Today, we enter into one of my most favorite seasons of the year: this Lenten season – the 6 weeks leading into Easter – that we at Reservoir have taken to calling the 40 Days of Faith. It’s a season that calls us into an intentional personal and communal faith experiment (as we are all invited to engage with these 40 Days together). It’s an opportunity to scrub the windows of our hearts – where the dust and smudge of life have added it’s shadowy filter… it’s where we break pattern in our busy lives to get to know and see Jesus afresh – and alive in our own beings and in the world around us.
The 40 Days of Faith is a really powerful season where some pretty amazing steps of faith are taken and answers to daring prayers are realized and where we take this powerful journey together as a community.
We have a 40 days of Faith guide here in your programs that outlines the history of this season in our church — I believe this is our 16th year! And the fun story of how this building and campus came to be our home — as a result of the 1st 40 days of faith. And it also outlines what the invitation is in this year’s season.
This year we are calling this Lenten season, “Children of God in Fractured Times”. We’ll feature a Daily Bible guide we’ll read together in this mighty fun book of Revelation and outline some spiritual invitations, (ways to pray, different spiritual practices to try, fasting) — as a way to experience Jesus in ways that strengthen our courage, hope, and resistance as children of God and followers of Jesus in challenging times.
To be honest, I’ve been wrestling a bit with this phrase “child of God”. I’ve heard it most of my life, and so there’s a part that sounds too much like just a Christian-y phrase. It didn’t hold much authentic weight for me in my own experience of God. I wasn’t offended by the phrase, but it didn’t churn anything in me — it wasn’t a way I would frame my connection to God. And I had planned in this talk, to mostly touch the edges of the phrase without a lot of attention to it, because I didn’t want to speak out of something that wasn’t genuine for me. This plan, I realize, would have been a great loss for myself and all of you.
This past Thursday night however, “child of God” became live for me, and I wanted to share this small moment with you to frame how I see “child of God” now, and why I think this is super helpful as we kick off this 40 Days Season.
Thursday night my husband picked up my youngest from his after-school program and it was clear that he and his peers had talked about some of the events in Parkland, FL. Scott and him talked more about this on the short drive home. I was upstairs when they got home – and my son came running up the stairs to me and said, “mom I don’t want to go to school tomorrow”. I turned to face him and he smashed into my body full speed, threw his arms around my waist and exploded into tears… And he asked, “Mom – why can’t there be one place on earth where nothing bad happens?”
My only response was to hug him tighter, let my tears fall on the top of his beautiful head… and say, “oh sweet boy. I hear you. I hear you and I don’t know… I don’t know”.
This was a picture of being a child of God for me. And we are all children of God: a raw, vulnerable and brave posture — running full throttle into God with no filter. We are invited these 40 Days to throw everything we have and feel and can name at God — and find in return not a list of explanations, or rationalizations for pain, or check-boxes to tick off to return to sanity, but instead a warm, lavish love that embraces and shares in our madness, our pain, and outrage.
This phrase, “children of God”, is not just an over-used description; it’s the invitation of these 40 Days — an invitation that is a way forward in our fractured times and an invitation that is counter-cultural and straight up brave.
And so, if you are up for it these 40 Days are an invitation — yes — to carry on a tradition that for centuries followers of Jesus have engaged with to enliven their spiritual focus (and get to experience God more deeply). But these 40 Days are also an invitation to be courageous, to name your fears, right alongside your deepest longings and move through and out of this Lenten season with “child of god” stamped squarely on your warrior’s heart that’s also cloaked in the softness of God’s lavish love for you.
Back in September my husband, Scott and I started praying together in the morning. This had never happened before in our 16 years of marriage. We might pray for each other, (in separate spaces) — but not with each other and for each other , as an intentional part of our marriage.
We both are night owls — but tip that often to the point of exhaustion and crash pretty hard when we actually get to bed — so nighttime never felt like an opportune time to pray together. And Scott gets up and out of the house by 6am which just felt – absolutely unfathomable to me.
This year in particular, busyness seems as though it has ticked up a bit — just in family life — you know — kid activities and time commitments to those. So for me, it felt like our moments of connection were less than I would prefer… and I also noticed my own tendency to become a little more — let’s just say — “bristly” with Scott when we weren’t connecting. And by “bristly” I mean, pretty shut down to any kind words or extensions of kindness that he might offer me. It’s not that I wasn’t aware of them, but I just didn’t fully receive them or take them in.
