Refiner’s Fire

So I went out to the movie theater a couple weeks ago to see the Gloria Gaynor documentary. If you don’t know that name, you know her voice:

I will survive, I will survive!

Yeah, that anthem of resilience, empowerment, that’s Gloria Gaynor in peak form. 

Gloria Gaynor, though, also has one of the most interesting life arcs you can imagine. She was a global disco star through her 30’s into her 40’s. But by the time she hit her 60’s, she was in constant, horrible back pain. And she was full of regrets and pretty much broke. But at 65 years old, her life took a turn.

She started living the anthem of her song for the first time.

See, as a teenager, Gaynor had wanted to go to college and become a teacher, but she didn’t think her family could afford it and no one told her otherwise. But at 66 years old, she went to college.

In her mid 60’s, she also got a new manager and decided to pursue her lifelong dream of recording a gospel album. It took a long time for anyone to be willing to invest in someone they saw as an over the hill disco queen. But at 75 years old, her gospel album Testimony was released. And she won a Grammy for it, at 75.

She’s got a documentary out now, and it ends telling us she’s working on another album that will be released around her 80th birthday.

Wow. You don’t hear about enough turnaround stories that start in people’s 60’s, do you? Wow.

What happened? 

Well, at least two things. 

One is that Gloria Gaynor had a come to Jesus moment in her 40’s, a few years after her most famous song came out. She was partying one night, about to do a whole bunch of coke, when she felt like someone was grabbing her by the shirt and saying,

“No more.”

No more. Somehow she knew this to be the voice of God, calling out to her. And she came back to her childhood faith. 

Now it took a long time, but years later, her faith gave her the fire she needed to finally divorce her toxic husband.

Now I know this is a weird story for a pastor to tell. Since God is love and love is faithful, and all divorces are a tragedy. I’m not here to stump for God doing a revival in your life so you can get divorced. Not in general. But sometimes divorce is the only way out of a marriage that’s already become so tragic that there is no return. And this was the case for Gloria Gaynor with her ongoingly controlling, abusive husband. He had been taking, taking, and taking for years, and just running her into the ground. 

And there were things in Gloria Gaynor that predisposed her to accept this way of things. She says she had a deep fear of abandonment, ever since she was young. She had been abused as well and had come to assume and expect really ill treatment of her, especially by men. 

But there was something about her faith in a God that made her and loved her that slowly burned this away, until Gloria Gaynor realized that if God loved her this much, maybe she could too. 

She says of her divorce:

I never stopped loving him. But I began to love me. 

Hallelujah. Love found a way.

Gaynor sings about this in her gospel album.

She says:

Let in a little light

And it’ll help you see

Surely the truth

Gonna set you free

Or the chorus of another song, where she sings:

I’m talking about love. I’m talking about freedom. 

Talking about the one you can depend on when you need him. 

Hallelujah. I love that Gloria Gaynor found her way into singing like this in her 60’s and 70’s, when the fiery love of God had burned away her hurt and worthlessness and fear enough to finally get free. 

Because this, friends, is how the fire of God cleanses and refines – reducing us to love, purifying us so we can get larger, and freer, and more loving. 

We find this in the scriptures.

Let’s go to the final prophet in the Hebrew Scriptures, the very end of what Christians call the Old Testament. 

In the third chapter of Malachi, we read:

Malachi 3:1-3 (Common English Bible)

Look, I am sending my messenger who will clear the path before me;

        suddenly the Lord whom you are seeking will come to his temple.

        The messenger of the covenant in whom you take delight is coming,

says the Lord of heavenly forces.

2 Who can endure the day of his coming?

        Who can withstand his appearance?

He is like the refiner’s fire or the cleaner’s soap.

3 He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver.

        He will purify the Levites

            and refine them like gold and silver.

            They will belong to the Lord,

                presenting a righteous offering.

If you grew up singing in the tradition that I did, the White, Western choral tradition, you hear music to these words too, because they are set in The Messiah, the choral anthem about the life of Jesus Christ. And they’re kind of frightening – who will be able to stand when God appears? For he’s like a refiner’s fire.

Our images of fire and religion are so fearsome that it can sound like God wants to burn us down. 

But let’s look at what this is really saying.

Malachi is a little book of arguments between people and God. It’s set in the 5th or 4th century BC, when the people of the Southern kingdom of ancient Israel had been back in Jerusalem for a while – two, three, four centuries since they’d resettled after exile. Folks had come home. The city walls were rebuilt. Temple was renovated and back up and running.

But they’re not satisfied. Their lives, their nation feels small. They’ve got disappointments and they blame this on God.

And God’s like, I don’t know that it’s me. I think it might be you.

The people are like:

God, you’ve neglected us. God, you’re not just.

And so God says: 

here tell you what, I’ll send a messenger who will get you ready for something really good. And then, even better, I’ll come visit you myself. And the effect of this messenger and my time in your house will be that the stuff in you that is messing up your life will be washed, purified, burned away. 

Then you’ll be golden again, just right. The very mode of your existence will enable you to flourish, and that will make me smile. 

Now and again, there come times in our lives where things aren’t working as they are, where things have got to change. I wonder if you can remember a time in your life like that. 

I wonder if any of us feel like we’re in a time like that right now. A little stuck, like something’s got to give. 

Gloria Gaynor spent decades like this – pushing through a life that wasn’t working. 

This happens to people. It can happen to all the parts of us, our faith included. It happens to cultures, even religions. That we need to be renewed, that some stuff that isn’t working needs to be purified out, burned off. 

I think of the great writer James Baldwin, raised in Harlem to be a preacher. But as he confronted the dominant modes of Christian faith in this country, certainly in white churches but sometimes in Black churches and other churches of people of color, he wrote: 

It is not too much to say that whoever wishes to become a truly moral human being … must first divorce himself from all the prohibitions, crimes, and hypocrisies of the Christian church.”

(If you want to be a moral person, you’ve got to separate yourself from what passes for morality in a lot of the church.) He says:

If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.

Harsh statement on the surface, fire. But it’s true. Baldwin is doing something that at its prophetic best, the Black church has often done. At its prophetic best, members of the global church, the formerly colonized people and nations have done this too. They have said:

  • What has passed for Christian faith in many places is immoral. It needs to be shaken up, cleansed.
  • And what have passed for ideas about God have too often not been worthy of a loving God.
  • What have passed for our ideas about God have not been worthy of the God we meet in the face of Jesus.
  • And when that is so, those ideas have to go to the fire. It’s time we got rid of them. 

This fire language of God, our need for refining to get larger, freer, more loving, this is not just Old Testament stuff. It continues in Jesus.

In fact the New Testament argues that Jesus is the climactic figure in this line of prophets that God in Malachi calls his messengers, who will speak for God and show us the way. 

In this week’s Lenten guide, alongside Malachi, we get these words from Jesus:

Mark 9:49-50 (Common English Bible)

49 Everyone will be salted with fire.

50 Salt is good; but if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? Maintain salt among yourselves and keep peace with each other.”

Like food needs salt so it won’t spoil, we all need some fire. 

The context here is our wild ability to screw up on our own lives and to hurt each other. Specifically, Jesus is talking about people who hurt kids and how important it is that none of us become the kind of people that could hurt a kid. 

The kind of person that could abuse a kid, sure.

But maybe also the kind of person that could punish a kid too harshly, or that would ignore the kids around you and not bother to learn their names, or that wouldn’t take the time to listen to them, encourage them, or inspire them. 

I say it this way because of course, lots of us have been these people. And Jesus is like:

Let’s make a change. The past does not need to be prelude. You don’t have to keep living the way you’ve been living. It’s not too late, even if you’re 65, 75, 80, right? 

It’s never too late for renewal, for a change to come. 

Now I want to be clear that there is a difference between different types of change projects that can get promoted in the name of God. 

There are projects supposedly of purification, of sanctification, of transformation that are actually projects of control. Someone who’s afraid of change or afraid of you tries to dull your fire, doesn’t actually want a larger, freer, more loving version of you, they just want to make you into a plastic version of some performed model of a good person, in their eyes.

The so-called Christian purity culture of the 1980’s and 90’s and beyond that put no sex outside of straight marriage as like the #1 goal of Christian moral teaching did this. In trying to control people, it mostly shamed them, and especially shamed girls and women and queer folk, without helping us love God more or love ourselves more or even have better marriages. 

Colonial White Christianity was like this too – it claimed it was saving the world when really it was trying to dominate it. Baldwin’s like:

Let’s burn that version of God. It’s got to go. 

These same beautiful words, though – purification, sanctification, transformation can be descriptions of encounters with the holy and living goodness of God that set us on fire. That weed or burn out stuff that’s messing up our lives – and that make us larger, freer, more loving versions of ourselves. 

This is kind of like the difference between a ravaging wildfire and a controlled burn. The ravaging wildfires we’ve had more and more due to climate change and the loss of indigenous land management practices don’t make our land or our climate better – they just wipe out everything in our path and do life on earth a world of harm. But that same fire, used in a controlled manner as indigenous people have done for centuries, to clear out dead wood and brush, can clean a forest, make it stronger and healthier and more resilient.

These are the kinds of encounters with God we’re looking for, friends. 

Why, though, call it fire?

Friends, God’s doing some work of change and growth in me that is profound, it’s happening in core parts of my being, and when I talk to my pastor about this, I sometimes wonder what I need to be doing.

And he’s like:

I don’t think this is about what you are doing at all. It’s a thing that the Spirit of God is doing. It’s happening in you, it’s happening to you. Just pay attention and don’t back out. Just pay attention and don’t back out.

Friends, I wonder what you feel needs to be burned down in our world? Is there anyway it’s starting to happen already? Anyway the fire is burning. Maybe God is in that.

And I wonder if there are things in your life that need some fire. Are there ways of thinking and living and being in your life that are holding you back, that are shaping a way of life that you will regret in future years? What do we need cleansed, purified, burned off in us, so we won’t regret this time in our lives?

Let me give you a picture of how this works, from one of the tools God’s using in me. 

I go to a hot yoga studio once a week. Been doing that six or seven months. And I quote my teacher in the guide this week. 

Because as the heat in the room settles into us, and we move from warming up to really pushing our bodies and our minds, as the practice gets harder and harder, he’ll talk about letting the fire build, letting the fire do its work in us.

And I’ve heard him say, many times:

There’s no cleansing force like fire. There’s no cleansing force like fire.

I still don’t understand this entirely, but over time, as I persevere in the harder parts of the practice, I sense two dispositions, two attitudes slowly burning off. One is: I must be in control.

Because when I hold a pose past what I think my body is capable of, when my muscles are aching and shaking, and I’m sweating out and ready to give up, to instead breathe steady, focus my gaze, and to hold is to surrender. It’s to relinquish the control I can exercise to stop and to just let it go. That surrender seems like it’s burning off the: I must be in control in me that goes beyond that moment. 

And the other thing it’s burning off is: I can’t. Because just like you, just like all of us, with the help of God and friends, I’m capable of far more than the mediocrity I accept from myself – mediocrity of body, of moral fiber, of spiritual depth, and of love, justice, freedom, and joy. There’s so much more hiding behind the “I can’ts.” 

And a little bit of that is burning off in this practice. 

Less control, more surrender.

Less giving up, more perseverance.

It’s slow growth, but I value it. And it takes fire.

Which means I can’t make it happen. But I can give my attention to something that does it, and not back away from that. 

So it is with God. God is interested in us giving our attention to that in God which will burn off our “I must be in control” and our “I can’ts” and all the other stuff that makes us smaller, less free, less loving. 

We can’t self-improve our way into this because we’re not in charge of the world. We’re not really even in charge of our own lives, in that we can’t control them very well. 

But we can give our attention to God, to the person and words of Jesus, and to however it is that the Spirit of Christ is moving in us or around us to transform us into our fullness as children of God. 

Friends, as we close here, I ask:

If you could safely direct the flame of a fire to burn away bad things without doing any harm, what would you burn?

  • What do you wish for the fire of God to burn off in this world?
  • In your school or workplace?
  • What do you wish God would burn off and purify inside your home or inside yourself? 

Let’s name these things as a prayer. Name our desires for personal and collective purification as an offering. Trusting that God of the refiners fire hears and cares and will gently burn among us and within us.

Prayer: An Invitation to Sit in the Disorientation

Psalm 13[a]

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?

    How long will you hide your face from me?

2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts

    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?

    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.

    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,

4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome them,”

    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

5 But I trust in your unfailing love;

    my heart rejoices in your salvation.

6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,

    for God has been good to me.

My laundry machine broke in the middle of a wash this week. I was wondering how I was going to start my sermon this week, and see, the Lord provides! A whole load, wet, and the spin button does nothing except make a sad little “wheee” noise. I had to squeeze and individually hang the clothes on a dry rack like we were in the 1950’s! And as I did that monotonous task I prayed. I prayed why Lord, in the middle of a load? I’m busy today and I’ve got a thousand things on my mind (probably more like just 20) but still, (prayers are meant to be a space where I can exaggerate my complaints).  And God you picked today to break my machine?!? 

I don’t know if that’s faith or foolishness, thinking that God timed and controlled my washing machine, but it’s probably not a healthy theology, one which I blame God for the inconveniences of my life. I wasn’t really serious about those thoughts. I moved on quickly to what I need to do, agency of thyself. I think prayer can do that for us. A sifting of our frivolous thoughts. Morning pages of our mumbled jumbled crazy unreasonable minute details. I think those are some of the best prayers to be honest. When we simply can talk through our emotions, move through our feelings about it, no matter how small or big, taking a journey, a movement through the ebbs and flows of life, the ups and downs. 

Whenever I think about prayer, I think about the Psalms.

  • Because there was a time when I didn’t know how to pray and reading through the Psalms helped me.
  • When I didn’t know how to speak to the reality of the situation truthfully, the Psalms did it clearly and boldly.
  • When I needed to whine and complain and say crazy things to God, Psalms did it better than me.
  • When I didn’t know how to land or affirm or turn back to God because I didn’t have the courage to say, “I trust in you God”, the Psalms invited me and nudged me and said it before I could.

Walter Bruggerman, a White American Old Testament scholar, and I say White because I realize when it’s Black or Asian-American I say that – so like to be fair and not like White is the norm, like a White scholar is just a scholar and Black scholar is a Black scholar. ANYWAYS, in his book, The Message of the Psalms, he talks about the Psalms in three categories. There are Psalms of orientation, Psalms of disorientation, and Psalms of new orientation or reorientation. Orientation meaning, for example, Psalm 1, a prayer that is sure. That speaks about God and life in black and white.

Blessed are the righteous and the wicked perish.

Bruggerman goes on to say that

though all of life starts there, simple, clear truths about God and life, but any life lived a bit knows and faces “disorientation”. Life that is marked by quote, “disequilibrium, incoherence, and unrelieved asymmetry.”

So Psalms like today’s Psalm 13, begin to lean into the disorientation of life, to ask questions,

how long, why is it that I actually see the wicked prosper? 

It was these Psalms of disorientation that gave me the honest and real invitation to prayer that made me be able to actually pray at a moment in my life. Because there was a time when prayer was taught to me to be more about the sureness. The praising of God. The thanksgiving. The assurance of faith. The trust we have in God. And only that. I was not directly taught to question God or what to do with the disorientation, the inconsistencies, the incongruences I saw and experienced in the world, except that it was all God’s will, which was more confusing.

Bruggerman critiques such tradition- yes it does reinforce sturdy faith or a way of speaking prophetically what we don’t see in the world, but that at times churches taught this way of prayer of orientation, prayer of assurance as a way of numbing, denial, ignoring the realities of our lives.

