Participatory Service

This past Sunday we offered a multi-sensory, participatory service called God is Here, inspired by Rabbi Toba Spitzer and Cole Arthur Riley.  We offer these services two times a year, and like most services at Reservoir, they incorporate scripture, prayer, song and communion – but often in different forms.

The main distinction is that any “teaching” is not detailed as its own element – in fact, a participatory liturgy is designed to allow any learning to emerge as we participate and respond to the stirring of our great teacher, the Spirit of God.

This is why, if you’ve experienced a participatory liturgy, you’ll have noticed the value of an economy of words and the emphasis on a multitude of inroads to encounter and experience the Spirit of God. Our recent liturgy was stations-based inside and outside the church building. An invitation as Rabbi Toba Spitzer puts it to remember that

“there isn’t just one place to encounter godliness– it can just as well happen here in this moment, right where we are – as well as in every moment , in any moment , in any place that we might find ourselves – as we open ourselves to the awareness of this potential.” (81)

A participatory liturgy relishes the unknown, the uncertainty. Hoping that in the unscripted-ness, the choreography of the Spirit will take stage and play out in real time as folks engage with a real and life-giving God. The only variables we can count on are the mystery of God, the power of vulnerability and the movement of a participatory faith that takes us all somewhere new together. 

I’m not sure how it all works, but my guess is that God loves our participation. God loves to see our faith as a participatory faith.

 These liturgies help us remember that our spiritual journeys are not static, one-dimensional, one-size-fits-all, or Sunday-morning-specific – but they incorporate all the kinesthetic, profluent metaphors and feelings of our real lives. We may not always know how the components of the liturgy of our lives will play out – how a smile, a moment of pausing and listening to the same old conversation, or how the wisdom of our ancestors will translate into actionable balm to this world, our neighbor, or ourselves…. perhaps this is why the word liturgy means, “work of the people” – because it’s not just the work within a service – but it is the work of our lives.  

May we find God saturating the world around us and within us, even in the places we dismiss. And may these liturgies continue to do the work of unfolding in and around you, as you move about your days.

We encourage you to explore the Reflections, Engagements, Mini-Practices and Installations in the attachment sections below (Place, Rock, Water, Voice and Sound) to begin your personal exploration of this unfolding work.

God Is Here Participatory Liturgy

Cloud

Today we are going to continue in our new series called, “God Is Here.” This series is inspired by a friend of Steve’s – Rabbi Toba Spitzer.  She’s written a book with this same title, and it is an extraordinary book that not only has given us teaching material for the next few Sundays that I think is really expansive and helpful (by the use of non-human metaphors for God that we’ll explore), she also has given us spiritual practices that allow us to experience God through these metaphors and of course help us live our life with the presence of God “close,” beyond a Sunday morning.

Today, I’ll speak on God as Cloud – and we’ll touch on some of those spiritual practices.

We’ll take a look at the use of the cloud metaphor in the Old Testament, as well as how it carries through in a New Testament story – particularly as we think of “going into the thick of a cloud” at certain moments in our life, when obstacles or challenges are present.

Prayer

Oh God of the clouds – and all of creation. Thank you for days like yesterday that were sunny and beautiful – reminding us so strongly of the warmth of your presence. And thank you for days that are cloudy and rainy reminding us that you seek to nurture and cover us – and remind us of you – in droplets of your love at every turn. Help us to notice God – help us to notice you. Amen.

History of OT | Cloud

The nearness or farness of God is at the heart of so many of the conversations and stories of Scripture.  How and where people have perceived the presence of God. How they’ve been guided by closeness of God – or felt abandoned by God. The question that arises is,

“Where is God to us?”

It’s why the use of metaphor is so helpful – particularly the use of metaphor that speaks of God with renewed meaning that opens up rather than closes down the ineffable mystery of God – because sometimes we need metaphor to help us have access to an experienced way to think about and talk about God.

Walter Brueggemann, an OT scholar and theologian,  says that teachers and pastors often succeed at

“flattening out all the images and metaphors of God, to make them fit in a nice little formulation,”

one that works within creeds and doctrines,  easier to make sense of, wrap our minds around – a  little cleaner, neater… visible (in some ways) God.

Rabbi Spitzer says that likewise her biblical ancestors tried to shrink the presence of God into

“material objects – into idols made of metal or wood or clay. But the divine could only be glimpsed, not fully seen, heard but not entirely comprehended, encountered but not contained. … but with the metaphor of Cloud, the biblical authors found a way to convey a sense of nearness to ‘Something Close By/God’ that could not be touched.” (154).

OT Examples:

Throughout the Old Testament we see the presence of God as Cloud in numerous instances: 

  • The Israelites, as they fled the bondage of Egypt were accompanied by a column of cloud and fire.
  • It becomes an ongoing feature of the Israelites journey through the wilderness. 
  • Ever-present sign of God’s “abundant lovingkindness – that did not abandon them in the wilderness.”
  • The children of Israel did not move unless they were led by the cloud of God’s presence. The God -cloud was guidance.
  • It was also a sign of divine nurturance, protection and presence *protective between Israelites and the pursuing Egyptian army.
  • A shelter from heat.
  • And an indication of the availability of water.

God and cloud are a known partnership to the Israelite people.

The thing is –

“the nature of clouds is that they obscure things from view – while also making something that is usually invisible – visible.”

  • Water vapor is always in the sky – but invisible.
  • And yet – when water vapor interacts with dust/ice/salt it becomes visible as a cloud.

Clouds make visible that there is something life-sustaining and ever-present (whether water vapor or the divine). Both hold the mystery of being unseen, and very much there.

Whether in private or public moments, throughout the OT – God as cloud was often recognizable to the Israelites – AND reassuring.

HOWEVER there are times when the appearance of the cloud is not reassuring – and instead frightening and daunting.

Let’s read these few verses in Exodus this is shortly after the Israelites were redeemed from Egypt – and where they met God as a nation at the foot of Mount Sinai, where Moses received the 10 Commandments.

Exodus 20: 18-21

18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance

19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

21 The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness/dark cloud where God was.

So this is an interesting passage because the all familiar form of God as cloud – is seemingly one the Israelites don’t want to explore here. 

They keep their distance because it’s a thick, stormy, lightning and thunder-filled cloud.  Makes sense to me. It’s not my first reaction to go toward something that feels hard, looks like an obstacle or is just altogether scary. 

And Rabbi Spitzer says,  “exactly” – the Israelites represent us on any given day! Especially where we encounter something in our path – that looks like an obstacle. When we encounter a hindrance, like this cloud to the Israelites, we naturally want to back away – keep our distance, push away any of the unpleasant feelings associated with what’s happening in front of us…hindrances operate by distracting us from our actual experience.

And as we create distance – we also shrink our awareness/perspective that God is likely present in the thunder and lightning too. 

And this can obscure our ability to perceive what is actually happening in our mind or hearts. 

STORY

This summer at the end of my sabbatical we decided to take a family vacation. It was in some ways our last opportunity to spend time with our daughter who was leaving for college, a steady-ing chunk of days for our other kids, and a great way to finish off my sabbatical.

We went to a small town in Mexico that we have visited many times in the past. A  setting, where we know the town, the streets, the local doctor (who we visited in the past) – etc.  A special place where we’d taken friends and my Dad a couple of times. It’s where we went to grieve my Dad’s death – this place is meaningful and healing and familiar.

We took off, we touched down. Arrived at the rental car place – which is still part of the airport proper… and while waiting for our car, my husband Scott’s backpack was stolen.  At his feet, as he turned in “this” direction it was swapped out for an identical – but empty one

  • Which held all of our passports
  • And two laptops
  • And you know a bunch of other stuff

DARK CLOUD – THUNDER & LIGHTNING  – RAIN – HAIL – WINDS- THICK, THICK, THICK, CLOUD

As you might imagine, that was an “unpleasant” experience.

Now the good news is …that because it happened 40 minutes into our arrival – we had the WHOOOOLLLLEEE  vacation to figure out how to get the appropriate documents from the consulate, get passport photos done, travel to various government offices, get a police report written, navigate short working hours at all these places -and find a laptop and printer to do all this on. 

I did not want to deal with this, any of this.  I wanted it …”to be other than it was.” This frantic desire though, made me (even more) miserable – and became its own obstacle.  (164 – 165)

I was preoccupied with figuring out how and when this unpleasantness would end.  Constantly calculating

  • – if we can get an appointment tomorrow at the consulate
  • – then we could potentially have emergency passports by Friday
  • – which means we could really start enjoying our vacation by the weekend.
  • And every possible scenario from that…

My aversion to the reality of my own experience, the more I tried to push that reality away, to keep distance from it, the unhappier I got. And the grumpier everyone else got.  Awesome!

One of my kids as we were playing UNO one of those first nights – picked up on my “salty mood,”  and she was like, “listen if you and everyone else are just going to be in a bad mood, and not enjoy this time together – we should just go home now.”

*which was funny because I was like

oh honey, – WE CAN’T GO HOME!*’

But I got her point –

“pay attention to the reality that is in front of you, mom  – ‘Yes’ this stinks, but everything is actually NOT ruined – you are playing UNO with me, connecting as we had planned, outside in warm weather, with the sound of the ocean in the background.”

God’s presence is in “both sides” of the clouds, the pleasant and the difficult.

Rabbi Spitzer says,

“obstacles can become an opportunity for awareness and connection.”

When a cloud obscures your view from the mountaintop – or you can’t see while driving when a fog rolls in – all you can do is slooooww down, and sit with what is – and sometimes that does mean we “go into the thick of the cloud. And just be in it.” 

Challenging moments litter our human experience. In micro ways, in macro ways – in ways that have been unjustly intertwined in our systems and institutions. We live in and out of the clouds.  The ones that are wispy and beautiful – that create the breath-taking sunsets – and ones that we can see from miles away that say “storm coming! Evacuate!” 

It’s helpful in those more stormy clouds to slow down and notice what our reaction is  – do we want to lean in? Pull away? Lash out? 

“When we can take a breath and notice what is happening internally – this is how we can short-circuit the feedback loop of aversion.” (Spitzer)

Moses here, goes directly into the cloud.  Expecting that God is in that thick, foreboding place. Expecting that not only is God’s presence there – but that it will be insightful, liberative – and aid in the spiritual growth of a nation.  I think Moses knew that he had to draw near to this experience, this cloud – to move forward. 

*Which makes me wonder, what are the obstacles or hindrances that I have to draw near to, in order to move forward?*

By turning into the “cloud” Moses discovers the truth that awaits him and a whole nation. And while Moses’ moment here feels kind of big – you know, the 10 commandments for a whole people.  I think often the truth we discover is much like my moment of playing UNO – a truth that is already present in our reality  – anchoring. The truth that God loves us and is with us. When we can encounter that truth – God does help us – to act with clarity and wisdom.

IT’S HARD THOUGH!

We feel so much in those moments – moments like passports being stolen, that sideline us out of nowhere, or long-term grievances with neighbors, or feelings of rejection from a friend or partner, or frustration with a family member  – or feeling unseen by your boss – or by society.  IT IS A LOT to keep walking into those thick clouds and find anything with clarity, when fear and anger and sadness are also their own micro-climates!

In fact I would prefer if someone could just bring the message to me, that I’m supposed to glean from this scary/overwhelming situation or person.  The Israelites are like,

“Go ahead Moses, go right into that scary cloud, we’ll be right here, over here – so you can report back to us.”

God though, it seems –  is interested in more than departing a “lesson” to us – right? And God knows that when we stay at a distance in hard things – we end up trying to teach ourselves a lesson…

  • Ex: My bag wouldn’t have gotten stolen if I had/hadn’t ..
  • My kid would be better if I had/hadn’t…
  • I would have gotten the job if I had said this…
  • or gotten the grant if I had written that..

And that my friends is the scariest of storm clouds…guilt, shame, self-judgment…rewinding, replaying…not moving.

God just wants us to experience that God is with us. The 10 commandments, even, were more than a list of rules to follow – they tell us of the generosity of God, who liberated God’s people – a God whose love sets us free from all that enslaves us…and is present in all the storms of life.  

In the New Testament in the Gospel of John – we see this same dynamic with the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 and the disciples.  Crowds of people had started following Jesus and they gathered in a field, to be closer to Jesus. And the disciples are figuring out how to feed all these people….

JOHN 6:8-12, 16-21

When a boy offers his five small loaves of bread and two small fish  … that is more than enough, resulting in 12 baskets of leftovers…

It’s an idyllic scene where people are close to Jesus, fed to abundance – sitting on a grassy, sunny, hillside.

*And then evening comes and we read this,

16 the disciples went down to the lake,

17 where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them.

18 A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough.

19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened.

20 But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.”

21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

Jesus In the Storm

The disciples- are at one moment sitting in the sunshine – in an expansive grassy field… filled with the bounty of not only a meal of bread and fish … but fed with comfort, peace, abundance, the presence of Jesus, seen and known in their midst. A recognizable “cloud” if we keep up with the metaphor.

And then everything changes – as they find themselves in a storm.
The sea, once a familiar landscape for many of these disciple fisherman –  is now unrecognizable and:

    • The darkness of the storm overtakes the moon… 
    • The waves overtake the boat…
    • The wind overtakes the disciple’s balance…
    • All their bearings are lost…
  • And they find themselves in a previously known…. but now, overwhelmingly scary and unrecognizable place.

We move about our days with rhythms and patterns – and we absorb what is familiar/recognizable as good – evidence of the presence of God.  We can gauge our days as  “good” or “bad” by how much or how little our sense of the familiar is disrupted.

But our life is not either/or… not “always sunny” or “always cloudy.” I mean it can feel like that – but the reality is – it is just changing. Our life is always changing. And the contrast of clouds and light – help us to realize this. 

Things change, moment to moment.  Destinations – like the shoreline for these disciples disappears in the mist,  the destination of the promised land for the Israelites only looks like wilderness for so long… and our dreams change. Dreams we hoped for in our lives – the way we thought our partnerships or career would play out … the dreams we had for our kids … 

We’d love for them to be sunny… but we experience heartbreaking things in our lives – the sun is often times covered for a long time. We weep – we rejoice  – we grieve – we give thanks…  We weep – we rejoice  – we grieve – we give thanks… this is the pattern.

Everything comes and goes.

And GOOD can feel as though it is eluding our grasp.

GOD, can feel as though God is eluding us….

The disciples in the midst of the storm … Have lost so much that was once anchoring and known to them – the visibility of the JESUS they knew -and the question that is in that boat is,

“WHERE IS JESUS?”

All that is left for them is what they are experiencing in the moment, what they are feeling…
The feeling of being afraid, isolated, anxiety-ridden, overwhelmed by their circumstances…

These feelings can rock us – as much as the waves of life – so much so that like the disciples – or the Israelites we create a distance between God and us… so much so that even as Jesus might be approaching our boat, walking on  water – making himself as visible as possible – we remain frightened.

Jesus says, “do not be afraid” to his disciples

Moses says to his people, “do not be afraid.”

And I wonder if part of that command is to not let the fear that is so prevalent become the sum of our experience… to not let it overtake us and strike everything good from view. 

Rabbi Spitzer says that as a practice we can start to recognize things in our environment that have beginnings and endings… to attune ourselves to this reality- 

“like a sound we notice on our day – as it rises and passes…. Or as we are out for a walk  – to notice the trees, and cars, and buildings that we pass by – as they come into view and fade from view…All these things arise, and change and pass away.” (spitzer)

This helps us to learn that even our mind-state/emotions are not permanent.

Like everything else, they arise and pass, if we can simply let it be. 

And with that realization the power over us is lessened… 

It can help us separate from the story,  that gets caught up in our emotions.  And as we can turn toward what we are feeling, not away from it – we make more space for the presence of God… and this helps us see that,

“I am not my anxiety, I’m not my sadness or my happiness – or my anger – or my confusion.”