It wasn’t necessarily a big warning flare going up — but it was a subtle and potent undercurrent of our interactions: a little more transactional in vibe than ‘loving’. A little more hardened than soft. And even more subtly — under my skin — a little more fracturing than I think I was aware of.
We have to acknowledge that being in a fractured world affects us as well — and not only in the areas that we are comfortable naming, but in systemic ways that spread throughout our whole being. Because it really is unrelenting.
Sure, as in Scott and my case, “busyness” is one identifiable piece of this fracturing. It makes us feel fractured in our brains, we have a word for it – “scatter brained” — brain-shattered.
But our fracturing is way more systematic than just one area. Every day we hear and read painful news headlines which don’t resonate in our beings as something a gentle heart could hold — and we become heart-shattered. We see people we love suffer, endure and even die at the hands of violence, and we become soul-shattered.
Not to mention when our fractured world lunges directly at our bodies, with it’s sharp edges and weapons and causes pain and hurt — and we become physically-shattered.
Our minds, our bodies, our souls and our spirit are fractured too.
The spiritual growth we might hope for walking into the 40 Days of Faith together is not just a time to sit in our pain, or tick “spiritual” checkboxes, but it’s an opportunity to heal ourselves — and heal our fractured and broken world. This is one spiritual practice. And I think we are hungry for this. But we often displace our deep hunger and flail about our days in a state of starvation which yields more fracturing.
If you’ve been in the vicinity of a hungry child – you’ve probably recognized how quickly their demeanor can go from “sweet child” to “less than sweet child”. A missed snack/meal could result in crying, flailing on the ground, throwing things, or my favorite — chilling obstinate stillness. But likely you’ll miss the beat about it being about hunger, b/c likely the child is crying about his sock feeling funny, or the wrong colored cup, or the fact that it’s too sunny out. And so you go racing around, distracted looking for the gray lego piece that’s being demanded — with 6 connection points, shaped in the form of the letter “L”, but a flat “L’, not a thick “L” — and really the kid just wants a sandwich.
And we adults are no different. We, too, might just need a sandwich. I mean, really — maybe that’s what our fractured selves and by extension our world around us could use: something that we can take into our bodies, into our muscles and tissues and marrow of our bones – that would assimilate fully into our beings in a way that allows us to move and live out of this sustenance, where our internal systems are working together in a sense of wholeness and unity.
As I mentioned, we’ll be spending time over the next 6 weeks in the fascinating book of Revelation – Steve has written a daily Bible Guide for this that we’ll make our way through together – and he and Lydia, our newest pastor, will hit on Revelation a little more directly in the upcoming weeks. But I wanted to give us a taste of this wild book this morning, because I think it hits so nicely with how we can think about engaging in these 40 Days:
The author of this book, St. John, is a commanding figure. He was pastor of marginal, politically and economically powerless Christians, in a society in which their commitment to following Jesus branded them as criminals of the state. He was moving to keep their hope fresh against formidable odds, and to keep the living, speaking, acting Jesus at the center of their lives.
He had these wild visions that came to him one morning as he was worshiping on the prison island of Patmos, in which he saw this gigantic angel who had one foot planted in the ocean and the other on the continent with a book in hand. The angel was preaching from this book a sermon like nothing John had ever heard, and he started to write down what he was hearing. But a voice told John to stop taking notes and to do the following instead:
Revelation 10:9-10 (NIV)
9So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but ‘in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.’” 10I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour.
What a picture: eating this scroll! The angel doesn’t instruct St. John to pass on information about God — he commands him to assimilate the words of God into his being. To eat and ingest is so broad, so comprehensive, and yet so personal – especially as we are talking about taking in the words of God.
Our invitations are often to interact with the words of God, to read the Scriptures, to pray, to try spiritual practices in a particular manner. Rarely is it to take it all in and let the nutrients fall where they are needed most. The beauty of eating the scroll is that God does a fine job inside of us at directing these pieces to exactly the parts in us that are the most hungry and craving, and God starts a lot of times with attention to words.
And this is so personal. It’s why — if we had time to sit with even these two verses — there would be a myriad of responses if I were to say, “Close your eyes and invite God to highlight a word or phrase for you”. Some of you might say “Sweet” , some of you might say “sour”, or “I took”, or “angel”. We all are likely craving something specific, and these words start to orient us to the root of that hunger.
