe some of us are asking, Where are you God? Are you here? I pray that you would bring all of us, to right here to this moment. To find ourselves here, to find you here, to find one another in the presence of the other. Would you help us to hear the voice of God. Right here within us. That it may strike a chord within us, and transform us, through the power of your unconditional abundant love we pray, Amen. 

A few months ago I took a solo flight to California. No kids, no husband. By myself, on a six hour flight, Thank you Friend Jesus. I was really looking forward to this quiet, uninterrupted, alone six hour flight. For the flight, I packed a book and earphones. I sat down and plugged it into the seat and started scrolling through the movies. I found one, a new release, one I’ve been wanting to see, “everything everywhere all at once.” Oh I was excited. I pushed play and the screen started to move, but I heard nothing. I turned the sound up. I unplugged and plugged back in the earphones. I go back to the menu and play something else, anything, and still there is no sound. At this point I’m starting to panic a little. I look around for the flight attendant, ah they look busy, I don’t want to be that guy, but I really want to be that guy, I pressed the button with the courage to speak up for my own needs. “The sound is not working?” I said, and they said, “okay, we’ll look into it.” I turned on the caption and watched the whole movie silently, with the earphone in my ear with no sound.

Today we’re looking at God as Voice. Not the voice of God, as an attribute of a God that is personified, but trying to see and understand God through the metaphor of Voice. What is Voice?

It can be someone’s words. It can be sound. But it can also be someone’s meaning/communication that is passed to another, like “you can really see the artist’s voice coming through” a painting. What would it look and feel like to imagine, that the experience of perceiving voice, is to experience God? 

Rabbi Spitzer’s book, God is Here, has been informing these non-human metaphors for God we’ve been engaging with for the last few weeks. In this series, we’re less trying to see God as a person, but experiencing God as we might experience anything else in the world, which is not just with humans but with elements, things seen and unseen, through places, cloud, water and so forth. I want to help us distinguish the metaphor of The Voice from the attribute of the voice of God.

So whenever I say voice today, think, Capital V, Voice, not the voice of God. It feels a little weird, cause we’re trying to shift our familiar old pathways of thinking about God as a person, to God as an experience, bodily, visceral experience. It’s shifting us from thinking in our mind to understand, to feeling and experiencing and just receiving and noticing our bodies. Just as we’ve been learning more from science about just how smart the body is – how trauma lives in the body, how it’s not just the brain that carries all information of our experience, but each cell in the DNA holds the data – experiencing God, knowing the divine is not just a knowledge endeavor but a bodily experience. I’ll share with you today how Rabbi Spitzer invites us to see the experience of Voice, capital V, reveals the experience of God. 

Think of a time when you’ve been to a music concert. A rock concert, a symphony, the club. Think about how your body felt, hearing the music. How certain sounds would make you feel things, get emotional, how a sound tingled your body or gave you goosebumps. To experience music or sound means that something is changing your body. It runs through you, cuts through your heart, changes the mood, affects your emotions, and afterwards, you’re a different person. 

To showcase the Sound of God, Rabbi Spitzer highlights this text we read today. She starts with how in the beginning, it was “merely” a voice that spoke the world into existence, “Let there be light.” And in this story, where Adam and Eve have eaten the forbidden fruit, we’re introduced to the word kol, the sound. Spitzer points out that it actually says,

“They heard the kol of YHVH God walking around in the Garden, at the breezy time of day.” 

Now when we’re translating, and reading, it’s hard to tell what verb goes with what noun. And Spitzer is proposing that it actually says more like

“the ‘Voice of God’ was walking around”

rather than

“hearing the sound of God walking around.”

There are no commas in the Hebrew Bible (actually there’s not even vowels actually in the original Torah!). That’s why Steve’s been telling us lately, we don’t know how to say YHWH, it might be Yehweh. Or it might be Yihwih, Yoohwooh. Sorry, was that irreverent? I like to say sometimes that I’m a very irreverent Reverend. 

While I’m on a detour, let me just take a full turn off the exit for a minute because the view is so good here. The text keeps saying, the Man and his wife. As opposed to the man and the woman,  or just them. And Lord God specifically asks

“where are you?”

to the man. Was God not looking for the woman? Or not talk to the woman directly, see here it says in the Bible, as some men have concluded in the access of the divine for women. Here’s a thing I like to point out as we read a text out of Genesis. You see, the Bible is a collection of stories. It’s not one cohesive well thought out story, as many preachers like to say and point out. Sure, there’s a full story of God we’re trying to get at, but the reality is, there’s a lot of opposing stories, and repeats of stories, and same stories with different motifs and agendas. The Jewish tradition was okay with lying differing texts right next to each other, some in not-so-chronological order, some in opposing theological views that debated with one another. 

Genesis Chapter 3, this excerpt we read, is a part of a specific source. No, the first five books of the Bible weren’t all written by one guy Moses, but actually it’s a COLLECTION of many works and authors and sources, and traditions and times! that have been compiled together. And when we look at the first few chapters of Genesis, this is clear. That there are different sources. 

There are two creation accounts. And we kept them both, right next to one another. It’s a little disorienting to read, if you read chronologically. In Genesis 1, you read the creation story, Day one, Day two, and so forth. And it was very good. God rests on the seventh day.

And then you get to Genesis 2 and we have what they call the Second Narrative, and you hear the creation story kind of all over again but different. The first narrative creates humans like this, Genesis 1:26

“Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, to be like us (plural)….

So God created human beings in “his” own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Now the pronouns are all mixed up here, because God refers to Godself as Godselves, a plural us, and then, it says his image, but It created them, male and female. Again, it’s impossible to have direct translation and the gender or gender neutrality of the pronouns do not come through.

In the Second Narrative, humans are created by that story you might’ve heard, which is what Genesis 2 account is, Adam takes a nap, a rib is taken out,

“It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.”

In which the word used here, Helper is the same word used in other texts to describe God as the Helper with capital H, a point that is not considered when placing women as merely an assistive role in some Christian circles, based on this text, saying that man was created first and then woman. Yes, in one creative narrative. 

You might be able to guess which narrative I like more out of the two creation stories. I didn’t even know that there were two creation stories until I went to seminary. No one told me that there are two accounts and each comes from a specific tradition. Two traditions that talk about God and our origins in two different ways.

Why is that a threat to our understanding of God? Because, of course, some folks somewhere along the way, tried to drown out a voice, by saying this one voice is the true and only source of truth, when all along, there were multiple voices and that it was okay to listen to both! 

So that is my feminist exegesis (fancy word of drawing meaning out of the Bible) of Genesis 1-3. Okay. Back to our regular programming. 