He says,

“It is my judgment that this action of the church is less an evangelical defiance guided by faith, and much more a frightened,

numb denial and deception that does not want to acknowledge or experience the

disorientation of life. The reason for such relentless affirmation of orientation

seems to come, not from faith, but from the wishful optimism of our

culture.’ Such a denial and cover-up, which I take it to be, is an odd inclination

for passionate Bible users, given the large number of psalms that are songs of

lament, protest, and complaint about the incoherence that is experienced in the


And I resonate with that. Sometimes cliche or resolution too complete with a bow on top didn’t feel quite right to me. 

So an aspect of prayer I think is an invitation to “loss of control.” It’s making wild accusations to God. Are you not listening? Are you just kind of forgetful? Or are you hiding? You’re nowhere to be found God! And these questions turn our hearts, and take us through where it needs to go through. Our faith, spirituality, and our feelings are not just magical black holes that appear in one place and reappear in a totally different place in an instant. We need the journey of praying-through. 

And only by going through that orientation and then disorientation, can we honestly and squarely land on a re-orientation. Where we can be honest about the pain and THEN say, like in verse 5

“BUT I trust in your unfailing love;”

In Psalm 73:23 it says,

“YET I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.” 

It’s the BUT and YET that I find comfort in. Because without them, it just sounds like a nice throwaway statement that knows not the depth of my suffering or confusion. 

I want to stay a bit more on the disorientation though. Because as someone who feels like my negative thoughts had to be just powered through rather than held with tenderness, I think we could do more to create safer spaces of prayer for ourselves and one another. To not have to jump to conclusions, resolutions, or faith. But to be okay sitting in the grief, the anger, the questions. To REALLY trust God to be able to handle them. When I have faith, who needs help with prayer? When I’m strong, I know how to pray prayers of thanksgiving. But when I’m not, I have no words. That’s when I don’t know how to pray.

I remember one time I was complaining about something to my friend over text on Instagram messenger, I don’t know if different platforms have different vibes for me. I was angry and heartbroken about the world. I was distraught about the war that’s going on where people are being raped, enslaved, bombed, starved, and so forth. It’s weird in this day and age to be able to see the broadcasting of genocide right in my hands in the comfort of my own bed. It’s disturbing.

It felt good to tell her my rage and I took a sad selfie of me sitting on the floor crying, but it was one of those disappearing pictures of course. She replied with a picture from a book. It was a prayer. It was called Prayer of Anger and Confrontation from a book called Liturgies from Below: 462 acts of worship. Praying with People at the Ends of the World. 

I want to give you a quick background to the work so here’s what the book description says: 

It’s been said that prayer is the vocabulary of faith. This book offers a wealth of resources from forgotten places to help us create a new vocabulary for worship and prayer, one that is located amidst the poor and the major issues of violence and destruction around the world today. It is a collection of prayers, songs, rituals, rites of healing, Eucharistic and baptismal prayers, meditations and art from four continents: Asia-Pacific Islands, Africa, Americas, and Europe.

Liturgies from Below is the culmination of a project organized by the Council for World Mission (CWM) during 2018-2019. Approximately 100 people from four continents worked with CWM, collaborating to create indigenous prayers and liturgies expressing their own contexts, for sharing with their communities and the rest of the world. The project was called “Re-Imagining Worship as Acts of Defiance and Alternatives in the Context of Empire.”

And I looked back at this to share with you, and honestly I can’t relate with it now, maybe I’ve had a better week without too much anger. But I had replied to her with

“Thank you for this. Now this prayer I can pray!”

It said this:

They ask us to sing songs

Is the strange land of undignified life

But we are already tired

Of waiting and waiting for unfulfilled promises


We will hang our harps on trees!

We will not sing anymore! No more praises!

Our worship of God will be on strike!


Until your justice manifests

Until we see your life’s will

Touching our pains

And healing our wounds

Embracing our forgotten soil

And restoring broken hopes

Guitars and drums will not sound

And our mouths will be silent!


Until the song of Mary is fulfilled

Until the Spirit of God renews creation

Until the loving power of the creative force

Fully establishes the inclusive project

From the Nazarene traveler, God, a supportive friend

Until that day, may It come!


We will not celebrate, we will not have services

We will not sing praises… We will strike! 


–From Psalm 137: 3-4; Psalm 137:2; Luke 1:51-55

Even as I read this now, I can’t say I can relate because today I do feel like dancing and singing. It was almost weird to look back at my texts with my friend of mine holding dearly to my friend’s comfort through this prayer to me at the time. Writing texts like,

“Where is this prayer from??” “I feel like a mess…”

And we both shared when we cried last and how I was reaching for a brownie and she was for a pumpkin pie. 

And maybe for many of you, this doesn’t resonate. Like we just literally sang with guitar and drums and you liked it. But in case there are any of you out there, who had trouble even having the strength to stand for our song worship prayers, or who felt like you didn’t get hit with some happy spirit for some reason, you’re not alone. You’re okay. You’re not weird. Or a bad Christian with subpar faith. You are simply going through life, that includes disorientation. And prayer for all of us is an invitation to go through our assurances, our questions, our disorientations and discomfort and hopefully back to a kind of new orientation that you never knew and never could’ve known unless you went through stuff. But I trust in your unfailing love. Yet I am always with you.

Bruggerman said this about new orientation

“new orientation: they are songs not only of social control but also of social anticipation and criticism.”

Whereas orientation sometimes felt like it was trying to control me from having negative feelings. New orientation allows me to see and accept things as is AND see through, see forward, see beyond a new way. With hope and a critical eye. Don’t you love that? The BUT, YET, and AND of prayer. 

Prayer moves you to the next. Prayer is defiance. 

My friend Rev. Dr. Peter Choi, I quote him a lot in my sermons cause I love his work. He has an online learning platform that I’m a member of. It’s like $100 a year. Called Faith and Justice Network, and MAN they have GREAT GREAT GREAT content. You should sign up. And then you’ll see where much of my content comes from inspired from. So this week Peter said this; 

Prayer is justice work. Refusing to accept the status quo. Prayer is protest. 

Prayer is justice work. Refusing to accept the status quo. Prayer is protest. 

How true. How beautiful. That our words are not mere complaints but that it’s our hearts on the picket line. Our longings at display. Prayer as protest and justice work.

  • Does that resonate with you?
  • What do you write on your prayer poster today?
  • What do you stand for?
  • What do you kneel for?

May that be a prayer for you. 

I also know that prayer hits differently for different folks. Heck, like the prayer I read earlier, apparently that really hit me that one day my friend shared with me, but it does not strike a chord this week. So let me offer another metaphor if prayer as a protest doesn’t resonate with you. 

To pray is to be sober. Many of us live our lives in a lull. In the busyness of our days. Work. Entertainment. Going from task to task. We’re constantly stimulated with ads, social media, ideas, pre-occupations, regrets. We play the past over and over or the future over and over and we don’t know how to simply be. To pray is to be sober from the world’s incessant words over us. Sobriety from what the world tells us who we are.

Who do you say I am? Not what anybody else says but in God, who am I? 

They have a saying in the AA, alcoholics anonymous world. Get yourself to a meeting. And for some, it’s a daily necessity. To go to a meeting. To be around the people that know you and get you and are on the same journey as you, that is saying the same thing you are saying about themselves. Each day, any day you slip and forget that for a moment, that’s when you know you need to get yourself to a meeting. Because you need to be reminded. You need to be spoken over whatever crazy thought that entered your mind. I think that’s what prayer is. Getting yourself to a meeting. 

AA’s powerful 12 steps take addicts through the process of becoming sober. It’s got some beautiful shifts and turns that even if you’re not an addict, although some would argue that we live in an addictive world where all of us are constantly stimulated. I think it’s a beautiful movement that could maybe apply to many of us. So I want to end our time by taking us through 12 steps as a prayer for us today. 

Maybe it’s not your powerlessness over alcohol but maybe some other parts of our lives, or our world. I personally often grieve the powerlessness I feel over our world of politics and war. 

So let me pray the 12 step prayer through. I’ll change the words from alcohol to maybe something else, or maybe you can put something else. It’s a humbling thing, prayer in 12 steps, a method from an addict’s approach. Maye we try humbling ourselves together, in solidarity with those who seek sobriety, or maybe dare I say that many of us might be seeking sobriety from alcohol, from porn, from marijuana, from pain killers, from food, from sex, from social media, from numbing ourselves, from work, from efficiency/productivity, from being complicit to violence, from laziness, whatever it is, whatever that may be good in moderation even but that has hindered your life, hurt others, may we lift it up in humility to God in prayer together as we close.

Dear God. 

  1. We admit that we were powerless— that our lives have become unmanageable.
  2. We believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.
  3. We turn our will and our lives over to the care of God. 
  4. Helps us to search and do a fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. We admit to you God, to ourselves, and to other human beings the nature of our wrongs.
  6. We’re entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. We humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Help us to make a list of all persons we had harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Guide us to direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Give us the courage to continue to take personal inventory and when we are wrong to promptly admit it.
  11. Keep bringing us back to prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with you God as we understand you, praying only for knowledge of Your will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. And as we experience a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, may we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

We pray


Thank you for praying with me. I hope that this time carries on with you and bear fruit in the ways they should, God willing. Thanks for worshiping together with us. Till next time. Peace. 

The Good News Of Jesus

Matthew 1: 1-17 (New International Version)

The Genealogy of Jesus the Messiah

1 This is the genealogy[a] of Jesus the Messiah[b] the son of David, the son of Abraham:

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac,

Isaac the father of Jacob,

Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,

3 Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,

Perez the father of Hezron,

Hezron the father of Ram,

4 Ram the father of Amminadab,

Amminadab the father of Nahshon,

Nahshon the father of Salmon,

5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,

Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,

Obed the father of Jesse,

6 and Jesse the father of King David.

David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,

7 Solomon the father of Rehoboam,

Rehoboam the father of Abijah,

Abijah the father of Asa,

8 Asa the father of Jehoshaphat,

Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram,

Jehoram the father of Uzziah,

9 Uzziah the father of Jotham,

Jotham the father of Ahaz,

Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,

10 Hezekiah the father of Manasseh,

Manasseh the father of Amon,

Amon the father of Josiah,

11 and Josiah the father of Jeconiah[c] and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.

12 After the exile to Babylon:

Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel,

Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,

13 Zerubbabel the father of Abihud,

Abihud the father of Eliakim,

Eliakim the father of Azor,

14 Azor the father of Zadok,

Zadok the father of Akim,

Akim the father of Elihud,

15 Elihud the father of Eleazar,

Eleazar the father of Matthan,

Matthan the father of Jacob,

16 and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.

17 Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.

Well that was a mouthful. 

Would you pray with me?

God of love, 

We first give you thanks for the breath of life. We give you thanks for the force of love that sustains us. In our gratitude, we also grieve the hardships of our lives in small and big ways, the hardship of those around us near and far. We’re sometimes at odds with the joy and heartbreak that is life. And yet, Lord, we know that all are in your hands. Every hair, every life, every tear, every laughter. As we look to your word this morning together and ponder upon the ways we think about and talk about you, God, would you break through our hearts and minds with an understanding of your love, of your will, of your heart? Would you remind us of the great power of your love revealed through a little baby in a manger today we pray in Jesus’ precious and holy name Amen.

So if you ever have trouble sleeping, just pull out the Bible and start at the New Testament. the Old Testament starting with the creation story is too dramatic. Start here, with the genealogy of Jesus.

First things first. What’s up with the number 14? 

there were 14 generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and 14 from the exile to the Messiah.

I Googled it so you don’t have to. 

Seven represents completion. Thus, 7 + 7  = 14 means double completion.

And the name David, broken down into its consonants D-V-D in Hebrew has a numerical value of 4-6-4, totaling 14.) Thus, in repeating the number 14, Matthew is demonstrating that Jesus is, in fact, the Son of David

And that’s called Bible math. 

This is what I mean when I say that the Bible is, a series of texts that are far away from us culturally. And some of us might think, see? So what’s it to us? I don’t know Zerubbabel and what’s it got to do with me? 

I think the best thing about the Bible is that it is a book that persisted as a text throughout history for a span of about from 1000 B.C. to 1600’s. That’s 2600 years of history.

Reading the Bible is like, you know when you first go to therapy. They’re like, let’s talk about your mom. And you’re like, why, I have problems with my dating life right now. But then you start getting into family systems theory and actually do the family tree and you start realizing, Yo my family is MESSED up and OHHHHHH that’s why I’m having problems with dating! 

I heard from Lisa Sharon Harper’s The Freedom Road podcast, a guest of hers said,

“How you read the Bible says more about you than about God.” 

What are we to gain from this story about Jesus from the Bible? Why do they tell this story and they say I should read the Bible but like why? What’s it to me? Why do we care about baby Jesus and go all deck the halls to celebrate this story? 

Many of us know the simple answer. Jesus is God. And shows us who is God. So who is this God that we see through Jesus? And why does that God matter to me now? What does that God have to say to our world today, through Jesus? 

To get at that I’d like to zoom in on some of the tiny blips of the list, the five women included in the list and as well as a few women that are not included. 

According to the Women’s Bible Commentary, here’s the five women. 

“Tamar, taken by her father-in-law Judah to be a prostitute, Rahab the Canaanite prostitute who protects the Israelite spies; Ruth the Moabite widow, whom Boaz marries after their potentially compromising meeting on the threshing floor; the “wife of Uriah”, Bathsheba, who commits adultery with David; and Mary, pregnant before her marriage.” 

All stories of mishap and rerouting, of making do. Why are these names included, especially when it could contribute to the illegitimacy of Jesus’ lineage, and that’s clearly not the point of the list.

My takeaway is that God’s way is not your way. God’s way is not our way.

God’s way is not clean. It’s not legitimate. It’s completely unexpected and surprising. And you find hope in places where you exactly expect to find the opposite of hope. 

I’d like to reprise the quote,

“How you read the Bible says more about you than about God.”

And it is true that many Jewish and Christian scholars have used these characters to conclude in literally opposing views, where Gentiles are used by God for Israel or that Gentiles are included in the grand plan of God. And I know that can be triggering in the backdrop of what’s going on in Israel/Palestine right now, but again, every person, every theology, every national identity or whatever has a choice to use the Bible as a weapon or a lesson. And we know that people throughout history have used it for both, even now. 

Even within the feminist/womanist critiques of these texts about female characters, they’ve wrestled with, her deceit, her obedience, compliance, sin AND  righteous (sometime for the same action, i.e. bearing children, keeping secrets, having sex, refusing sex). Regardless of the disputes, there seems to be something very interesting about the reason why Matthew included some of these female characters, who are socially vulnerable, in the list of Jesus’ genealogy. Maybe Matthew’s purpose was inclusion, at his best. 

And it makes me curious about the names that are also not included. For example, we know Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. What about Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah? Furthermore, have you ever heard about Bilhah and Zilpah? 

Here’s a little story about them. There were two sisters named Leah and Rachel. Leah was the older one but Jacob loved the younger Rachel. Leah and Rachel’s dad Laban tricked Jacob into working for him for seven years for Rachel but gives Leah in marriage first since Rachel’s too young and then he works seven more years to finally get Rachel. Bilhah was the slave that was given to Rachel by her father Laban. And Zilpah was the slave that Laban gave to his daughter Leah. For their wedding gifts. There’s a longer story here but Bilhah and Zilpah, as slaves of Leah and Rachel, both bore many children for Jacob,

“whose bodies were used to produce a full third of the 12 tribes of Israel.” 