Emotions and mind-states come and go – and I can keep steady in their passing, as I welcome the presence of God.  Whether I, like Moses go toward the cloud and sit in the midst of it – or like the disciples, we await the presence of Jesus that comes  to find us – comes to companion us wherever we are. 

Pretty quickly I realized that every single day we were in Mexico – there was going to be something we had to do to make sure we could get home.  It was just the reality – and that was maddening and disappointing to me, so I went outside in the dark one evening and asked God,

“Where are you? Are you even here? Do you care about us?”

…Waiting.. Waiting…

And then I noticed my kids spill out onto the beach, they didn’t know I was there. And I heard one of them say to the other,

“aaah look at the moon – come, see the moon.”

*And for some reason those words brought God back into view.. .Maybe the same way the disciples heard Jesus say,

“It is me. It’s me, I’m here with you.”

My deep fear was that God wasn’t close  – and that even if God was, that God’s presence wouldn’t make a difference in the midst of what felt like stolen moments from my family.

The wisdom of clouds is ‘yes’, that everything is changing –  BUT IT’S ALSO THAT THE PRESENCE OF GOD LOVES TO ENGAGE with us just as we are… our salty tears and our dust covered hearts – it IS where God is most felt and encountered and VISIBLE.

I can’t wrap my mind around  – why a moment I witnessed with my kids about the moon – shifted me back to a sense of closeness with God – but I can wrap my heart around it. I felt it. Even in the midst of no circumstantial change.

It’s part of why I continue to follow Jesus – despite the growing roster of hindrances on a societal and national level that suggests Christianity has a duly earned bad rap.

It’s that deep down I want to believe in something bigger, something that I CAN NOT fully comprehend or capture in a box.  I find it unbelievably meaningful and  precious to continue to search for ways to define the Divine (the undefinable).  (Thanks Andrea Gibson)

The galaxy, the universe, the MOON, the wonder, the sitting in something  – being a part of something – knowing that I too have stardust in my own being – feeling that I am connected to all of that grandness – but not fully understanding how all of it works… that’s the part I love.

Because it keeps me believing that in circumstances and situations that do not play out like a cosmic moment, but actually feel gritty and burdened and hard. Somehow that the universe-sized- bigness of God’s love will play out in the end  – will walk across water, or come down from a mountain to find me.

The stories of God in a big trembling cloud at Mt. Sinai, the feeding of the 5,000, the stormy sea, our trip to Mexico – and whatever your cloud-stories are…  are not separate, different stories – they are a continuous story –  the story of our lives. 

And within, is the GREAT thru-line of Jesus’ presence, which is altogether nourishing, guiding and protective.  ALLTOGETHER THE ALPHA AND THE OMEGA – the beginning, (the becoming), and the end.

As we close in prayer,

Consider what kind of cloud represents God to you these days? Fluffy, wispy? Fleeting? Stormy?

* What do you feel as you approach this cloud?
* How far or near does God’s presence feel?

Dear God, in whatever form you take – however your presence is known to us – could you let us know of your great love for us? Your great guidance? Your great freedom for us? Your great mystery? And could you hold us in the waves and in the storms – with a nearness that both defies and affirms your greatness…

Amen.

Everyone

Good morning, everyone!

We are already in our third week of a series called, “We Are Reservoir” which hopefully is giving you a taste of how and why we think about faith the way we do – and we’ve anchored these weeks to our  five core values: connection, humility, action, freedom and everyone. These values guide our pursuit of a vibrant, inclusive, healthy faith.

Steve spoke on connection and freedom the last two weeks. And today I’ll talk about the value of ‘everyone.’  It’s an interesting one – because it’s not just a descriptor of who we hope the recipients of these values will be – but it points to a relationship.

Between us and everyone  – and us and God.  It’s the beginning point of why any of our hearts are  positioned to embody these values of connection, action, humility, freedom –  it is for everyoneNot just those we are inspired by, or where there’s ease or obvious common denominators – we are called to love our neighbor, before our ‘neighbor’ is defined. Everyone.  

Here’s how we describe this value of everyone here at Reservoir:

We seek to welcome people in all their diversity, without condition or exception, to embrace a life connected to Jesus and others.”

The only texture I would add is that our engagement with everyone enhances our own connection to, and knowing of, Jesus – and the possibility of that exists everywhere. Not only inside these walls in a Sanctuary, but everywhere we are… and everywhere, everyone is.  There’s a mutuality that is essential to our faith and without ‘everyone’ at the center of it – these other values can run the risk of falling flat.

Sounds lovely.

But it is hard.

And yet it is the heart of the gospel.

It is the only way the good news – is truly good news.

PRAYER
What a wonder it is to be a part of this journey of faith with you, God. As best we can this morning, we listen and seek for your presence.  One that comforts us where we need to know we are not alone – one that slows us , as we need rest… one that inspires us , as we long for more in the city and world around us. . . Oh God, be our good and  life-giving companion this morning, as was true yesterday – and will be true tomorrow… Amen.

For those of you who might not know, I’ve been on sabbatical these last few weeks. At the beginning of that time, I went on a walk with a wise-mentor-y friend.  And she shared as we walked that when she retired  everyone was quickly asking,

“well what are you doing? How’s it going? What are you spending your days doing?”

 

And she said the only thing she could think in reply was,

“well today I filled my car with gas. I pumped gas. And I didn’t think about my running to-do lists, or whatever thousands of spokes of thought –  I just pumped the gas. I was present at that moment.”

And it struck me – because the thing about being on sabbatical with three mostly unscheduled teenagers at home – is that the word “sabbatical” just means to them that you are more available than ever – for whatever they might want to do.  (*which of course is still a gift*)

But I thought within whatever expression this sabbatical is going to take, I do want to be present to whatever/WHOEVER is in front of me… so “just pump the gas” became my sabbatical mantra. 

 I’m going to share a couple of small stories throughout this sermon of moments where I was really present to who was in front of me and what unfolds.

Vignette #1
The first of which occurred the day after the walk with my friend.  I was in the car stopped at this big intersection in Hyde Park – where a large parkway and a side road intersect.

And I noticed this older woman – likely 70yr+ jogging toward the intersection. She was noticeable mainly because she had this huge smile on her face  – which became only bigger the closer she got to the light pole at the intersection. As she reached this pole, she erupted in self-congratulatory cheers, pumping her fists in the air – laughing – so full of joy. And she continued across the intersection pumping her fists – and I thought, “Wow, this ‘just pump the gas mantra-thing”’ is amazing!  I feel so connected to joy, and to gratitude – and to God!

And yet – obviously – this is not ALWAYS the experience as we make our way through our days. In fact the impact of this moment and it’s surprise, and joy – suggests that most of what I feel on any given day is chafing at best. That the division, the hatred, the cancel culture, the fracture, the ‘avoidance’ of one another is the tenor I pick up on – and  how I navigate most days. 

And when we think about this value of “everyone” -it is really challenging. The good news says,

“God loves everyone.”

And we are called to do the same – to remind people that they are designed for love and to give love. Which is more than a-just-sit- behind-a-closed-window- witnessing-beautiful- moments- posture. It is to be engaged and present – fully to who is in our view. 

Today, I wanted to look at a story in the gospel of John that I think invites us to consider this value of “everyone.” It’s a story of an interaction Jesus has with just one person.  It’s curious to choose this story – because there are so many stories of Jesus where the “everyone” value is on proud display… big banquets and tables full of people who couldn’t/ shouldn’t/ wouldn’t get along, and yet Jesus gathers them. Meals where bread is broken and offered to the least of these… ’everyone,’ ‘everyone’ is the centerpiece.

Today’s story though, centers just one conversation – with Jesus and one woman.  But one that somehow opens up unto everyone in the surrounding city. . . and unto us still today.

So here’s the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.  

John 4: 4-30, 39 (Common English Bible)

4 Jesus had to go through Samaria.

5 He came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, which was near the land Jacob had given to his son Joseph.

6 Jacob’s well was there. Jesus was tired from his journey, so he sat down at the well. It was about noon.

7 A Samaritan woman came to the well to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me some water to drink.”

8 His disciples had gone into the city to buy him some food.

9 The Samaritan woman asked, “Why do you, a Jewish man, ask for something to drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” (Jews and Samaritans didn’t associate with each other.)

10 Jesus responded, “If you recognized God’s gift and who is saying to you, ‘Give me some water to drink,’ you would be asking him and he would give you living water.”

11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you don’t have a bucket and the well is deep. Where would you get this living water?

12 You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are you? He gave this well to us, and he drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,

14 but whoever drinks from the water that I will give will never be thirsty again. The water that I give will become in those who drink it a spring of water that bubbles up into eternal life.”

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will never be thirsty and will never need to come here to draw water!”

16 Jesus said to her, “Go, get your husband, and come back here.”

17 The woman replied, “I don’t have a husband.”

“You are right to say, ‘I don’t have a husband,’” Jesus answered.

18 “You’ve had five husbands, and the man you are with now isn’t your husband. You’ve spoken the truth.”

19 The woman said, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.

20 Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you and your people say that it is necessary to worship in Jerusalem.”

21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you and your people will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.

22 You and your people worship what you don’t know; we worship what we know because salvation is from the Jews.

23 But the time is coming—and is here!—when true worshippers will worship in spirit and truth. The Father looks for those who worship him this way.

24 God is spirit, and it is necessary to worship God in spirit and truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one who is called the Christ. When he comes, he will teach everything to us.”

26 Jesus said to her, “I Am—the one who speaks with you.”

27 Just then, Jesus’ disciples arrived and were shocked that he was talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

28 The woman put down her water jar and went into the city. She said to the people,

29 “Come and see a man who has told me everything I’ve done! Could this man be the Christ?”

30 They left the city and were on their way to see Jesus.

39 Many Samaritans in that city believed in Jesus because of the woman’s word when she testified, “He told me everything I’ve ever done.” 

Okay, this is the longest conversation with Jesus of any character in the book of John – and there is a lot to be discovered. There are many threads of thought around this scripture  – many parts I won’t touch on – and it might leave you with some questions. I hope that’s ok, and I hope those questions lead you into deeper reflection and conversation of your own. And as we break open this scripture a bit – I want to start with a couple contextual thoughts:

Jesus & the Samaritan Woman

As you might have picked up from this Samaritan woman’s first words, 

“Why do you, a Jewish man, ask for something to drink from me, a Samaritan woman?”

There is in fact deep division between Samaritans and Jews… that goes back for centuries.  The brief historical sketch is this:

  • The Samaritans were thought to be a

“part of a remnant of Jews left behind after the initial conquest of the ten northern tribes of Israel by Assyrians… those who were left behind intermarried with other peoples.  Their Jewish practices became mixed with other religious practices – and while it maintained many of the aspects of Judaism, was distinct enough to cause significant tension between the two belongings.” (What Were You Arguing About Along The Way?: Gospel Reflections for Advent By Pádraig Ó Tuama, Pat Bennett)

    • Such as where they would worship – which temple? On what hill? Which one was the holiest of places to worship  God?
    • In short they were social, religious and political enemies.

Interpretations | Woman

  • It should also be noted that there are diverse interpretations of this scripture – that have been offered upon this Samaritan woman’s life. All kinds of sins have been projected onto her. And I think for far too long this story has been told to us as a sexual morality tale based on an interpretation of the woman as a sinner because she had five husbands. That lens, *“reduces women to their sexuality and reduces their sexuality to immorality.”* Her many marriages are often attributed to her own wrong-doing rather than the more likely reality of gender oppression, death and male-initiated divorce which was highly likely in her context.  

*Sandra M. Schneiders,  Written That You May Believe.

  • So I will not be interpreting scripture through this narrow lens today – because it sadly serves patriarchy more than scripture, and more than this story  – a story which is meant to serve us today. 

However, it can be said that in the meeting of Jesus and this woman there is a web of otherness, histories, gender dynamics, religious divisions – and also social and physical vulnerabilities.  

Jesus is thirsty, it’s been a long trip, and it’s high noon. 

And this woman appears at the well with the necessary tools with which to help Jesus.

Jesus sets this scene with a value on relationship and vulnerability. He does not name what should separate them from one another. He offers this woman who arrives alone – connection, as deep as this well – their shared humanity and their need of one another. 

He does so with the integrity of love, treating her as an individual, not a member of a big “other” group, nor re-enacting the hatred of the ancient stories between these two peoples.

He starts by talking about  “living water”  and then the conversation goes to her personal life, and her five husbands.

It can seem like quite a pivot of conversation – but I think it’s a continuation of this human mutuality that Jesus is trying to ignite in her – for so long she has been accustomed to being alone, silenced, unwelcomed. 

We don’t know the full stories of why five husbands? *and Jesus doesn’t ask either* But we can imagine that having five husbands under an oppressive gender economy ties her worth and survival to her marital status, and this is a lot.  She’s existed on the edges  – of society, her household, herself – regarded as irrelevant, despised.

She has suffered so much.

And she has survived so much.

 It is wild that Jesus takes the conversation right to her five husbands, but as Reverend Ingrid Rasmussen points out

“rather than hearing Jesus pronounce an indictment, as most interpreters would have us do, we hear Jesus simply uncovering and naming the hard realities of this woman’s life. She has had five husbands; and, now, most likely for the sake of survival, she is forced to live outside of social and religious boundaries with a man who is not her husband. But Jesus does not speak words of condemnation or offer easy answers. He simply chooses to validate her words and her experience, saying two times, “you are right”, ‘What you have said is true.’”

There isn’t a condemnation or even an invitation to do differently. He just meets her there. So much has not been in her control. So many decisions made about her, for her, against her. Jesus knows.”  (Rasmussen, enfleshed.com)

Jesus is trying to draw out her own worth and dignity throughout this conversation – as much as he is trying to draw water.

My guess is that everyone of us – when in moments of pain, hardship, grief, stress – appreciate those in our lives who can affirm the truth of what we are feeling – versus rushing to “fix” or “rescue” or “judge” us.

“Jesus sees this woman in the fullness of her experience as if he knows “everything that has ever happened to her. Not just the divorces and/or deaths – but the reasons they aren’t worthy of condemnation, the ways these things have been out of her control, the suffering she has endured by way of systems and people void of kindness. 

Jesus knows all of it.” (Rasmussen, enfleshed.com)

Jesus knows that she is thirsty to experience and remember herself in a new way.

He knows it’s been hard for her to break free of how people treat her – or how hard even today it would be for her to break free of how people translate her story/her life. 

And so Jesus greets that deep thirst to belong – as he says,

“what you say is true.” “What you say is true.”

No, no, there’s no moral code to follow here…

As Reverend Rasmussen notes, this is why the text says she came to believe in the gospel. It’s no small thing to be met in that way. It’s an embodiment of the good news – to bring out into the light that which too often is swallowed by the shadows within us. When vulnerability unveils the things that are so difficult to share, love affirms truth. Spirit joins across barriers.  

And this is how we worship  – Jesus advises – with no moral code to dictate our worth. Nothing but spirit and truth to invite everyone into a sense of belonging. 

And belonging really is the heart of this dialogue – from verse 4 all the way through – this conversation is one consecutive story – a fleshing out of how essential belonging is in the story of God,  for everyone.

Most of our stories are not separate from a larger framework, there’s always other voices/systems/circumstances/influences that come in to break the truth that,

“we are loved  unconditionally and without exception by God.”

How many people in this woman’s community do you think saw her, advocated for her? How many religious leaders spoke to her circumstances? Organized for change on her behalf?

Likely, none.

This messes with the fundamental, deep well –  our given worth and dignity, our spiritual identity that we are beloved children of God, that we all hold traces of the Divine within us.

So for me this is not a disjointment conversation that Jesus and this woman have – bouncing from the subject of water, to husbands and places of worship – it’s all one conversation  – a spiritual one – about belonging in all of the stretches of life.   