When we look at and notice the Voice, Kol, of God, we actually discover that it’s not even about the words. What God said. Or even about the sound. What it sounds like. The voice of God is not what you expect. God is actually the opposite of what we expect. Rabbi Spitzer mentions a friend of hers, Rabbi Darby Leigh, who is deaf, talking about the voice of God as not sound but vibration. Vibration as God. Which runs through everything. Which different vibrations running through us in various forms changes us, has an impact on us.

  • Does God change you?
  • Does it impact you?
  • Does God run through your body? 

Spitzer also points to another story. When the Voice at Sinai has a game-changing impact on the Israelites, when they received what’s traditionally known as the 10 commandments. It did something to them. And people were afraid, saying to Moses,

“You speak to us, and we will listen. But don’t let God speak directly to us, or we will die!”

You know why I think they said that? Cause when we really hear what God has to say, it makes us uncomfortable. It changes everything. I don’t want everything to change. I wanna gain tips here and there, and receive a nice word. I don’t want to hear something and be completely changed, that is if I am comfortable. OR, if you are someone who is in desperate need of something to finally change, then yeah it’s a welcomed change. When you look out into the world and everything you see is centered around you and works for you, you don’t want it to change. But when everything you see, for some reason, it just does not make sense and you don’t know why but it feels like there’s gotta be something else going on. Which one are you? 

Last text I’ll share with you from Rabbi Spitzer about voice of God is from Elijah in 1st Kings. 

1 Kings 19:11-13 (New International Version)

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.

12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 1

3 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

I love how Rabbi Spitzer offers us a whole new light to texts I’ve heard all my life. She says, “And finally, after the fire, a kol d’mama daka–which can be translated as “a thin, silent voice” or perhaps “a sound of soft silence.” 

I’ve heard it translated as a “small still voice.” And I looked at each of the words in the Hebrew dictionary, and my translation variations are, “sound of the quiet,” “call of the still and small” “a call of the quiet.”

God is the call of the quiet. God is in the sound of the small. God is in the stillness. One of the translations of the word “still” is “crushed.” God is the sound of the crushed. 

And why does this translation make me emotional? 

Because I know what it’s like to feel crushed. To be silenced. To have to be still and quiet. To be needed to be tamed and told to be demure. Oh and yes, I will point out that I learned the word D’mamah is a feminine word. 

Where is God? This whole series is called God is here. Well according to this scripture revelation, God is not here with the preacher with the mic. Who is silent right now? Who’s heart is vibrating in the stillness? What is God saying to you? 

I remember one time I was preaching and I lost my place in my notes and I was just like frozen looking for my place on the page a good 15 seconds I think. And after the sermon, someone was like, omg that sermon, ugh, and that moment actually when you lost your place in your notes, was so rich! I was like, “yeah~”. When I said nothing at all, it was so powerful. 

Rabbi Spitzer suggested going on a week-long silent retreat. Ha! I would hate that. I’ve been on a day silent retreat before and the whole time I was anxious. It’s like busy moms talk about, after the kids have gone off to school and you finally get time to yourself, it’s like I don’t know, I’m out of practice, what do I even do with myself and all this silence? 

I think being silent is scary. I think being alone with the clearest reflection of yourself is scary. It’s like the car mirror. The lighting is too good compared to your bathroom. There’s six windows of natural light in that thing, too much clarity is not good for your confidence. 

I do notice, even though I’ve been saying it’s not the words or even the sound that matters, I do notice the two texts of the Voice saying,

“Where are you?”


“What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Where are you? What are you doing here? I think that’s the invitation of the Voice. That’s the invitation of God, asking, inquiring of you. Making the space for you, for your voice. 

Well so let me end with that, those questions and some silence. I’ll give us some space and ask the two questions three times. And I’ll end in a prayer for us. 

Feel free to close your eyes. Even put a cloak over your face if you want. 

Where are you? What are you doing here?


Where are you? What are you doing here?


Where are you? What are you doing here?


In the stillness, you are there God. We want to notice you. We want to feel your presence. We need you… to pull us from the cacophony of this busy world, ground us from the restless grasping of our minds, for our souls are indeed restless until we find our rest in you. Give us peace. Help us to bring ourselves to find you in the silence, we pray. For us to make the time, carve out the space, to just be with you, to just listen. Voice, speak to us. We pray, Amen. 


Honor the Sacred

The most important story in the whole Hebrew Bible begins with a sacred moment that could easily have been missed. It’s the beginning of the story of the Exodus – God’s rescue of the ancestors of Israel from slavery, into freedom in the promised land. It’s not really the beginning of the story, I guess, but it’s the beginning of the story for the person who becomes its hero, Moses. 

Moses is a middle-aged refugee living in the countryside with his wife and son, working in his father in law’s business, when God gets his attention. It happens like this:

Exodus 3:1-7 (Common English Bible) 

1 Moses was taking care of the flock for his father-in-law Jethro, Midian’s priest. He led his flock out to the edge of the desert, and he came to God’s mountain called Horeb.

2 The Lord’s messenger appeared to him in a flame of fire in the middle of a bush. Moses saw that the bush was in flames, but it didn’t burn up.

3 Then Moses said to himself, Let me check out this amazing sight and find out why the bush isn’t burning up.

4 When the Lord saw that he was coming to look, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!”

Moses said, “I’m here.”

5 Then the Lord said, “Don’t come any closer! Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground.”

6 He continued, “I am the God of your father, Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, and Jacob’s God.” Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God.

I don’t know how you imagine this story. Some people imagine it big and dramatic, like that bush is just full of fire and heat, unmistakable in the early morning dawn. And then they imagine God’s conversation with Moses happening out loud, with God’s big booming voice coming out of the flames or down from the sky. 

Moses, Moses…. Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground. 

But I picture this scene smaller, more subtle than that. I imagine that when Moses first sees that bush out of the corner of his eye, he wonders if the first light of sunrise is playing tricks on him, as the bush starts to gleam. He starts to keep walking, but something makes him look back again. Is that bush just reflecting the light especially brightly, or is it actually on fire?

And then as Moses walks closer, he doesn’t hear a booming voice in the sky, but he hears God the way almost everyone who has ever heard God does – it’s a voice in his head, like he’s talking to himself or thinking his own thoughts, but it feels more like the wisdom of a loving God than his own daydreams. There’s a gut sense he feels that something or someone good and powerful and beautiful is with him, and he needs to pay attention.

However you imagine this story, though, Moses’ meandering life of despair is interrupted when he notices and pays attention to the sacred. His rise as a leader, and the rescue of his people move forward when Moses sees that God is with him and has purpose for his life. Maybe God’s always been with him, but just now Moses sees it. So he takes off his shoes and honors this sacred moment, this sacred ground, and his life, and the life of the people of Israel, and in some ways the life of the whole world is never the same. 