When I read about Bilhah and Zilpah in the book Womanist Midrash on the Torah by Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney, a womanist scholar, an Episcopal priest, I was struck by how I have never heard of them in all my years in Christianity. Gafney calls them womb-slaves, which is accurate for they were surrogates but also, not just surrogates as you might imagine, but sexual slaves. I had to gasp for air as I read this paragraph about Zilpah:

“Zilpah is presented as another pawn in the war for Jacob’s attention and affection. The battlefield for that was the bodies of Bilhah and Zilpah. Through the sexual and reproductive occupation of their bodies, people who would be known as Israel came into being. Through the wombs of Rachel, Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah, Israel’s people were birthed by choice and by force. The text says nothing to suggest that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God of Bilhah, and Zilpah. They are casualties of nation building. But their children, their grandchildren, and their descendants will claim and be claimed by the God of their patriarchs, and some of us who claim the God of Israel, including through the life and teaching of Mary’s child, Jesus, also claim Zilpah, Bilhah, Hagar, and all of the unnamed womb-slaves in what has become our spiritual ancestry.” 

This is the family tree of Jesus. This is the dysfunctional family dynamics we’re descendants of. And yet also, this is the inclusive legacy that we are so joyful triumphant about. To be sure, the Good News Jesus brought was a different one from the Good News of Caesar, Evangelion, which was a practice of spreading the good news after the war, which meant what it really means is now we’ve established “security” at all cost, “security” without peace or justice. I mean Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were literally relocating because of King Herod’s decree in

Matthew 2:16 “kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under.”

It is in that environment that we are celebrating a homeless baby and claiming the Good News, a new kind of “security”, with baby Jesus as king, not after war but after a childbirth. Do you see the paradox of Christmas joy? Because that is what Christmas is about. Triumph from a baby in a manger. I don’t know what a manger is. I’m not a farmer. But I can imagine, yes a baby in a dumpster bin. A baby in rubble. A baby at a place where babies are not supposed to be. We see the commercialized dainty shiny nativity scene and go, “awww”! 

If we are to take the Bible not as a weapon but a lesson, I wonder if we could imagine what even a fuller list might be. What would it mean to include names, heritages, nationalities, religious backgrounds, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, Mary, Ziplah, and Bilhah, and more, to the work, bearing, and birthing of true Good News. Not the good news of the world, and smart moves, legit, accepted, honorable.

  • But what of those we’ve casted aside and made nothing of?
  • What about the untraditional, illegitimate, those who don’t have the right credentials, could we all be a part of the story?
  • What if they were not casualties to the end product but heroes that are a part of the story, critical names that are the foundation of the faith we stand on?

I’m sorry to talk about casualties and sexual slaves amidst beautiful Christmas carols and celebration but there’s a zing to our joy. The light is so beautiful because it’s so so cold and dark here. And you know, that’s true joy. Everlasting joy. 

In our Advent devotional for this Week Three is about Blessing. In Day Two, we meditate on

Ephesians 3:14 where it says, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.” 

And so I’d like to end with a blessing for, “every family in heaven and on earth”, especially those who are forgotten, by calling their name. Dr. Gafney said,

“calling the names of familial and spiritual ancestors is a womanist practice with roots in a number of African societies. In ritual practice, the affirmation “Ashe!”(which means “power, authority, affirmation”)  from the Yoruba tradition, originated in the country of Nigeria, concludes the name-calling of ancestors.”

And she says,

“Mother Bilhah, Mother Zilpah, womb-slave of Israel, we call your name Ashe!”

Who and what name do you call upon to bless now? 




Let me pray for us. 

God, we bless your holy name, precious Jesus Christ. Conceived out of wedlock, born as a fugitive, born in a manger, and yet or maybe because for that very reason you call him your beloved son in whom you are well pleased. Give us the eyes to see like you see, the wonder and beauty in every being, especially those who are persecuted, rejected, on the run, that there we might find great hope beyond understanding. Life. Joy. Peace on earth we pray with faith and expectation in this season of Advent. As we wait on you Lord, come now, Amen. 


Healthy People Help People

Maybe you’ve heard this phrase – Hurt People, Hurt People. It’s really true, right? That people who are filled with unhealed, maybe even unacknowledged hurt, can do a world of harm, whether they mean to or not. Hurt people hurt people. It’s a warning.

There’s a flip side to that line, though, a more hopeful one, which is that healthy people help people. People who are healthy from the inside out can do a ton of good in the world, sometimes whether they even mean to or not. 

My therapist talks about this with me. She’s really over the top about it. Maybe she can tell I’m an unmotivated client sometimes. But when I take some baby step or another to try to be a more integrated, compassionate, healthier person, my therapist will be like: This is the path to world peace. This is how we save the world. 

And it’s not like she’s just all: woo-woo, blowing smoke in my ears. (Well, maybe a little bit. But not mostly.) She means it. Healthy People Help People. This kind of work saves us all. 

So that’s the talk day – Healthy People Help People. And just so you know, I’m not going to tell you five things you’ve got to do to be your best self. I’m not going to really tell you to do anything at all. That’s up to you. But I’m to share a few words of Jesus, talk about how the work we put in with the help of God and friends to get healthier, how that’s part of the Way of Jesus for us. And I’ll tell a couple of stories, share a couple things I’ve seen and learned, and my invitation to you is just to pay attention to what sticks out to you. What lands for you. And if anything does, just notice that, hold onto that, get curious about it and see where it takes you, all right? 

Here’s the scripture. It’s some little excerpts of a longer teaching in Matthew 5, part of a whole set of teachings called the Sermon on the Mount. I’ll give you a few little bits and try to fill in the gaps. 

Jesus said: 

Matthew 5:20, 21-22a, 27-28, 43-44, 48 (Common English Bible)

20 I say to you that unless your righteousness is greater than the righteousness of the legal experts and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

This line has been a confusing start for a lot of people over the years. Because some people think Jesus is setting just crazy high expectations. Be more righteous than the most righteous people you know. After all, God demands the best. Perfection. God deserves it, so you’ve got to try. 

And that’s led to some weirdly convoluted ways of receiving this whole teaching, like Jesus was setting up some super high standards for our lives, just so we wouldn’t be able to meet them and then we’d reach out to God for help.

That’s messed up, though. That would be devious and strange and it also just doesn’t fit the flow of what Jesus is saying. He says:

The people you might think of as righteous, they’re living by a certain moral code, sure, but you can do better than that.

And then he proceeds to show them the way. He’s like-

You’ve heard this before, but let me show you a different way, a better way, a healthier way. 

Let’s catch a bit of that. He says: 

21 “You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, Don’t commit murder, and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment.

22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment.

So, murder’s bad, beyond bad. We’ve been trying to process murder recently every day… murder up in Maine by mass shooting, murder of civilians by large, organized groups – Hamas, how many would argue Israel. We can’t process this level of organized violence, trauma, death. It’s horrible. No dispute.

But Jesus is like,

avoiding murder – good as that might be right now – is not the goal. It’s wider and deeper than that, it’s avoiding the ways of being out of which murder could even possibly flow – unregulated anger, vengeance, judgment. To get healthy, we don’t avoid just the worst symptom of our problems, we’ve got to go to the roots. 

And on Jesus goes, a whole list of: You’ve heard it said, by I say to you…

27 “You have heard that it was said, Don’t commit adultery.

28 But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart.

Here’s another.

43 “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.

44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you

Jesus is taking Torah, sacred, foundational law for his culture and faith, and he’s not arguing with it, mostly. Like a good rabbi, he’s exploring its foundational depths. 

He’s like it’s one thing to prevent the very worst behavior. It’s another thing to heal the heart, to become a radiantly good person from within. It’s one thing to regulate symptoms of sickness, but it’s another thing – a better thing – to really get healthy. 

And he ends this bit with this line.

48 Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.

Here’s the upshot, Jesus says. 

It’s simple: be like God. 

Which, OK, maybe that is a little intense of a thing for Jesus to say.

Like we should all start speaking whole universes into being.

Except, I don’t know, maybe that’s just it. Not quantitatively, like we could be as big or eternal or powerful as a divine being.

But qualitatively so, like human mini-gods, not perfect exactly, but perfectly loving, completely what we are meant to be. We’ll get back to this, but maybe in this mode, we too can indeed speak universes of something into being. 

I think I agree with my therapist and, as it turns out, with Jesus too. This just might be how we save the world. 

Do you mind wondering with me a little bit about this? 

Let’s try. Let me tell you what I hear in this. It’s three things. The first is this. I think Jesus is like:

Know your vulnerabilities.

Know your vulnerabilities.

Friends, I am not a naturally healthy person. 

As a child, I was apparently very accident prone. That’s the main thing my parents like to say about my childhood. You were very accident prone. What’s one to say? Sorry? 

I guess it was true, though. I was an impulsive kid. Still am, sometimes. But I made some weird choices. Got stitches left and right. 

My favorite foods might be ice cream and chocolate, which I’ve learned are not the recommended base of anyone’s healthy food pyramid. 

And you know, it cuts deeper. In ways that matter more, I’m just not by inclination the healthiest person. None of us are.

Interestingly, the night I accepted the call to be your pastor, 10 ½ years ago, I felt like God reminded me of this, but it didn’t feel harsh, it wasn’t a criticism. It was gentle, kind, but serious.

It’s weird to try to talk about our experiences of God, like moments when we are keenly aware of divine presence and we think something is being communicated to us. But I’ll try here, just for a second.

On a Sunday night in 2013, I was getting ready for another week on the job at the school I served. It was a Saint Patrick’s Day, a Board member from this church called me up and officially offered me the position I still hold. 

We had kind of pre-negotiated it. After saying no for a while, I had basically at that point agreed to say yes if I was formally asked. But still, this was the moment. There had been a prayer meeting at church that afternoon for members and some more discussion around the prayer, another Board huddle, and this was the moment. I was being called. 

And you know, it felt real now, it was serious. So I told the Board member I needed to take a walk and pray one more time before accepting.

So I went out that night and walked up the hill near where I live to a little park there, not exactly sure what to pray, but just kind of holding the weight of this moment and asking God if there was anything else I needed to know, that I needed to pay attention to.

And I had this weird sense there was an answer to that question from God. And it kind of took the form of a phrase in my head, which was:

Watch your Achilles.

Watch your Achilles.

So, this wasn’t the weirdest thing. It had a context. At the time, I’d been running marathons and stuff for a few years, and like a lot of runners, just blowing my way through pain signals here and there, and I had some issues with my Achilles at that point. I needed physical therapy, I’d wear a boot for a while. 

So the Achilles was on my mind some, but it came to me in that moment as more of a metaphor, like in the Greek legends, like: tend to your weakness, Steve. 

And whatever part of this thinking was inspired by God, and whatever part was my own free association, where my mind went in prayer was to feel like God was affirming that I had some of the skills to do this work, like I had been prepared. But if I was going to do it, the biggest work was going to be internal. The most important work I’d do to be your pastor, to be a healthy pastor, would be work you wouldn’t see. It would be tending to my vulnerabilities, doing everything I could with the help of God and friends, to be safe, to be healthy, to be complete. 

In Jesus’ invitation to be righteous people, to be healthy people, he speaks about unregulated anger, unbridled lust, and failures in relationships. 

This is the stuff, right? Unhealthy people, toxic leaders, hurt people who hurt people, they pretty much fail in at least one of these areas. 

Because they matter, they’re serious. When we fail in these areas, it can be devastating.

Who and what you want. 

Why and how you get angry. 

How you relate – in words and deed – to the people in your life – friends, foe, intimates, strangers. 

Jesus doesn’t shame anyone for our weaknesses or proclivities here. We are all in part hurt people. We all have our Achilles, our places miss the mark. 

But if we’re to have a kind of health, a kind of wellness that exceeds the ways of the thin self-righteousness and compliance that can get praised in religious circles, Jesus would encourage us to know our weaknesses. 

By ourselves, we may or may not be able to do anything about it. But we can start by being honest with ourselves, maybe letting others be honest with you. 

So we can move to what I see as the second part of Jesus’ teaching here, which is to open up for healing. 

Open up for healing. 

I was talking about this phrase with one of our kids – healthy people help people. And he was like: that’s alright, Dad, but I’ve got a better one. He saw it on a T-shirt, or a coffee mug or something, but it stuck. It said: Healed people heal people. 

You know, like people who have had problems, vulnerabilities, but they’ve gotten help, they’ve grown, so they’re not full of themselves, not cocky, they know their way around real problems. But they’re not stuck there, they’ve found some paths through. My kid was like:

These are the people you want in your life. Healed People Heal People. 

Which – like what do you say when your kid talks that way – like that’s sacred. You say, thank you for saying that. That’s so true. And my God, thank you for being the kind of person that would know that at this age. Glory. That’s beautiful.

Healed People Heal People. 

Maybe it’s not obvious in this teaching alone, but if you scope out to everything the gospels tell us about Jesus, it’s clear that he was a healer. He was a healer of bodies to be sure, sometimes. But also a healer of whole selves. Looking to help people find their depths, their center. Find home, find peace, find acceptance, find forgiveness, find their heart again. 

See a lot of people use religion to help themselves feel better by feeling superior to others. Like God’s chosen ones, God’s favorite, unlike the people that God and we both judge. Jesus was familiar with this dynamic. 

And he was like:

naw, judge not lest you be judged.

That’s not the way. In the way of Jesus, we reject this attitude. We commit to a generous, non-judgmental attitude toward others, and we get curious about our own story of healing. 

I’ve got two metaphors for how I think about the healing journey, both of which I got to see at work in someone’s life this week. One is composting. The other is a basket.

So composting. When you compost, you take trash – all kinds of nasty organic mess, and with time and oxygen and motion and bacteria, you turn it into something that gives life. 

The composting healing journey is when you see the muck and junk and crap of your life, and you trust that with the help of God and friends, it can be useful, maybe even beautiful. One of the stories of compost pile healing that’s just taking my breath away is a new friend I’ll call Mark. Mark is the young man that three of us have been visiting in a Massachusetts prison, where he’s been held for many, many years on a sentence given to him for a crime he was connected to when he was just 17 years old.

At 17, you’re not involved with the kind of crime that could put you into prison deep into your adult life, if you’re not a hurt person. And Mark is no exception. As a kid, he was done wrong by life in so many profoundly unfair ways. And some bad luck and bad choices crashed onto his head, harder than he ever deserved. 

But you know, with the help of God and friends, he’s been composting all that crap. Opening up the pain, getting to know himself, finding God, getting help, making amends where he can, growing, growing, growing, in the toughest of conditions for growth. 

When we visit him, as we did on Friday night, I sometimes feel like: who is this holy man? Deep, thoughtful, gracious. Healthy. And so eager to help people, if he’ll just get a second chance at it. I think he will. So we believe. We hope.

My other metaphor for the healing journey is the basket. I got this from my old mentor when I was young, my principal, my boss, Bak Fun Wong. He was always like:

Our lives are like a big basket.

Bad things, good things get put in. Bad things, good things can come out. It’s easier to put things in than take things out, though, so be careful what you put in someone else’s basket. Careful what gets put in yours.

Jesus agrees. Some of his teaching on healthy people is like:

Bring in what makes you whole, cut out what does you harm. 

Easy to say, hard to do.

Hard, but possible.

Last week, I was spending some time with one of you probably young enough to be my kid. But I was like, my God, glory, this person has had a few tough knocks but they are just so impressive, so healthy. Beautiful. 