And the astuteness of this woman – is to clarify with Jesus,

“wait, are you saying what I think you are saying?  That I could belong in my household, in this city, in this religion you speak of – “a despised Samaritan woman enemy” – without barriers to these waters – of life… here and now… ?”

“Because if that is what you are saying – if you are saying I can belong in the kin-dom/the community of God – then this must/has to be true for everyone…”

And the woman presses still to ask,

“so where then is the proper location for the Jewish temple?”

A question which had caused deep divisions for hundreds of years.  Jesus’ answer to her as a Samaritan is just as surprising to her , as it would be to the Jews – he says, location is not important.  

Reflecting back to this woman,

“Were we not in a temple, you and I, just now at this well? Was that not holy/sacred ground?”

God requires his people to worship

“in the Spirit and in truth.”

It’s not either/or – it’s not Mt. Gerizim-centered or Mt. Zion-centered – it’s Jesus/ Spirit-centered… there’s no location, no coordinates – except where you find yourself in the holy presence of another’s full humanity…their story, exactly where they are at. 

This is how we find ourselves worshiping at the feet of one another. Filling places of regret, shame, pain of oppression – with waters of life and light – the places where we are too often left to dwell alone. 

 Vignette #2:

The other story from my sabbatical and trying to stay in this “just pump the gas” zone.. is less mountaintop-y.  It takes place in a post office, where I witnessed an employee treat every customer in line with such disdain… that by the time I got to the counter, I was nervous and hit the wrong button when it asks whether you have something ‘liquid, perishable or hazardous…’ and the employee said, “I told you to hit the red button – why did you hit the green button?”  

And then as the day went on I took an impromptu trip to Falmouth with my family.  I popped into a gift shop with my son… and there was only one other customer in the store (who I don’t think noticed when we entered).  I soon realized he was relentlessly harassing the cashier. Just bullying her, trying to negotiate a cheaper price for a shirt, and he wouldn’t relent – he just kept coming at her with increasing aggression…

And I wondered, what does “just pump the gas”  look like here? To be fully present to the person in front of you when it’s incredibly hard?  When the deep well of the love of God and others – drains right out of you? 

This is a question that courses through our days. Our days are full of whiplash –  moments of ease – where I can say “hi God!” and moments where I ask a series of questions including,

“just WHERE is it again I’m supposed to find you, worship you, God?”

With the postal employee – I guess I stayed in the moment – because I didn’t storm away. And he noticed I was sending the package to an address with “College Ave.”  I said, “yah my daughter forgot her calculator!” – and he said

“oh I have a kid that just left too – he’s always asking me to send him things.”

and that was it. 

In the gift shop, I went up to the man with harassing behavior and said,

“you need to stop harassing this woman, there’s no negotiating here.”

Period.  He left and the cashier said,

“thank you for saying that… I didn’t want to call the authorities, but I was alone.”

I don’t know what to do in all of these moments – I don’t always have the time to imagine or learn what a person’s story is… and locate that within the story of Jesus.

But I do rely on the integrity of love to guide me…  rather than my own limited understanding. And maybe all the moments – and interactions feel totally random and disjointed – but maybe they aren’t… and maybe everyone – gets somehow a taste of what Jesus said to this woman…

“it’s true, it’s true what you are feeling.” 

 EVERYONE

And here’s the thing about this value, “Everyone” – it’s not merely about inclusion. It’s unto something greater… this Samaritan woman is not worthy of mere inclusion. She invites us into learning and change (true for the disciples, for the town-folk, maybe even for Jesus). It’s more than a nice/generous posture that we make sure to welcome “everyone” – it is because it is the essential way by which we hope to continue to build and create beloved community – it’s where the change and the (un)learning we all will benefit from, occurs. And how we keep dreaming for a just world. 

 LIGHT

This scripture starts with one woman’s conversation with Jesus… and ends with an entire town’s conversation with Jesus. This Samaritan woman, the one who was rejected, marginalized, shamed, an enemy became the first person in John’s gospel to communicate the very good news.  

She is greatly loved. 

To this day, she is loved in all Christianities – in the Eastern traditions – both Catholic and Orthodox – and she is named – her name “Photine” means the light-filled, or luminescent one. In Southern Mexico, during Lent- they make agua frescas in all flavors – to commemorate her gift of water to Jesus. In Russian her name means “equal to the apostles.”

Like the apostles who left nets, boats, parents, their work –  the Samaritan woman leaves her water jar at the well and goes off to embrace her city.  To embody – to be the very vessel of love and goodness and light – that drew her own spirit out, and to bubble over with those life giving waters to everyone around her… even those that despised her.

Her story, unveiled in the full light of day, allows Jesus to instruct us that religious and cultural systems that try to engage moral approval as the basis for acceptance, belonging or unity in the spirit –  actually only keep people in the shadows. 

We are not called to give, demand or receive moral approval from another. But we are called to love one another – everyone.  

For God so loves this world – that God has placed traces of God-self, God’s light in each and everyone of us – Teaching us, inviting us, at every turn how to love this world and everyone within it – just as much as God does.  

ENDING

Dear friends,

“let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” 

I John 4:7

 

 

What We Need Is A Miracle & Breakdown Lanes

Last Sunday evening I was out to dinner with a group of folks after the Lindsey Sampson concert (which was amazing by the way), and someone asked, what are you talking about next Sunday? And hadn’t thought of what I’d talk about – but off the cuff I said,

“I’m going to talk about ‘miracles and revival’.”

And I surprised myself and laughed – and then many people also laughed….likely at me… but I thought, actually that’s exactly what I want to talk about this morning – miracles. 

So often I hear, and maybe you do too,

“you know what we need in this day and age – we need a miracle,” 

which in part I hear as a dismissive comment – to say things are so bad, too divisive, beyond repair…that all that could possibly work is a miracle. And it rings true. We’ve been through a lot in the last couple of years – and we can feel totally encased by a sense of hopelessness and despair – by the bombardment of all things inconceivable.

And we can wonder in that space,

“Can we really change for the better?”

“Can we grow? Can we keep becoming? Is there any fruit ahead?”

“What will it take to detach from some of the ways we’ve done things, thought of people,  built systems – for years,  decades,  centuries  – and see that they don’t work anymore, that the season is over.” 

AND STILL ENCOUNTER JESUS whatever the season is.

But that comment “we need a miracle” As much as it can sound dismissive – also points to a longing that we have too – for something different – a change – something transformational – new. 

We long for our hearts to be revived, to say unabashedly “YES!” I believe that this world can be reshaped, reguided, created anew…in partnership with Jesus.  I think we long to say,

“ I really do believe in miracles.”

And so today as I talk about miracles – it will be less centered on the miracles of instantaneous change or immediate healing…but the type of miracle it takes to step back at points. And pay attention to the questions that might be stirring in you and gauge whether or not the method, the plan, the spiritual practice, the whatever it is –  is working.  And asking how you can partner with God (not just be a spectator) – but how we can be agents of miracles – of such change, goodness, and life in this world.

So today I’ll get to two ways this summer you can be attentive to your own miracle -making. . . . through a

1) standard of faithfulness – and a

2) community of practice. 

Prayer

God of miracles – the one who loves us just as we are.  The one who tenderly wakes us up each day to the potential and the realness of what might lay ahead. And the one who gently nudges us to to believe for “More” …more of you, more of us, more miracles in our day. Thank you for your presence with us, within us, between us – today. 

STORY

One Mother’s Day before Covid times I organized a special day with my mom. We had agreed to meet half-way and meet each other in Portland, ME.  I’d go up after church services and meet her for an afternoon where she’d get a pedicure (like a once every 10 year event for her) and a nice early evening dinner together.

I was really looking forward to it – mostly because it had been a really long time since I had honored her in any significant way. And we had arranged that Scott would take our kids to see his mom in NH. So I really had this abundance of time, and the potential for all of my attention to devote to my mom.

I left right after church and got about 40 minutes outside of Boston when Scott called and told me that his car had broken down and I’d need to come help.

And I was crushed. But also thought – I can totally still do this. I can still make it to Maine, even if I’m a little late – we can still have a great time together. 

And I plugged into my navigation the address to where Scott was – and started on my way. The navigation pretty quickly led me off the route I was on at the upcoming exit… and had me travel a couple miles of back road, and then get back on the highway.

Initially I was minimally paying attention.

But after a few minutes I had this sensation that I was kind of going in circles.

And as I decided to ACTUALLY pay attention – I realized INDEED I was. Just getting off the highway and then back on .. in the same direction…over and over. 

My GPS was glitching.

AND yet I KEPT “FOLLOWING IT!” for the next few loops – even though I knew I wasn’t going anywhere.  I kept thinking, well maybe this GPS will kick into gear – and direct me the right way. (I mean historically it had been pretty good at this!)  It’s what it’s supposed to do – it’s supposed to be effective at getting me to where I need to go. 

And I thought I didn’t know how to go where I needed to go.

 So I literally stayed with the thing that wasn’t working.  

MIRACLE

Now I’m sure we all have our different thoughts, experiences and associations with miracles. Scripture is a beautiful tapestry of miracles – ranging from parting the Red Sea, to the walls of Jericho falling down, to changing water into wine,  to feeding the 5000, Jesus walking on water, healing the blind man and so many more.

  • Beautiful , inspiring, acts that are not only intended to be instantaneous external displays that change circumstances or physical ailments.
  • But ones that convey a message of greater freedom and connection to JESUS. And disrupt patterns that hinder this… And they show us what to do and how to hope, in the midst of times where our worlds seem to be falling apart.  

So let’s read one of the stories in the gospel of Mark together that I think showcases a miracle – and see what we can glean:

Mark 11:12-22 Common English Bible 

12 The next day, after leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry.

13 From far away, he noticed a fig tree in leaf, so he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing except leaves, since it wasn’t the season for figs.

14 So he said to it, “No one will ever again eat your fruit!” His disciples heard this.

15 They came into Jerusalem. After entering the temple, he threw out those who were selling and buying there. He pushed over the tables used for currency exchange and the chairs of those who sold doves.

16 He didn’t allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.

17 He taught them, “Hasn’t it been written, My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you’ve turned it into a hideout for crooks.”

18 The chief priests and legal experts heard this and tried to find a way to destroy him. They regarded him as dangerous because the whole crowd was enthralled at his teaching.

19 When it was evening, Jesus and his disciples went outside the city.

 20 Early in the morning, as Jesus and his disciples were walking along, they saw the fig tree withered from the root up.

21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look how the fig tree you cursed has dried up.”

22 Jesus responded to them, “Have faith in God!

Now you are probably thinking… “Hmmm… I don’t really remember that as one of the top “miracle” stories in scripture…” 

And I would say (as my teenagers do), “facts.”


In fact, this scripture is often regarded as a symbol of judgment.

  1. Many scholars would concur that Jesus is teaching and warning the disciples that God will judge those who give an outer appearance of fruitfulness but in fact are not fruitful at all. The only thing they are ripe for, is judgment.

  2. Still other scholars take the fig tree to a larger scale and suggest the fig tree is representative of a faithless Israel. Israel professed to be faithful to God and fruitful as a nation, but in fact it was faithless and fruitless. And  Israel was thus ripe for judgment.

  3. And still other scholars see significance in Jesus’ cleansing of the temple …again highlighting that at a distance the Jewish temple and its sacrificial activities looked fine. But on closer inspection it was found to be mere religion without substance, full of hypocrisy, bearing no spiritual fruit, ripe for judgment.

And yet as all scripture can – it holds many layers, and we can have a variety of  interpretations that do not cancel each other out – and certainly don’t compromise Jesus – but perhaps ignite our curiosity and enliven our connection to Jesus as we consider other interpretations.

So I  see this story as a miraculous one – and one that I think offers us a way forward in our current contexts today….  And perhaps is a little less the “judgment vein.” 

 As we read through this scripture Jesus LEADS by example.

He’s teaching the disciples something about themselves…. and all of us – perhaps!

The story starts by saying

“Jesus was hungry.”

We all are hungry at some point, for something. 

Hungry for what?  It seems like Jesus is saying to the disciples –

“Well, of course figs!” 

It makes sense – figs abound in this region – the disciples would know it as a delicious source of nourishment.

So Jesus does the obvious thing – He GOES to the fig tree and checks it for figs. 
But this move is curious- because of the info that follows,  “But he didn’t find any fruit – because it wasn’t the season for figs”. 


??
? Why then would he go at all toward the tree? If he knew there would be nothing found to satiate his hunger?

I think he does this to say,

“I get it – this is your own natural tendency too – and it’s a strong tug – when looking for nourishment/what you need  – you will be inclined to go toward something that you know – that has given you nourishment and worked in the past.”  

EVEN if it’s OUT OF SEASON.   Even if it’s as obvious as staring at a barren fig tree.

We like patterns, predictability,  even if we end up only going in circles 95 north…. To nowhere.

I think this is why Jesus says to the tree,

“May NO ONE ever eat fruit from you again”

…..and why we see the important piece that

“The DISCIPLES hear him say it”. 

It seems like Jesus is serious about our freedom, freedom from things that no longer bring fruit to our lives – and freedom unto abundant life with him.

STORY

I finally pulled over – that Mother’s day. And sat in the breakdown lane. Wondering what the heck had just happened!  And rather than questioning the functionality of the GPS – or looking at a map, and estimating time I went back to the source and reason for this trip in the first place – which for me was the love of my mom.

The question that grew in me on the side of the road was,

“What does it look like to honor your mother every day? To have a “practice of loving her”

Just where she’s at .. just where you are at… what will bring freedom to both of you? Vitality to your relationship – that can grow and evolve… ?

*Because the thing is .. .life, Jesus, us – we are a medley of stories that are always unfolding, becoming and evolving. 

And our tendency when things don’t work – is to  OVER -ENGAGE or DIS-ENGAGE. (neither of which have the makings of anything miraculous.)

I think Jesus knows we may try to overcompensate for the lack or even disappointment we feel when our methods run dry – and out of season. Maybe we think it’s our failure or responsibility – we lean into those more “judgment” translations of this scripture.  

And we are inclined to stay – to be loyal to the method…  maybe we’ll try to make more figs, re-create what we once knew. Maybe we’ll go get jugs of  H2O and force that SEASON back to life. 

Or we’ll say – it just doesn’t work, I’m done.

And yet – in either of those scenarios the potential loss is that we LOSE sight of what our original hunger was for – which was really connection/ a growing relationship with JESUS.

And maybe the miraculous move of Jesus here is to say …

“hold up, the healthiest thing is to see that this tree has no fruit. It can’t give you what it once did.”

Sometimes you just have to disrupt the pattern.. To find Jesus again. 

Standing right next to you – whole, not worried, open armed…  And that is what opens up all things new. 

STORY

I was so sad that I couldn’t go love my mom in the way that I had planned, that I couldn’t lavish her with some long-overdue attention.  

But sometimes the miracle is simply pulling over and saying this isn’t working.   There’s no movement, no progress. I don’t know what the answer is – but I’m going to exit this pattern.

Because the truth is – it wasn’t about the GPS not working. It was about the pattern of how I expressed love to my mom to some degree – over a long season of time.  Yes a lavish day is amazing but an every- few-year-lavish- day does not make a relationship. 

And this was why I didn’t want to exit

I didn’t want to sit in the break-down lane and regroup, look at the loops I had been in – and realize that’s not how you love my mom. 

We’ve been through what? 2.5 years of pandemic – enough time to see the patterns, the systems, the approaches, the “solutions” that are not working! In our personal lives – in our public lives… all . around. us. .. affecting all of us.

And we stand here – as we did last week, and as we will next week -on the brink of miracles. Not only witnessing them…. but being transformed by them… and being agents of them.

And some of us might think, …

“that’s nice .. I don’t really want to be a miracle agent…sounds like a lot of energy…I’m not really up for that today…”

Jesus says in this scripture and to us today,

“you know what – let’s go for a walk together.. Let’s see what we discover together.”