In my faith in the God revealed in Jesus Christ, I think God is always with us, everywhere we go, that there’s a sense in which everything and everyone is sacred, that there are nearly constant opportunities to notice the beauty and kindness and purpose and hope of God around us, if we can train our eyes and hearts to pay attention. 

So today I share this sermon on noticing and honoring the sacred, to help us experience God in all things and to help us know the goodness and purpose of partnering with God in everyday life.

Let me take you back for a minute to a sad day in my life over two years ago.

In spring of 2020, it didn’t feel like much good was happening. COVID had arrived in a big way in our city, and our whole country was shut down, wondering how many people would get sick, and how many people would die. 

I was home all the time with my wife, and my three teenage kids, and everything was canceled. My kids were trying to do a fake, boring version of school online, and none of us ever went anywhere. Except we were all taking a lot of walks and bike rides to get out of the house and stay active.

On one of those days, we got a call from one of our kids that he had had a big crash while out on his bike ride and needed help. So I rushed out the door, got in the car, and drove to pick him up and bring him and his busted bike home. And while we were coming back into the house, and trying to patch up our son and figure out if we needed to go to the hospital, I left the door open. And our old cat who’d lived with us for more than 10 years ran out. 

I hardly noticed at first because there was so much going on, and our cat running outside just didn’t seem very important. He’d run out a lot before too and usually came back to the door within an hour, meowing to be let back in. But this time he didn’t come back – not that day, not the next. We put up some signs around the neighborhood with his picture. I walked around the block calling his name. But nothing. 

Until a few days later a neighbor called and found a cat that looked like ours, except he warned me over the phone, this cat wasn’t alive anymore. Well, I went out to check and sure enough, it was our cat Azuma and he had died. 

Now at this point, I had no idea what to do. Part of me just wanted to move on as soon as possible. So many sad things were happening in the world, that I was just tired and maybe a little numb, and I wasn’t ready to feel anything or do anything about one more sadness.

But when I told the rest of our family that Azuma had died, one of the very first things one of our kids asked was where we were going to bury his body and how we were going to have a funeral for him.

And part of me thought: really? We live on this tiny plot of rocky land, with very little space to grow or do anything, especially a burial. And I know a thing or two about funerals, but I just hadn’t planned on leading one for our cat Azuma. 

But the other part of me knew that my kid was right and that it was a good and beautiful and necessary thing he was suggesting. So I found a little patch of mostly bare earth a few feet outside our door, got a shovel, and dug a hole. And then we placed our cat’s body inside an old pillow case and laid him in there, and had our family funeral. We all said a few words about what Azuma meant to us and how we’d miss him, and I said a short prayer, and then we filled in the hole.

And then later Grace planted a very small tree on that spot, more like a bush really. And a little over two years later, it’s a small and flimsy, but beautiful tiny little two or three foot tall tree, whose leaves when they first come out in May look like little origami, green and yellow birds. It’s beautiful really. 

I look at that tiny little tree a lot. Sometimes I sit by it for a little bit and remember our cat and look at the way that his body is literally nourishing a beautiful new life in our garden. Not so much any more, but in that first year after Azuma died, I’d sometimes look at that tiny little tree, with the ring of rocks around it, and I’d tear up for a minute, thinking about the good parts of our cat’s life, and the pleasure and companionship he gave us, and the times we tried our best to make him happy and feel at home too. And that helped me say goodbye, and helped me appreciate his life, and helped me feel better about moving on without him too.

You see, grief is sacred. All grief. Because life is sacred and we are sacred. So to stop and feel bad and say goodbye when someone you care about dies, or when you lose something you care about, or you lose a pet or a dream or a friendship or anything that matters to you. To grieve that loss is sacred. It honors the importance of what you’ve lost, it honors the importance of your love and attachment, and it helps you let go and move forward. 

Grief is about feeling sad feelings, because if you don’t do that, it’s harder to feel any big feelings, even good ones.

And it’s about honoring the memory of the people and things we’ve lost by thinking about them and talking about them, because if we don’t honor the memory, we lose out on all the goodness there. My Jewish friends, when someone they love dies, they don’t say “Rest in Peace,” so much as they say, “May their memory be a blessing.” It’s an encouragement to remember and talk about the people we’ve lost, so that their memory can live on and keep encouraging us. 

In our culture and times, we don’t really know how to talk about and deal with death very well – death of people, death of animals, death of most anything. So we mostly avoid it when we can. But not dealing with death well makes it hard to live well, so the first example I wanted to give of honoring the sacred is to pay attention when someone or something you know is dying or has died. Don’t avoid your feelings. Certainly don’t stop talking about it with your friends and family. 

Because life is sacred, and so death is sacred, and grief is sacred too. 

Look at Jesus. There was a time when one of his friends named Lazurus was sick and about to die, and at first Jesus didn’t act like it was a very big deal. Everything was in God’s hands and everything was going to be fine. But when Lazurus did die and when Jesus went to his house and saw his good friend, Lazurus’ sister Mary sad and crying and angry with God really, Jesus felt all the big feelings too.

In the very shortest verse in Bible, we read:

John 11:35 (Common English Bible) 

35 Jesus began to cry. 

A lot of the time, this verse is just two words – Jesus wept. But I like this translation, Jesus began to cry. Because it shows us that Jesus might have kept crying still. We don’t know how long that moment lasted, before Jesus was ready to do the next big thing he was going to do to help Lazurus’ family – story for another day. And maybe it can remind us that every time all of Jesus’ friends, including you and me, are sad and have reason to grieve, Jesus is ready to cry with us still. 

Because all of life is sacred, and so all of death is sacred and all our loss is sacred, and it’s OK, it’s good to feel a lot of things with every loss, and good to talk about our sadness and our gratitude and our memories – all the things we call grief. Because that’s sacred. Grieving well is part of how we love well and part of how we move forward in life most freely too. Don’t rush past your own grief. And don’t ever rush anyone else’s. 

Jesus, though, wasn’t sad most of the time. He was sad and angry with big feelings when he needed to be, but he also noticed all the amazing sacred people and things going on around him that made him feel alive and joyful. 

Because our world is so full of people and places and things that really matter, noticing them and treating them like they are really important is sacred too. 

One way Jesus did this that a lot of adults don’t is that he always noticed all the children around him. He was sure that children are sacred and that they deserved his time and attention, his love and affection. Take this moment: 

Matthew 19:13-15 (Common English Bible) 

13 Some people brought children to Jesus so that he would place his hands on them and pray. But the disciples scolded them.

14 “Allow the children to come to me,” Jesus said. “Don’t forbid them, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to people like these children.”

15 Then he blessed the children and went away from there.

Jesus always had time for children. He liked them. They like him. They found him safe, interesting, kind – kids were drawn to Jesus, it seemed. And he felt the same way. Here it says he would place his hands on them and pray.