And as we’re talking, I’m looking for the cracks. Like where is this person faking me out. But I don’t think so. I don’t have them on a pedestal. But the health I sense, the root of serious, good health seems like the real deal.

And as I listen to the story, get past a couple of tough dynamics, you just hear the grace with which good person after good person has come into this person’s life. And they’ve welcomed good influence after good influence. And the things that have been harder, the less good stuff that went into the basket, they’re asking:

How do I not lean into this? How do I stop believing that? 

So good, to be on the healing path, so young. Why not, right? Why wait? Never too soon, never too late. 

So know your vulnerabilities, get on the healing journey, and then one more thing. Let’s end where Jesus does, with this invitation to be healthy by becoming perfected in love.

This comes from the Wesleyan branch of Christian teaching, this idea that a person can be perfected in love, like all the parts of you shaped by love. 

Sounds illusive, maybe, to be all love, all the time. And maybe it is. But it’s part of the good news call of Jesus. And I got a taste of it the other week. 

I was at an award night at our son’s school. This was an award night for a single person, a once every five years award my kids’ school district gives for excellence in school administration. And the man being honored was the dean and director of two of my kids’ high school programs. I was there out of obligation, really, but ended up surprised by just what an awesome evening it was. So inspiring. This wasn’t just honor for a fine school leader – it was a celebration of a life well lived. 

This program director is named Dan Bresnan. And this night a whole bunch of students sang Dan’s praises, in the charming and big-hearted and quirky ways only teens can pull off. And then there were his many family members, and alum, and parents and colleagues – lots and lots of them, proud of the work he was doing to make school a kinder, more humane place. Telling stories about his flexibility, his mentoring, his skills. 

You got the sense, at least I did, that we weren’t being asked to honor this really impressive individual, as much as we were all stopping to give our attention to the healthiest of lives, a life being just really well lived. Humble, funny, kind, out there, showing up again and again for the good of the world.

Near the end, Dan made a speech himself. And he described what he did in a way I wasn’t expecting. He compared his work as a school leader to being a forest ranger. He said: a forest ranger can’t control what’s happening in the forest. There’s no such thing as a perfect forest ranger. The forest is too wild, too big. But a ranger gets out there and tries to help the conditions best support the safety and the flourishing of everyone and everything. Same with him – there’s no such thing as a perfect school leader. They can’t control teachers or kids or learning – it’s too complicated, there’s too much happening beyond your control. As it should be. But a school leader/ranger, Dan said, can try to work with the community to make it safer and kinder and more connected – a healthy place, a place where people can try new things, and make mistakes with grace, and learn and grow and flourish. 

I know Dan’s right because I met a real life forest ranger out in the woods this past week and told him this story, this analogy – he liked it. And I know this is true because it happened for my kids. I’m grateful for Dan Bresnan.

At the heart of this speech, beyond the ranger metaphor, though, was his steadfast commitment to some simple beliefs about education and life. I don’t remember exactly how he put it but it was something like:

I think love is the heart of life, always the most important thing. And so if love is the way we do everything, that’s the best of ways. 

You don’t hear enough educators talk this way. You don’t hear enough any kid of person talk and live this way: that love is the heart of life, that love is the most important thing.

This is the Wesleyan vision of perfection, though, to not worry about being perfect in some abstract sense, but to learn to be perfectly loving, everywhere, to everyone, all the time. 

It’s the vision of Jesus too, to let love be our guide in all things, and so to be just like God, who loves so deep, so constantly so well, that like everyone who loves, God can birth new universes of possibility into being.

So it is with us.

No one’s asking any of us to be perfect. Mostly, to be honest, no one cares. Same with God. But the world is crying out for more healthy people. People who know their vulnerabilities. People on the healing journey, wise to what we take out and what we put into our lives, people getting help to compost the crap of our lives into something good. People learning the ways of love.

Healthy People Help People. And that saves us all.

RADICAL GENEROSITY | The Spirit of God is Upon Us

Today we are in the third week of this Fall series called, “We Are Reservoir” – and I love a good unabashedly proud sermon series – where I get to say, “Yahhhhh that’s right – this IS Reservoir!!” And my goodness it is really good and I’m so thankful for it.

I’ve been here at Reservoir for 22 years. And I know this because just two days ago my husband, Scott and I celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary – wooo! And am I proud of us too! (wow, this sermon is just going to be full of humility). We landed in this community that first year we were married, and we didn’t really have a crystal clear form of what it was we were looking for, but we knew what we were not looking for.

Our relationship up to that point had held a lot of conversations where we attempted to wring from our faith and church experiences the excess of ‘not so great elements’ we had absorbed. Our hope was that it would uncover the values and principles that undergirded our love for God in the first place, and that we would find them to still hold true – and could be helpful guides on our church journey.

We landed in a musty elementary school gym where we had to set-up 300 chairs, and the stage, and the signs, and the food, and the coffee, and the. everything. And then break it all down 120 minutes later – and stow it away just so  – so we could keep in the good graces of the school we were renting from. 

And a large majority of the congregation made that church physically happen each week.

Which meant there was this tangible generosity that coursed through the community. People giving of their time – getting up so early, giving of their gifts, their money – expecting nothing in return. Offering. Serving. 

But there was something more than just those actions that we were captivated by. There was this convivial spirit of generosity that we experienced each Sunday – that we found ourselves referencing at points in our week.

Something alive – that was bigger than us, that we got to tap into – that was really good – and that worked in us and through us. What I would name not only a generous vibe – but call a spirit of radical generosity. 

This spirit of radical generosity, quite honestly – even more than the set of beliefs, or the theology, teaching, worship music was what captured our attention.

And that’s what I’ll talk about today… this spirit of radical generosity that can be cultivated in community. And one that, here at Reservoir, we really believe is essential in creating the Beloved Community we are all called to be.

***Now many a “generosity” sermon becomes a sermon about financially giving. Today I’m not going to preach that sermon. Although without a doubt the unbelievable financial generosity of so many of you is what allows Reservoir to do so much of what Reservoir does! So thank you, thank you!***

But this morning I want to talk more about this spirit that clung to the sweaty, moist gym pads on the walls – that kept us coming back each week. Because it is THE SAME SPIRIT that’s present here this morning. One that centers a generous God – who has been building since the beginning – a lineage of love and liberation for all people.  And one that WE, Reservoir gets to partner in …. And one that Scott and I knew that we wanted to be part of too.

This series, “We Are Reservoir” attempts to unveil to you some of the spirit that undergirds our vision. Some of which can be communicated so clearly with bullet points, and found on our website – but much of it can only be experienced, sensed, lived. I invite you into that generous posture this morning.

Prayer: Our generous, loving God. The one who promises to greet us at every turn – yes, in the celebratory moments – but also in the turns of life – that never feel like they stop turning…. Where our sense of grounding, and steadiness is rocked. Would you greet us this morning, in these chairs that have been soaked in the tears and sweaty palms of those of us who don’t know what we believe – how to believe – what belief even means – where to begin…. But also remind us that you have soaked these chairs in your presence – the Spirit of God – as well. May the Spirit of God be upon us this morning. Amen.


The funny thing about generosity – is that I am keenly attuned to the interactions in my day that seem to suggest the opposite. The  not-nice – not-friendly – not aware – not encouraging – not warm – not gracious – not merciful …. let’s just say ‘not generous’ interactions.  

I’ve lived in the Boston area for nearly 30 years. And I can tell you there is nothing that could convince you more of an anti-generous spirit than driving in this region. It’s like somehow people get into this little vehicle – and it becomes the vessel to test out – you know for kicks(!)- how it would be, how it could feel, to be the. most. horrible.human.being.possible. 

Our second child just started driving this summer. And our neighbor (mercifully) gave us this magnetic bumper sticker that says: “New Driver, Please Be Patient.” I chose the bright neon yellow one. We never used such a thing with our first child – we were still naive. We’ve since learned a thing or two. 

Now, as the new school year starts around the Greater Boston Area – I feel like there’s an uptick in crazy driving. Maybe because there’s school buses, drop off lines, late-to-work parents & caregivers and otherwise frustrated drivers out in full force! And so my drive to work here in Cambridge from the south shore – becomes at a baseline, much more “exciting. I make my way most days through a few boroughs of Boston –  Mattapan, Roxbury, Northeastern/MFA area, over to Storrow Drive, Cambridge and then here. And most days I feel you know, like I’ve accomplished something – by 9 a.m. – like SURVIVING.

This Fall though I wasn’t interested in feeling accomplished, I was more interested in feeling sane – by the time I landed in this parking lot. And I was like, “wait a minute! Maybe I could put that “New Driver, Please Be Patient” magnet on my bumper. And I did – and wouldn’t you know – my drives hold a little more ease, and a lot less beeping.

And I think, “Oh!” If only we could walk around with signs that say 

“PLEASE BE GENEROUS TO ME – please! I’m a new driver. I’m navigating A LOT.

I’m feeling new in this place. In this health crisis. In this conversation. At this intersection of life.”

I say some version of this to my son all the time

“Listen, I have never parented a 15 year old boy before …one specifically like… you…. You know, in all your… “You-ness…” 

I’m new to this!

Isn’t this how it really is to live our lives with God at the center too?

So much still feels new – still feels unchartered with God. Each day.

And as I look at Jesus’ ministry –  I’m curious to see how he made his way through days that were altogether unchartered!

There’s a swath of scripture in the gospel of Luke that I was drawn to where the theme of “generosity” might not be the most obvious theme, but I want to spend a few minutes with you, teasing it out, because at the heart of it all  – generosity might just be the center of Jesus’ whole ministry.

We are going to look at the gospel of Luke, Chapter 4. .. now up to this point Jesus has experienced a lot – he’s returned from the Jordan River – having been baptized by John the Baptist, where he is filled with the Holy Spirit, and a voice from heaven says,

You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

And then he’s in the wilderness – where he eats nothing for 40 days, and is tempted by the devil. And then he comes out of the wilderness and we pick up the scripture here in verse 14: 

LUKE 4: 14-22

14 Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news about him spread throughout the whole countryside.

15 He taught in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 

16 Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been raised. On the Sabbath he went to the synagogue as he normally did and stood up to read.

17 The synagogue assistant gave him the scroll from the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
    to proclaim release to the prisoners
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
    to liberate the oppressed,
19  and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

20 He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the synagogue assistant, and sat down.


Every eye in the synagogue was fixed on him.

21 He began to explain to them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.” 

22 Everyone was raving about Jesus, so impressed were they by the gracious words flowing from his lips. They said, “This is Joseph’s son, isn’t it?”

As I said, this was kind of a mic drop moment. Not only in content which we’ll get to – but also because Jesus reading this small section of scripture from Isaiah would have been noticeably short for a synagogue service. And the selection he reads while not new to those who heard it – does indeed hold a NEW sheen as Jesus shapes it for the mission statement of his ministry to come. 

And there’s a small, but fairly pointed omission that Jesus makes…

You see he ends by reading the words of prophet Isaiah,

“God has sent me to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”

– but that actually isn’t the ending of the verse in Isaiah. In Isaiah- which is chapter 61 if you want it for reference  – the full verse reads,

“God has sent me to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, AND the day of vengeance of our God.”

JESUS does not read this last line –

“And the day of vengeance..”

And it’s here that he starts something new – where he begins to lay the building blocks of what it is to be a generous beloved community. Because in that omission he is explicitly refuting the central organizing principle of justice up to that point,

‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 

But what does he offer instead? I think it’s helpful to layer in what Jesus encountered in the wilderness – these three temptations…

You see in the wilderness Jesus is tempted by the devil whom I think personifies the world’s systems of evil. Devils that prowl and speak their gospel of scarcity and authoritative power, and say,

“Look at the world – there’s nothing here, there isn’t enough. There’s nothing in abundance…only deficits  –  you won’t encounter generosity. Unless you possess it – conquer it, construct it for your gain.”  

The first temptation. 

The devil says,

“Since you are God’s son, command this stone to become bread.”

It doesn’t really seem like such a big deal. What harm is there in that? Jesus is hungry! But the invitation is really to misuse power. Even if that power causes a change that points to God. But Jesus cares about invoking change – with community. 

“Jesus could fulfill his needs, but he chooses to live in relationship with others, in shared life with others, in shared humanness with others. He doesn’t opt-out of humanity, even in the hunger pains. He finds his nourishment in the same places and same ways everyone else does. There’s no magic.”


Jesus replies:

“It’s written: People won’t live by bread alone.” 

There’s a more generous way.

The second temptation.

Is where the devil takes Jesus to a high place and shows him all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil says,

“I will give you this whole domain if you will worship me.”

This is the temptation to political power. It’s not inherently wrong. Here at Reservoir we have FIA and partner with GBIO to influence change by power.

“There have to be ways we use power for good. But often, very often we end up worshiping power to have power.”

Jesus is not interested in trading his place in the kin-dom for a throne in the destructive empire -not as the ultimate means of liberation. 

Jesus answered,

“It’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only God.” 

A generous God.

Then a third temptation: 

The devil brought him into Jerusalem and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to Jesus,

“Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down from here; God will command the angels to protect you.” 

Prove that you are God – by doing “this” –  x, y, z.  It’s a transactional way of regarding God. Still based on an authoritative, hierarchical power.  But what religion is about is real transformation. Changing our mind toward generous love, changing our heart toward a generous posture in community, changing our body toward living in the present moment. (being generous to ourselves) (Richard Rohr 3.3.23) The whole point of Jesus gets lost when our arguments are about proving something about God – Jesus isn’t interested in proving himself.

Jesus answered,

“It’s been written: Don’t test the Lord your God.”  

God is more generous than this.

Jesus rejects all of these temptations of power and individualism. And realizes that the way of vengeance will not fit.

And chooses a more generous, albeit messy, and hard way forward.

He says I’d rather be a new driver – journeying along this free-way of life with everyone.

“Otherwise I’m held prisoner and captive to, oppressed by, my senses chained to the power of evil. I PREFER THE SPIRIT OF GOD TO BE UPON ME…”

I don’t know, on the one hand this feels pretty obvious. Well yes, of course Jesus would want to organize the kin-dom of God on principles of love, generosity, freedom –  values that can hold and still flex – and stand the test of time – and still be ALIVE!  Our values here at Reservoir are like these – connection, humility, action, freedom and everyone .. 

I think these values are pretty radical.

Radical in Jesus’ day – and still radical today.

Now let me take a beat on this word, “radical.”  

 RADICAL means in Latin to go to the roots.

In plant biology – “the radicle” is the primary embryonic root, emerging from the seed first to enhance water uptake. The new driver – that funnels in the health and vitality of the plant – filtering what nourishment will go to the whole plant system

Jesus as he makes his way through the temptations – returns to the roots and the histories and the legacies and the lineage of his faith. To set-up the new way forward in this kind-dom.

At each temptation he says,

“It is written…it is written…it is written… in scripture it says…my roots offer me this….”

He plants himself in the wisdom of the scripture.

And he takes the heart of them – and he calls them to life – to the generous expanse they apply to.

And it’s then that he’s able to state with clarity the mission for the community going forward. 

Jesus subscribes to a different social understanding. It’s why after he handed the scroll back to the synagogue attendant – everyone stared, stopped,

What does this exactly mean a kin-dom where:

  • The last, shall be first
  • The sick, healed
  • The oppressed, liberated
  • The prisoners, free
  • The outcast, returned to community
  • The unhoused, sheltered
  • The widowed, embraced
  • The downcast, uplifted
  • The grieving, comforted
  • The despairing, surrounded in praise
  • The ashamed, blessed with grace

What does it look like to RENEW? RESTORE? REBUILD THE KIN-DOM? This BELOVED MESSY COMMUNITY with love and GENEROSITY as the organizing principle?