In the scripture here, they walk – they head to Jerusalem, and Jesus’ object lesson of the fig tree – is now taking a shift – to a more experiential  – practical  lesson.

They arrive at the temple – the place that came to be as an answer to so many people’s hunger – for union and connection with GOD.

“A house of prayer for all nations”

was what it should have been revered as.

But it seems people’s methods to tap into that connection with God seemed to take over. Rituals and  practices became the methods to “connect with God” – which are not bad in and of themselves.

BUT when the method becomes the center from which we expect life and fuel, versus holding GOD at the center. We make a shift to a more “seasonal” approach to love. (which of course, love has no season).

Perhaps this is what occurred in the temple – it seems like people kept mining those methods – long after the nutrients had been depleted.  And when that happens, it becomes toxic – it becomes self-seeking – corrupt and proud, power hungry, ingrown, constricting. 


Right? Then we have money-lenders and dove sellers setting up within a “House of Prayer.”

This is where I think sometimes our tendency is to try to be more LOYAL (which is somehow over-engaging and disengaging at the same time) to the methods – than FAITHFUL to the source (Jesus) and that can lead us  – or the relationship – to being more withered than alive.  

And this slight distinction between loyalty and faithfulness is important I believe… 

Writer KJ Ramsey has noted,  

“loyalty does not produce fruit – it is not a fruit of the spirit. 

Faithfulness is. 

Loyalty as we know it today has its roots in the medieval feudal system. 

Loyalty is an oath or pledge of allegiance sworn by someone with less power – to someone with more power. 

Loyalty is about maintenance of power/dominance/and hierarchy.”

It dries up real relationships, and leaves hearts of stone – creating temples for man’s own gain.

But faithfulness is about love – love with Jesus  first and foremost –  that pursues the good of others. …pursues creating beloved community. (adapted KJ Ramsey, “The Lord is My Courage”). Pursues an ever-becoming faith that never withers not even in the breakdown lanes, but miraculously comes to “real” life. 

Jesus seems to nail this same point home with his disciples. The next morning Jesus and the disciples walk by that “fig tree” –  a completion of his lesson. And Peter pointed out –

“hey that’s the fig tree you cursed – it’s withered from the roots”

aaah, yes – it’s truly out of season.

STORY

I called my mom from the side of the road – the break-down lane. And I said,

“I can’t get to you. I’m so sorry.”  

My mom laughed. The absurd reality of cars breaking down in our family history and messing up plans – is so prevalent…and kind of hilarious.. And then she said, 

“It’s ok, Ivy – just call me tomorrow.”

And I realized for us – to love one another – is to be consistently in connection. And I had been punting that down the road for a long time – and we needed to grow from the roots together again.

I heard in her reply, her longing… and God’s direction, “call me tomorrow.”

And I said, “I’ll call you tomorrow” And the day after that – and the next day after that – and that will be the practice and miracle in action… 

Maybe there are things that aren’t working for you right now.

Maybe it’s something like Scripture – that historically has been central to your grounding and knowing of God.

Or maybe it’s worship music  – the one place you got in touch with your deep emotions.

Or maybe prayer in the ways you’ve always known it – feels foreign or inadequate… or a relationship, a job, a course of study – or a church community…

What does it look like or feel like to you to pull over for a second? To shut off that automatic navigation and see who God says God is to you? (not what a method says God is to you – or a person says God should be to you… but who is God to you?).


VERY quickly I want to jump back to the Old Testament – to the story if you remember it where Moses encounters God in the burning bush… where a conversation ensues about God’s name.

Moses says,

“who should I tell them I saw?”

And God answers, 

“I am who I am”

– or in Hebrew translation,

“I will be who I will be”

It’s as if God is saying,

“I am not giving you a “handle”,

as Avivah Zornberg a Torah and midrash scholar says,

“I’m not giving you a handle to hold on to – to say ‘now I’ve got God’ ,

now I know how to get to God – – because God is always becoming.” God is always becoming …

 And here’s the sheer beauty and wisdom of such a response…. 

God’s answer points to the very nature of how we can know and connect to God – *in all seasons* – that often it entails stepping out of the known and into the unknown – but that which is always allowing the possible and the impossible to happen…the miraculous.  God is saying, “I am who I am”… to you…. 

I am the nexus of wonder….

I am art.

I am scripture.

I am your favorite worship song.

I am a bird’s song.

I am in your drive to see someone in the hospital dying

I am in the hospital corridor filled with your new baby’s cry .

I am in your questions.

I am on the side of the road.. in the breakdown lane…with you.

Where nothing might work like it used to.

I am in the spaces where it seems like there is nothing.

But know that “nothing” is the only essential ingredient of a miracle. 

I learned recently from Rabbi Ariel Burger, that old Hebrew bibles – are organized in such a way that they have the central text in the middle of the page, and then there are commentaries around the sides, and then there’s space around the edges.

This blank space that frames all the words.. .and it’s these edges, these biblical break-down lanes that ultimately are the most important, because that’s where one gets to write their questions, and where one gets to expand and grow and evolve a tradition (and a knowing of God) that, without such participation, would have long since become dormant, rigid, or withered entirely.

I think Jesus in this passage in Mark is saying to us,

“keep having a dialogue with the old ideas and the old wisdoms  – the way things have always been done –  and bringing them forward with our your own voice and your own questions because it’s not only how we survive” 

(Rabbi Ariel Burger)  – but how God survives and is real to us – and this is the miracle we need in our day. God being real to us – reviving us. 

It’s a miraculous way to be really – to not settle into complacency.  And when we are rattled, and despondent and when we endure unimaginable pain – it can feel risky – and like too much energy… but often all that can be found in a walk with Jesus.   

Jesus starts his lesson – by walking and talking about hunger – and ends his lesson by walking and identifying what the real hunger is for….. Not this dry, withered fig tree ..  BUT HUNGRY FOR GOD.    Jesus replies to his disciples –

“Have faith in God”

trust me, turn to me, hunger for me – have faith in me.

The miracles that we get to participate in are recognizing what isn’t working for us – and still being faithful to something bigger than ourselves. This is what calls us into greater community and dedication to repairing and improving  …… even what we know can’t be repaired and improved in our lifetimes.

And this is the standard of faithfulness that I mentioned at the beginning – that Quaker Parker Palmer has taught me over time.

And all the standard of faithfulness entails is to wake up every day and put one foot in front of the other – and have faithfulness to our gifts, (to the things we know & learn about ourselves that impact others in helpful ways)… faithfulness to our perception of the needs of the world, and faithfulness to offering our gifts to whatever needs are within our reach.  This is the standard of faithfulness.

“When faithfulness is our standard, we are more likely to sustain our engagement with tasks that will never end: doing justice, loving mercy, and calling the beloved community into being.”

(Parker Palmer)

And the beauty is – that it is not a standard for our indiviudalselves – it is a standard by which we are held in community.  This is my second point to take away today – this idea of a community of practice.

Which is a group of people who “share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly”  Like us!  It’s how the followers of Jesus supported each other in their own break-down lanes, in grief, and in celebration – it’s how we here at Reservoir learn to love God and be loved by God as a way by which we flourish and value the presence of one another, care for one another, unto liberation and freedom.  

The practices can be very varied – but it’s that we are holding that central vision – Jesus – at the forefront of our community.

Adrienne Maree Brown says pay attention to what you are practicing day to day. Because we are always practicing things. Are you practicing things you would want to practice (that feel helpful and real to you) – or are you practicing what someone else has told you is the right way to do stuff?

“Because,”

Adrienne Brown says, 

“once you start practicing on purpose, then you can actually practice liberation and justice and freedom and — then I think you begin to experience the fruit of the practice – peace, awareness, courage, action.  You might not see the miracles you hope to see in your day – total liberation for all people, but you can feel good knowing that you are practicing liberation every single day and in every relationship.” (onbeing.org)  

How do you personally begin to practice whatever’s in alignment with your largest vision or longing?

For my mom and I, I had to realize that the simple act of calling her often – was the practice I needed to engage. To unfold the relationship full of love that I wanted to see fruit…. That I always want to be in season.

Here at Reservoir our five year vision is to create and grow the Beloved Community we are called to be – it’s a big vision. But the practices of being …

  1. Diverse and anti-racist in our every day lives….
  2. Creating welcome and places of profound belonging. .
  3. The ways by which we consider being radically generous.
  4. How we can empower wholeness, love, and justice for those around us – 

All of these are ours to participate in – in our individual lives and here, as a community of practice.

The miracles we need here and now – are not tied to an outcome – of whether we see these visions fruit in our day or not – they are tied to a good, living, life-giving Jesus – and  the miracle is to keep seeking Jesus and believing that our “becoming lives” with Jesus unfold the possible and the impossible, Even us …as agents and practitioners of such miracles.  

Let me pray for us.

Thank you God for the wonder and beauty that you plant inside of us – for the capacity to create and dream for things different and new. Help us God to hunger for you as we vision for a more just world, as we stand on the brink of possibility… near…. And far… and everywhere in between. 

 

DIY Water of Life Participatory Liturgy | LENT 2022

Components

  • Tissue paper – variety of colors
  • Gold tissue paper – 3 strips
  • Permanent marker
  • Canvas
  • Bowl/vessel of water
  • Floating candle

 INTRO | “Water of Life”

This year’s season of Lent has been centered around the theme, “Water of Life.” Acknowledging in part that many of us might need some of that “flow from Jesus” – as we feel weary and dry – after two years of constant change, loss and interruption. So we have been exploring, reflecting, meandering through art – trying spiritual practices – seeking a balm for our aching souls. Seeking refreshment, restoration –  the love and presence of Jesus. Water of life to us.

As companions along your journey, you’ll have the accompaniment of Ruby Sales, a legendary civil rights activist and public theologian. Her prophetic voice continues to be a wise and steady one that seeds grounded hope at every turn.  And you’ll also hear Psalm 23 repeated at various points. Personal reflection, some movement, LOTS OF WATER TIME, some song and some sharing…will also all be components of this time together. 

Speaking of components  – you should have nearby lots of tissue paper shapes, and 3 strips of gold tissue paper, as well as a permanent marker.  

 One last bit before we get going, you will hear, see and be invited to speak a refrain at various points throughout the time, “all shall be well” – it’s by Julian of Norwich, a 14th century mystic. I want to be clear from the top – that “all shall be well” – is not a hollow sentiment, detached from reality. It is a bold, prophetic prayer – and a recognition that all is NOT well –  but in the same breath expresses a longing to be in partnership with God – in creating a world as we can imagine and hope it to be…this is the spirit of how we will engage with “all shall be well,” this morning. 

PRAYER: Thank you Jesus for your presence here this morning. Thank you that you are near to us, even when we aren’t with ourselves. Thank you that you speak to our spirit in ways we can not always comprehend – but in ways that are always balm to our souls.  Amen.

PART #1 | Hurt

You’ll now hear audio from an interview with Ruby Sales in September of 2016. 

Here, she is reflecting on a memory  –  and a question in particular – that broke open a new way for her to continue to do the unending work  – the lifetime work –  of working and fighting for justice.  

2 min. AUDIO: | Ms. Sales

“A defining moment for me happened when I was getting my locks washed, and my locker’s daughter came in one morning, and she had been hustling all night. And she had sores on her body. And she was just in a state — drugs. So something said to me, ask her: “Where does it hurt?” And I said, “Shelley, where does it hurt?”

And just that simple question unleashed territory in her that she had never shared with her mother.  She talked about all of the things that had happened to her as a child. And she literally shared the source of her pain. And I realized, in that moment, listening to her and talking with her, that I needed a larger way to do this work.” 

PROMPT

This question,“where does it hurt?” is a divine question. 

One that Jesus might wonder and pose to us as well.

Today – this is our starting point,


“Where does it hurt?”

*Where have you felt and seen hurt?

I invite you to write these hurts down.

On your tissue paper strips and squares.  

*write as many that come to mind (one one each piece of paper) – one right after the other.

*you will not be asked to share these hurts outloud 

*and if you can’t come to write a hurt – (it’s too deep, too real to give name to)  – just select a piece of tissue paper, and hold it alongside the others.

Where have you felt and seen hurt?

Examples: 

Maybe you are hurt as you witness the hurt of others. Those you love, those who are strangers-alike.

Maybe you worry for your kids so much it hurts.

Maybe you feel helpless in the face of world-scale atrocities and injustice…

Maybe you’ve been hurt by someone.

Maybe you are hurt by the words you say to yourself.

ACTION: 

I invite you to take your tissue paper to water (could be a bowl, a bucket, a sink, etc).

Take your hurts and release them to the waters of life. 

Let them be held and soak in the love of God.


One by one by one, place your hurts in the water.

COME TO THE WATERS

PRAYER OF PSALM 23:

In the wake of having been with your hurts, we invite you to listen to the reading of Psalm 23. As you do, allow the words to wash over you as a prayer –  what word, phrase, imagery stands out to you as the balm your heart might need today?

PSALM 23 

Invite someone to read Psalm 23

Invite someone to read, “all shall be well” (2 times) in their mother tongue.

As you are ready, write that word that you are receiving as a balm on one of the strips of gold.  

MOVEMENT: PLACING HURTS & BALM ON CANVAS 

We are going to ask you to come back to the waters of life now, where our community’s hurts are all laid out – and you will come with that gold strip (your word of balm from God) in your hand as well. 

As you come to the water pick up a few pieces of tissue paper from the water, *know that these will not be your own hurts* – it will be those of this community, and carry them – with care –  to the canvas.

Lay those hurts on the canvas, as well as the little bit of balm from God.

It’s ok if the hurts twist or fold a little on each other, or layer upon one another. We all hurt.

Try to lay them out flat as best you can on the canvas..  

As you place all the hurts and balm on the wall – you may want to seal it with the prayer, “all shall be well.”

COME TO THE WATERS

PART # TWO | Candles & God with us

You’ll now hear Ruby’s voice again, as well as a version of Psalm 23 again – as you do, think about how you resonate with this promise, “God has been with you – even when you haven’t been with yourself.” 

AUDIO | Ms. Sales

“I was riding down the road one day in Washington, D.C. after having been at a demonstration against the war in Iraq, and suddenly, out of nowhere, I started crying. And I realized that God had been with me, even when I hadn’t been with myself.” 

Speaker in room:

God is with me……….. even when I am not with myself. (x2)

God is with you…………….. even when you are not with yourself.  (x2)

God is with us ………. even when we are not with ourselves. (x2)

 Music & Speaking

 Psalm 23 & Verses & Pre-Chorus of Feeling Low.

PROMPT

As you’ve thought about that promise, “God is with you, even when you haven’t been with yourself,”  write down one of these phrases (below), on a gold strip. 

 “Please” – (I long to feel this truth)

“Thanks” – (I have felt it, I am grateful for it, I believe it). 

“Help” – (I don’t even know where to begin – I’m at a loss, .I’m stuck, numb)

Come to the water with that gold strip, place it in the water and light a candle as a representation of your truest, deepest prayer in these hurts.  

Let this candle float among the many – held, seen, burning … 

Sometimes we need our prayers buoyed by the spirit and light of others. 

MOVEMENT # THREE | OUR OFFERING

As you make your way back to your seats, we’ll hear from Ruby one last time

AUDIO | Ms. Sales:

“And I realized that God had been with me, even when I hadn’t been with myself. And those moments made me really begin to seek to go back, to really think deeply about black folk religion and to really want to develop, in a very intentional way, an inner life that had to do with how I lived in the world.”

PRAYER OF PSALM 23

As you listen to Psalm 23 for the final time,  you will encounter these themes again that stir the deepest parts of your inner life  – longings for restoration, comfort, God’s presence in times of fear, for goodness and mercy..  They are also themes that ask us – how our personal life extends, greets, and meets the world we live in.  How does our cup run over….?