I’ve known too few adults I’m not related to who were really interested in my kids. But the ones who have been, and whose interest was healthy and positive, have had this kind of impact, what’s called blessing them. They’ve asked my kids questions about their life. They’ve talked with them over food. They’ve applauded them for the good they see in them. In more than one case, they’ve literally – like Jesus – blessed them.

North Cambridge used to be home to a larger than life community leader named Justice Ismail Laher. He was born in colonial India, lived several places internationally, settled here in the 1970s and spent the last four decades of his life as a community leader here. With our church’s and many others’ support, the city of Cambirdge named a square on Mass Ave. after him. He was a devout Muslim, a friend to this church, and in his last years, a friend to me and my family as well.

We visited with each other occasionally, always praying for each other. And when he met my children, he placed his hands on each of their foreheads and blessed them – telling them the good lives they would live and whether they would become a doctor or a lawyer. 

Maybe the details said more about him than them, but the gesture was clear to all of us. He was telling them and telling us, their parents, that our children have a hope and a future, that they matter to him, they matter to this world, and they matter to God. And we loved him for this, I think my kids did too. 

Jesus always recognized that kids are sacred, worth blessing and care and attention, deserving of safety and protection too. Once he said out loud to all his students, and it’s preserved in our Bibles still, that as far as he’s concerned people who do harm to kids would be better off if they’d never been born. People who do harm to kids, he said, would be better off if they’d had a big stone tied around them and thrown into the sea. 

Because God knows kids are sacred, and people who hurt kids dishonor kids and they dishonor God. Jesus is not subtle on this point. 

Kids, you are sacred. Your voices deserve listening to. Your safety deserves protecting. Your bodies, your dreams, your time matter to God, and they ought to matter to everyone else too. God knows this, even if other people don’t. I know this too. I hope you know how much you matter. 

And grownups, your kids if you have them, but not just them all kids are sacred. Their voices deserve listening to. Their safety deserves our protection. Their bodies, their dreams, their time matters to God, and they ought to matter to us too. 

One more example before we close, as we tour our way through honoring the sacred.

We can honor the sacred not just in kids but in every human we ever encounter.

We honor the sacred by doing what Justice did with my kids, by blessing them. 

One more moment with Jesus.

John 1:45-48 (Common English Bible) 

45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law and the Prophets: Jesus, Joseph’s son, from Nazareth.”

46 Nathanael responded, “Can anything from Nazareth be good?”

Philip said, “Come and see.”

47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said about him, “Here is a genuine Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

48 Nathanael asked him, “How do you know me?”

Jesus answered, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”

A friend of mine who’s a friend of this church, but not part of it, once said to me that your church’s Bible character is Philip. And I was like what do you mean? And she said, well, Reservoir is a place that invites people to see for themselves what is compelling about Jesus. You’re not pushy or dogmatic, but you’re winsome. You’re like: come and see.

I liked this. I hope we’re like that, friends. 

And here, Philip does that with his friend Nathaniel, who’s basically a hater. He hates on this little backwater town called Nazareth, and he hates on Jesus because Jesus is from that place he doesn’t like.

But Jesus, when he meets him, isn’t guarded or cynical or critical at all. He’s like: hey, Nathaniel, you seem like a good man. A straight shooter, a true Israelite, like calling him a good American or something, if he’d been here.

And even though this seems kind of general, Nathaniel resonates with this and he’s like:

How do you know me? 

And then Jesus says:

I saw you under that fig tree earlier. 

Which seems random, but there’s a film version of this moment I like. And the way it interprets the moment is that not only was Nathaniel seemingly all alone under that fig tree, but while he was resting, he had his own kind of Moses and the burning bush moment.

The way that the sunlight was playing in the leaves of the tree, he felt like God was with him, and life was good, and the whole world was kind of shot through with love and meaning. And so when Jesus is like:

I saw you under that fig tree,

he hears Jesus saying that he was part of that moment with God, and that blows him away. 

Jesus was just like this with people – unusually attentive, totally present, and as a result, weirdly insightful. And what he liked to do with that insight was ask people great questions, and be really helpful, in this case really encouraging, to speak what we call a blessing – to say true and encouraging words to someone. 

Friends, it’s a sacred thing to notice one another and it’s a sacred thing to bless one another, to say:

I see this good quality in you. I see this awesome gift in you. I admire your resilience.

Even stuff on the surface: my wife, who’s really introverted, still likes to approach women she’s never met in public and tell them what she likes about their hair or their clothes or their shoes. Everyone always loves it, because she’s blessing them. She’s saying:

I see you, stranger, and I appreciate you. And we all need more of that in our lives, don’t we? 

So I don’t know, that’s not it, but it’s a start.

Grieve well, and don’t rush it. 

Love and protect kids. 

And bless everyone you can. Be an encourager. 

That’s hardly all the ways to honor the sacred. There are ways we can relate to the land we live on and the air we breathe, and honor the gift of this earth God has created. There are ways we can honor the sacred in our work and in our art, by doing and making beauty. There is honoring our sacred need to not be so dang distracted and busy, and doing what the scriptures call sabbath, honoring our sacred need for collective rest and restoration.

So many ways to honor the sacred. But this is a start.

When we can be more present, when we can be more safe, when we can pay attention, when we can speak some true and encouraging words to the people we know and encounter, we are sharing and embodying the good news that we all matter, that God is profoundly invested in us all. We are all worthy of honor, attention, and care, just as we all can be God’s vessel for showing that honor, attention, and care to someone else. 

When we honor the sacred, we start to notice just how sacred everyone and everything is. And life gets better and bigger and more beautiful all at once.

Breathe Life | Coda to How to Heal the World

Last Sunday, we opened our pool.

Now make no mistake this is not a fancy in-ground pool.

This is a 4ft deep, above ground blow-up pool that I bought at Big Lots two summers ago for $150 –  so that my daughter who is a swimmer could stay sane and still swim (with a tether tied around her waist and anchored to a tree… I think she did that twice).

Anyway – it’s become over the past two summers a spot for my teenage son –  and his many, many teenage boy friends to congregate, to cool off.  Which mostly looks like them trying to drown each other, and do dangerous running flips into the pool. 

But there’s this one kid in the bunch, Sadon – who, when given the chance, will just float, quietly in the pool…for long, long periods of time!  This week my son Reed, was out of school with a high fever (for four of the five days) – but at some point in one of those afternoons I looked out the window and there was Sadon – alone in the pool, quiet, floating on his back, eyes closed. “JEEZ, Sadon!!”

And I went to run out back and say, “how long have you been here, child?!” “Do you want to say hi to Reed?”

But the Spirit of God nudged me to take a minute. And I watched him – wondering if he was breathing – because he was so still. But I watched his chest rise and fall – long steady, deep breaths, so at peace… his face still so animated, so full of life, so child-like, so alive.  Tears filled my eyes.

