Good morning – I’m Ivy. So great to be here with you on New Year’s Day!
First off – Congratulations! – you have made it to the first day of 2023. Well done.
It’s the time of year where there’s a flurry of talk about reflecting and making resolutions…
And likely we all have a variety of opinions and feelings about both. I don’t love resolutions, but I am resolving to drink water in the new year…like more water, more regularly.
Today – I’m going to talk a little bit more about reflection – than resolution – and I’m going to invite us to pause and to entertain a question from Jesus – that feels like a helpful and anchoring one to start the new year.
The reality of course, is that I don’t know exactly what 2022 held for all of you and maybe some of you underestimate what this year has held for you. Often I hear, “well – you know, it’s been a year… or hey, look I’m here.” Kind of a protected, or neutral response… Like “nothing to see here.”
But my guess is that it’s been a FULL year, even fuller than your first pass at reflection might reveal.
I felt this a couple of weeks ago in a staff meeting where our Executive Pastor, Trecia Reavis, led us through a reflection exercise. Inviting us to name the many things we’ve done through our work as a team… spaces, events, bbqs, classes, baptisms, check-ins, little things, big things, things visible, and things behind the scenes… in some ways to celebrate all that we’ve done – and to *not forget* all that 2022 had held.
And there was something so validating about seeing it ALL in dry-erase marker on a whiteboard. . . “WOW. We did do a fair amount of things.”
I expected the next part to be similar to the business-y model of review, “Stop. Start. & Continue” – start categorizing the work we’d done into these funnels – so we can figure out where to prioritize our work and capacity in 2023. A valid, helpful tool – one though that often gets you moving in a “do-ing mode” pretty quickly… so I was gearing up for that energy…
And there was this slight pause and Trecia turned to us and said, “Now, I want you to think about your personal life over this past year…”
And I froze. I don’t know what the rest of the sentence was – probably something normal like, “think of your personal life, and all that it held – or all the work in that realm…”
A couple of people shared stuff – and then our time was up, our meeting was over…
… and I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me…
“Was that a “good” wind-knocked out of me feeling – or was that like, deep- pain-wind-knocked out of me feeling?”
I remember as I went to get up from my chair, I put my hand over my heart. Like I had to hold it in as I moved, to make sure it would still be there for my next breath…
I’ll unpack some thoughts around this in a minute… but…
This familiar, kind of short- 15 minute exercise that Trecia led us through, was not only an invitation to *reflect & not forget* what we had DONE… it was an invitation to *reflect & not forget* who we are. Our whole human selves that we bring around with us everywhere. With the layers and layers we are comprised of… the layers that make our vocations enriched, the layers that are a mess and weigh us down and the layers we carry and are shaped by – from years and years gone by… not just 2022.
And it was an invitation to PAUSE, and not forget who God is in all of the layers.
To realize that when we feel like all we have to offer at the start of a new year is a neutral comment like, “well I’m here,” … God celebrates that, GOD LOVES THAT. God goes over the top and reveres our presence as holy, meaningful and sacred.
For me it’s been an intense year. A hard year, a joyous year, a year with constriction and stretching, of letting go… And in between my moments to reflect and my moments to make resolutions – There’s always a moment to <pause>. Yes, where any question can come at me, where my feelings can jump before my mind can put the reaction all together – but also where Jesus says, “I’m so glad you are here. I’m so glad you are here.”
And that pause builds hope. It’s neither a reflection or a resolution – but a truth – a promise even – that as much as I can lose my breath at the pain and the sorrow and the exhaustion of a year – I can find it again with the love of God.
So as we start today – and as we stand on this first day of 2023, I’m going to invite you to pause with God as I pray for us. You can close your eyes if you’d like, and think over the past year – as memories come, let them roll through you – acknowledging, bringing to mind the ones that your heart and body allow. As they do, suspend any self-judgment or analysis – don’t rush to resolutions… but just pause and take in the full expanse of your whole life over the last year (all the corners of it). As whole people – with all the threads of life (whatever those might be for you); celebratory threads, threads that feel like live-wires and unresolved threads. Open yourself unto God in this…
Oh Loving God,
The Sustainer of our soul,
The source of our breath,
The one who resolves to love us endlessly,
The one who reflects back to us our divine beauty,
Thank you for being with us, within us and between us today.
Trecia in some ways helped us navigate this notion of liminal time. The roots of this word in Latin mean “threshold”… And so liminal spaces are these threshold places, where we transition from one state or status to another.