How is it that,

As we recognize our personal need for restoration, 

We play a part in the restoration of the world around us? 

 

How is it that,

As we recognize our longing for comfort, 

That we contribute to the longing of others’ comfort?

 

How is that,

As we recognize our own fear,

We also become aware of how many around us are afraid? 

 

How is it that we contribute to the collective hope for goodness and mercy in our personal and public spheres?

As you listen to this Psalm now, think about this:  

What is your offering? Your little bit of balm to the collective need and hope – that “all shall be well”?

PSALM 23 

Invite someone to read Psalm 23

Invite someone to read “all shall be well” in their own language.

I’m going to invite you to write down on your last gold strip – what you imagine you can offer as a little bit of balm to the world around you? People in front of you, where you live, what you care about… 

 (examples: Maybe it is a place of rest for someone? (your shoulder to lean on, your couch, your smile.)

Maybe it’s your attentive listening – that allows you to ask a compassionate question , like Ruby’s. 

Maybe it’s offering a word of encouragement…  a text, a phone call, .. A song… A dance!

Inviting someone to your table… 

Cooking meals for refugees

Maybe it’s volunteering somewhere

Maybe it’s reducing your carbon footprint

 

As you are ready, write one thought/idea down on the last strip of gold.

What can you imagine that you could offer as a little bit of balm?

 

SHARE: 

Turn to the folks you are nearby – and share what you wrote on your gold paper.  

Just read it. No extra texture.

 

Folks that are listening can respond, “All shall be well”

MOVEMENT: PLACING GOLD ON CANVAS

As you are ready and done sharing… go to the waters again, dip your gold strip in the presence and love of God and In some manner let this be the purest offering we can make to the world around us. 

In some manner let these words become an active balm.

In some manner may “all manner of things be well.” 

 

COME TO THE WATERS

SONG: “Feeling Low” by Will Reagan 

 

 

Breathe Life | Coda to How to Heal the World

Last Sunday, we opened our pool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It primes the canvas of our own lives.

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

And as we continue in Genesis: 

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

God places God’s breath within us.

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

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

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

((Deep breath))

This is big.. God is saying

“anything and everything around you”

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

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

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

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

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

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

It reminds me of the verse in Acts that says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s important they be heard.

And so this is the backdrop of this mural. 

Breathe Life, 1

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

“how about you breathe life into it?”

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

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

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

“It wasn’t what I did,”

Gibbs says,

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

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

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

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

Breathe Life, 3 – Roxbury 2019
To Gibbs, graffiti is a contemporary form of hieroglyphics, a timeless way to connect to the world, a way in which knowledge is shared, by telling – the art of –  communal stories.
(www.nowandthere.org/blog/2019/4/26/more-art-for-roxbury-with-problak)

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

In street art,

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

Gibbs said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Spirit of God animates and enlivens us. 

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

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

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

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

Breathe Life Together | Rose Kennedy Greenway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KINTSUGI ART’

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

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

He wasn’t just floating – he was making.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Peace be with you.”

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

“Peace be with you.”

And then he breathed on them and said,

“Receive the Holy Spirit.”

The Spirit of God breathes and creates new life. 

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

“BUT OUR GOD IS DEAD.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“let there be light…”

“let there be peace…”

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

God does not hold God’s breath.

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

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

Healing the World | Humility

About a year ago I came across a grass roots movement called “Healing Our City” – it is centered in Minneapolis, and had begun actually the summer before in May of 2020, as a response to the traumatic death and murder of George Floyd. 

In that year – this movement provided 30 Days of Silent Prayer in a physical tent in North Minneapolis. A month-long, African-American-led collaborative… conceived to add this vital spiritual element – to all the strategic thinking, policy proposals, and investments that were being considered at the time to address the multi-layers of trauma that were being experienced in this city. www.healingourcity.org/about2020prayertent

It was a shared public ritual where people of all faiths and good will came together throughout the day for 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silent prayer/meditation.  Over the course of 30 days, this prayer tent became a place to collectively grieve, to remain somehow – open to change, and pray for a new future.  

Last year – in 2021 (when I came across this),  this space evolved into a virtual space – where there was intentional daily prayer and meditation during the trial of Derek Chauvin. The city was humbly learning how not just to consider responding to tragedy, but how they might proactively create wholeness and live together in beloved community as people of goodwill… wherever they are and whoever they are.  They were pressing in to discover together how to heal.

The reflections and prayers were offered by leaders – mostly in the Minneapolis area – and some by folks who have given their lives to this fight of justice, like Ruby Sales and Don & Sondra Samuels, and others who are fresh, young powerful voices. Cole Arthur Riley (black liturgies), Krista Tippett – as well as Rabbis and Muslims and Buddhists, Hmong speakers, and Reverends, community organizers, teachers, writers, poets…  of all faiths, denominations, races, and orientations were part of this movement. Expansive and inclusive… and hinged on this notion of being together, not alone.

Led by the spirit to be alongside one another and “stay with it.”

There are over 90 of these daily prayers/reflections that you can view if you subscribe to their youtube channel, “Healing our city.” And what’s been most meaningful to me, as I’ve watched and rewatched so many of these only the thoughtfulness of each person’s presence and words – but it is the collective leaning to come together with humility and say, “where is God in all of this?” and “who is God to us?”. . .and “how does that help us mend our way forward?”  

How do we grow the Beloved Community?

How do we create the kin-dom of God? 

How do we whole-heartedly proclaim “all shall be well?”   

How do these sentiments not just hang out as abstractions, but become tangible/practical ways by which we live, ways to keep healing? And how do we keep that at the forefront of our minds and in our hearts… as we move about our world, in our communities, and love Jesus? 

That’s exactly what we have been talking about in this spring mini-series, called How to Heal the World. It’s in some part a daunting title, and an inspiring title – and an all together TIMELY and timeless title. As you may have noticed… this title doesn’t have a question mark at the end. It’s not “How to Heal the World?” It’s How to Heal the World .. Period. It’s a statement – a prophetic statement perhaps – and a given at the center of our faith – at the center of our lives, as followers of Jesus.

It is the work we are called to be part of.

Healing.

Mending.

Repair.

Therein lies a lot of questions… 

How will we create these tents of healing? Whether they are physical like Minneapolis. .. or metaphorical in some way?

How will we participate and partner with God for the healing of the world?
How will we humbly come alongside one another to learn, to unlearn, to change, to believe for that which we can not see – but only imagine? 

How will we allow our faith to do what faith is intended to do – to expand, adapt, flex and be the force that it can be … of good and repair.

The author and feminist, bell hooks said in her book All About Love – that

rarely any of us are healed in isolation. Healing is an act of communion.” (215) 

I think these folks in Minneapolis know what they are doing.. To talk to one another , regard it as prayer. To hold the one whose voices, lives, and beings are most oppressed – in view, with love…. Because love that participates in justice is the way to wholeness and healing.

Today we are going to talk about the value of humility and the reality of  power. And these questions,

“Who is God to us? Where is God ?”

.. as we take a look at the story of Philip and the Eunuch from Acts and see how it might help expand how we find our way into the ongoing call to Heal the World. 

 PRAYER

Thank you Jesus for this day. Let us be glad for the opportunity to be “more today ….than we were yesterday.” Thank you for the spirit of God that nudges us into greater spaces of learning – inside of ourselves and for the wellness of the world around us.  For those of us who are tired today, who are grieving today – give us rest, let our souls find comfort in your presence – that asks of us nothing, and yet provides us everything.

SCRIPTURE:

*Credit fnor this translation and many of the thoughts to follow to Pádraig o’Tuama. May 2, 2021, YouTube.

Oe of the reflections that was offered last year by this “Healing Our City” movement was by Padraig O’Tuama – an Irish poet-theologian, a scholar,  who has spent years working at the intersection of power, conflict and healing.

He also presents Poetry Unbound with On Being Studios, which is situated in Minneapolis.  I consider Padraig a friend, we shared a bit of whisky in a pub in Ballyvaughan, Ireland (which seems as good friend-making material as any). Padraig hasn’t officially weighed in on the status of our relationship – but we talked a little bit about liturgy, story and leadership  – which I hope in his view is the stuff of friendship as well… 

Anyway – he offered some thoughts on the passage we are going to read together, some thoughts about healing particularly.  And some thoughts about the “healing” of Philip – as much as I have ascribed to the eunuch.

Let’s read together.

Acts 8:26 – 40 (Common English Bible)

26 An angel from the Lord spoke to Philip, “At noon, take[a] the road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.)

27 So he did. Meanwhile, an Ethiopian man was on his way home from Jerusalem, where he had come to worship. He was a eunuch and an official responsible for the entire treasury of Candace. (Candace is the title given to the Ethiopian queen.)

28 He was reading the prophet Isaiah while sitting in his carriage.

29 The Spirit told Philip, “Approach this carriage and stay with it.”

30 Running up to the carriage, Philip heard the man reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you really understand what you are reading?”

31 The man replied, “Without someone to guide me, how could I?” Then he invited Philip to climb up and sit with him.

32 This was the passage of scripture he was reading:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter

    and like a lamb before its shearer is silent

    so he didn’t open his mouth.

33 In his humiliation justice was taken away from him.

    Who can tell the story of his descendants

        because his life was taken from the earth?[b]

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, about whom does the prophet say this? Is he talking about himself or someone else?”

35 Starting with that passage, Philip proclaimed the good news about Jesus to him.

36 As they went down the road, they came to some water.

37 The eunuch said, “Look! Water! What would keep me from being baptized?”[c]

38 He ordered that the carriage halt. Both Philip and the eunuch went down to the water, where Philip baptized him. 

Now Philip is a follower of Jesus. He, like many followers of Jesus, has left Jerusalem as the early church is taking shape in Acts.


There is much persecution that is happening in and around Jerusalem – and the “good news of Jesus” is meant to be taken beyond Jerusalem, to Judea, and to Samaria, and to all the ends of the earth.

So Philip ends up traveling north  to Samaria.  Home to the Samaritans. He moves in and lives there – despite historical deep lines of division and hate between Samaritans and Jewish people. Philip shares the love and goodness of Jesus, and with the Holy Spirit the people of Samaria listen and many of them get baptized.

He loves God and loves others, even his enemies, and he brings the good news of Jesus wherever he goes.

And so most of these stories go. The spread of the “Good news,” you move into an area where no one has heard such a Jesus message.. And you spread it, you deliver this important message.

It’s how the stories went for me as a kid – a young one learning about God.  I absorbed that one of the primary duties – as a follower of Jesus –  was to bring the “message” of God to other people. We had missionaries that would come to our church and share slideshows and stories about the travels that they had taken.

Converting, saving, the wayward from a life of certain demise.  Our church’s name was Wayside Church – so we really went for the “wayward” language a lot to differentiate ourselves .. “us”, the sure/the certain/the right/ the powerful (on the inside).. From “them” –  the ones (on the outside) who were lost.

Padraig says, that’s often as far as an interpretation of a scripture like this story of the eunuch and Philip would go… Philip is out for a walk, comes alongside a carriage – hears a man reading from the scriptures.  Philip is the one with a message that can help…

“Do you know what you are reading?” “Oh you don’t – let me hop in and tell you.”

And the conversation that ensues – Padraig says – is on the grounds of a “converting conversation”.  

And it is no more original than the missionary stories I heard growing up – the ones that were heroic and doing the real work of Jesus –  saving lives, counting them – “one, two, three, ten , a whole family, a village… “  I’d pray and pray – and cry in secret, “God please don’t send me anywhere I don’t want to do this … 

Somewhere I knew that this way of “messaging” the good news – was one that offered no humility, no freedom, no choice… it was a message meant to convert (with power over – not a transformation of the heart), heavy with an agenda – it had an end goal.  And the tenor was, “You need to accept this message- by force or friendship – and this of course as Padraig says, over time has  affected “culture, language, politics, land, families, relationships, livelihoods…”

So Padraig offers that perhaps this is not what this story is about. It’s not about Philip going and saving the eunuch, this Ethiopian man… Perhaps instead, this story is about healing – he says –  a kind of healing that goes to the roots.

When Philip gets into the carriage – and as the standard story would go – the eunuch is the one that is healed. Philip is praised for his effective discipleship, his messaging of the good news. .. a good student of Jesus.

And it makes sense to think the Ethiopian man is the one that needs the saving/ the help/ the good news – he’s a,eunuch, he was likely castrated at a young age, likely against his will.. and made “other” in gender, and body and regarded as a sexual minority.

He’s also a high up official in Candace’s – the queen of Ethiopia’s court. He’s come to Jerusalem (likely a two month ordeal) to worship, and yet he arrives at the temple and is not permitted to enter. 

  • In the law of Moses – Deuteronomy 23:1 – it says
  • “no one emasculated by crushing or cutting can enter the assembly of the Lord.”

  • He’s rejected, excluded – the message that has greeted him is that
  • “he is forbidden to join the family of God.”

  • And it seems kind, and obvious – to offer a different message – one about Jesus.

And yet, the scripture that this Ethiopian man is reading is about a Lamb – who also has had a blade held to its body… 

And the Ethiopian man asks Philip,

“about whom is this text speaking?” Is the prophet talking about himself or someone else?”

He asks, “Is the prophet talking about someone like me?”

Padraig says it’s

“all well and good to talk about sacrificial lambs when you are thinking abstractly.”

Here though Philip is being converted as he is brought face to face with a person – who when in their own body has been brought close to a weapon. Where a weapon has been pressed against their body.

Philip here – is being invited to rethink what he thinks he’s talking about.

When I met my *now* husband Scott – I had been away from the church of my youth for a bit.. But the way of thinking about God, and faith that my church had defined for me – was not far from me.

This would become evident in our endless conversations about faith and spirituality. Scott, an agnostic at the time, would press me on my “positions” and issues and “platforms” that I backed always by some great zinger as it related to truth. He was always bringing in a story or a name of a person and would ask,

“well how does this person’s story fit into your thinking? Or what would you say to this person if they were here?”

Bringing my beliefs from the abstract into the concrete.. human lives.  And again and again I would be invited by Scott’s inquiry to rethink what I thought I was talking about.  And he’d always say,

“and who is God to you, Ivy?”

The eunuch here is attempting to infuse faith with encounter. With a face. Asking Philip how does this scripture that you’ve read, that you know – translate as you see it in the flesh? In human form?  Here I am:

“a sheep led to slaughter” 

“A person humiliated and mocked for being different”  

 “a person with no descendants”

“Where is God?” “Who is God to you, Philip?” “What do you think about who God should be to me?”

He invites Philip to go back and look at his faith before it becomes reduced to a system of abstractions and beliefs. Maybe asking Philip, “How can you stretch your faith to be a series of stories and as a series of encounters. How can you value me, my story  – this encounter with me… as much as being “right” about what you’ve learned about God or faith or scripture.  

“This Ethiopian man is not in need of any conversion. But Philip – this early missionary, most definitely is.” (PO’T)

Padraig says,

“The Ethiopian man was not the one that was saved that day. He was fine as he was – reading, thinking, asking questions – pursuing his own curiosity and intelligence and interests..”

The person that was saved – was the person who’s imagination was in need of expansion – Philip – the follower of Jesus – perhaps the one that thought he had the message – or even more dangerously thought that he “was the message.”

Philip goes back with a message – the message wasn’t about this Ethiopian man – the message was about his understanding about what POWER was – b/c he had been converted and healed into a better understanding of power, justice, inclusion, equality , equity.” (PO’T)

So here we can witness that Philip – the person who thought that they had the message to give, was the one that most needed the message themselves.

It can seem mostly harmless to tell this story as Philip is being praised for engaging with this Ethiopian man.  But when we nestle our understanding of scripture through the lens of a colonialist mindset  – one that values power, control, domination, conversion as a sign of spiritual status, or holiness… We injure, we harm, we erase story, people. . . lives.  