Realizing how much I had been holding my breath, how shallow my breath had been since the news of Uvalde, TX  … how much I had been holding my breath since the weekend before with Buffalo, California, and Dallas’ shootings…realizing how much I’ve been holding my breath over the past two years.  And just how long it’s been since I felt simultaneously that alive-full of breath, and that at peace – like Sadon.

So today – I’m going to invite us to wonder together,

“What would it be like to have Jesus breathe life into us?”

Into the spots of us that are so heartbroken,  fractured, splintered – weary.  And to press in with the Spirit of God to ask how this breath of God – could not only be a balm to the aching – but be the stirring of a resurrection of sorts. Where “new” life could be made. Where we could be animated enough to participate in the new creation, imagining new dreams, new ways of healing this world – when often it feels like this world relentlessly threatens to kick the wind out of us at every turn.

We technically ended our spring series of “Healing the World” last week – but I wanted to add some additional thoughts this week, a little Coda.. a little p.s. to that series. In a way that I hope can be some oxygen to our souls.

I want to talk about how God inspires all of us to be makers of this new creation, this beloved community. How we’ve been given by our great Maker – artistic and creative ways to heal this world – that are central, necessary and essential.  I’m going to highlight two artists to minister and inspire us –  a local artist by the name of Rob “ProBlak” Gibbs and also an international Japanese artist, Makoto Fujimara. Along with accompanying scripture – one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. 

Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the assurance of what we don’t see.  And our vision is to continue to create the kin-dom of God, which is not yet in full view. It will take all of us as makers to grasp that imagination and creativity is essential, central and necessary in this journey of faith… and essential to return to the breath of God so that we in turn can breathe this life and healing, into the world around us. 

Prayer: Spirit of God, could you breathe new life into us? Please, God – breathe new life into us. 

I’d love to start with Scripture, because the Bible itself is really a work of art.  

“The Bible is a collection of texts, not one text, written over fifteen hundred years, in three languages, and from very different political and cultural contexts and it records the dialogue between God and God’s people. It also records the dialogues among

God’s people. It is not meant to be a source by which people arrive at one right answer – for all people across all time.”  (Thanks, Steve Watson and David Gushee)

The Bible invites us to enter into the art of our faith – of story, and expression,  story-telling and the creative – breath-filled-Spirit-filled application to our present day lives, with poetry and song, and imagination!

All throughout scripture we are offered story after story of the makers and ancestors of our faith. 

  • Bezalel and Oholiab were two men who constructed the Ark of the Covenant-  tabernacle, the dwelling place of God. 
  • Miriam, who helped rescue Moses at the Nile River,  led the Hebrew women in singing, dancing, and playing drums after crossing the Red Sea.
  • Shiphrah and Puah were two Nubian midwives who creatively and subversively disobeyed Pharaoh’s command to kill the Israelite male newborns.
  • The eunuch as I mentioned last week, is one who makes a way for the follower of Jesus to be enlivened and stretched by the very message he himself hopes to give.
  • The fishermen, the textile workers, the ones who make salves for lepers sores. 

And on and on I could go – right? This is just a meager sampling of the abundance of makers that Scripture beholds. And all of them: 

  • Make way for more of God’s spirit to be encountered.
  • Make way for breathing more life into people, neighborhoods and beyond.

And you might think – well I can’t build a Tabernacle, or an ark – or sing or dance – or really have the energy for much of anything creative these days. Do you see these days? It’s chaos. Void of anything that looks like it could be shaped into something helpfully new. 

And I hear that – and I think we might be helped by starting at the beginning in Genesis:

1When God began to create the heavens and the earth—

2 the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters—

3 God said, “Let there be light.” And so light appeared.

4 God saw how good the light was. God separated the light from the darkness.

5 God named the light Day and the darkness Night. (Genesis 1: 1-5)

 The Scriptures open with a depiction of God breathing over cosmic chaos. We read it was formless, barren, and darkness was over the surface of the deep (noting that darkness isn’t a description of something evil, but rather of something absent), and yet God’s wind/ in other translations…

God’s “Spirit” sweeps and blankets the sea. The Hebrew word for Spirit is Ruach, which can also mean “Breath.”  So God’s breath, even before words are uttered, is the substance by which creation is brought into existence. 

It primes the canvas of our own lives.

And by faith the universe was created – by God so that the visible came into existence from the invisible. (Hebrews 11: 3)

And as we continue in Genesis: 

the Lord God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life.  (Genesis 2:7 )

God places God’s breath within us.

God’s breath is the source and the sustenance of human life.

And here we have the unassuming template of how to create, of how to embrace our “maker-hood.”

  • A backdrop of chaos.
  • A lot of unworkable components.
  • And the breath of God.

((Deep breath))

This is big.. God is saying

“anything and everything around you”

is possible for this New creation as you and the breath of the God move together.

Well, I’d love to introduce you to a favorite local artist of mine, Rob Gibbs – his artist name is ProBlak – who inspires and ministers to me, and who has worked this template of creation to the T.

If you’ve been around for a little bit you know that historically we have annually taken a church-wide retreat – often to a seaside location that allows you to immediately sink into beauty and retreat.

Because of the pandemic we obviously couldn’t do that. So we created a “Retreat Into Your City” in 2020- an invitation to explore the beloved community that we inhabit.  And so we created an 80-page booklet of street art/public free accessible murals that are all over greater Boston/Cambridge/Somerville, complete with Visio Divina like spiritual practices that invited you to engage the Spirit of God, the breath of God as you toured the history, the stories, the life that is in the bones of our cities and neighborhoods – and also the legacy and vision that many of these artists have brought to life and have been doing so for a very very long time. 

“ProBlak” is featured in this booklet – he’s a Roxbury native and lives in Dorchester – he’s a street artist, walls are his canvas  – as much as the communities and the people that make them up. He’s been making, creating for the past 30 years. 

The thing about public street art is that it was always meant to be transgressive, healing and accessible for all. The canvas of our day-to-day dwelling places becomes the stage by which artists speak against injustices; gentrification, poverty, racism, and failures of the modern world structure.

It reminds me of the verse in Acts that says,

“God who made the world and everything in it  – doesn’t live in temples…” 

With the spirit of God, our streets, our buildings, our landscapes – speak to us.  And street art is a vessel by which many have found their voice, in a society that silences theirs. ProBlak says,

“we were empowered as street artists to make a mark on a world that was determined to forget us. We didn’t see ourselves in museums or galleries. But we saw ourselves represented on the walls of our city.”

ProBlak’s work is a part of restoration and mending and healing – but it also is creating something new as we engage with it.