Many of us have probably been in liminal times – when we’ve lost a job, or we’ve moved… or entering a new school, or on the cusp of a new friendship. These are all transitional, liminal spaces AND THEY ALL find commonality – in the fact that we are “not in control” – and there’s nothing “certain” that we can rest on. It’s also why resolutions are so popular. Or goals, or plans – you have something that you can at least put shape to, control to some degree – as you move into the unknown.
I love the “idea” of liminal space… the idea that there’s some entrance/beginning to walk through that could possibly usher in new ways of thinking and seeing the world around me. BUT as I’ve lived through these liminal moments in my life, I’ve realized I don’t really love so much the part about “not being in control or certain”… or how LONG “liminal time” can be. The week between Christmas and New Years – I can handle that version of liminal time – but think about the pandemic as liminal time and it’s toooo intense.
This is part of what knocked the wind out of me – when Trecia said now think about your personal life this year. There were a couple things in my personal life that earlier in the year left me feeling unmoored – and somewhere inside I had formed a plan. If I do, “ x, y, z over the next couple of months – with a bonus sabbatical month in there – with all the attention, presence, time and intentionality this pain point will be “resolved” by the end of the year.” And in that moment of reflection in staff meeting, my body felt the grief that it wasn’t – even before I could put together why my body was responding in that way…
Jesus invites us again and again to consider that our lives aren’t linear – from one year past to one year forward… this continuum of sorts. Our lives are multi-dimensional – they have the capacity to hold a MESS OF LIFE – and also a MESS of wild and crazy love – that is all over the place… and So while Jesus invites us to reflect – I think he invites us to FIRST RESOLVE to fall in love with Him day after day after day…
And He gets us into this space by asking us a great, piercing question – one that’s kind of akin to what Trecia’s question did for me.
And it’s a question interestingly enough that my husband, Scott asked me – in our pre-dating history (which now was 25 years ago!). And this pre-dating period – is important – because it was this liminal space… where no real commitment of relationship had been made….. well, at least not by me. For Scott I think in his mind (in his dreams) he was already convinced that we had crossed the threshold into being an official “couple.” Despite the fact that I had told him on multiple occasions that that was definitely not the case.
Still Scott pursued me. Hard. And in his pursuit he was quite heroic actually in laying out the reasons that he was a good catch… “I play the guitar, I cook – really well… I’m good-looking, nice, and sensitive and humble, etc…” (I thought … are you humble?)
And deep down I think I knew all these descriptors to be true. And it was obvious he loved me – and cared for me – and extended such tenderness to me, but honestly I didn’t know what to do with it all, with that display and level of love.
I had no container for a guitar-playing, sensitive chef. My examples of “real men,” in my life up to that point, played football and stuffed all their feelings inside and didn’t extend themselves in vulnerable ways… And so I was happy to engage with Scott at a surface level – I’d go to see a band or to dinner – but I wouldn’t ever engage at a heart level… that was really too unknown for me… and if that was liminal space, I wanted nothing to do with it…
But a person can only extend himself so far and REMAIN SANE! And we would have rhythms of intensity – a few months “on” where Scott would really lean in and engage – and then a couple months off where I think Scott would recover from the fatigue of putting himself out there with me. And then he’d gather up the energy – to go back into the fray of my unresponsive heart…
But ultimately the turning point came one night on the phone – after a series of intense “on” weeks…
When Scott asked me,
“Ivy, do you love me?”
This question, “do you love me?” turned out to be the most piercing of questions for me…
A question that seems could illicit only 2 possible responses:
“Yes, I love you” or
“No, I don’t love you.”
I think though, there’s some layers in either of those answers – that in my story and in the story of Peter and Jesus that we’ll read in just a moment – add another possible, third compelling answer… if not just more conversation than just a “yes” or a “no.”
So let’s take a look at the story here: This part of scripture is the 3rd post-resurrection appearance Jesus makes.
And where I’ll pick the story up today, is after a long night – where Peter and some of the disciples have been trying to catch fish – with nothing to show for it. And Jesus appears, unrecognizable to them, along the shore, and says,
“hi friends,cast your net on the other side”
and then they do and they have this miraculous catch of fish… And then we read this early morning beach scene:
15 After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”
“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.
16 Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”
“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.
17 A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said,
“Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”
“Then feed my sheep.”
