For this week’s Events and Happenings, click “Download PDF.”
Good morning, friends! Thanks to everyone who helped put that fun video together – and Cate for leading us and inviting us to experience how shared, embodied, celebration is a spiritual practice. You who are students and educators – who touch learning environments and schools in whatever manner – we honor you! It is so well deserved. As Emmett declared in the video, “You made it! You made it!” And that is really becoming the anthem of this June (and I know the pandemic is not over – but we are at a significant reopening moment).
And in that it’s so tempting to say, “woo – we made it !” and keep running right into the summer. But I want to give us a second to pause today and take note of just what has helped us ALL “make it through” these last 15 months. I want to give attention to the aspects that we have done well – our collective resilience, and shared suffering, and deep belief at the core of our faith – that there is a loving Jesus who has remained with us in ways that we could have never imagined 65 Sundays ago when we first started this virtual service.
Today I’m going to veer away from Steve’s sermon series for the summer, which is Reinterpreting the Apostle’s Creed, and instead I’ll preach a sermon on “how we’ve all made it through”, and really how amazing you all are, and how proud you can be of yourself, and of us, this Reservoir community – because you really have done well. My hope is this message will come through clearly – but without veering off into platitudes, or glossing over the horrors of this past year. I do want to open up more deeply the spiritual grounding of HOW and WHY we’ve made it.
It. Has. Been. A. Year. Right? It’s worth some reflection. We have been disrupted, thrown off course, thrown into new depths – of isolation, of ourselves, of the history and sin of our nation. The pandemics of our year – have made visible – to many of us who were willfully blind so much, so many things that I hope we won’t be able to un-see. And we are in the resultant grief of this – with layers and layers of new and very old laments.
It has also been a year that has also shown us how vital we are to one another. How the sparks of innovation, the power of social movements, and change is found through our fundamental way of being with one another – in connection, and in collaboration with one another.
And we’ve discovered perhaps even more deeply how ‘yes’ God is in the sanctuary which we will open and start worshiping in (in just 3 weeks – more on that at the Member’s meeting after this service). And we have discovered how God is also beyond those walls. We have clung – and lived out – that belief this year that GOD IS REAL. That the power and the tenderness of God matters to our human flourishing. Whether we cry or rejoice – whether we loathe the days – or long for new days to come – we have been moved this last year – and we have remained in God’s love, all at the same time.
Today I want to talk about how we have remained in God – and how God has remained in us. And why this is part – if not ALL of how we have made it!
Let me pray for us.
Oh God who steadies us and shows us new growth of life and love – all the time. Could you show us this? This new morning, as the new light is upon us – with fresh eyes, and a soft heart to encounter you wherever we are? – Amen.
A few weeks ago when we were still in the “wear your masks outside” mode regardless of proximity, I was out for a mid-day walk in my neighborhood.
And I was coming around the corner to my street at the end of my walk when I saw a biker coming up behind me.
He was going pretty slowly, just moseying along on this quiet street. A straightaway – really wide – nothing unexpected in the terrain, no obstacles in his path.
And I waved “hi” and then crossed the road to give him a little more space.
And shortly after crossing the road – I heard this big crash and I turned around and this guy was laying on the ground with his bike all bent up around him.
He had hit a patch of slippery wet leaves that were obscuring where the start of the curb was, and he just went flying.
And I immediately felt this lightning bolt of adrenaline go through my body. Like I had just gone flying off of a bike. And I guess that’s a natural reaction when you see someone potentially hurt on the ground. But it was also a sign to me that-
My nervous system was on – and had been on high alert – for a loooong time. A sign of “too much” coursing through my body – a sign that there was a pile up of expectant bad news, and horror and fear and suffering from this year.
But I was simultaneously aware of this other jolt and body response, from within me – which was just as strong. And it was to run – back across the street – toward this man and be with him.
I’m not sure I can suss out all the “learning” of this past year with clarity just now — but there are these everyday moments and events where I reacquaint, in a fresh way, with the unmistakable truth that Jesus remains with me. The force of Jesus’ deep love runs strongly through my veins. That Jesus abides and dwells within me.
Again – this might not sound like the new or profound thing I should be discovering at this point as a pastor – but it is.
Distance and separation and isolation this past year – were our strongest survival techniques. And I think I wondered if that way of being would just take over – would rewire my brain in a weird way. I wondered if my ability to love and really be in community with other people again – had somehow atrophied beyond the point of resurrection? In this moment with a stranger on a bike – I think Jesus was saying “oh no, there’s always life on this vine of love.” Always.