ProBlak was commissioned about five years ago to create three works of art throughout Boston that became a series called, “Breathe Life”… 

I want to share all three of these pieces of work, and tell you a little bit about them. As well as a new one that is a work in progress (that you should go see!). 

The first one, “Breathe Life, 1” (2017) is located in Dorchester

More than just a title, Breathe Life is a philosophy, meant to share energy, and positivity, and lift-up images that reflect the community back to itself. ProBlak paints little Black boys and girls larger than life with love and power. In a world where Black children are brutalized by authorities in school, overly punished, and adultified, it’s important they see themselves cherished by their communities. (www.nowandthere.org/breathelife)

It’s important they be heard.

And so this is the backdrop of this mural. 

Breathe Life, 1

ProBlak said that, “The need to place positive messaging in the community is just more than standing on a soapbox...when I did “Breathe Life”, it was a calling. It came from me wanting to talk to people and suggesting, instead of downplaying something (an idea, a change in the community, a dream), suggesting

“how about you breathe life into it?”

So here’s a young boy breathing into a tiny house… Maybe it’s a picture of what if his dreams, wild ideas, his talents, what he touches could breathe life into his home… into his community – what kind of fantastical world could it create? And the conversation this produces with us, the viewers, is not a passive one. It’s asking us how we can empower, make space, and lift up ideas – this boy – his creativity.

Breathe Life, 2
Madison Park Technical Vocational School  – ProBlak’s alma mater… (2020) – Roxbury
The subject of the mural, a little Black girl with sneakers blowing bubbles.  

This mural holistically became a backdrop for the May protests in 2020, in Roxbury that erupted in response to the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.

“It wasn’t what I did,”

Gibbs says,

“but it’s what [the Spirit of God breathed life into],  it represented how everybody felt connected to it in those moments.”

This mural is visible for miles, most notably the nearby police headquarters station.

“At a time when my people cannot breathe, I’m asking us to always ‘Breathe Life.’ Writers and artists [and makers] – are more necessary than ever because we are able to get the message of anger, pain, and healing out with art,”

Gibbs said. (https://gregcookland.com/wonderland/2020/07/05/rob-gibbs-problak/)

Breathe Life, 3 – Roxbury 2019
To Gibbs, graffiti is a contemporary form of hieroglyphics, a timeless way to connect to the world, a way in which knowledge is shared, by telling – the art of –  communal stories.

Breathe Life 3” highlights a girl, sporting two cosmic Afro puffs, sitting jubilantly on the shoulders of an older boy. Both have wide and infectious smiles. Together, their hands read “Breathe Life” in American Sign Language. The children don’t represent any particular children – but they represent the vast possibilities of youth and innocence.

In street art,

“you’re told that black is a color you should stay away from,”

Gibbs said.

“I’m using it in a different context. It’s not the absence of space. It’s to open up into a different universe.” (www.wbur.org/news/2019/06/05/rob-problak-gibbs-boston-now-and-there)

And we return full circle to the beginning where God utilized darkness to create. As Lisa Sharon Harper says it’s important to note that God does not obliterate the darkness; rather, God names it”- and creates light, light that gives it shape. This allows a whole universe to open up – and be filled.

All throughout the Old Testament we see the breath/the spirit of God be regarded as life – particularly in Job and the Psalms – but I want to mention the story in Ezekiel that I think is relevant to Rob Gibb’s work. 

In the story of Ezekiel we see how the breath of God calls to life, enlivens and animates where only death looks certain.  Ezekiel is brought to a valley of dry bones… and it says he

“looked and tendons and flesh appeared on them, and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them” (37:8).

The full animation of the lifeless bones occurs only when the breath of God flows within.

“So, he prophesied as God commanded, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet, in extraordinarily large company.”

The Spirit of God animates and enlivens us. 

Rob ProBlak Gibbs  has been prophesying for 30 years. I refer to him as a spiritual art-ivist. He’s been calling to life neighborhoods that have been regarded as destitute – and forgotten, people that have been unseen, unheard. He’s been trying to gather bones of communities and people – putting them back together .. mural by mural . . . encouragement by encouragement. 

His work is always for the greater call. The flourishing of a people and community.  He says that

“if you define community as the thing that you have in your heart, the thing that walks around with you, then the idea – the dreams you have expand and become more real.”

This seems apparent in his most recent work called “Breathe Life Together” – it’s a prophetic title. One not realized, yet. 

Breathe Life Together | Rose Kennedy Greenway

In the center of Boston – just outside of South Station, in the center of the financial district, the seaport, chinatown and Ink Block there is a square, called Dewey Square – it’s part of the Rose Kennedy Greenway…and there’s this large 76-foot tall Department of Transportation building right in the middle, that has over the last many years had a rotation, every 18 months of a new mural.
All of them have been international based artists. World-renowned, big artists.

Rob Gibbs is the first Black Boston-native artist to be commissioned and his new work is presently being made. 

I went down to the Greenway this past week for lunch, with a friend and neighbor. Hoping to catch him in the midst of painting – watching people create is so spiritual! Luckily ProBlak also wanted to break for lunch and he came down off the crane/bucket and we ended up talking for 30 minutes or so – about this work, his vision for Boston and his dreams for his daughter (of whom this mural is a rendering of). 

The mural centers a girl rising out of the grass, naturally and with true belonging. She faces the neighborhoods which root her community, surrounded by the inspiration and culture of generations that came before her.. This girl asks us to join the conversation about the past, present and future of our communities in Boston – reminding us what we can do together. (rosekennedygreenway.org)

As I was talking to ProBlak he said, you know if you break open the word, “Together” – by  syllable – you’ll notice it’s a calling…. “to-get-her”…. He said, Boston needs to-get-her, needs to know her, value her, uplift her …. To be able to breathe life together,

“As you can see she’s crouching in this mural… Can you imagine if she were to stand up? How extraordinarily large she would be? As tall as these skyscrapers.”

“So, he prophesied as God commanded, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet, in extraordinarily large company.” (Ezekiel 37:10)

How can we breathe life? How can we breathe life to empower our communities, enliven ourselves, this girl? Unto her full standing stature?

ProBlak makes murals for sure… but he also makes conversations on a deep and on a wide scale.  He makes the unseen, seen…  he makes an invisible force – like breath become visible.   Powerful. Animating. And healing. 


Ok – let’s go back to my friend, Sadon in our pool.

When I finally went out to see Sadon the other day at the pool, I said “hey there – whatcha doing, how’s the water?” And he slowly opened his eyes – not startled at all – and he took a deep breath and said, “I’m making peace with my day.”

He wasn’t just floating – he was making.

Making peace with all that had occurred, acknowledging the parts that weren’t amazing. His overall disdain for school, his own sense of being unseen… the yucky school lunch…. And he just needed a moment to attend to the parts of him that were cracked, before he moved on with whatever was ahead.