Eating the words of God, as John — and other biblical players, like the prophet Ezekiel — show us, allow them to have a breadth, not a narrow/prescribed way of living these words out. This approach to eat the words — to Eat these 40 Days — is huge for us because it releases the need to get the words of God — or God Himself — “right” in our HEADS, and instead absorb Him into our full bodies and let the nutrients fall where they are needed most.
Words spoken or listened to, written or read – are intended to do something in us: give health and wholeness, vitality and hope. And it effects all of our systems, right? When we take in food, it doesn’t just satisfy our digestive system – it enhances our endocrine system, our nervous system our immune system, our circulatory system. The words of God, whether we read them, hear them, or sense them — if we eat them, digest them– start to form new wholeness in our fractured, innermost beings — in our minds, hearts, bodies and spirits.
And that is not just good news for us; it’s good news for the world around us. Because just as when we take in the food we eat — when we are healthy, it is unconsciously assimilated into our nerves and muscles — it’s put to work in our speech and in our action: an unconscious outpouring of that intake.
Scott and my morning efforts of prayer together hovered around just about 47 seconds each morning: me, stumbling down the stairs at just the point Scott would be leaving the house, and mumbling, “Dear God – be with Scott today, love him and give him energy and a safe drive”.
But we went for it. Whatever our prayers looked like or sounded like, we ate it up. And what we ended up eating — was not just the words of our sleepy-formed prayers, but the words of God for us, individually and together. Turns out we were hungrier than we thought. We had become distracted looking for the obscure lego piece and had missed the sandwich on the table in the hustle of life.
But Jesus took our words and converted them into deep, rich words within us — words that said “you are ok, you aren’t failing”, “Yes this is hard”, and “i love you”. God is continually forming and shaping all things new within us, but it took our intention to tap the well of the love of God within us.
These 40 Days remind us of the offer on the table to take inroads back to our deep hunger — that our pain in this fractured world, is absolutely felt in real, visceral, concrete ways, and it is layered with hunger pains for the love of God, the words of God.
Scott and my experience of praying together — as it says in these Revelation verses — tasted “as sweet as honey”. I started to see new things about Scott that I had missed. I started to have a more generous heart toward him. I started to offer kindness (rather than bristly interactions), and lead with this posture of love (far beyond my human capacity). A wholeness was forming in me, God directing nutrients where they needed to go . That allowed me to have a broader view of Scott, instead of only seeing slices/fragmented parts of him. And that lasted for just about 18 days (that’s as long as we sustained it, as good as it was!).
And maybe this is a bit of the “sourness/bitterness” that John talks about as he digested the scroll. This new, upright posture that we might discover in ourselves as we sit in the love of God is actually hard to fully digest and take in, and live out in our real world. Because we get tired, people are mean, etc.
Sure, my story of Scott is a fairly straightforward one. We have relationship, history, trust, a motivating reason to continue to act out of love toward each other, and yet even within that framework it’s hard to sustain. And so the harder it becomes in the fuller stretch of our lives with our unpredictable, fractured relationships. Or the words that infiltrate our beings from our fractured social media feeds, newsfeeds, where we take in splintered jabs at our personhood? Or words that are just thrown at us as weapons? How do we continue an appetite for “Love” when so much churns our stomach and is unsettling?
“How do we live, fully live on every word that comes from the mouth of God?’” (Matthew 4:4)
The sweetness it seems is being a child of God and sitting in God’s lavish love. The bitterness that unsettles our bellies is realizing that this lavish love — this lavish love of the DIVINE — knows no bounds, evades no one, and is so compelling it demands we do the same. It challenges us! It doesn’t make space for stopping our “leading of love” when Scott does something that infuriates me. It challenges us to keep loving inspite of the pain.
Divine love does not come in digestible bites. God’s love douses us full force. As we encounter God’s love these 40 days, it will scrub our insides — the film and shadowy filter of our hearts — and it will give us a system reset, and that is hard to handle. It’s a lot to digest.
This is why, my friends, I say that if you are up for eating these 40 Days, if you are up for really digesting them, they will be brave, brave days ahead of you!
These days will invite us to not deny our pain, but to take it in and convert it to more. These days will invite us to not deny our fears, but to look at them squarely and name them.
These days will invite you to not just learn more of the words of God – but these days will invite you to integrate these words into your being and allow yourself to become more.
These days will invite us to peer into the dark tombs at our feet — where dead, unanswered prayers or unrealized hopes lay — and be open to the full force of the lavish love of God, that just might call them back to life.