For three years Peter walked with Jesus in a liminal space, having left his old life of fishing behind, embracing a life with Jesus -never knowing what exactly the next day would bring – where he would go, what was going to happen. Who Jesus was going to ask him to talk with or eat with or sit with? And all of that time – culminates with Peter denying his friend Jesus – three times. And then his friend, Jesus died. And so Peter still sits in a space of not knowing – but it doesn’t seem worth it anymore…
And like any you who have ever been a witness or participant in a life transition might know at least a bit what this feels like. …whether it’s been loss or birth of something or someone.
Sometimes in the swirl of all the emotions that such a time can conjure up – it’s easier to retreat to what we know, the tried and true, to go do something that feels normal again. And for Peter this is fishing…
And so, after Jesus’ death – he returns to the old, familiar world of being a fisherman. …
“I know how to do this – I know what to do… I catch fish. And I know I can live by fishing.”
And so he fishes….all night…. And catches NOT.ONE. Fish.
Same boat, same nets, same waters… nothing is working as it once had. This has got to be a pretty poignant night for Peter. To him he couldn’t get the world with Jesus right – and now – he can’t get a world that he once knew so well right.
Where does he stand?
Perhaps in the early morning dusk – tired, defeated Peter looks out to the shore – and asks,
“what do I have to show for my life? Nothing. All this time with this Jesus – who I have known and believe to be Savior, the comforter, healer, the bread of life, the good shepherd….. and nothing.”
Except Jesus is standing on the shore – and he answers-
“You got to try something new.”
What you don’t realize is that in those three years together – despite a sense of day to day uncertainty – we were building something new, something indestructible – that won’t allow you to go back to your ‘old life” the same way. We built a relationship, we built a flow of love – that is ALIVE and LIVING in YOU. And it matters – it matters in your life and the church to come and the world to come…
And as Peter’s OLD world is falling apart – Jesus shifts his net – and his perspective. To see the abundance of what hanging out in liminal space has brought Him…
And Jesus breaks this open with four simple words over breakfast…..
“Do you love me?” Do you love me?
Do you love me?
Now when Scott asked me this question:
“Ivy, do you love me?”
I quickly answered,
“No, I don’t love you”
… and just for good measure I added a little extra…
“..and I never will.”
Peter, when posed this question – has a more generous answer,
“Yes Lord, you know I love you.”
Both Peter and I – despite our disparate answers to this same question – have a deeper, common underlayer… The underlayer- I think is that we are both fumbling, internally – with this question, “do you love me”?, because we wish there was a third available answer on the table, that reflects the status of our heart:
“I don’t know HOW to love you”.
Scott, I don’t know how to love you in the face of all this tremendous, tender love that you are lavishing on me…. I don’t have a gridwork for this and my love back to you could never match it –
“no, I don’t want to love you – because I don’t know how, and I’ll never get it right.”
Jesus – I look back at my year – and my thoughts can’t help but hovering over these hard moments. When I feel like I’ve messed up or missed opportunities – or in turn when things have just happened – and I’m left pondering and regretting and angry and annoyed…
“I’ve messed it up too much already, Jesus”
I couldn’t even say I knew you to those authorities – and I thought I loved you??? I think Peter too, is fumbling with the question and his answer…
“yes, I love you”
But actually I really don’t know how to? How do I get it right?
Jesus answers us – he waves at us from the horizon of whatever space we are in… this shoreline on the beach… and says
Hey here’s a great place to start…. start by identifying yourself with a heart of love. That’s what it’s made for. You’ve got it…. It has great capacity to love actually…
The conversation starts with love,
“Hi friends – I’m so glad you are here.”
Love is not something you can bargain for, plan for – RESOLVE for? It is not something you can attain or work up to—love “is our very structural and essential identity— because we are created in the image of God.” (Rohr)
Jesus – it seems is not that interested in STARTING A CONVERSATION about our past, how far we think we’ve come, what we think should be resolved, all the perfect laid out plans that should work in our relationships, that FAIL – the disappointments, the rejection, the denial – he’s much more interested in a conversation that starts with love…. That helps us open our heart – with all that it holds.
This kind of conversation allows Peter to reorient, to move his identity from being a fisherman, or a failure, or a person who only disappoints – to the identity of being love…
“Do you love me?”
“Can you find the love in yourself that is and always will be there?”
This is what will move you into a whole new, big world – where a heart of love matters.
AND Jesus shows Peter what LOVE feels like – right? He says ‘here’s the new way” – cast your net to the other side. And Peter doesn’t just catch one fish, right? It says in the scripture he catches
“153 fish, and the net did not tear.”