How wise!  I mean really – think of all the things that are leaving you with cracks these days…

You know about six Sundays ago – we started off this series – with a participatory liturgy that bridged our Lenten season with this new one. 

And we offer these multi-sensory, participatory services twice a year to allow the artistry of who we are as makers to be the mode by which we experience any learning or  healing .

In these services there is a noticeable value on the economy of words and an emphasis on a multitude of inroads to encounter and experience the Spirit of God. We had gutters, loads of water, hundreds of pieces of tissue paper, gold strips, and Ruby Sales’ voice asking us “where does it hurt?” and “what is the balm you need and can offer?”  And we put out these components to see what could be created. So much of a participatory liturgy is ART –  is a risk, a guess, an experiment.  

 What we created were these six canvases on the walls of our Sanctuary. 

The blue shades of tissue paper named our cracks/ our pain/ our hurts… 

And the gold strips were inscribed with “words of balm”, that we had intuited by the Spirit of God. 

It hadn’t been in the intentional design of the framework of the liturgy but it was clear that these canvases represented the art tradition of Kintsugi.   

I want to end by talking about the artist Makoto Fujimura and this Japanese Kintsugi method. (author of Theology of Making, Art & Faith).

“In Japan one of the many honored cultural traditions is the tea ceremony. For centuries, there have been tea masters who perform them to visualize the invisible, as a spiritual and artistic practice. When precious tea bowls break, the families of tea masters will often keep the broken bowls for generations and later have them mended by artisans who use this lavish technique known as Kintsugi. Kintsugi masters mend tea bowls with Japanese lacquer and gold. A bowl mended with gold is more valuable than the original tea bowl was before it broke. The Kintsugi tradition ancient it goes back to the 16th-century — but Kintsugi also offers us a vision for our times in America.

By asking – what does it look like in a culture that’s actually just really broken?

The Japanese word Kin means “gold,” and Tsugi means “mend,” but Tsugi also means “to link the generations together.” (So much of ProBlak’s work does this as well.)

 I watched at the participatory liturgy as people scooped piles of wet tissue paper from the streams of water in the center of the room… Tissue paper that named all of the hurt, the broken pieces in us  – and carried them to these canvases… and tenderly placed the gold strips directly over the hurts.   I hadn’t imagined it – enacted like that – I thought people would lay the gold stripes side by side or a little haphazard – but it was as if “you,” as makers –  knew that attention to these sufferings, might somehow create something new – that was more tender, and more healing by going right to those hurts… 

Following his resurrection, Jesus came and stood among the fearful disciples. He said,

“Peace be with you.”

After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side -And Jesus said to them again,

“Peace be with you.”

And then he breathed on them and said,

“Receive the Holy Spirit.”

The Spirit of God breathes and creates new life. 

This feels unimaginable (in times of where we are so wounded)… the disciples earnest thoughts at that time could have been…


And today, we look around and see so much fracturing – division, threat, death… 

As makers we know that there will also be many who tell us that something is impossible, or something is impractical, or that we ought to do something pragmatic. But Makoto says,

“artists are border-stalkers — they imagine the world beyond, and invoke abundance in their midst, even when their resources look barren,”

even when our greatest resource – God – feels far, far away. (www.makotofujimura.com/writings/kintsugi-generation)

Makoto offered a 17th-century Kintsugi bowl to the students of Columbine — at the 20th anniversary of the tragedy… remembering also Nickel Mines, Virginia Tech and Newtown, and now I would imagine the 27 school shootings of this year, including Uvalde, TX.

He calls this generation at Columbine – a Kintsugi generation that had come together in their trauma and pain…where a new era formed –  a river of gold flowing out of the fissures. (www.abc.net.au/religion/kintsugi-and-columbines-makoto-fujimura/13286394)

Where these young survivors became leading voices of love and action and voice. Not “fixed”, not removed of grief  – but the wounds being a part of the new creation… 

 Jesus’s post-resurrection body has the nail marks which means that the fractures and and the trauma is carried into the new creation, where we are offered breath and light – and a way forward for healing.

Let us not forget that we are pinched of clay, that God’s breath enlivens us, animates us, and shines like gold through us to create new. So as we go about our days, may we remember that our lives are a work of art – a work in progress – but oh so powerful.

May you greet those who mourn, those who are persecuted and those who are poor in spirit  – and let the light shine through your cracks unto something new. Let your lives, your making – say,

“let there be….something more than what is seen,”

“let there be light…”

“let there be peace…”

An offering of something new in a divided time — a gesture of hope for those in despair.

God does not hold God’s breath.

God constantly breathes, constantly moves… guiding the spray can up the wall, your voice in conversation, the slight wiggle of the fingers just enough to stay afloat and find peace in a pool. 

Scripture begins with Creation and ends with a New Creation. Everywhere in between God has given us – the ones who have broken hearts, fissures of grief and fractures – our broken vessels – God’s given us the breath to create and make. May we do the Kintsugi work,  the art of resurrection each and every day. .. as we move about the walls and streets of our neighborhoods. 

A Share With Me

Greetings everyone, such a blessing to be with you today. If you don’t know me, my name’s Abel and I’m a pastoral intern here at Reservoir.

Today, I want to talk about a passage that we’re going to be reflecting on this week with the Lent guide- from the

Gospel of John, Chapter 13:

And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.

Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”

A question that comes to me when I read this passage is, why is Peter uncomfortable with Jesus washing his feet? What is it about Jesus, about Peter, about the situation that makes Peter think it would be wrong for Jesus to wash his feet?

I mean, the answer to that question is obvious – Peter thinks it’s demeaning. Jesus is his Lord, deserving of the highest honor imaginable, even of honors he can’t imagine. And washing someone’s feet, serving them like that, is the opposite of honor, to be brought low.

It’s so obvious that it remains unstated subtext in the sermon most commonly – at least in my experience – given on this subject…Jesus chooses to demean himself to serve, so we should choose to serve as well. We should humble ourselves as Jesus humbled himself, even to death on a cross.

That’s not a bad sermon. I agree with it. We should serve, we should empty ourselves for the sake of others.

Yes – and if you’ll notice – that isn’t the answer Jesus gives Peter to his question. He doesn’t say,

‘I wash your feet to set the example for service in the Kingdom of God’


‘this act is a microcosm of my work on earth.’

Jesus says,

“Unless I wash you, you will have no share with me.”

Certainly, this ‘share’ can mean ‘unless you allow me to serve, we cannot all be servants together.’

But sharing goes both ways. If Peter and Jesus share in the serving – then they also share in the being served.

Let me ask you a question: When you think about service as a good act in which you take part – where are you? Are the one serving or are you being served?

If you’re anything like me, you’re serving.

Why is that?