Jesus emphasizes this way of love to his first followers for the new community that would form. In their context – he saw that because of the persecution they were facing it would be tempting to be exclusive to keep distance to be separate. But Jesus calls the community to act justly and hear (and respond) to cries of distress. To do this, Jesus shows us in the Scripture we’ll read together, we need to recognize our need of one another. He invites his first followers as he does us
to make our home in him, as he makes his in us
Real relationships, with all of the weight of what we might be carrying, whether we are invigorated by life (or tired by life) these real, messy, bumpy relationships Jesus shows us, are the trellises of love.
John 15:4-12 (New International Version)
4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.
7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.
10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.
11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
So much this year has withered. It seems as though branch after branch has fallen – and been thrown into the dumpster fire and burned. Branches of hope, connection, joy, …snapping under the weight of so much.
We have borne the weight of so much.
We have borne witness to the weight of each other’s burdens
We have borne witness to the weight of our nation’s original sin.
And we have borne witness to isolation, inequities, and suffering.
How could the branches not fall?
And the word “witness” is derived from a root meaning “to bear in mind” “to remember” To witness is to recollect an experience and tell about it accurately.
And we WILL be able to tell stories of this year to our next generation.
What will we speak of?
How will we tell the story of how “we made it?”
What will we say we bore witness to?
There’s a word, I learned recently from Dr. Christena Cleveland that I think might help us tell our stories of the past 15 months… in part. It’s this term, “with-ness”. W-I-T-H-N-E-S-S. Which is this way of being, acting and knowing that allows you to enter into your own story – with all it’s particular realness and lament – and yet to also remain present to another’s story and suffering that is not your own.
It’s to be a participant – as Cate’s embodied spiritual practice showed us at the beginning of the service. THAT allows you to enter into the flow of connection to another, even if the set of circumstances or variables are not exactly yours. You may not be a student/educator, but you could fully enter into the celebration – and find yourself connected to the joy of Lily. 🙂
And I guess that’s the distinction – it isn’t just witnessing/as a bystander from the outside, from the periphery – as if you are peering in.
But our stories this past year – speak of “with-nessing”…of bearing witness to the love of Jesus that is within you – and also another.
To see that you are in the branches, in the vine, in the brambles of life and love. In all its intertwined messiness.
MY STORY PART 2
Now part of being with someone whose story holds pain, which so many of ours do, is that you often get in touch with your own wounds. How deep they are. And when you are already in pain it sometimes feels like it’s just “too much”, too much energy, too much time, too much emotion and there’s just not enough capacity to dive into – or go toward more pain.
The day I saw the man crash on the bike I had been processing the grief of losing someone we loved over the past year. I was feeling the weight of kids transitioning back but still scared about in-person school, and a myriad of other things.
And part of me to be honest, wanted to just “witness” the bike crash – make sure he was conscious, but just give him a thumbs up from across the road. Because I thought there was no more left in me.
But the spirit within me said, “there’s enough.” And so I ran back across the street to this man and could tell pretty quickly that he was conscious and wasn’t 100% broken, just shaken up a bit.
I asked from a little distance, “Are you ok?”
And he said, “Yes. yes. Thanks for coming over.”
And that was really it.
“With-ness” is a way of being – that sometimes takes just a second. But it’s a second that can give someone’s life reality, especially when it would otherwise be swallowed by pain, tragedy, isolation. Because it’s to let them know they are not alone – AND it’s reciprocal – I too, in that moment was reminded in my grief, that I was not alone.
And my friends, this is what you’ve done so well this year.
You have let others know that they are not alone.
You have gone to each other, in the midst of your own lament and pain. You have crossed the road (sometimes) unto more pain. And in that you have borne witness to the kin-dom of God – here and now – even as the foundation of our earth fractured and it felt like the fruit of the very way we were made to be was withering on the vine. It didn’t – you found life. And the weight of it all didn’t sink you – because it was shared.
The Spirit of God, as this scripture suggests, remains in you and you have acted in witness to that abiding love and in with-ness to those around you. Calling people, writing to them, crying with them, praying with them, listening to them, sitting in silence, enacting virtual plays, and poetry nights, coloring clubs, and times around fire pits, driving by and dropping flowers, or cookies, or drinks, or books, or trading puzzles, or waves or smiles or texts – to just communicate “you are not alone.” And you did this all through your own disappointment, sobbing, and screams of rage.
“I’m lamenting too – but in that, I am present and connected to your lament as well.”
Now, and even in the dark days of the pandemic Jesus says in this Scripture, we are called to bear fruit – as much as we are to bear the weight of each other’s burden and witness.
We are emerging from our pandemic cocoons, and we get to figure out how to give shape to the way we gather again. To see how the experiences of this year will give form to the values and priorities of what we want community to be. Experts say this is a “once-in-a-generation chance.” Non-experts, like me, say, “this is an everyday- every moment chance.”