When we say at Reservoir we are a community that embodies ‘radical generosity’ – it isn’t because we each individually try to be the best follower of Jesus, or serve above and beyond (although we do need volunteers!). It’s because we hold tight to our roots. The Jesus who stood in the midst of a synagogue and said,

“The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”

is not a Jesus of the past – but the same Jesus – that sits right with us this morning – and says the same thing,

“this scripture you’ve heard today – is too being fulfilled – with your partnership…” 

Because if the scripture of the gospel is to live this life as a generous people – 

preaching good news to the poor,
    Proclaiming release to the prisoners
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to liberate the oppressed,

Then boy oh boy – are we going to need some roots – some deeeeep roots! God says we will be called priests of the Lord, that we will be named ministers of God as we use them as anchors and as the way forward.

Now Jesus doesn’t give us a social program, with a clear strategic plan to do this work – but he does offer us two things that I think are critical for a radical generosity to be the potent, change-making spirit it can be:

  1. Call out Evil
  2. Heal

If we had time to read the rest of Luke 4 today – we would see that as Jesus leaves the synagogue he starts calling out evil. He calls out a demon taking up residence in a man  – he says, “SILENCE” to the evil.

He goes to Simon’s home and cares for his mother-in-law who has a high fever – scripture says he bends over her, and “speaks harshly” to the fever  – and as the sun sets on the day – he deflects every evil that challenges or tempts to compete with a spirit of generosity. And he speaks harshly each time to it. He says vengeance, violence, conquering  – will have no room here – but generosity will be as powerful.

To call out evil – is radical generosity. 

Without Jesus and this radical generosity we will be convinced that we are running short on everything, that life is full of scarcity, void of kindness, we’ll believe that we are running short on love/ On years – on time – on moments of happiness – of money – – Scarcity. Scarcity. Deficit.   

BUT we can’t be held captive by that narrative.. if we have captives to free…and new drivers to greet.

“When Jesus talks about setting the captives free, he knows the captives. When he talks about justice for the oppressed, they are the ones he eats with and drinks with. When he talks about healing the wounded, they are his friends, his family, his community.  His spirit of generosity is one that weeps with those who weep – and rejoices with those who rejoice.”


And I think he invites us to do the same.

This relational spirit of generosity that guides our living – can also heal us.  

The demons fled.

The fever left.

The trappings of evil hold no power.

And what is left is the clarity of the Spirit of God upon us – all of us – radical generosity then can be experienced in abundance…at every turn in our lives.

  • This year I was greeted by radical generosity when I was leaving a swim meet and an older gentleman I had just met – and as I went to put on my coat – he held up my sleeve to help me never skipping a beat in conversation. And yet I stood there with the beats of my heart side-swept by such a spirit.
  • I watched as one of you during clean-up at this summer’s church picnic, greeted a neighbor who was walking by, one you hadn’t seen in awhile, a man who had lost his wife of 40 years during Covid. And you went up and you greeted him, and you laid your head on his chest, and said
    • “Oh, how I’ve missed you.”
    • And this man exhaled
    • “this is exactly what I needed today.”
  • In June my husband’s father died – and he was staying with his mom in NH for a few days. I was responsible for all things on the homefront, and meals–not my forte! And I placed plates in front of my kids – bracing for negative feedback. And my eldest turned & looked at me and said, “It’s hard, huh mom? It’s hard. … yah?”
  • I cried and cried.. And she cried!  Nothing about the food – and everything about my heart.
  • We have a 10-year old on the Reservoir Cafe team who a couple of weeks ago – just took to it – setting it all up with gusto – getting plates and baskets and freely displaying the cafe in all its beauty. Never looking for approval or disapproval – just freedom and ease.

And these are four among hundreds of examples of radical generosity that I have encountered over the last few months. And each time it heals me a little bit from the road rage of life. It really does. And it is more than just the word, or the action – and more about the Spirit of God being so present and generous and with all of us. 

And I also heed the words of Peruvian theologian, Gustavo Gutierrez who says this ‘radical generosity’ is

“not only a call to generous relief action, but a demand that we go and build a different social order.”

Jesus was flipping the social order – and is still calling us to this work. AND radical generosity starts with our everyday, ordinary engagement with others – family, friends, strangers – your actual neighbors.

And so we come together this rainy morning. As many lovers of Jesus have done before us – in musty gyms, in fields, in hush harbors, in deserts, and in fancy buildings.

We come together and join with the spirit of God, that is still in the making, still on the move.

And we acknowledge our partnership, our roles that WE THE PEOPLE are needed to help create a beloved community – to form a more perfect and generous union.

And we acknowledge that WE THE PEOPLE are needed to promote the general welfare and cultivate a culture of radical generosity. 

And we acknowledge that WE THE PEOPLE  must establish justice as we do the ongoing work of fulfilling the saints and the prophets legacy of love and liberation.

So maybe today to close, we can say,

“It is written …. It is written….that God so loved the world that God gave their one and only son … One that was sent not to condemn the world, but to save us.” 

Lord save us – because we are all new drivers here on this earth… Save us unto radical generosity again and again. 



Richard Rohr, CAC 3/3/23

Breathe on these Dry Bones

Good morning. I’m Lydia, if we haven’t met, one of the pastors here at Reservoir. My pronouns are she/they.

I want to share with you a text that came to me as I’ve been doing some justice work. It comes from Ezekiel 37.

Let me read the text and pray for us to begin. A quick note, I changed the pronoun of God from ‘he’ to ‘they’ and the phrase “Son of Man” to “Child of Human.” My main reason for this is to neutralize the gender of the divine as well as the gender of the prophet so that more of us that do not identify as “he” pronoun can relate with the text as much as possible. So,

Ezekiel 37:1-14

The Valley of Dry Bones

The hand of the LORD was on me, and they brought me out, by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.

They led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. They asked me, “Child of Human, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”

Then they said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then they said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, Child of Human and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ “ So I prophesied as they commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

Then they said to me: “Child of Human, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’ 

Let’s pray

God of Hope. God our deliverer. If there are any of us here now, going through a deep valley of what it feels like death, grief, and dry bones, I pray that you will begin to give us imagination. An imagination of how you meet us, of how you comfort us, of how you bring us together bone to bone and breathe life in us somehow. Though some of us may feel cut off, break through our pain, our depression, our apathy, our busy-ness, I pray that you will break through with a glittering beam of light and hope that we will lift our faces in the dark valley, to actually find you there, hear you there, and see you there breathing into us. May your Spirit land on us now, just as it landed in Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones, we pray these things in your name, Amen.

Hey welcome to a downer sermon. I’m gonna talk about the valley of dry bones and stuff today, yay. But don’t worry though, it ends with hope, so let’s hang on together. Cause what are we if we’re not a beloved community that is able to

“rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn”?

As a pastor, as I meet with some of you, I’m so honored to get to ask how you’re really doing? Many of our conversations start light… “How are you?” “Oh it’s good. You know, can’t complain.” And as we get into it, things start coming out in between “Yeah it was a hard year losing my dad but I’m hanging in there.” Or “Work is stressful but it’s good, I got to hang out with a good friend this week.” Or “My partner and I broke up a few months ago, but I’m okay.”

When I ask the question, is there anything I can pray for you? People begin to open up about the not so pretty parts of their lives. Although, to me, these are the most beautiful parts because they are raw emotions that many of us sometimes don’t know how to talk about.

  • What do you say to someone that’s had a miscarriage?
  • What do you say to someone who is going through domestic violence?
  • What do you say to someone who is struggling to take care of their aging sick mom?

In “Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Trouble Times” by Soong-Chan Rah, he begins the book talking about church-planting in inner-city Cambridge. In Central Square, the neighborhood sandwiched between Harvard and MIT, which the university students refer to as “Central Scare,” a scary urban neighborhood into which you dare not venture.” Their hope was outreaching “to the inner-city neighborhood and fostering an intentionally multiethnic church community.” And he kicked off the church plant not with missional thrust of gospels, or even the Revelations, the final hope of a thriving city, but landed on a 6-week series on Lamentation to begin their ministry. That it all began with looking deeper into suffering, grief, and lament, and there they found their call for action.

In my own justice work I realize how much I find myself just angry, and wanting to cry. How much I actually feel helpless in working on a ministry area called Faith Into Action! I fell into a specific area of housing justice work that sought to build relationships with tenants of public housing. It involved mainly door knocking. Now doorknocking can be scary but with tenant organizing, I found that they opened doors and talked to me more than I anticipated.

I was met by a Russian immigrant woman, proud of her daughter who had played violin for the Boston Philharmonic, and how public housing had given her a chance to live. I met an older white woman with health conditions that shared that when the basement flooded it destroyed all her late mother’s things, and the most they did was give her a water pump that died after two weeks and put a black trash bag over the switchboard. “It’s still there!” she said to us. I met a younger black man, who mostly was quiet and nodded but did tell us that there aren’t enough parking spots and they ticket and tow the neighboring street relentlessly. They can’t even have friends over because of fear of getting towed.

The struggle, the suffering, the lament, the extended descriptions of why there is a valley of dry bones is not the popular part of Ezekiel. The famous one is the one I read today, dry bones coming alive. You might’ve heard it preach on before. It’s arguably the most popular section of Ezekiel. Do you know what content is in most of Ezekiel, which by the way is the book right after Lamentations? It’s a warning of judgements. It’s prophecies of “the end has come!” It’s full of violent descriptions, symbolism of sexual violence, of condemnation and wrath that befalls Jerusalem. 36 chapters of them is all about that, before we come to this beautiful text about dry bones rising up with new life.

You see, Ezekiel was a priest in exile. It was written during the time where Israelites were deported to Babylon. It’s a story about dislocation, migration, and colonization. That was the bed on which the dry bones laid on. And I can relate somewhat. As someone who has immigrated, though by choice (well not my choice, my parents choice) but really with not much choice, power, money, or options. I resonate with the feelings of being “cut off” from the homeland where you’re originally from and from the state in which you live where you have no voice or power.

‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’

It says.  Koreans especially have a bone to pick, that’s a pun, on this as a country that was colonized by the Japanese from 1910 to 1945. If you’ve read the book Pachinko, you get a glimpse into what it feels like to lose your identity, your people. Or if you are African-American in America of course, the history of slavery. As an Asian-American, it has been very interesting for me to see and experience and participate in the aftermath and post-slavery era we live here in America. And can I just be honest with you? It’s really tough to still see disparity, like the result of redlining that I’ve been pointed out to literally as we walked streets of Arlington, the town where I live.

So in imagining our text today, don’t just skip to the part about when the voice of God comes, the Spirit of God lifting them up with hope. Take a moment to think about the valley of dry bones you are standing on. What violence took place on this land for us to enjoy such prosperity? Ezekiel chapters 1-36 goes into it in horrific language, that I personally don’t enjoy as it often uses degrading metaphors of females. It’s ugly to say the least.

I’m going to share some valleys of dry bones that I’ve been witnessing.

When Ezekiel is quoting the exiled Israelites, the displaced, the deported in Babylon, saying,

“Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.”

When I read this it reminded me of so many of the tenants’ stories. A few weeks ago we played some of the tenants stories in a video. Later that week I got an email from one of our Reservoir members that live in public housing. Here’s what they said,

“My biggest issue is the rodent problem I have been having. I have complained and called their maintenance department numerous times and all they do is make me wait until the following Thursday (during my work hours) to send an exterminator who will only lay down some traps and then tell me that they hope the mice don’t return. How is laying down sticky traps going to keep them from returning?? Then they will offer to put bait boxes in my apartment. Who wants dead rodents in their homes???? On each visit, I have asked them to seal the apartment. They will tell me they can’t find any holes to seal. They say that maybe they are coming in from the heaters but nobody will remove the heaters to look. When they come to remove the traps there are few mice on one trap. Right around New Year’s Eve, they found 4 in one trap while I found a dead one in my bedroom!!! I am VERY squeamish and I was TRAUMATIZED when I saw that in my room! I was shaking, screaming, and crying. My legally blind uncle had to come and dispose of them because when I called maintenance they said it wasn’t an emergency and I would have to wait until after the holiday to get assistance. A dead rodent body in my freaking bedroom isn’t an emergency to them but I was over there hyperventilating….. In the year and half I’ve been there we’ve caught 26 of them! Ewwwww!!”

You know where this is? This is in Somerville. Somerville Housing Authority, this person wanted me to name.

And I’ve also been working with tenants but also Housing Authority Executive Director who feel shamed. One ED said,

“I kid you not, “I feel like a slumlord.”

Slums in Somerville. Slums in Brookline. That’s what we’ve been seeing. 

I share this with you because tenants in these places often feel cut off. Cut off from the system. They complain but it goes nowhere. And often these folks already feel like they can’t speak up in fear of losing their home in the first place.

This text came to me as the GBIO Housing Justice campaign is gearing up for a 1000+ action gathering on June 26th. As I imagine, how could it be that these folks that have been shut down, dismissed, mistreated, forgotten, cut off, could rise up and unite and become a vast army, the Spirit of God gave me this text. 

I share this with you because I remember learning in my preaching class in seminary to have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Because just as Ezekiel wasn’t just talking about the spiritual realm or life after death, just as real as his experience of being exiled, due to real destruction of his town, and real displacement of real people, because of power and politics, the good news and the gospel and the spirit of God working in and through our lives is absolutely about real lives right here in our town, yes in our backyard.

As I was preparing, I cried reading verse 14,

“I will settle you in your own land.”

Do you know what it feels like to be settled in your own room? Your own house? Your own land? If you do, then you know how important that is to you right?

I want to ask you, has

“The hand of the LORD brought you out by the Spirit of the LORD and set you in the middle of a valley”

yet? Verse 1 says,

“They led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley,”

God showed Ezekiel around, back and forth, to really see death. Have you been faced with very dry bones? If so, I grieve with you. No matter if that valley is living in public housing. Or surviving through cancer. Or struggling to have children through IVF and failing, or singlehood through longings of finding a partner, or aching through a foster child you love. I grieve with you as you fight with your brother or neighbor. I grieve with you as you try your best to get through the work day.

But you know what the good news of today’s text is right? Where did the breath of life, the Spirit of God, Ruach, flow through? It wasn’t breathed into the mountaintops. It wasn’t just through beautiful trees and flowers, even as we see and feel them nowadays outside. It’s in the depth of the valley, in the darkness of your bedroom, in the loneliness of your suffering. Just as Jesus resurrected after death, and the Holy Spirit descended upon those who were mourning the death of Christ. It is in the valley, there, the Spirit of God landed, not the mountaintops. 

And what I find funny is that God could’ve just done all this. But the text goes through this kind of tedious process, of bringing Ezekiel to this place, telling Ezekiel to prophesy, and so he does at first and the bones come together, but then they still didn’t’ have any breath on them, and I feel like God could’ve maybe even should’ve just went ahead and do the God miracle of breathing God’s life in them. But God goes on to instruct Ezekiel,

‘Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, Child of Human, and say to it… Come, breathe, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’

God told Ezekiel to tell Ruach, spirit, breath, what to do. It is only then, per a human’s command, that the Spirit of God moves into the dry bones causing them to rise up, a vast army.

Reservoir, I hear the rattling of your bone and your heart. You tell me that you care for the poor, that you care for the stranger, that you care about social justice and equity and diversity and inclusion. I know that many of you have seen and followed God’s spirit to the ends of the earth to sit with and grieve with dry bones of our times. I know some of you have been brought to it by choice or by circumstance.