That’s the thing about Jesus’ love. It’s going to swing right beside the heaviness of your days and your year – and how you might be feeling about yourself and the HEARTACHE OF life. And you are going to feel the weight and TUG of His love too, right beside you – like a net bursting with fish… but that doesn’t for a second threaten to break.
In our staff meeting – what hit me first – was the feeling of how I might break – if I looked too squarely at the year gone by. Realizing that so much was ALIVE, UNRESOLVED. I wanted to just move forward – let’s make a plan, let’s get to work – 2023, let’s go!
To pause though, and consider this question from God,
“Do you love me?”
Can open up conversation from exactly where I’m at – right? To be able to say,
“I’m kind of disappointed God – this stuff still stings with pain, and it rises right to the top as I think about my personal landscape…”
And in turn I can sense God raise God’s eyebrows and say,
“YASSS – the host of those memories are going to live with you – in your body, heart, mind for a very long time. I get it.”
Validation that so much of life – so much of being human – and being loved – is intimate. Vulnerable. Exposing live wires. Our experiences are often NOT resolved aspects of a year/a past gone by… they are most often unresolved, LIVE parts of us now.
And all of us, over the past year have witnessed chaos – personal, national, health – you-name-it-chaos, we have embodied compassion, we have shaken with rage and we have lifted our voices for justice ….we have lived through this year, and this year now lives in us.
Howard Thurman says,
“We can use our memory of the past with creative discrimination. We can lift out of the past those things that will give us reinforcement as we face the future, that will give us courage, that will lift the ceiling of our hopes as we look toward tomorrow…..
In this way, ‘we can let the past (our experiences), become something more than history, something that tutors us as we move into the new year. The past is history, but the past is alive, because the past is in us.” (Thurman, 180,181 – The Mood of Christmas)
And when we forget – as we tend to do – that part of the aliveness in us is the Spirit of God that – this red hot fire of love between God and Jesus that is always burning within us. It’s mysterious. But Jesus gives us this practical question to tip us back into this flow of love –
“Do you love me?”
Pause and ask yourself this BECAUSE it activates and TUTORS our hearts – at a deep, opening level.
Thankfully after I completely shut Scott down by saying
“I don’t love you – and I never will”
Scott paused in silence on the phone – and then being the super logical, practical guy that he is- replied with,
“mmmmmm……Right – well I really don’t believe you’”
And over the next few months, he continued to ask me this question,
“Do you love me?”, “Do you love me?”, “Do you love me?”
IT was a question that I no longer wrapped in his qualifications, “ I’m a “dashing, smart, super chef of a guy”… it was just a question of the heart. And it did the mysterious work of opening and transforming my heart more and more…
So maybe that’s how we stand here on January 1st and look at the New Year ahead
“we lead with Love….”
It’s out of this opening heart space – that things we care about that we want to get better in 2023 – become flesh and dwell among us – THROUGH us.. It’s how words like mercy and justice and equity and compassion and empathy, don’t waver- with these strong nets of Love to catch us and get us back out there…
Jesus says to Peter – if you love me – or if you are figuring out how to love me – then go feed my sheep, take care of my sheep…BE with other people. Feed them with this type of Love…it will grow…THIS NEW YEAR have people at your tables, sit with them – eat with them. Call people, text them, send them a note. Have conversations of the heart, listen. Be present… Tell someone,
“I’m so glad you are here.”
This love matters.
Richard Rohr says that ancient cultures call liminal space “crazy time.” And if liminal space is all about sitting with God and falling in love with God – then I totally agree…Falling in love – is crazy. Opening your heart is indeed “crazy” – You open yourself to the unknown, to newness, to pain…unto new depths.
But it’s what motivates us to jump out of our known boats – to trudge through the deep waters of this crazy world…. to get to a fire, where our disappointments and our hopes – find a great big meal with enough sustenance for all of our days found in the simplest question,
“Do you love me?”
So two things for you in this New Year – consider Jesus’ question,
“Do you love me?”
consider it over breakfast, and whatever your answer is, or whatever conversation this opens up – Sit. eat. Talk with Jesus. From EXACTLY where you are at.
In the New Year, consider praying for many people all at once.
Those you know, and those you don’t.
Those you know are suffering and those you’ll never know if that’s true or not.
Those you love to hang out with and those you never will.
Pray for their wellness, their protection, their freedom.