Well, one answer we could give is that being served is something that is reserved for people who are in positions of honor – or who demand honor, whether they deserve it or not. Following Jesus, whether we deserve honor or not, we should divest ourselves of the benefits of such a position and never seek it out for ourselves.

But the truth is, those aren’t the only people who receive service – and, far more often, when we’re talking about charity, we aren’t talking about those kinds of people. We’re talking about people who need the service, who can’t fill a need by themselves.

Why don’t we imagine ourselves in their shoes?

Stanley Hauerwas, a favorite theologian of mine, gave a talk in the 80’s about suffering and lessons from people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. These lessons that he talks about have to do with the way we think about suffering, particularly the suffering of others.

With how we consider living with some types of suffering so unthinkable, so dehumanizing, that a life worth living is impossible to imagine alongside it.

Here’s a question: Why do we suffer? I don’t mean ultimately, like what’s the purpose. I mean causally – why do we suffer?

Hauerwas’ answer is that we suffer when our needs aren’t met. Whether that’s needs for food or emotional care, whether our needs aren’t met because of natural disasters or cruelty, structures or individuals, it’s the lack of something we need that causes suffering.

He says,

“We suffer because we are incomplete beings who depend on one another for our existence.”

And that’s the heart of it – we need each other. We can’t meet all our needs alone.

But we sure as hell want to.

Hauerwas talks about how this is so tied up in our self-image. That if I can draw a line around what I do alone, what I have, what I achieve – then I can establish who I am. Self-sufficiency is about identity – it’s what teenagers push for as they establish themselves, it’s how we know that we’re our own selves and not copies of others, it’s what lets us feel like the masters of our own destinies.

It’s also a lie. That’s a lesson that disability can teach us – or, at least, the one it taught me. It’s easy to pretend that you are self-sufficient when you are able to meet most of your own needs, when you can push the others down or deal with them on your terms. It’s when you can’t help but need, need openly and all the time, that you realize how much it’s all a charade.

There are days I struggle to even choose to eat, and probably just wouldn’t if there wasn’t someone to help me, either by making me food or simply helping me choose food to eat and making sure I actually eat it.

There are times when I desperately need someone to talk me out of my own head and talk me down from intense panic and self-hatred and self-destructive patterns of thinking – oftentimes over issues I’ve wrestled with, with the same people, before, time and again. I am good at many things, extend help to other people in many ways, but my mind keeps coming in and forcing me to reckon with the fact that I am not truly self-sufficient.

Breaking down that lie, it’s painful. The truth isn’t something we like to be reminded of.

We don’t want to lose our sense of self, so we don’t admit to our need. We let our neediness isolate us in our fear.

When, then, we are confronted with the neediness of others – well, it’s uncomfortable, to say the least. Particularly when their needs are so obvious, so pervasive. 

But at least we’re not like them, right? At least we’re the ones who meet needs – not the ones who need. We can be secure in our identity if we’re not the needy – if we’re the servers, not the served.

Except that’s not service, is it? It’s certainly not “having a share with” others – it’s not existing on equal terms, it’s not entering into relationship. It’s hierarchy. As much as we may like to think we are divesting ourselves, if we are doing it to shore up our own identities by assuring ourselves that we are not like the persons we’re serving – well, that’s just power over.

So, what does service look like? What is Jesus offering to Peter when he refers to a “share of me?”

Maybe a better question is, does our neediness have to make us lonely?

Because, we all need, don’t we? What would the world look like if, instead of judging people based on how close they were to a self-sufficient ‘normal,’ we got rid of that whole notion all together? What if ‘normal’ were needing, in all the myriad different ways it’s possible to need?

Deborah Creamer, a disability theologian, calls this a ‘limits model’ of disability. A model that says limitation is a universal experience. Which is certainly not to say that everyone is disabled. No two limitations are the same, between two disabilities or even within one person’s experience of the same disabilities on different days – but that people with disabilities are unique in the way all of us are, because we all share the state of being uniquely limited.

And if we all share the state of being limited, but if all of our limitations are different – then we’re each allowed to have our own relationships to our limitations. To suffering.

You see, just because we’re all limited doesn’t mean all limitations are good. Just because we all suffer, because suffering is the inevitable result of neediness, doesn’t mean we should just accept suffering.

Hauerwas says,

“Our refusal [both] to accept certain kinds of suffering, or to try to interpret them as serving some human purpose, is essential for our moral health.”

Living the life that you have while being upset about what you don’t have, accepting and not accepting, struggling sometimes in anger and sometimes as inspiration – that is just real life for people with disabilities (it is for everyone, but it’s too easy to deny it if you’re not forced into it).

This is why people push back against the term ‘differently-abled’ – while, yes, we are all limited and our limitations don’t make us less valuable as people, we don’t have to love all our limitations – we don’t have to think of them as just neutral differences. We can recognize that there are infinite, equally valid forms of embodiment and that there are unique difficulties that come from certain forms of embodiment.

We should fight against suffering that is a result of injustice and we should also strive as much as we can towards more and more flourishing, whatever that looks like for us in whatever body we have, even while that body hurts. There’s a tension here, a both-and: we accept that suffering is a part of life and we still work against it.

The point in recognizing that we all have limits isn’t to affirm that all limits are good, that we must be happy about every part of our embodied realities. Rather, it’s about embracing the fact that the things we aren’t happy about are a part of our lives – embracing, not loving, but running away either.

There’s a quote from The Disabled God that I really love:

“Her difficult life need not be denied or described. It need only be lived.”

So, how do we live it?

By having a share with each other.

What does this look like? I’m not sure – because every need is different. While I might not have an answer, I also think that’s kind of the point.

Trying to be better, do better, isn’t about getting to a place of perfection where there’s no more suffering. I think that the very idea that we could get to a place where we didn’t have to deal with the messy negotiations of living with other people is just an attempt to escape our limitations, to escape our own need for correction and improvement.

One of my favorite quotes on this topic is by Leo Tolstoy:

“The good is only in the motion toward perfection; but the stopping at any stage whatsoever is only a cessation of the good.”

Having a share with others isn’t about being perfect but about continually being better. In light of that, all we can do when faced with the great plurality of needs of our fellow humans is our best, and then our better after that.

We don’t owe others help because they need it. People always need things, and it is physically impossible for anyone to meet every need of every person they come across. We owe aid because we share the state of needing it. Not that we might, someday need help; no, it’s the fact that needing is constitutive of the human condition.

Just like we can’t meet everyone else’s needs, so we can’t meet all our own needs. We can only survive if we strive together – if we have a share with each other. We help, not because other people’s weakness compels us; we help because our weakness unites us to everyone else on the basis of shared need, and that unity compels us. We help because we’re human. And insofar as we have strength, we accept it as just as temporary as our weakness, and use it to do what we always already owed everyone else.