I also know that many of us, we don’t see it. We haven’t experienced it. By way of privilege or just busy with our own lives, which I get. And I think that the hand of God has brought these stories of public housing to our church, Reservoir Church that is a member congregation of GBIO, because we decided back in 2016 that we weren’t just going to sit back while some Christians spoke for one kind of politics but that we will lean into public engagement that is inspired by the Holy Spirit uniquely through us, doing our part locally. 

And now that we have been brought to the valley of dry bones, now that the spirit of God has invited us to take a look at the conditions people are living in across the street, right in our own towns, how can we deny it? How could we not lament and grieve and call for justice in these troubled times? Could we dare to rise up locking bone to bone, arm to arm, audaciously casting judgment just as Ezekiel did, to the leaders of the modern day Babylon? How do we not get swept up by the breath of God to rise and bring life to this valley? Do we dare?

I know that many of us are already doing various things to bring the beloved community, the kin-dom, the reign of God to this world more alive and real, and there are a variety of things that our church does. And I’m curious, can we also unite together to show the power of Reservoir, coming in 100, 200 strong to unite powers with the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, organizing 1000+ together? That’s what GBIO is doing on June 26th Monday night at 7pm at Temple Israel in Boston in person, envisioning a 1000+ vast army for the Housing Justice Campaign. As your pastor, which is kind of a modern day prophet, I beseech you, invite you to come down to the valley with me that day. And just see for yourself what the Spirit of God can do. 

And if you’re not local, or maybe you’ve got your own valley that you’re dealing with, I want you to take a moment to ask God where the spirit of God is breathing right now. What vision is God showing you that there is life, that there is a rousing of life, where you thought you had lost all hope? Where you thought you were cut off? Where is God connecting tendon and flesh to flesh? Do you believe that the Sovereign Lord can bring you up? May it be so, friends. May the Sovereign Lord put their spirit in you, now and forever more. Amen. 

On The Law of Retaliation

Matthew 5:38-42 

38 “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

39 But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you.  If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well.

40 When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too.

41 When they force you to go one mile, go with them two.

42 Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you.

Good and Gracious God, you have woken us up, given us breath and life and called us here today. We thank you for this day. We thank you for the rain. We thank you that you are a God who loves us no matter what we might be going through in our lives. Help us now, no matter what morning or what kind of week we had this past week, whether it was full and joyful or just busy and distracted, bring us to this space now with reverence and centeredness, on what our body needs, what our spirit needs, and there we pray that you will meet us with overwhelming abundant love. Help us to believe that as we open our selves up to your word now, we pray in your precious and holy name, Amen. 

Hey, Love Your Enemies is the series we’re on these days here at Reservoir and to preach on this feels like, (shaking head no violently) “I don’t want to!!!!!” 

My unholy human ego reacted strongly to this preaching prompt with, what I would like to spend some time on today, an understandable resistance to this teaching. I want to spend some time on it because I don’t want to jump to the moral teaching conclusion. I mean, you know the ending already, so now go, love your neighbors. Love your enemies. Cause Jesus said so. So you better. 

Because for so long, I have seen and heard the beautiful teachings of Jesus wrapped in as a command, for us to obey. It’s a shorter and easier way to spread the teaching, when you begin with, God said so. But I refuse the misused tactics of shame and guilt to do this, one because I believe that God is not a tyrant. God is not just a rule enforcer. I want us to go slow, go easy, gently toward this message, because at least in Matthew, before Jesus gave us teachings, advice, wisdom, and guidelines, he first did the miracles of healing the sick. 

And so I believe that in order to love your enemies, first we need to do the miracles of healing. because without it, first of all you can’t do it. Loving your enemy while you’re still really hurting – it’s impossible. But if you have experienced the miracles of healing, well then we can start talking. 

And maybe I know that because I know that firsthand. When you have been hurt, when you’ve been truly wronged, when you actually really have an enemy that’s done you wrong, and you haven’t had the practice of healing and loving poured into you, you don’t have the faculties to forgive and love yourself, definitely not others. And so I want to make space for that. Because to preach to a hurting person with the command to “love your enemy” is not only ineffective, I believe is abusive. 

You know how you teach someone to love their enemy? You love on them. And to love someone is to make space for their pain and not try to erase it by telling you,

just love your enemy because that’s what God wants you to do. 

So I want to unpack first of all, the ways in which we have misused and misunderstood the teaching “love your enemies”, especially in and through church and Christian traditions that have been unhelpful and even harmful. 

The reality is that people, people from places of power and through the power of the church have used teachings like “love your enemies” to further shame and oppress and keep people in their place. And that’s a real pain point, a triggering point for some of us.

Sometimes I hate taking a few texts out of the Bible and shining on the screen because it takes it out of context. If we actually take out the whole book, the text in its context, today’s is in Matthew 5 verse 38, but you look up just a few verse, earlier in the chapter, verse 23 says this, for example:

23 Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you,

24 leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift.”

Now I clearly see the good wisdom and intention of these verses. 

But in my years of growing up in church, I’ve seen it used to shame and prevent people from coming to the altar, serving in church, from coming closer to God. I mean, it was taken literally and applied blanketly.

Again, I can understand why one would like to make this good practice into a law. But, We picked and chose which “sins” were allowed or not allowed, like greed and hoarding weren’t checked with your small group leader but if you drank, if you went to a party or listened to secular music, then you felt like you couldn’t come to church at all.

Like we forgot that we’re ALL sinners, but some sin prevented you from taking communion, like premarital sex, while other sin, like owning a company that underpaid and abused workers were totally fine. We turned the wisdom into a convenient social rule that we wanted to enforce. I keep saying we because Christians are bound to one another and what churches have done in the name of Christ, we have to be at least aware if not account for that in our faith journey talks. 

Here’s another one, a few verses down in verse 31:

On the Law of divorce

31 “It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a divorce certificate.’

32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife except for sexual unfaithfulness forces her to commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Okay, first of all, this teaching is directed at men only. The “Whoever” is not really “whoever” but it’s “men.” 

Jesus is not talking to me in this text. I am not even in the room. I cannot simply and literally apply everything he said to me and us all, because he would not do that, no relationship is like that. Audience matters. So who was Jesus talking to at this moment? At the top of the chapter it tells you, chapter 5:1

“Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down, His disciples came to him and he began to teach them saying,”

He was talking to his disciples. 

We have used this to those who are divorced to shame them. You see some churches are still wrestling with LGBTQIA affirmation (whether they can marry or not) or women’s ordination (whether they can preach or not) and not long ago churches wrestled with divorce (whether they can do that or not and still be a member of a church). 

Can we just admit that we have misused, and continue to misuse so much of the Bible? It’s been weaponized against people where the divorced are outcasted from the community. No wonder people are leaving the church. We’re kicking them out with shame! 

The thing is today’s text has been used by colonizers and murderers, upon victims who are converted through force and then taught to love their enemies after they’ve pummeled through their land and their communities. Love your enemies they said, as they pressed their heels to their heads. THAT IS NOT THE TEACHING OF JESUS here. 

Let’s not shove “Love your Enemies” down the throat of those who are victimized and oppressed from a place of privilege and power to those who are suffering.

Okay, so there’s been bad and toxic interpretations of the text. Then what is the good interpretation here? We gotta dig. 

Cause I mean, when you just read texts like this at first glance:

But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you.  Or another translation says. [Do not resist one who is evil] 

WHAT!? Um, is Jesus being complacent with evil or co-conspiring with evil?!

The natural response is, what? You just want me to hurt again? You want me to go another mile at this rate? 

And now, welcome to the part of the sermon when we’re preaching from the Bible: Consider the cultural location and historical context of the text. 

Why did Matthew write this? 

This is why we have the four gospels because from Matthew we get an angle. And we can get a better sense of Matthew’s angle and purpose for his writing by comparing it to others. In order for us to better understand Matthew’s text we have to try to understand Matthew’s overarching message that it’s trying to convey, because every text is wrapped in that motif. 

The book of Matthew is uniquely Jewish Christian, meaning it is particularly interested in laying out the stories of Jesus in close relationship and in connection or in comparison to the Jewish laws. Our today’s text is specifically in regard to the Law of Retaliation, found in Exodus 21, Leviticus 24, and Deuteronomy 19. It was directly trying to address these specific questions at hand. 

In Matthew 5:17 Jesus says,

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

This is a central motif and the driving force of the booking of Matthew. To distinguish, juxtapose, and specifically compare Jesus in close relationship to the Jewish Laws was the purpose of Matthew’s writing.

That’s important because the awareness of the specificity of the audience humbles us in our understanding and application. It is not to say, oh it doesn’t apply to us, but the point is, we have to take into account that it in fact was not written for us, 21st century American, women for example. The takeaway for us in realizing this is, Matthew shows us the pastoral, contextual, and cultural interpretation and application of Jesus’ teaching to his people and his traditions, inspired by the holy spirit, to the best of his ability. 

We must do the same. And it must be lived and alive, a conversation and not a heavy handed law but a live rendering of what is convicted in our hearts to the actions of our day. That’s exactly what the writer of Matthew was trying to do, to not simply accept the Jewish Laws, but reinterpret it to fit their time and their social location, their hunger, their need. 

Similarly, Jesus,

“interprets the law within its proper horizon and according to its proper use, a task that at times involves criticism even, especially of particular features and interpretation of the sacred text itself” (p. 383)

by saying,

“you have heard it said, but I say….”

he is critiquing their holy scriptures, and contextualizing it, a model for us to do the same. 

In this way, it shows us that we must rely on one another, one another’s voice and story and another’s social location, to testify what the spirit, what Jesus has convicted them of, and we take it all at face value and with a grain of salt. That is what it means to live the faith, which is to do it in community. That’s why we have Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And Mark and John don’t have the sermon on the mount really. Whatttt! Yeah. 

And even with Jesus, you can have a conversation with Jesus from your cultural context and location (take the story of woman at the table)

Matthew 15: 21-28

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.

22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

This story tells us that yes, even Jesus had a certain perspective, or to put it more provocatively, an agenda, which was only for the lost sheep of Israel. So, could it be that his message was only for the sheep of Israel? Maybe?! But again, taking Matthew’s motif into account, his whole message of the Gospel of Matthew is a thrust of pushing on the outer edges of affirmation of the Jewish Laws and then above and beyond the Jewish laws to go to the end of the earth, as it concludes in Matthews chapter 28. And so this story begs the question for me, then what would the crumbs of the “loving your enemies” be? 

Because our text today makes a few assumptions. It assumes that when they take you to court for your shirt, that you have a coat even to give to them. It assumes that you even have enough things for someone to even want to borrow from you. From the pedagogy of the poor, the biblical criticism of this text from the perspective of the oppressed is that the call to follow the law of retaliation might have been spoken to a certain audience that had some power and privilege. And maybe just maybe, I wonder what kind of example Jesus would’ve given to those who are marginalized and oppressed and broken, as a model of loving your enemy. 

Maybe it looks like being slapped across your face but not letting the abuser take your hope away. Because I in my pastoral context could not tell a domestic violence victim to simply turn her cheek to her perpetrator. And if I thought the gospel was telling me to do that, I would not be here. I do not believe so. My faith, just like this woman at the table, demands of the Lord to throw us the crumbs of this provocative wisdom, to ask God, then SHOW me this world you speak of where enemies are loved! 

What do the crumbs of your picture of “loving your enemy” look like? From the place of an outsider? If the message of “love your enemies” was only for the lost sheep of Israel, and this woman fought for even a crumb of that wisdom in her social location, as a dog as Jesus calls her, what would that be? And her faith was that that would be enough. I think so, I think what you can muster up, what you deem as the wisdom of loving your enemies may look like in your specific case, that would be enough. We’re not meant to follow the rules literally but receive the whole kingdom of Heaven, as Matthew calls it, as a whole ethos, and move in the spirit of love here and now. 

I remember in 2015 *uh trigger warning I’m going to talk about gun violence*. Please feel free to step out if this is not for you. I remember seeing the clip of the white shooter brought into court to face the survivors of the nine dead at the black Emanuel AME church in Charleston. And the family member saying to him,

“I forgive you”

It made me so angry, to see such foolish mercy, like throwing pearls to the swine, and of course and yet, touched, distraught by the shooting and that pain being disrupted by love. The confusion of such radical forgiveness. Why would anyone do that? How could anyone do that? To forgive someone who has shot your mother dead? 

You know who? One who has Received this kind of love from God first. One who knows deeply the love and grace and mercy of God no matter what befalls them. I’ve heard it said, an eye for an eye and everyone will go blind. To love your enemy is to usher in a total new way, to break out of the system, a new way forward. A liberation from the same old cycles and systems of hurt, retaliation, and more hurt. One of grace and mercy that snatches us out of that loop. By loving your enemies, you show them a new game, you usher in a whole new rules of engagement (although they might still respond with old ways of engagement).

A biblical commentary said this,

“Upon closer inspection this stance is actually rooted in a profound resistance, an unexpected refusal to play the opponent’s adversarial game. By voluntarily going a second mile, for example the first mile is likewise refigured from something “forced” into something chosen; so what might superficially seem to be docility is actually at a deeper level a form of non adversarial defiance.” (p.383)

They called it moral jiu jitsu, which I learned is a form of martial arts that’s not of violence but redirecting violence. The word literal translation meaning, gentle art. 

Matthew’s big point was trying to marry Jesus’ way to the known laws of the day. He was trying to show the Jesus’ way in and through and above and beyond the laws that were so important and dear and highly respected. But in doing so, I believe that it can be misunderstood that here’s a new law to follow, and that is what its intent was, but that new law is not a rule but a person. Loving your enemies is not just a new law to follow but realize that this is the kind of world that Jesus invites you to.

Jesus loves your enemies. Jesus loves his enemies. Jesus loves you in this way, even when we were God’s enemy. While we were still sinners. Even when you feel like you’re the furthest from God, by way of distraction of work and life, by way of deep dark void-like depression, by way of apathy or indifference, even there God does not oppose you but moves toward you. God turns the other cheek for you. God would give you God’s shirt and their coat to you. God goes the extra mile for you. God doesn’t refuse you but greets you with open arms with radical love and grace and endless mercy. 

May the crumbs of God’s love towards even enemies fall on us and heal us. That we may receive it, may it cover us and embrace us. That it might shape not what we do but who we are, no longer enemies but God’s beloveds. May we drive that deep into our hearts today. 

Let me pray for us. 


Puhpowee | Life Force

Today I would like to honor and acknowledge the land upon which we worship. The ancestral lands of the Massachusett people – the original inhabitants who still regard this land as sacred and shot through with the force of life. 

Good morning everyone! 

We are in a series called, SEVEN BIG WORDS.  Where Lydia, Steve and I get to talk about any word we are inclined to talk about. This series will run us right up until the season of Lent – so another month – where very broadly speaking we will be centering Lent around the theme of Earth.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research in advance of Lent for a couple of projects that I’m involved in. And so I wanted to offer a word that has surfaced for me as I’ve been reading a book by Robin Wall Kimmerer. It’s a book titled, “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants.”   This book  was published 10 years ago – and I’m just getting to it now – for such a time as this, I guess! 

It’s a stunning book – and it speaks to the lessons we can gather from First Nations people. Robin is a Native American, a mother, scientist, professor and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Her experience at the intersection of science and indigenous wisdom is incredibly rich and spiritual. It’s been an honor to be in the process of learning and (un)learning from her in so many ways.