Healthy faith is always humble about its own holiness and knowledge. It knows that it does not know. 

It knows that Jesus sat with people at tables, in storms, in fields, at their feet, in temples and streets, at gates and in grief, in birth and unto death..Jesus’ message is to be with, to share , to be alongside – not OVER. 

A healthy faith is what the eunuch saves Philip u/into – into a non-conquering, non-fearful faith – a humble faith.  A faith that reminds us that power is demonstrated in the capacity to learn and to adapt and to see and take in WHO is in front of you.  To enter the prayer tent, or chariot of another… (upon invitation)… especially those that we have othered.. And listen, “repent,” act differently … this is the healing here in this scripture. 

A healing of the arrogance of entitled posture – and an invitation to a posture of humility and repentance and awareness of your own limitations… of how much we have to learn (and unlearn) – and how much harm has been done in imagining and ACTING as though we are right.

How much we have to learn even when we think we’ve gotten scripture “right”

How much we have to learn, even when we think we know all there is to know about another’s story – where we think we’ve gotten individual people and groups of people “right.” Knowing what’s good for them. Defining who God is for them.

How much we have to learn when we think we’ve gotten God right. 

If we try to claim it. If we say we understand it. If we try to own it. Control it. If we declare “Power” because of it… Then IT. IS. NOT. GOD. (riff on St. Augustine of Hippo). 

And this is the importance I think of imagining that Philip is the one healed here. Because it gives all of us followers of Jesus a chance to see that humility is a way forward, humility is a way to heal the disrepair that has been rippling through Christianity, our society, our world. It is not a value by which we become doormats, or silent, or apathetic – but it is an essential component by which we keep the face of the other, and thereby the face of God in view.

We’ve got to constantly remind ourselves what we do not know. 

Instead of clinging to certitudes on every side of every question – could we enter into conversations with humbleness, curiosity, an openness to unlearn – to listen. We don’t know exactly how Philip responded to the Eunuch’s question of “who is this scripture about a lamb being slaughtered?” But we can imagine that it provoked an  internal movement for Philip from,  “oh wait -this could be you.. To this IS you.” The word became flesh indeed. 

And maybe then Philip explains some of how he’s understood scripture, of who God has been to him… speaks of his own experience of faith, of what he’s challenged by or inspired by…

We can gather that something stirred in Philip because the Ethiopian man says – here’s some water – “what’s to stop me from being baptized?”

And if Philip had stuck to the law – much like the Ethiopian man’s temple experience – there would have been a lot that would have prevented him from being baptized.   

But perhaps Philip knew then the power of being more loving than “more right.”

Perhaps the law he had also read many times, came to life in him – where it says, “to the eunuchs I will give a name that will not be cut off… a name that will last from generation to generation.” (Isaiah 56:4)  Maybe Philip wanted to be part of that healing, that mending a way forward… the naming of a nameless man… as a child of God, as he comes up from the water.

The good news of God embodied, and carried onward-  living in generations to come.

The message of the Hebrew scriptures has always been about the evolution of a more just world. The dismantling of power – where power has defined what law/order looks like – and as Padraig says, “what “right” and rights looks like.” 

Here at Reservoir humility is one of our core values. .. . we not only acknowledge but we are wholeheartedly committed to pursuing the truth of Jesus through multiple sources, including scripture, reason, culture, and experience, and we take the posture of learners, recognizing that our understanding of God’s truth continues to unfold. .. as we evolve, change and grow.

Recognizing that our “knowing” of God is only that we can not fully “know” God. 

And our best shot at knowing anything of God is by staying in connection with one another. It is by running alongside the chariot, the honored space of another’s story… and as the Holy Spirit says to Philip in this text, “STAYING WITH IT”….running for as long as we have to… listening as best we can – and maybe somewhere along that journey being invited in… 

A world without humility is rife with arrogance, inflated pride, ego, unchecked power, uninspected motives, hearts that harden… law that becomes stone. 

Scripture that becomes weapons… 

Scripture that is held against people’s bodies, cutting off their rights to be fully human.

This is the history of whiteness – in our country.

Twisted and wrapped around faith.. 

Obsessed with “rightness” – over right relationships with one another & God.

Obsessed with domination over humanity.

It doesn’t just wound.

It harms.

It destroys.

It erases all that makes us human – our stories, our voice, our hearts, our face – 

Without humility – we continue to live in a world of abstraction.

Without humility –  our world does not heal.

And this is frustrating and dangerous. 

Just in the last couple of weeks I have heard two stories of people being excommunicated from their communities of faith… over gender equality and LGBTQIA inclusion … here and now. 

In greater Boston.

Their rejection. 

Their grief.

Their disorientations are not abstractions.

It is here  – in the absence of humility – where the breeding ground of violence really takes off, if power is threatened. And maybe that’s why Padraig’s take on this scripture and Philip being the one that is healed is so moving to me – because it calls into view the work so many of us as white Christians, still have to do – and continues to showcase how violence can overtake and become extreme when the roots of our faith, our country, ourselves are not uprooted and examined – and untwisted from the legacy of white supremacy.

On Friday of last week, in Dallas – three Korean women were shot in a hate-motivated gun shooting.

Those three human beings are not abstractions.

On Sunday last week one person was shot and killed, and five were injured – at a Presbyterian Church in Orange County.

Those six people are not abstractions.

On Saturday of last week, in Buffalo – 10 Black people were shot and killed in a racist hate-motivated gun shooting.

Aaron Salter

Katherine Massey

Celestine Chaney

Roberta Drury

Pearly Young

Ruth Whitfield

Heyward Patterson

Margus D. Morrison

Andrew Mackneil

Geraldine Talley

Were not abstractions.

Humility is a way to digest the message of God – it is a way to embody God, it will take our constant conversion (moment by moment heart transformation), but may be a potent way forward in healing our world.  These folks in Minneapolis, “Healing Our City”, inspire me to keep the faces of those in our midst in view – the ones who have weapons drawn against their bodies, the ones who have for centuries been led like sheep to the slaughter –  and erect wherever we can tents for grief, change and action. 

And may our faith be this tent too – held up by humility, and an unwavering commitment to collective healing.

In Proverbs 22:4 it says,

‘The reward for humility and loving God, is riches and honor and LIFE’ 

may it be so. 

An effort to mend and heal:

In what areas of either learning/or unlearning do you feel like the spirit is calling you to “stay with it?”  What does this look like on a practical level for you? Whose companionship might you need? What resources could you use?

 Amen.

The Ordinary Waters

Hi everyone – so good to be with you all! I’m Ivy, a Pastor here.

I’m really enjoying this time of Lent that we are in, there’s something about the water imagery, Water of Life, that is centering our season – and the combination of our lengthening days of light, and warmer temps that are making me feel a little more alive in the day-to-day, this ordinary life. Which, I can’t say has been  holistically true over the stretch of the last two years.  I hope in part – some of that could feel true to you too. 

Each week of Lent we are focusing on a particular theme related to water. The first week were waters of baptism, last week Steve talked about the waters of overwhelm. And today – as we enter our third week of Lent – we’ll talk about ordinary waters.  What about the ordinary? The day in and day out aspects of life?  How do we find ourselves nourished, ALIVE – rejuvenated and renewed by God? How do we find the sacred in the ordinary?

Over the last two years perhaps our version of “the ordinary” has taken on a new sheen.  So often we loop the “ordinary” into our regular routines, patterns – often mundane ones that don’t stand out as particularly special moments. The walk to the bus stop, the laundromat, the dishes, the finding the other sock, the washing the hands, the doing the things that have always been done the way things have been done.

And so much of this was disrupted during the pandemic (and still).  Our “normal” ways of doing things were disrupted.

But I want to make a subtle distinction and say that actually our “ordinary” wasn’t disrupted.

You see the ordinary has always held all the components of life – the “normal” ways of routines, the “overwhelming” stress and threats that Steve talked about last week, the joy and the tears, and the smiles and the grief and the fear and the “meh.” All of it. 

But the pandemics have revealed that our “ordinary”  lives weren’t really “normal” all along.

The “ordinary” is not only rich, and layered and vital to our spiritual life…it is where our spiritual life takes place.  And it’s helpful to see and embrace all of it.  Because it’s where all new possibility exists – at our fingertips, under our feet – in the very air we breathe. The potential for something new, different, transformational.

And yet when we equate ordinary with normal and keep seeking for the normal to return, to be re-established – the way things were… we often find ourselves coming up empty. Dry. And we become thirsty for something extraordinary… something separate from what our ordinary lives seemingly don’t offer us.  

It’s like me searching for a new yoga class that will give me that full stretch that it once did – when I was 10 years younger.

Or a new friendship that can fulfill you the way that old friend did. 

Or a new spiritual practice that gives me that full sensory experience of God  – that immediate connection to God – as it used to.

This is what we will press into a bit today – through our sermon – but also throughout the week in the Lenten guide.  

We’ll consider how it is that God invites us into the ordinariness of our lives to reveal the extraordinary? Inviting us to imbibe, drink in a living source. A God that hopes we fall in love with our ordinary lives and find that the ordinary is sacred.

And that the sacred is indeed in the ordinary.

And most often – all of it – is not normal.  

Prayer 

Thank you God for waking us up today.
Thank you for this space that offers us respite and comfort right now.

Thank you for the folks online in this space who we love and know – and thanks for the folks in this room who we have yet to meet.

Thank you God that you are with us, in us, between us and for us – each and every moment – the ordinary ones and the extraordinary ones. Refresh us this morning – hydrate our souls with your presence and love… amen.

Many, many, many years ago I was at a Christian conference of sorts that had a variety of speakers – but of course the main attraction was the keynote speaker. And it was clear that people were there for this one personality, this sort of charismatic man who’s preaching many, many people followed, were enraptured by and helped by.

I was in an interesting space with God and my faith journey. I was starting to explore some of the “teachings” of my upbringing that weren’t bringing me a lot of life in those days. And yet still really hanging on to some of the more ingrained ways of “staying in the faith” hoping that that would really reveal to me the values of why I  really fell in love with God.  Which evidently meant I traveled to conferences…. mainly to study, be taught by particular (more scholarly, more expert) voices (not all that bad of a plan, actually).

After this guy got done preaching. There was sort of a bottle neck of people flocking around him, and I was trying to figure out how to get to the refreshment table – which was on the side of this guy.   

As I tried to skirt around the masses I ran right into this guy. And I remember looking up at him, and knew that I had to say something about his talk. So I said, “thank you for your sermon.”  And he replied, “Oh, tell me what you are taking away from it.”  

And all I could think was, “I really want that cupcake,” and “I have no idea what you said.” BUT of course instead I offered, “you know…I’m just really taken aback – it was spectacular … really extraordinary.”

And the truth is – it was extraordinary. It was exactly extra – ordinary… because the amount of hours and study and history and the sitting with scripture and referencing commentary and placing words just “so” by this speaker was phenomenal. . . it was really interesting.  But I couldn’t translate it into my life. I couldn’t map over the practical elements that would open my everyday life a little more. 

And I remember being mortified by that moment – because I couldn’t say to this man – or more importantly to myself – that it didn’t land for me. It didn’t work for me.  Not just the sermon, but this way of faith that never touched my lived experience, my ordinary life. 

Now Jesus’ first miracle or sign has to do with ordinary water. It’s interestingly only mentioned in the Gospel of John that we’ll read from together this morning

John 2:1-9
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and  Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration.  When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They don’t have any wine.”

 Jesus replied, “Woman,(Mother) what does that have to do with me? My time hasn’t come yet.”

His mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby were six stone water jars used for the Jewish cleansing ritual, each able to hold about twenty or thirty gallons.

 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water,” and they filled them to the brim.  Then he told them, “Now draw some from them and take it to the headwaiter,” and they did. The headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine. He didn’t know where it came from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.

 

Now there are a lot of points of interest that can be drawn out from these few verses. Here, in the account of John is Jesus’ first act of public ministry  – turning water into wine.

And some of this story as it unfolds reveals essential characteristics of Jesus and lays out elements that are important for his ministry to come, as well as ways that are different from the way things have always been done in the religious structure  … and some of this story reveals how our participation with Jesus –  in our ordinary life is essential, sacred, and inseparable.

Weddings in Jesus’ day usually lasted for a week with people coming and going.  Eating, drinking, singing, laughing. Families would have started saving for this event when their child was born…often the whole village would partake in the celebration.

Jesus, his mother,  and the disciples were invited to this wedding and it takes place in a little nondescript town called Cana.  This town is only mentioned one another time in the New Testament- it’s just an ordinary town that has this recorded moment and then fades again into anonymity.

Now families would have spent years making enough wine for this occasion – and running out of wine would be a source of humiliation/shame for the couple.

So as this very thing happens – we see Jesus take ordinary water and turn it into wine. A LOT of Wine (some sources say equivalent to 1,000 bottles) and as the verses detail if we had kept reading – really, really good wine.

And we see that God through Jesus is a God who wants to continue to shower people with lavishness and abundance. God has been a God throughout time that has been generous with provision –  in the fruitfulness of creation, in manna in the wilderness, a land of milk and honey, and a return from exile.

God is one who has provided in the ordinary realm of life.  

JESUS, doubles down on that generosity of provision in the ordinary – abundantly. AND YET ALSO communicates that his very PRESENCE will also be available to anyone in the ordinary – ABUNDANTLY. 

Not just in this instance  – but throughout scripture we see that Jesus is often found in the most ordinary of places (at a table, in fields, pastures, markets, fishing, walking in neighborhoods) talking to people in his ordinary life (tax collectors, siblings, children, servants, lepers) all the while communicating – I’m here, and I’m here… And I’m here…   

And we see this stage set for him in the previous chapter of John – as John the Baptist is baptized in the wilderness. He has been known as the forerunner of Jesus- 

“the voice crying out in the wilderness, making pathways to the Lord clear…”

All the while shifting the mindset and expectation that you could only encounter God in a sacred temple – to expanding that reality – and to imagine that people could meet God in the ordinary as well.

What’s tricky though about a system of religion is that as it becomes more reliant on rules and rituals to uphold it (rather than a living source) the source actually becomes petrified and frozen – stagnant.  And rules start to infiltrate and impinge on our ordinary life, but never account for our ordinary life.  And we can start to feel like we are slowly dehydrating because we are trying and striving to “do” faith “right” – rather than coming to a well of abundant love – being replenished by a living God. 

Jesus, as he meets with people in the ordinary, always seems to not follow the “normal” way … he doesn’t seem to do it right either. He often says the wrong things, eats the wrong food, doesn’t practice the right rituals, invites the wrong people.  Messaging in his actions – as he does in this instance at the wedding – that when you pay attention and embrace the moment you stand in as sacred and the people in front of you as holy – there is no “right” or “normal” way to pour out the love of God.


**You just might have to be ok with breaking open systems that try to measure your faith by merit, cleanliness, worthiness or require your oppression to exist.

Ritual cleanliness and purification requirements were not limited to the bounds of the Temple but spread through the Jewish community, in Jesus’ day. These jars that are mentioned in this scripture were required for the purification before a meal  – to cleanse hands, feet, cups and more. And they had to be stone – they couldn’t be ceramic or glass vessels which were subject to impurity. And so these laws affected ordinary people, in their ordinary lives. 

And the water held in these stone jars was not regarded as ordinary water. It was holy, reserved specifically for these purification rituals. 

And likewise God, was a God within the temple-  who wasn’t regarded as ordinary – but separate, extraordinary, holy, and reserved for those who could prove themselves worthy of such holiness.

At this wedding, Mary is actually the one who says,

“it’s time.”

It’s time for you to break in here,  Jesus.

Everything is empty .

The stone jars are empty of water.

The cups are empty of wine.

And the people are thirsty.

It’s not working.

Mary says,

“This is not working anymore.”

And this is exactly what I couldn’t say to the sermon -guy at the conference. 