So much of our 40 Days is this great exploratory journey of our inner self with Jesus. You’ll get a chance to put to words something you might be hoping God will be with you in or do on your behalf. You’ll have a chance to pray, fast, and try spiritual practices. But these 40 days are also a shared spiritual experience where we collectively are expecting God to catch our attention, to be alive to us, to help us breathe with belief for a new collective energy beyond 6 weeks — into our work spaces, where we play and live — not just for ourselves and our own health, but for this picture of a world that could be revolutionized by love.
I’ve been listening recently to the story of Valarie Kaur. In just a few minutes you’ll hear a piece of her story yourself. She’s been the direct target of a fractured world. She’s a Sikh American who grew up in the Sikh faith; she was bullied for having brown skin, for her family wearing turbans, and her experiences of discrimination turned to violence when her uncle was murdered in one of the first hate crimes post 9/11. And this propelled her into exploring and devoting her work to see just how love could be reclaimed as a public ethic. She’s a film-maker, a faith leader, and a lawyer.
She is currently the founder and director of the Revolutionary Love Project, where she encourages us to bravery, to love, and to birthing new ways forward in our world. Here’s a clip of her Ted Talk last November:
This picture of God as a midwife is compelling to me and feels so resonant in this season of Lent: a God who welcomes new life in even the most excruciating circumstances, and the one who calls us to look into the darkness and see with fresh eyes.
This is Lent – walking us right into the tomb. Staring in — do we see death? Or do we imagine and believe for life which is about to be birthed? The followers of Jesus breathed and pushed together, and kept going (even in the pain and the joy).
These are the components of the spiritual sandwich – that we are hungry for:
Joy. Love. Pain. Breath and Bravery. This is what we are invited to eat these 40 Days.
The hot winds don’t promise to cease, the waves dont’ promise to calm, but as the prophet Jeremiah found: “ eating the words of God – become the joy and the delight of our hearts”
Joy can be birthed. As we run to God as Children of God — with all our pain and our panic — and sit in His sweet love, here is where he converts all of our intake into love and joy that helps reframe our darkest times.
This allows me to hold my sweet boy a few seconds longer, to entertain the thought of getting up before the sun rises to drool prayers with my husband; because the love of God is so divine and compelling that I too, want to birth and create things new.
These 40 Days, let Jesus see you and sit with you. Let him tend to you. Let him love you. And let him whisper to you, again and again: “you are brave”.
And may this be the compelling Spirit to start our breathing and pushing together — as children of God in this world — through the power and the love of the Holy Spirit.
How Exactly Do I Eat These 40 Days?
1. Bravely embrace these 40 Days from exactly where you are at. Start by naming your fears (let these fears that you name – be their own prayers):
“Courage is fear that has said it’s prayers” – Gene Robinson, Bishop
Courage breaks forth from acknowledged fears – and these fears themselves allow us an opening to a deeper spot in ourselves, where our hopes and desires reside….
**take a few minutes to jot down any fears you might have***
2. Consider how you can find and savor your joy each day.
Valarie Kaur – says that “joy” is a move to not give into the darkness — to the fractured-ness around us. This is a form of resistance. Ask God what that might be for you
Try: a spiritual practice (where you might encounter unexpected “joy”)
We’ll have suggestions of a spiritual practice to try in the daily bible guide. But maybe you have your own thoughts.
“I’ll sit in my favorite chair, with coffee in the morning for 5 minutes and ask God to be with me”.
Try: fasting (Allows us to see the props that we’ve been resting on to satiate us – to bring us perhaps fleeting “joy” – and to kick those props out from under us – and make more space for God). Spirit of fasting – is to fast for what we want or hope to encounter with Jesus. And we direct our hunger toward God – and make space for that encounter to be noticed.
3. Ingest God’s words
Try: Participating in the Daily Bible Guide. It’s great – it promises to turn on circuits in our brains that we don’t normally touch!
Try: Eating a sandwich
Give yourself freedom – to just practically take in what you need for sustenance, like literally a sandwich!
4. Breathe and push alongside others
Try: Joining a community group for these 40 Days
I’ve heard these referred to as “moveable sanctuaries”: a place of respite, to be youreself, of safety, where anyone is welcomed. Where you can encourage one another to breathe deeply, and move and push with love at your core.
5. Invite the Holy Spirit to fan the flames of lavish love and protect you from the hot winds.
Try: Praying for yourself, your six and your church/community.