Her book tells the history of her people and their forced displacement from their lands – which was originally in the southern tip of the Lake Michigan area.  In the span of a single generation her ancestors were “removed” three times, by European settlers, and US federal Indian removal policies. Removing and stealing their names, their land, their knowledge, their children, their people and their language. 

Robin has been trying to learn and revive the language of her people.  Language that holds – not just words – but language that is the heart of their culture, their thoughts, their way of seeing the world. Language that was washed out of the mouths of Indian children in government boarding schools and by missionaries.  And she’s been trying to learn from only nine (!) fluent elders left in the whole world – who speak the Potawatomi language.

As an adult she stumbled across a word as she was researching traditional uses of fungi by her people – and the Potawatomi word is, “Puhpowee.It’s a word that describes the force that causes mushrooms to push up and appear overnight. It speaks to the

“unseen energies, the unseen spirit that animates everything, all of life.”

As a biologist herself, Robin was stunned that such a word existed.

“In all its technical vocabulary, Western science has no such term – no words to hold this mystery.  You’d think that biologists, of all people, would have words for life. But in scientific language terminology is used to define the boundaries of knowing. What lies beyond scientists’ grasp remains unnamed.” (49)

This morning I’d love to continue to engage and learn from this Potawatomi word, “Puhpowee,” and to honor it.  We’ll also take a look at the story of Mary Magdalene and the resurrected Jesus, as they meet in a garden.

For six years before I became a pastor here – I was a teacher in an outdoor classroom at a local elementary school.  I had started a small non-profit called the Planting More Project. Its vision was to build Outdoor Classrooms in schools, and to actively grow food that would benefit the school community and it’s families. As well as to seek partnerships with like minded entities in the town to provide fresh food to say local food pantries, and join forces with nearby farms to up the awareness of community supported agriculture.

The first year – I was so ready. I had every ounce of our class time detailed,  the perfect growing plan to maximize how many plants we could get in the ground – when we’d start seeds inside, and when we’d rotate and put new stuff in the ground – to ultimately feed the most people… 

My students were initially kindergarteners and first graders – which meant that within minutes….. 99% of my best laid plans were absolute trash.  Our classroom was situated in between two playgrounds which meant the allure of running off and seeing how many of your classmates would follow you – became the foremost activity. 

I did discover however that “watering” the gardens was a highlight for kids. And I could send a team of kids to one raised bed to water, and be teaching and planting in another simultaneously. 

EXCEPT I couldn’t.

That plan actually meant that all the garden beds became flood scenes. 

Where newly planted seedlings soon were floated on the top of water. 

Tiny radish, beet, and lettuce seeds  – no longer in their rows.  Not even in the boxes anymore.

Every.single.kid covered in soil which was super fun for a second – but quickly led to them crying and wanting to go inside.

These gardens meant to promote growth, fruit, life – went sideways in the strong stream of a hose – and appeared to be swamps of mud and tears.

The image of life as a garden is a rich one.  One that we often align with verdant flora and fauna. Working in the patterns and behaviors that promote harmony and flourishing. . .  a natural way of being… with our partnership and tending and attention and cultivation..  And how true it can be.

And we also know that our lives are often side-swept – by pandemics, violence, tragedy, where all the best of our “tending” couldn’t have changed or prevented the course.

It’s why this word ‘Puhpowee’ gives me hope. Not hope that just floats above the harsh realities of our days,  but hope that is grounded in the histories of people that have endured being in the mud and grit  – and still hold onto the mysteries of our faith, of the Divine –  of that force of life that will not give up even in our darkest, dankest, moldy places.

It points me to the life force that Scripture starts with… that life starts with… 


In the first garden of scripture, in Genesis 2:7 it says that,

“YHWH God formed an earth creature out of the clay of the earth, and breathed into [their] nostrils the breath of life; and the earth creature became a living being.” (The First Egalitarian Translation).  

Some scholars think that this first human breath of life – was more like a “gasp” as this life force filled its lungs. A sudden appearance of the unseen – now felt and living within skin.

I can tell you that the experience of returning to that outdoor classroom the following week (after the great flood) and finding that indeed some seedlings had found their roots in the soil again and uprighted themselves – and that some seeds were already sprouting and offering their first leaves to the sun… was *gasp-like* Not only to see such life emerge – but to remember, to return to a knowing that there is a life-force that continues to work on our behalf – even when we can’t.

The Old Testament shows the Spirit—this life-giving Spirit of God—as the divine power that creates, sustains, and renews life 

(Genesis 1:2).

“This power of the Spirit is found in the prophetic books of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Joel. Where God brings breath to dry bones  –  showing the power of the Spirit to give life, always. Even in situations of death, sorrow, despair, and hopelessness, the Spirit can move – and move us”

…it can come in the night and show up in the morning, it can bring back to life what was dead…Korean-American theologian Grace Ji-Sun Kim 

The image of life as a garden of course holds the pattern of life and death and life and death and life and death again. But in the seasons of life that are so fallow – rife with hard, frozen ground – where there isn’t even the tiniest mushroom of hope – they are real and hard and long seasons.

It’s in part why I want to look at the story of Mary Magdalene and Jesus meeting in the garden after his death, here it is in John 20.

John 20:11 – 17

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb

12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”
14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

*And she went on to tell the disciples  – as he asked – that she had seen “the Lord!”  

Among the many striking things about this passage – is that Mary doesn’t go anywhere else to tend to her grief.

The tending she needs – somehow intuitively she knows – is going to be found in the garden – where her friend, Jesus is supposed to be. 

Grief is one of those “big words”  – that holds a world within itself. A word that none of us ever wants to encounter fully – because when it becomes part of our story – we know there’s little we can do but let the flood come, and give way to it. 

Grief can feel like a world ending without our permission.  For the disciples and Mary – the world had died in the night as they knew it… As Jesus was crucified.

For the Potawatomi people – their world as they knew it died as they marched by gunpoint along the Trail of Death – losing half of their people on that journey.

Grief doesn’t wait for us to be ready to receive its weight.  It floods our familiar paths.  It ambushes, it takes over, it bullies its way into our thoughts, our bodies, our hearts.

And grief is unwieldy, it’s not picky… It hovers over the space where we’ve lost what’s precious to us or where what is good and right in us has been trespassed…  And it attempts to take root right in that most tender spot.  It has the ability to disorient and disrupt our way of living.   

Grief is a force of its own.

An invasive one.

And Mary walks into this garden draped in strips of grief.

And yet, finds a tomb of grief draped in linens that pointed to life. 

And as she turns from the empty tomb toward the garden she sees the gardener.

*I imagine her gasping here – as the earth creature in the first garden did…*

That gasp that holds a zing of life, of hope – of deep knowing – that has been covered for a bit… but now pushes through – puhpowee.

An awareness of the unseen spirit of God that animates the world around us, our breath, the wind..  The mist in a garden at dawn.

“There’s my friend Jesus, the gardener –  the one who planted the whole garden since the beginning of time.”

Mary is often regarded as making a mistake here – mis-identifying Jesus as a gardener…

But I don’t think it was a mistake – I think in her turn and gasp – she has listened to the spirit, the breath, the wind of God. .. and knows he is indeed a gardener, as well as Jesus.

Robin Kimmerer says that in the Potawatomi language there are very few letters in their alphabet…so the clusters of consonants that come together sound like wind in the pines and water over rocks – sounds that her ears may have been more delicately attuned to in the past, but no longer.  And as she began to invest time in learning again she said,

“you really have to listen.” (53)

Our words try to name and describe what we see. It’s why science terminology polishes the way of seeing. But it falls short of fully capturing the way of listening that also allows us to detect life, to perceive the Spirit – that runs so invisibly  – yet so thunderously through all things.

I was constantly correcting kids of their perceived mistakes in the outdoor classroom.  Plant here, use this much dirt, space so many inches between plants. At one point I saw a kid ripping up all the radishes that were primed for delivery to the pantry in a couple days… and trying to plant little sunflower seedlings they had started inside … I literally picked him up under the armpits and relocated him away from that raised bed. No no no this is a mistake…

And the teacher was like, “…um… you can’t move kids.”

And the truth is, this child wasn’t making a mistake, he had actually  been listening all along – NOT TO ME – but to the source of all life –  he had noticed that the soil was most sun-soaked in that particular edge of the garden.. A place prime for sunflowers to stretch.  . . . And a not so great place for radishes that appreciated cooler temps.

It’s so natural whether in times of grief, or determined vision, or exhaustion to shrink our words down for safety… to limit – define God to a realm of knowing. 

What we lose though as we do this is space to listen –  space to gasp – the sense that the word puhpowee points us toward… to life, to movement, to growth… to dirt, to mystery, to miracles, to mess…. It’s hard for so many of us, we like to have the right name – terms for things. We don’t like to rip stuff up out of our lives even if we know it’s been waiting for a long time. 


I had joked with Steve & Lydia when we were considering what this series about words would look like – and I suggested,

“how about we do a series on the 4-letter words of Jesus?”

You know like – hope, love, gift, rest, LIFE.

That conversation happened over email – so I couldn’t really read the tone in the replies – but needless to say it was a no-go.

But it is these words that root our faith – hope, love, life – which are in jeopardy, if we don’t let them breathe – they are shot through with this life force – alive.… if we continue to let them be free… to let them be lived, embodied. That’s what makes them BIG, right?  It’s how we engage with all of creation – the natural world around us – without worrying that we are comprising Jesus or God in any way – but hold our hands open to the sacredness of it all.

We can know how, where, when, who to love – but we can’t always fully understand how the force of love, the spirit of love – continues to keep our hearts beating – for one another… in disagreement, hurt, distress, or grief.

We can grasp and try out practices that help ground us and offer us hope. Meditation, prayer, gratitude – but we don’t quite fully understand why an early morning bird’s song, like the Carolina wren’s – or why the burst of green from a pine tree in winter, or why the owl’s call at night makes us gasp and fill our lungs with hope.

We can know that a nap, or a refusal to hustle or a good night’s sleep is the rest we need… but not fully understand how such rest can return so many of you to your ancestors – can heal your aching bones and spirit – that have been crying out for centuries.

Love, hope, rest are not only concepts -they are of spirit.  And that spirit – as evident in nature, as evident in us – will not relent. Will keep pushing up –  as this word, puhpowee offers us –  seemingly overnight, and in the places that will demand us to perceive with greater listening the freedom and expanse – the space it requires.

Robin talks about the English language – how it is a noun-based language – somewhat appropriate to a culture that seems to be obsessed with “things”. (53)

Only 30 percent of the English words are verbs, but in Potawatomi the proportion is 70 percent – which means that 70 percent of words have to be conjugated and have different tenses and cases…making it an incredibly hard language to learn.

European languages assign gender to nouns – but Potawatomi does not divide the world into masculine and feminine.

As Robin was learning the Potawatomi language she was frustrated finding it so complex,  cumbersome, the distinctions between words for a beginner so subtle –  And because it is such a verb heavy language – nouns used in English become animated, often with the verb, “to be.”  So something regarded as a person, a place, a thing – suddenly takes on movement….

“To be a bay, to be a Saturday, to be a hill, to be red.” (53, 54)

“To speak is those possessed with life and spirit in Potawatomi one must say, yawe. To be. Isn’t that interesting – Yahweh the unspoken name for God of the Old Testament and yawe of the New World both fall from the mouths of the reverent.” (56)

To be.

To have breath of life within.

To be the offspring of Creation.

The use of so many verbs gives credence to a culture that believes everything is alive. 

The life that pulses through all things – that animates all things. 

That allows rocks to be animated, mountains, trees, birds, etc.. 

And it is the same life force that frees/ liberates us from the demons of being “right,” or having to dominate, of being trapped, of being dead in spirit.

It is the same force as Luke tells us that  freed Mary Magdalene when Jesus cast out seven demons from her.  Mary walks into the garden knowing what it is to be imprisoned in a tomb…and yet she also knew what it was to be called to life again.  The *hope* the *love* the *faith* that called her back to life – was not of her own doing.  The heart of this word, Puhpowee, is what called her name even before Jesus did. 

It’s what tended to her grief in a dark garden alone … the spirit … even before the gardener came into view.  

The spirit ….. maybe it’s meant to keep us connected to life – by all means possible. In surprising, undefined, “un-termed” ways..

Maybe it’s how we see angels – in a room soaked in death.

Maybe it’s how we find Jesus in the morning -after a night of insomnia.

Maybe it’s how we hear our name – in the silence we find at the end of our ropes.

Maybe it’s how we find a new idea for a project after a conversation with a neighbor.

Maybe it’s how we find peace in leaving a job that defies all logical choice.

Maybe it’s how we find the courage to say sorry.

Maybe it’s how we find the courage to not say sorry.

Maybe it’s how we find freedom from all that tries to trap us.

*Maybe it’s how we keep living when it seems like the world is full of only dank, dark, mildewy tombs at every turn… 

*Puhpowee* – the life force that is in all of creation – that frees us to encounter Jesus – by whatever name we might call him.

God breathed into Mary, God breathes into the little kid in my outdoor classroom, God’s life force is in those sunflowers that still fill the school garden bed, God is breathing in me and in you – so that we can breathe the life of God back to the world…this is the pattern of life and growth – 

“Do not hold on to me,”

Jesus says to Mary [go breathe – go gasp] 

“go tell my siblings.” 

Nobody thinks that one small kindness is going to change a life – but it might change a moment, and in that moment something small can grow – and can even grow overnight.

It could be the smallest movement, the calling someone by name across a parking lot, an extra 2 minutes after service to intentionally say “hi,” and learn someone’s name, a small text,  a “thank you”… Robin’s  language teacher – gives her small class of 10 people –

“thank you’s” to everyone for breathing LIFE into the language, even if it’s only a single word they speak.”

A single word.

This is the life we have to offer one another – by the Spirit – a single word, a single moment, a single action – it holds the life force of the Divine – it’s how we can show up, appear to one another with creation in our hands and breath.



GOD IN CHRIST | Everywhere & In Everyone

Good morning friends! It’s so good to be with you – I’m Ivy, a pastor here. And this Sunday is our 3rd Sunday of Advent. This season that invites us to prepare/anticipate Jesus’ birth. This Advent we’ve been inviting you to pay attention to where you might perceive the love of God with you – and around you.  I hope your week held a little bit of wonder, something good, true and beautiful. 

This week my NEW laptop stopped working. Actually just the screen stopped working – which you know, functionally means I can’t really do a lot of work. There wasn’t a flicker of life on that screen. No trick, no long reboot – no nothing seemed to bring light back to the screen.

A streak of fear shot through my body, as I thought about my week ahead.

Not because I couldn’t imagine a backup plan – you know there are libraries and friends and my phone that I could use to get work done.

But it was my “tabs.” Allllllll the many, many hundreds of tabs that beautifully run along the top of my screen.

Tabs that are inspiration for projects I have lined up in the new year. Tabs that have articles up that I want to return to for research. Tabs that have scripture, and design files, and shopping carts, and Tabs from like 2018 where I found something inspirational that didn’t quite have an outlet then – but I’m sure any day will…

These tabs are little lights that mark my days. Keep me on track – let me know what I should be thinking about, remembering what I shouldn’t forget – and guiding where I should be going.

And now it was just dark… a completely blank screen. Nothingness.

And this is how I feel this time of year in some ways – the sun will set today at 4:11pm. 

Darkness and coldness encroaches and closes in.

The markers of warmth and light and summer days, and beautiful Fall colors, and sounds of kids splashing in sprinkler parks and sticky/drippy ice cream cones wane.  

To me, the landscape around me is just emptiness. Emptiness abounds. Hibernation seems like an incredibly smart option.