“Hey if being part of this faith, of loving Jesus – is in some way supposed to be like a party – where I encounter the depth of love that’s present at a wedding. Where there’s an overflow of that love that saturates everything in my everyday life and that is supposed to MEAN something in my life…THEN it’s not working.” 

That would have been my most truthful response if I could have imagined running straight for Jesus like Mary did. But I had for so long stayed in the grooves – the separate grooves of learning and studying God stuff over here – in this container. And engaging with the ordinary stuff of life over here….hoping that neither would run out of its meaning. But the work of keeping the holy and the ordinary separate is what will run us dry. It’s too much work, and it’s not normal.  

But it’s easy to love the extraordinary. It is easy to pursue a spiritual path that is about the intense, immediate encounter of the extraordinary. It is easy to fall in love with spiritual practices that lead us to a “high”, a transcendent experience of God’s love, But maybe Mary is nudging us all here – that only this way of encountering Jesus will soon run its course.  

I mean Jesus is amazing, beyond our realm in so many ways – but Jesus likes being where we are. Jesus likes our passenger seats, our walks to the T, our tables, what we wrestle with….

Jesus might have decided to listen to Mary and do something about the lack of wine at this wedding – because he wanted to keep being at a party. He wanted to be among people, and communicate that when you are aware and attuned to a real Jesus in your real life – it’s as good as the finest wine. 

I realized at this conference that I had become really good at forgery. I had been signing off on things as if they were…

“Extraordinary… when they weren’t.” 

Swallowing wine that tasted like vinegar – because if God wasn’t in the ordinary – where was God?

POISON
Water courses through each and every one of us, water sustains the world around us-and life itself.  And yet we often don’t consider our relationship to water – until we are dehydrated, or find the water to be contaminated. 

Much of our available fresh water supply in the United States is in jeopardy and/or contaminated. I went with my dad to a natural spring for many years of my youth, to fill milk jugs with water because our water source in Maine wasn’t safe.

Flint, Michigan is another known example – that made headlines in 2015 when a change in its water supply exposed thousands of children to high levels of lead…And we are realizing how historic agricultural and manufacturing practices – are leaving a present day toxic legacy across the nation – with “ forever chemicals” in soil and water that won’t breakdown. Droughts in California are predicted to triple by 2050 – and in much of the developing world, clean water is either hard to come by or a commodity that requires laborious work or significant currency to obtain.  

Free, safe, accessible water is not to be taken for granted. 

Likewise, it takes active attention and action to make sure the components of our faith (love and goodness and a living, flowing source of that) doesn’t sit stagnant in a container… whether that’s a book, or a sermon, or a podcast, or someone else’s expectations or translation.

Because it will become bad water. Harmful to those who drink of it.

The religious system in Jesus’ day had become all about ritual, and had become a way to separate people into the clean and the unclean – and furthermore establishing rigid tiers of hierarchy, patriarchy and oligarchy.

Available only to a few, safe for no one.

The flow that keeps the love of God pure, and good  – a source of all life… has to be for everyone.

Jesus turns the water into wine – and it is soooo much wine! Far more than just the guests who would attend this wedding.  The bounty signals that the overflow of this love, this abundance is for everyone… a legacy of love (for generation after generation) that will saturate the soil, the air, the water – everything that makes up the ordinary world around us.

JESUS

Jesus comes to fulfill the law, fulfill the promises of God by establishing a way of relating to God and others so we never have to forge anything. We don’t have to fake our way into “holiness” or scrub ourselves clean  – because that’s actually what contaminates and dries up the well.

Jesus situates himself immediately in the ordinary – to remind us that the ordinary holds the potential of all things – including keeping us humble, real and refreshed – which is altogether a miracle and holy. 

Mary invites us to consider that faith without Jesus’ abundant love at the center of our ordinary lives doesn’t work – it is akin to:

A world without water,

Or a wedding without wine…

It’s unimaginable.

And this is the beauty of what Mary breaks open – the elemental and fundamental nature of GOD… and water… 

I love the words of Japanese poet Hiroshi Osada who says in his book about water, 

“It has no color, but can be any color.

It has no shape but can take any shape.

You can touch it, but you cannot hold it.

Even if you slice into it, it won’t be cut.

It can slip through your fingers,

Like it’s nothing at all.

But life would be unthinkable without it.” 
Almost Nothing, Yet Everything: A Book About Water.

Faith, Jesus, love, water are not meant to be contained… 

Jesus took these jars that were now empty of their purification water – and filled them with ordinary water. Ordinary water that in its purest state actually is free, shapeless, uncontained  – flowing its way into the thirstiest depths of our bodies. 

Just as God took a system of religion that had been full – but now had only empty stone jar vessels, and filled them with the purist vessel of all – Jesus. Who in his most natural form, pours all of who he is into us – and our thirsty souls. 

This is when we get the good stuff of faith and the ordinary together – when we can embody it. It seems that we can’t get the good stuff – the abundance of God – we can’t taste the best wine – if we prevent the natural flow of the ordinary and the sacred.  

The faith Jesus wants us to embody and make accessible for so many others – isn’t one that asks,

“what bullet point from my sermon were you convicted by?” 

It’s not that a sermon is bad or a cleansing ritual is wrong – it’s not that at all so long as that sermon, that ritual activates something more – mobilizes your heart, body and soul.  So long as it takes into account who you are (a human) walking this earth. Having hard days, and good days, and the same ole, same ole, same days. 

Faith is to be lived, embodied, an experiential faith… A faith that is multiplied, takes on new forms- as it is poured out like water and one that says,

“look at your week –  what you encountered – look at the riveting and sacred sermon of your life.”

Our ordinary life is so miraculous, so sacred… and it is also so hard.  

This past week I had a hard morning with someone. The kind of hard that breaks your heart into a lot of different pieces and you feel the flow of all hope and life – leave you. 

After it was clear that I would need to shift meetings and reschedule some appointments, I sat on the couch to give myself and the pieces of my heart a moment to re-collect.  Wondering what I could do – nothing seemed to be really touching this situation in a helpful way, not a lot was working.

And my phone dinged and I got a text from someone who – we maybe text once every two months or so.

And she was saying “thanks” for something – and then at the end she said oh, and p.s. Here are the first spring flowers I have seen in our neighborhood…

And she sent a picture of these little ordinary snowdrops – these flowers that of their own accord push their way up through the debris of ordinary seasons – dead leaves and sticks, often snow – and just multiply and get more dense with each passing year. 

And I saw that picture – and thought

“Jesus, you are here.”

And I wrote back,

“oh thank you for this picture – it’s been a rough morning.”

And she said,

“I feel my eyes welling up as I think of your rough morning, may you know you are loved.”

An ordinary morning, an ordinary text, an ordinary plant.

And an extraordinary, life-giving, sense of Jesus’ presence and love. 

Let us love the ordinary. Let us cherish the everyday, the every breath, every celebration, every tear. Let us love the closeness of God and the sacred, here and now.  ((Omid Safi))

Let us not poison the water, let us keep feasting on our very life…and once and awhile ask,

“is this working?” 

This keeps the waters of life fresh.

What makes anything sacred, it seems is not its separateness, or its pure holiness.  It’s as Steve mentioned last week in this trifecta of things to know in moments of overwhelm. That God is a God that is with you… in the ordinary, in the leaves of life, in the middle of the brightest moments like a wedding – there’s no splicing and dicing of where God is or isn’t. The nature of God’s love is to flow, to saturate everything and for us to drink of it, to be nourished by this water of life wherever we are at.  Steve said what we can know are these three things:

  1. God is here.
  2. You matter to God.
  3. There is always a way forward. 

And I want to add my own trio of things that helps us remember the sacredness of this life – I learned it from Rabbi Abraham Heschel who says that all we need to know that a moment is sacred are these three things:

“1)God

2) A Soul.

3) And A moment.

And these three are always here”.

Ordinary moment…after ordinary moment…after ordinary moment…

May this be so. As we walk our days here on this  Earth.

End

As we close, I want to invite you into a spiritual practice that you are invited to try, daily this week through the Lenten Guide, called the Examen.
It’s a way to review your day – and nurture the spirituality of the ordinary – and attune yourselves to the everyday movement of God in your life. 

It’s a way to name what’s working for you and not working for you.

Let’s try that now for a moment.

We’ll hear a bit of the music Matt has written for the season, and I invite you to close your eyes, take a deep breath: 

THE EXAMEN:  

Where are you dry these days? Where are you replenished?
And what do you have to say to God about that?

Amen, thanks be to God. 

Love Is… What Will Save Us

Hey all, I’m Ivy, a pastor here, it is so awesome to be here with you today. 

Today we are still in our “Love Is….” series with next week as our last week – where Pastor Lydia will share some of her thoughts on what love is. For me, this series has been an opportunity to double down on every sermon we’ve ever given.  I mean the heart of our faith, and the hope of any message is really to communicate and invite you into the truth of God’s love.

However, I’ve found it refreshing to shape sermons that start with this truth unabashedly. And I’ve found that it exposes just how hard it is for us to really digest God’s love for us – without exception. It’s hard for us to believe, to remember and to live this out (especially with our “enemies” or those we are in conflict with). 

So this morning I want to talk about how “Love Is… What Will Save Us.” And I will unpack that word “love” a little more, and unpack that word “save” a little more (depending on your faith background, I know the word “save” can be trigger-y…it has been for me). I’ll start with the foundation of God’s nature as love – what that means about us and our essence – and how that unfolds into the world around us.

Along with the qualifier that “love” – as well as “God” – are notoriously difficult to define, (and maybe that’s not really the point anyway), but both are hard to explain, and articulate—and perhaps even harder to embody. And maybe that’s why it’s worth talking about in sermon after sermon after sermon.

Prayer

Well God, we are here for it this morning. We are here for your love. In whatever way you would like to communicate and revive that in us.  For those of us who forget, remind us that all you are is love…and remind us that in your likeness all you can see when you look upon us, when you shine your face upon us – is love. And may that be enough this morning to save us from all the voices that say otherwise. Especially our own. Amen.

At the beginning of this new year, 2022 – along with the Omicron surge, like many of you perhaps, I was just about ready to “give up!” I realized that I had reached a concerning point when I witnessed positive cases rising, hospitalizations off the charts and the decision to close our in-person services once again. And all I felt was numbness.  I couldn’t access all the emotions that I knew were just under the surface – anger, frustration, sadness – I was just numb. I felt defeated. As if the energy, innovation, work, time, thought, care, energy (x2), that I had given out over the last two years (and I know so many of you have too) – to just keep going, with a little hope in my pocket – just didn’t matter.

But somehow, I turned to God in that moment instinctively – maybe as Abel’s sermon suggested a couple weeks ago – like a sunflower turning naturally toward the sun. And I knew to keep going in this New Year that I was going to have to keep God’s face in view – to let God’s face shine upon me if I was going to keep going with any real engagement. And this long-standing practice of “praying the Psalms” came to mind – specifically praying the psalms that focus around God’s face or God’s smile shining upon us. And there are quite a few Psalms that mention this – as a way to “save us.”

I think God knew I needed the Psalms. Because the Psalms are vibrant, and a roller-coaster ride of voices of God’s people, throughout time, who are expressing their rage, joy, confusion, praise, and bewilderment of God’s presence or perceived lack thereof.  Walter Brueggemann, this Old Testament scholar who’s written a lot about the Psalms, says that the Psalms can only be appropriately prayed

by people who are living at the edge of their lives, sensitive to the raw hurts….that are at the bottom of our life. And the work of prayer is to bring the boldness of the Psalms and the edge of our experience together… to let them interact, play with each other, tease each other, and illuminate each other.”

And what I’ve found in nearly all 150 Psalms is that at the intersection of the edge of our real lives – and century-old voices, is God. And not just God – but God’s

“steadfast love that endures forever”

as Psalm 136 says. As I pray through the Psalms, I can see people, communities, societies, nations – screaming out at the night sky, asking “where is God?”, saying “I can’t do this anymore,” crying out to be saved. I see the thru-line of hardship, suffering, grief. And I also see the thru-line of God seeking to empower, to inspire and to persuade us in every moment with love… Saving us into love – not saving us from our lives. 

God is actually inviting us to partner with God in the continued creation of our lives. To care about this world to co-create, co-operate, co-labor with God…so that the

“world through us, and God might be saved.”  (John 3:17)

So I want to invite us into a Psalm this morning and see what we experience and discover. But first I want to start with a foundational scripture from Genesis 1:26, that might set us up well for how we can understand our relationship with God and why/how God wants to work with us in this world –versus say powering over us and what that actually means about “the force of love.” It says, 

Genesis 1: 26 (The First Egalitarian Translation)

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, to be like us. Let them be stewards of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth.” 

*There are a few things packed into this one verse that I want to draw your attention to….

  • We see here that God’s selves are already in relation to one another – the use of the plural pronoun “us” gives a nod in that direction.
  • The foundation of God’s self is already in relationship… and that seems important.
  • And so in God’s likeness, in God’s image – ‘we’ – our existence is marked by relationships. 
  • Our very constitution, the way by which we can be the fullest expression of God, is found when we are in relationship to God, the natural world around us, and with one another.
    This is when the fullness of God’s likeness comes into view through us.

And we also see here that our relationship to God – is not just carrying around the image of God within us but it is also responsibility … we are to be stewards of the earth and all that is in it.

Stewardship (meaning not just “to rule and to use”) but to regard our earth and all that is in it with this same relational posture…and to figure out  – how do we give to our earth? Not only consume? 

And in all this what is the nexus of this relationship? Where giving and receiving can be engaged at full force – but will not harm either the giver or the receiver?  Turns out I think it must be LOVE.

Let’s look at Psalm 8 – to flesh it out a bit more. 

Psalm 8

1 Lord, our Lord,

    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory

    in the heavens.

2 Through the praise of children and infants

    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,

    to silence the foe and the avenger.

3 When I consider your heavens,

    the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars,

    which you have set in place,

4 what is humanity that you should be mindful of us?

    who are we that you should care for us?

5 You have made us barely less than God,

    and crowned us with glory and honor.

6 You made us responsible for the works of your hands,

    putting all things at our feet – 

7 all flocks and herds,

    and the animals of the wild,

8 the birds in the sky,

    and the fish in the sea,

    all that swim the paths of the seas.

9 Lord, our Lord,

    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Now there’s some natural flow (and overlap) in this Psalm to the verse we just read from Genesis. And there’s some depth in there that we can explore in just a second.. But I want to press into this verse 2, that perhaps is one that we might be inclined to skip… 

Through the praise of children and infants

    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,

    to silence the foe and the avenger.

It just doesn’t make sense – at first blush – how does it fit … Babies? And enemies? And Strongholds? 

It’s worth inspecting because sometimes these verses are the ticket to opening up more – not just about this Psalm per se – but the whole message of God and us.

To me, this verse really establishes God as the mother of all love.  

Infants have a trust, a knowing, a confidence that is birthed with them as they enter the world. A confidence in love, that helps them survive the rupture of delivery.  Their first instinct is to search for and be connected to a source that is good – that is nourishing, and sustaining. It is as if they know they are from this infinite God-source-of-love.

*we know that birth stories are all different and the immediate connection can be thwarted or interrupted*

But that force of love within is what guides their first movement and is perhaps in part what their first cry declares – to be returned to that source of LOVE. 

And the thing is there is nothing that is required. All babies have to do is engage in drinking in that goodness… receiving that flow.  There is nothing of their own will power, or effort that is essential for the establishment of this love to exist – it is already given. 

This verse reminds us that this is true for us too, that 

Romans 5:5the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Spirit of God that has been given to us”.

And we are free to engage, to respond to that force within…ignore it, reject it –  as we see fit.

It seems though, as we do engage… that we access this truest source of love within us and know it as God  even before a set of spiritual beliefs might come into play.  This verse invites us to remember that our relationship of love with God is in our very DNA  – powerful and free, requiring nothing of us.