Because to create Beloved Community – is an every day, every-moment-way-of-being in the world. It’s this vine and branches abiding. It’s where we take on being anti-racist, and generous and create spaces of belonging, and empower people and communities and find new ways to be “the church.” Which is by the way – our church’s 5 year vision.
And the “chance” we have – if any – as we re-enter society is to RE-UP on doing this collectively, not as a single actor. This is how we bear fruit for future generations.
An Episcopal priest and theologian that I love, Cynthia Bourgeault, says
We flow into God—and God into us—because it is the nature of love to flow. And so And so “we” (God and me and you), live together in mutual, loving reciprocity, each belonging to the other and dependent on the other to show the fullness of that love. That’s Jesus’ vision of no separation between human and Divine.”
This is the fruit.
And the fruit looks like Jesus, and at the same time it looks like us — it looks like us being the people God made us to be.
Building beloved community with our own specific gifts and passions.
The fruit looks like love – messy, tangible, down-to earth, intertwining, tangled, vibrant love. It’s the fruit, that when we smash into the curbs of life – and yelp in pain, and pray to God that someone will be with us, when the roads appear empty. Love appears. Where in our aloneness, the presence of love – sets the fruit of true belonging. Because abiding in Jesus is always about belonging. Abiding in Jesus reminds us that our branches and God’s vine are tangled and interwoven into the fabric of humanity. We are a part of one another, and this is our strength if we so choose.
This year has shown us that :
We are never really running the show, never really in control, and nothing will go quite as we imagined – from our own individual efforts. No branch can bear fruit by itself – we are always part of, always grafted into another.
And this doesn’t mean we are not to be empowered, or have agency or voice, however we tend to the whole and our collective healing, as we do this in partnership and in love with Jesus and with one another.
“And you have done this well.”
And I know it’s a risk to keep saying “you have done well,” “you are doing great” when you might not feel well or great. I know for sure that this year I have not felt “great.” I’ve said more curses than blessings this year. I’ve wrestled with more questions and shot out more demands of people and God than ever, this year. I’ve shook more fists and beeped more horns than I have knelt in prayer.
And yet, God continues to say,
“well done.” “I see you.” “Well done.”
The vine of God has trailed around you and held you. Has climbed your arm and fist that’s struck to the sky – and laid with you on the kitchen floor when you’ve been too tired to move.
This vine – the Spirit of God – is one that searches for us – and binds us together across distance, disease, disorder, and deconstruction.
It is what remains in us. God can not be stripped away from us.
AND, I want to be intentional as I close, about saying this again,
“you have done well – you are good and faithful servants.”
You have remained in God – and to one another.
And so let “Phewf! We made it!” be the holiest of prayers as we emerge and look ahead to this summer And might I offer one quick extension to that prayer, which is, “Phewf! We made it …AND thank you, Jesus.”
Let me pray a prayer of thanksgiving in this vein as we close-
Thank you God, for Zoe, and Charlie, and Naomi, and Tim, and Lyssa and Reed, and all the educators and students and school personnel out there who made it through this year. Teaching and learning from desks, and living rooms, behind screens and masks. And yet who have remained in your love.
And thank you God, for the parents and caregivers, who stretched to work with toddlers crawling over laps – who couldn’t buy enough mental bandwidth to cover all the connections needed to be made in a day. But nevertheless remained in your love.
Thank you God for being with those who were infected and sick this year, who were separated in their illness and in their fear. And yet remained in your love.
Thank you God, to the healthcare professionals who risked and cared – who’s vocational call became one of warrior, protector, healer – saint. And remained in your love.
Thank you God, for the front line workers – who put groceries on shelves and delivered them to homes… Lyft drivers and public transit workers. Who kept our world moving – connected – and food to our tables. And who didn’t have the choice of safety on their own tables. And who remained in your love.
Thank you God, for the babies born this year, who’s first cry greeted a world of masks and virus…and yet were held in arms of your remaining love.
And Thank you God, for those who have chosen rest. Who have chosen health – pushing against systems of patriarchy, capitalism and white supremacy…and rest fully, remaining in your love.
Thank you God for the poets and artists and musicians – who have given spacious expression to our grief, where our language falls short…and who have remained in your love.
Thank you God, for being WITH those who have lost – jobs and homes, food and lives and yet found resources and provision remaining in your love.
Thank you God for all of us – who are here today – who have so much healing to come and so much story to tell. Help us to remain in your love.
God help us to remain in your love to really see this pandemic to its end. And help us to continue to remain in your love to really see this Beloved Community come to be.