And this is really the invitation of Advent – not hibernation! *But the invitation to close all our tabs.

Yes – likely the real ones on your computer screens. But also the tabs we’ve have lined up in our hearts and  minds about what and how you know God. 

Advent is a disruption of knowing – and it is an invitation into darkness.
And to regard darkness as a new way to know. 

Advent embraces darkness, and asks us to not just endure it, or to wait it out until it passes – but to mine the dark. To see, to look, to perceive God with NEWNESS.  To ACTIVELY engage the dark as the setting by which we rediscover the expanse of God in Christ.

A darkness that is sacred, that is freedom. A darkness that has always EXISTED since the beginning of time (maybe before time)…  A darkness that is the original language of God and the birthplace of everything and everyone – even before the birth of Jesus.

This Advent Series that we are in is simply called, “WITH US.” And it’s an exploration of the self-giving love of God… “in Creation” as Steve talked about the first week – and “in Jesus”, as Lydia talked about last week.

And, “In Christ” – as I’ll be talking about this week.  

We’ll spend this time together wondering just what we mean when we say “Christ?”

How is Christ different from Jesus? Does it matter? Does it expand our awareness of God?

And how does Advent invite us to celebrate the coming of God incarnate in the birth of Jesus, AND illuminate the reality of a what-has-always-been a Christ-soaked world?

Advent – while a beautiful, rich time of waiting and anticipation – is also a challenging and active time. One that asks us to close all the tabs that have helped us know God and lean into the darkness  – a returning of sorts to the beginning – to the darkness of the womb.  

Advent is a season that is as much about our own coming and becoming and arrival…to the ongoing story of God…as it is about Jesus’ birth. It’s a time where the belief grows in us –  the belief that we can continue to discover God afresh in ways we hadn’t ever imagined or seen… in the places and people where we already declared “all is lost” – “there’s nothing there…”

And the reminder that God “WITH US” is as much a promise as it is an invitation. An invitation that God needs our partnership to create/form new ways of justice/ birth new wonders, fresh perspectives. God wants to do this WITH US. 

It’s how our own unfolding and spiritual growth happens – valuing the darkness as the rich birthing ground it is.

We’ll take a look at a couple scripture,

A couple of stories from me,

Some wisdom from Father Richard Rohr,

And a whole lot of the Spirit of God – that thankfully communicates to us FAR MORE than a sermon could ever outline.


God of wonder and hope and light and darkness, 

God that is with us at our first breath, our last, and in our every breath in between.

Help us today to orient to you – whatever you have for us – to become sensitive to your wonder of us, your love for us – in a way that promises to mark our days with a fresh openness and freedom – to perceive you in the many places we have yet to unturn.  *amen*

Kids Church Story

If you ever want to listen to a phenomenal sermon you should volunteer in kids church. The stories of God told and the responses kids have to these stories… never-ever-disappoints.

For years I volunteered in the zebras room, which is the 3-year old room. Each class involved among free time, and snack time  – story-telling time.  And the story telling uses a curriculum called Godly Play.  It highlights wondering questions – as a way to know God – versus “teaching a set of “known beliefs” about God (who God is).  

So at the end of each story-telling session – which involves simple, tangible wooden and felt components – I would ask one or two of these wondering questions: 

“I wonder where you noticed God in this story?”
“I wonder where you are in this story?”

And often there’d be a great pause – and there would be an array of responses…like this: 

  • “God smells like my mom’s perfume.”
  • Or “my grandmother died.”
  • Or one response, that had a long standing run with one particular class was,  “It’s my birthday”- every other kid chimes in, “It’s my birthday too!”
  • …and naturally we end our story time by singing “happy birthday”… to everyone (and kind of to no one) :).

One of the reasons I stayed volunteering long after my kid moved out of that class was because I took those responses of these 3-year olds seriously. I mean I laughed and sometimes thought, “really? wow that’s wild!”…
But I took their responses in as scripture. 

I had to close every tab in my brain that had previously suggested what scripture should be – and sit with these verses and chapters of the Bible – that were spoken out of the mouth of babes…

But oh how it perplexed and stretched my knowing & awareness of God.

Kids know how to engage the expanse of God (beyond form, name, or words) – when to us it looks like they have nothing to work with…

“Wait – you haven’t memorized scripture. You haven’t understood yet the historical context of this story of Jesus, or studied kenotic theology or the mystics…”

Kids are like hold on, let me just reach into my real life here…

“Here you go, my mom’s perfume (love it, and love her), my grandmother who died (that was sad, and I loved her), and my birthday (love that!)  – and btw mark it on your calendar – because it happens every week!”

And somehow in these exquisite responses they perceive and name the pattern of life and God…. which involves life and love, death & love, and life and love again.  Such great, great love – and such suffering. Seems like even a thoughtful, generous question of “I wonder where God is in this story?”

Is too small a question for the Christ that these kids point us to. They seem to get that

Christ isn’t just Jesus’ last name – but is a name for the immense spaciousness of all true Love (5)”?

God in Christ 

It’s true – God in Christ is the indwelling presence in everyone and everything since the beginning of time as we know it.  That’s big. . . like cosmic big.

And Christ competes with and excludes no one, *excludes no response – no description or name for God* – but includes everyone and everything. 

In fact the only thing that Christ excludes is exclusion itself.

In Colossians 1:15-17 we read:

Christ is the image of the unseen God

And the firstborn of all creation 

for in Christ were created 

All things in heaven and on earth

Everything visible and invisible,

Thrones, Dominations, sovereignties, powers all things were created through Christ and for Christ. 

Before anything was created, Christ existed,

        and all things are held together in Christ.

The refrain here,…all things, all things, all things, all things in heaven and on earth – all things are held together in Christ – before anything was created. 

It’s so beautiful and poetic.. but..really all things? I use to get nerve-y around this idea of God being so limitless. The faith context that I grew up in talked about God as love – but it was digestible …. a fairly definable God, and a fairly controlling LOVE –  and THAT God and THAT love were for a pretty limited amount of people. Not one of mystery and discovery and ongoing becoming.

But back at the beginning in Genesis where it says,

“And God said, “let there be light” and there was light… (Genesis 1:3)…it seems that here, God joined in unity with the physical universe and became the light inside of everything (Rohr)…

And this is helpful because Christ is the light that allows ALL OF US  to see things in their fullness – to perceive Christ everywhere and in everyone – and as Father Richard Rohr puts it, 

“when we consider the world around us as both the hiding place and the revelation of God, we can no longer make a significant distinction between the natural and the supernatural, between the holy and the profane.” 

There are no lines.

And we can look at the arc of history – and see how the mystery of God was engaged.

It’s how the Jewish people historically experienced God’s nature through light. They saw the glory of God known as the Shechinah, which means “dwelling of God.” Moses saw God’s light in the bush; the Jewish people were led by light in a pillar of fire that guided them in the desert. The Light also appeared in the tabernacle and the temple.

It is the light that shone round about the angels as they said to the shepherds,

“Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for ALL PEOPLE. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord.”

Christ is the light of God’s glory and the imprint of God’s being – one that existed at the beginning – sustains the universe and is good NEWS FOR ALL PEOPLE NOW, today.

 It is the universal light – steady throughout time.

Now Jesus (God in flesh) – as Lydia spoke about last week –  brings the message home in a personal way over thirteen billion years later! In Jesus, God’s presence became more obvious and believable in the world. Jesus – as Lydia said is God’s love language embodied. The formless took on form in someone we could

“hear, see, and touch” (1 John 1:1), making God easier to love. (Rohr) 

And so as we put together Jesus and Christ it gives us a God who is both personal and universal. A healthy expression – whereas a

“merely personal God can become tribal and sentimental – held captive and limited by culture, nationalism and by Christianity’s own cultural captivity to a white and Eurocentric worldview. And whereas a merely universal God never leaves the realm of abstract theory and philosophical principles.” (adapted 19)

But it is also how we remember with humility, when we try to shrink Christ –  that Christ is always larger than any one era, culture, empire or religion. Always surprising – growing in the margins where we least expect, exemplified in the most barren, seemingly desolate, looked over areas. 

How much of Jesus Christ is a mystery, and how much of our lives are messy and hard and require a God that does not give up on us. A God that is big enough and personal enough both to find us and hold us when we hurt. 

“All things are held together in Christ.”

We need such great love  – to hold us in such great suffering.

A God who is outpouring and self-giving in love – holding us – holding all things –  in this flow – even as life threatens at times to sweep us away.

We read in Romans the extent of this promise: 

Romans 8:35 – 36
35 Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 

36 As it is written,

We are being put to death all day long for your sake.

    We are treated like sheep for slaughter.

Now before we continue with the last 3 verses  –  I want to pause here because this last verse I read is referencing a different scripture –  Psalm 44.  

Where God’s people are having a real moment with God. That resonates strongly with me.

Where God’s people are saying –

“Guess who will feel separated from Christ’s love in times of trouble and distress? US!  Guess who feels like we are dying as danger and sword come our way??? US!!!!  We feel separated from your love.  

 Where are you God? We haven’t forgotten you – or broken your covenant?  Or turned our hearts away!  Yet you are not here.

Psalm 44

It says in verse 23 and onward, 

23 Wake up! Why are you sleeping, Lord?

    Get up! Don’t reject us forever!

24 Why are you hiding your face,

    forgetting our suffering and oppression?

25 Look: we’re going down to the dust;

    our stomachs are flat on the ground!

26 Stand up! Help us!

    Save us for the sake of your faithful love.


If this world is truly Christ-soaked then where are you?

I don’t know about you – but I definitely feel like this when I’m getting no indication that God is with me… when God feels literally light years away  – when I am just looking at a blank screen.

Is it true God that you can really be for us?  When life seems SOOOO against us?

Help us God!  Could you just be a beacon of light? Not leave us fumbling in the void. 

It’s interesting because in the preceding verses in Psalm 44 – the people remember that God had been kind to their ancestors… 

“planted their ancestors – given them roots…” 

Set their ancestors free – and it was the light of Christ’s face that saved them.  

It is hard, hard, hard to imagine that there is anything but nothingness around us when we are struggling. Why can’t God just show God’s face when we need it most?

I don’t know.

But I do know that wherever and whenever and in whomever we have felt goodness, experienced love in those times – help, comfort, reprieve, rest, a snack… whatever is good and true and beautiful, that too is Christ.

Even if we have never ascribed the name God to it before. 

A quick story to this point, and then I’ll close:

Right around the time my son started in the Kids programming across the way – he also started preschool in our town.  And two afternoons a week, I’d go to pick him up at preschool and he would come running to me – yelling

“mommy, mommy you’re here!”

That winter though, a little boy in his class also started running to me at pick-up and calling me “Mommy….” 

It was a heart-wrenching move – because his mom had died a few weeks earlier while out for a jog.

Something about me – held the likeness of his own mom in his eyes.  

*And I’d close all the tabs that said:

“I don’t know if this is the best thing for this little guy – … psychologically  – for the process of grief – for attachment issues in the long run….?”

I would just let him wrap his arms around my knees, and rub his little back a few times.

And then he’d toddle off to the playground.

Of course, no one corrected him – not the director of the preschool, or the teacher, or me, or my kid.  No one said,

“that’s not your mommy!”

Because somehow in those moments we know – we can’t define or limit God by a word/or even a name.  From the beginning YHWH (Yahweh) let the Jewish people know that no right word would ever contain God’s infinite mystery. 

Any kind of real experience of God will usually feel like love.

It will connect you – at new depths and heights and dimensions – Richard Rohr says,

“In God you do not include less and less; you always see/perceive and love more and more. Anything that draws you out of yourself in a positive way – for all practical purposes – is operating as God for you at that moment –  goodness, truth, beauty.” (52)

Your mom’s perfume, your grandmother’s death, your own birthday… is as much God  – as the God we hope to encounter in church. And God celebrates this – God is not threatened, because God is free, not a God of control. 

And in the moments that feel darkest to us – absent of God… God stands up, gets up,  – wakes US up and nudges our hearts, our bodies, our minds, unto greater attention. It’s like it is to fumble in the dark – until our eyes eventually adjust … so too, can our spirits adjust to the love of God that is the very essence of our DNA and in the very matter upon which we live. 

Scientists have discovered that what looks like darkness to the human eye is actually filled with tiny particles called “neutrinos” slivers of light that pass through the entire universe. Apparently there is no such thing as total darkness anywhere, even though the human eye thinks there is.  Knowing that the inner light of things cannot be eliminated or destroyed is deeply hopeful.” (Rohr) 

*And so if my knees were a flicker of light for this little boy who lost his mom – or to his Dad who was always standing nearby at pick-up, so be it.   

I’m not saying I was CHRIST in this scenario –  not at all.

“I’m saying that Christ is everywhere; and that in Christ every kind of life has a meaning and has an influence on every other kind of life.” (3) 

And this is as constant as the light that fills the universe.

The last 3 verses of the Romans passage I started say: (Romans 8: 37-39)

But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us.  I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels nor rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.

BECAUSE THE height and the depth and the width of Christ’s love adds galaxy-sized-dimensions that we can’t ever fully describe, measure or define it…. 

All we can do is live it.  In this messy, incarnate, mysterious life. 

And pay attention as the Advent Guide invites us to – to perceive the love of God with us and around us.

In a world where empire, intense political and militaristic landscapes and the killings of innocents are rampant… Jesus is born. A birth story that involves a sky, a star, AND astrologers that read the sky for God’s divine presence, and sheep and cows, and a donkey –  all of creation  – every creature somehow a part of the Good news, the ADVENT of love. . . And Jesus Christ is still being born – a love and a light that still compels us to discover God in new, stretching ways  – today.

I don’t know what kind of space you are in today, friends… Maybe you are in grief, or maybe your voice is hoarse from shouting

“Stand up God!”

WAKE UP GOD!…  or maybe this waiting of Advent, stirs in you a deep tiredness and weariness from waiting for so many things, for far too long …  But maybe you are finding comfort and joy in a new shirt, or a lit candle at the end of a long day, or a stranger, or a poem or a bird or a tree at the end of your street…. – may you trust that it is the love of God –  the 

“illuminating light that enlightens all things…. “

Remembering that when Christ calls God’s self the

“Light of the World” (John 8:12),”

God is not telling us to look only to God – but to look out at ALL of LIFE.  And see that the same love and glory of Christ that shone round ‘about the shepherds, that visited Mary in a quiet room, the light that spoke to Zechariah, that laced the very matter of creation since the beginning of time…  

Is here too.

And is still coming. 

Is still unfolding… in us and WITH US.

And is waiting to be seen everywhere else too.

Prayer to end:
Ephesians 3:14-19

Christ our Savior – today I ask that you strengthen our inner selves with the riches of your glory through the Spirit. 17 I ask that you live in our hearts through faith – and through doubt – and through suffering and through joy…. Strengthen our roots in love, the roots you planted our ancestors with – and give us the power that it takes to grasp love’s width and length, height and depth.. And help us to  know the love of you –  that is beyond knowledge so that we can be filled with your self-giving love – filled entirely with the fullness and light of God.


The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe

Book by Richard Rohr


It was so good to be with you today!

My friends  – Jesus Christ awaits your partnership.

May you be surprisingly renewed in the days of coming darkness.

May you find new depths, new  heights, new widths of Gods’ love…

In your wondering, in your desires, in your doubts, and in your joy…

As much as you do in the people nearby.

Enjoy your day


Enjoy what unknowns are awaiting your arrival.

May you be blessed,


I look forward to being with you next week, 

Same time, Same place.

Be well.