When we can anchor to that – everything we touch, all of our speech will be birthed with praise, “GOD IS LOVE!”  And that praise, that force of love is powerful enough to dissipate and silence any threat – any enemy, avenger that tries to disrupt that fundamental knowing of love.

This is how the moon and the stars were set in the sky… with this love of God.  This is how we are empowered to steward our relationships and this earth… with this love of God.  This is how incredible WE ARE – that we were formed to hold the force of galaxies, goodness  – LOVE within us as well.  

If I had heard this verse in the context of my faith tradition growing up – it would have been translated for me that we are utterly dependent like babies, that we have no power, we are weak – and we need to be obedient to God because God is an all powerful, all-controlling God. The message would be clear that I’m not born with inherent goodness, and that I would need to grow into the knowledge of God’s love, because I don’t have that internal compass.  

So in my experience, I heard that “God was love,” it was just that God’s love had a ladder – with different rungs. And I needed to work pretty hard to get up those rungs because otherwise I would be floundering in my insufficiency needing saving. 

So love in my context of faith – quickly became something that was definable. Traceable around groups of people, where their expression of love was to be legislated against.  Love was something to be controlled and legitimized … “what and where and with whom” love could exist was a constant conversation.  But love within – love as our essence  – wasn’t.

God’s love was something you strove for – for salvation – because humanity was not made in God’s image. Humanity was a train wreck that needed to be whipped back into shape, into order.  With obedience, discipline and an underlying pervasive fear and belief that you weren’t ever going to be good enough for God. 

I learned that love was unpredictable, risky and indeed powerful… toooo powerful in fact – that it needed to be controlled. I started to wonder though, if what we were losing through that lens wasn’t just our souls – but the transforming, redeeming, powerful force of love that God might suggest would be the very thing that could save us. 

This is why bad theology matters. Because if we read scripture, relate to God, live our lives out of the fundamental belief that we are not good… we will constantly be thrown into the deep waters of shame, guilt, worthlessness, the pursuit of perfection – where we will be gasping to be saved.

Bad theology anchors to a God who is all-controlling. It’s easier to coerce, bully someone into a set of spiritual beliefs to play by… than it is to deposit love into the universe as its primary organizing principle and connect it to a bunch of humans. Releasing the form by which that love will take shape – to the work of our hands…(that’s too risky for many, too uncertain). 

But this is what the good news is.. An uncontrolling love in our hands…at our fingertips.

If we can see that the essence of us is love – that God’s nature is love – that God cannot not love.. Then from this foundation we can read the rest of Psalm 8 with eagerness, with empowerment – with inspiration!  We can start to imagine that we …we could create new things in partnership with God that might help us showcase this love in powerful ways.

Psalm verse 3 says,

3  I consider your heavens,

    the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars,

    which you have set in place,

 If we work with that foundation of everything is love, because

“God is love” (I John 4:8). 

“God’s love in us is seeking to love and be loved and to bring healing and wholeness to our world.” (Rohr)

That feels galaxies big, doesn’t it? HUGE! TOO enormous to fathom.

But in these verses we see the infinite stretch of God’s love – in ways that make the stars and moons feel so untouchable to us. So grand, BILLIONS of stars, not one could be “ours” – we understand the sky to be the canopy that envelops all of us – humanity. AND we situate ourselves sometimes in the insignificance, the smallness of being one among billions of peoples.. And we wonder how could GOD love us  – just so?  In a way that greets us personally?

It seems this has been a central question of humanity:

4 what is humanity that you should be mindful of us?

    who are we that you should care for us?

The theology of my youth – would say that is exactly right.  We aren’t really that much.

God is so powerful, so beyond reach – God is a God out there…  

I remember that not feeling very compelling to me – a God that was really really far away from me. .. how was love then, supposed to feel close?

But when we start with the primary nature of God as all controlling  –  we can’t fully incorporate a loving God.

‘Because love is uncontrolling’. (Oord).

And so we enter into a very separated experience of God, ourselves, and others.  And separation is not powerful at all –  separation in fact, weakens. It is the main way we are kept (and keep each other) in conditions of oppression. A separate God is one who does not seek to relate to you, it is a God who is over you seeking for you to change, to prove your “goodness,” your “discipline,” your “perfection” (which is a figment of the colonial imagination), all in efforts to then be saved. Saved unto what? A grid of rules? Doctrines that are hollow – formed by fear? 

No wonder that the writer of John wrote

“in perfect love there is no fear”.

The opposite of fear is not fearlessness, it is love. In love you can be afraid, but there is something deeper in love than there is in the hollowness of fear. – Padraig O’Tuama

But here in this Psalm we find the depth of love…and the width and the height of God’s love. God established the placement of each moon and each star with care, with love.  It wasn’t just (all) random…not a scatter shot. God embedded in the very design of the universe the energy of love and relationship. Many scientists have pointed this out, such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955), who also was a  Jesuit priest  – that love is

“the very physical structure of the Universe.” That, gravity, atomic bonding, planets, orbits, cycles, photosynthesis, ecosystems, force fields, electromagnetic fields,

and evolution all reveal an energy that is attracting all things and beings to one another, in

a movement toward ever greater complexity and diversity—and yet ironically also toward unification at ever deeper levels. This energy is quite simply love under many different forms.” (Rohr)

And the energy is not IN the planets, or IN the atomic particles – the energy is found in the relationship between them. 

It is from this truth that we can shout (as the children and babies did), “HOW MAJESTIC is your name God!”  Not only because God is so powerful   – but because we get it – we get the closeness of this design in everything to be relational… and with Love as the powerful force, it doesn’t seem so far out of reach actually.  In fact, we feel resourced to act and move in our lives with the same far out, creative energy that hangs over our head in the skies  – because then it feels as present as relating to, and loving our neighbor. 

It’s then not too much of a stretch to imagine that “with care, with favor, with delight…. God shines God’s face upon us.”

5 You have made us barely less than God,

    and crowned us with glory and honor.

6 You made us responsible for the works of your hands,

    putting all things at our feet   

God adores us so much that God invites us to partner in caring for, loving and creating this world.  We have much to do. But it is helpful to remember that

Love is not really an action that you do. Love is what and who you are.” (Rohr)

“And time and time again we will forget that this is true – and we will lean into the desperation that accompanies believing otherwise.” (20) – Candice Marie Benbow.

AND this is what we need saving from –  voices that come against this truth – our own internal voices, our history, trauma, experiences – story, society, structures, systems – all these foes and avengers ….but God has called us  – humanity – to be its highest self via this flow of love, and to shake free these voices that demand us to be more

perfect to receive God’s love, because God already loves Godself in us and therefore we are perfectly lovable.” (Rohr)

“A hope, a purpose of theology is to clarify the central, foundational, nature of God, at the center of everything – is LOVE. God has done only one constant thing since the beginning of time: God has always forever, without hesitation, loved “God’s child” (Rohr),

US!,  creation, the moon and the stars … the herds, the flocks, the birds, the fish

 AND! God wants us to be a part of  all of it – not just a separate “part” – but a conjoined partner  …. This is how we create – grow Beloved Community. 

As I sat with this psalm with my spiritual director this week – the first thought to hit me was

“oh no – so much responsibility – so much work..to do on this earth.”

But then I remembered that last Sunday morning on my way into the building, I tried to practice “keeping God’s face in view,” as I had declared at the start of the new year. And I paused outside, it was snowing like crazy, and I heard a bird nearby… singing a song so loud, it was kind of out of place, it was a spring song by a male cardinal.

I stopped and looked for it, and it was in the tree just outside, so gorgeously red – so big and fluffy and full –  in a bare tree with snow falling all around. It was stunning… it hit me squarely in the heart and I smiled – and just stood there for a few minutes . . knowing that that was God and God’s love to me. 

I felt the saving grace of it. I wasn’t in turmoil. But it steadied me for the hours to come where 200 donuts intended for our service were lost and delivered not on this campus, and it saved me from feeling like I was a mess up when I couldn’t get home in time to be part of something on the homefront… and that’s the tiniest and biggest truths about God’s love – so personal and so mysterious.

This is the demanding, powerful force of love that can overcome us – can transform us and everything we touch. And it will be the force that saves us from falling into the characteristics of work here on earth that can become more striving than fulfilling, more of a grind than a passion expressed, more of a meter of our worth than an extension of who we already are.

There are thousands of moments throughout our days that will try to avenge us – tear us down – separate us from God’s love within. But there are also billions and billions of droplets of God’s love that are placed with care (as God does the stars in the sky), with attention, with personal whim… just for you to encounter. So much so that if you could turn around and look at your life you would see a trail of stardust formed in the most beautiful constellation of you and God. We cannot find salvation outside of the powerful force of God’s love.  

Prayer

Save us, O God.

Help us to remember that your name indeed is majestic in all the earth.

Help us to remember that we were created as love.

Help us to establish the work of our hands.

Drench them in your love, reminding us that we hold in our hands the power/the energy/and force to place a star in the sky – and love in the heart of another.

Amen.

Love Is Listening

Good morning everyone! 

I’m Ivy, a Pastor here and we are in a winter sermon series called, “Love is…”
And I want to talk this morning about how “Love is… listening.”  

And maybe some of you are thinking,

“Oh, great! Another anemic word, ‘listening’.” 

And I get it, “love” and “listening” are words that in many cases have been emptied of their meaning – whether it’s because of overuse or abuse.   

However, I want to talk this morning about how we can revive a way of “deep listening” – regard it as one of our oldest, known technologies (technology if we think of it as a way to connect with one another) and one that is still relevant  and holds the potential to not only connect us (to ourselves, God and others) but that can heal us, and the world around us.  

If we are hopeful to live more full, free and loving lives with Jesus – we will need to not only aspire, but to actively cultivate this deep way of listening. Listening is the first step in communication – the very bones of how we relate to one another/community/society/our world. And if we give up on deep listening, if we think,

“aah, what does it matter anyway? It doesn’t change anything…” 

Then how we communicate and the language we use to do so – will be stunted, defensive and anemic as well. 

But, if we can take our lead from Jesus and see how “love is .. listening.”  That listening is indistinguishable from love – and if love is knowing and being known (as Steve shared two weeks ago) and if love can help us all be some parts humble, gentle, patient (as Lydia invited us last week) … then seeking to listen, with and to, the Spirit of God – as we engage with one another, can prove to be an impactful, provocative, and subversive way of being in the world – whoever we are with, and wherever we are.

And may this way of listening be helpful for our own personal flourishing – as well as  helpful for the common good.

So join me this morning in listening – not just to my words – but to the Spirit of God, the voice within you, and to scripture.  I’m hopeful that we can see that listening can be a great expression of loving one another, of clarifying what we are “for” (not just against), and how listening is really the nexus for action & transformation that creates new ways forward in our public life – and Beloved Community. 

Let’s take a  moment now of quiet – in prayer –  to “listen.” Listen to what might be stirring in you – to what you need most right now – listen for what God would love for you to know… just take a moment to prayerfully listen. Amen. 

I’ve talked with so many of you over the last 20 months who are health professionals. Who have donned your stethoscopes and put them close to patient’s chests and backs in hopes of amplifying the internal movement and sounds of organs.

You’ve listened through the sounds of coughing babies and adults  – you’ve listened through shallow breath, crackles and wheezes – in hopes of finding the sounds that can’t be detected from the outside of the body. The internal sound of a steady heartbeat, the small sound of a breezy breath moving through a clear lung – you’ve listened for the sound of life. 

The thing about this way of  ‘listening’ that I’m talking about this morning is that it helps us detect the love and presence of God – when it isn’t always apparent, isn’t always right there – on the surface of our everyday lives. It helps us press through all of the external “noise,” and find that the source of all life, all goodness, all joy (all possibility) – is still beating within us and around us.   

I find that ‘listening’ is sort of God’s stethoscope. An instrument that God drapes around us,  that allows us to orient to the internal sounds and movement  –  of God, the sound of the genuine within us – even as we are tugged and pulled by the commotion of the news, family, work you name it.

In the scripture, Mark 5  –  we encounter the story of a bleeding woman and Jesus. And we witness what listening looks like in practice… And I want to invite you to notice what sounds and movement you detect as we make our way through… 

Mark 5:25-34 (Common English Bible)

25 A woman was there who had been bleeding for twelve years.

26 She had suffered a lot under the care of many doctors, and had spent everything she had without getting any better. In fact, she had gotten worse.

27 Because she had heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his clothes.

28 She was thinking, If I can just touch his clothes, I’ll be healed.

29 Her bleeding stopped immediately, and she sensed in her body that her illness had been healed.

30 At that very moment, Jesus recognized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?”

31 His disciples said to him, “Don’t you see the crowd pressing against you? Yet you ask, ‘Who touched me?’”

32 But Jesus looked around carefully to see who had done it.

33 The woman, full of fear and trembling, came forward. Knowing what had happened to her, she fell down in front of Jesus and told him the whole truth.

34 He responded, “Daughter, your faith has healed you; go in peace, healed from your disease.”

Now, we can piece together a little bit about this woman’s reality, given the context of time and history. As a woman, with a physical, chronic affliction – she would have been pretty diminished in this society.  

If not completely invisible. 

There are a multitude of barriers that come against her full existence.

  • Her identity as a woman.With no connection to a man… no husband/brothers/father to give her some inroad/access to resources is a barrier.
  • The purity standards that were dictated under the religious system – would have deemed her impure because of her bleeding. 
  • The cultural norms would have seen her unfit to live within city limits.
  • Her intense pain means her mental/physical/emotional state is likely depleted.

She’s nameless and voiceless.

She had never really been listened to.

The cacophony of external voices that say she doesn’t belong, she’s to be excluded, she is unworthy – are all consuming.  

And as you can imagine the sound of these voices sink beneath the surface of her skin and reverberate inside of her – shaking her own sense of worth, her dignity, her value. 

So she is left without a gridwork for belonging.  To what? Where? To whom does she belong?  

And at the heart of those questions – is a pretty universal/human one – that we might ask ourselves at any given point: 

“WHO AM I?” 

For this woman IT IS REALLY HARD to listen to the sound of God, the sound of love within when the  context of a world around her is constantly shouting

“you don’t matter, you are not loved.” 

A mentoring voice to me, the late theologian Howard Thurman says

“there is but one step from being despised to despising oneself.” (33).

Like this woman, for those who are oppressed and marginalized…it is hard to not become deaf to the true voice that calls out who you really are.  He says, THIS is why it is critical to listen and to cultivate this deep interior space – to anchor to the “sound of the genuine within.”

Now the sound of the genuine is our truest selves in connection and belonging to the love of God.  Thurman says there is so much traffic going on in our minds, so many different kinds of sounds and signals that  float through our bodies – that in the midst of all of this – he says,

“you have got to find out what your name is. Who are you? How does the sound of the genuine come through to you… because that is the only true guide that you will ever have, and if you don’t have that –  all of your life you will spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.”

But it’s so hard for this woman to detect the sound of the genuine.  And maybe you have felt this in your own life too?  Moments where you’ve wondered if you are just being pulled around by someone else’s expectations – or someone’s loud, authoritative voice? Maybe your voice has been interrupted endlessly – not listened to – to the point where you wonder

“WHO AM I?”

If your thoughts, dreams, way of seeing the world even matter.  

I think this is why it takes intentionality to cultivate ‘listening’ as a way of being in the world.  And what’s at stake if we don’t  – is that we not only lose this grounding, within ourselves. But with that, we lose any possibility of listening to the sound of the genuine in another.…and this is the loss of connection to the source of all love and life.

*I’ve been in a three-year long “conversation.”  And this conversation came to be after a moment of disruption in our relationship, where we deeply disagreed on something that had occurred. 

*Part of what I’ve realized after coming back to this conversation again and again is that I for a long time, *(and maybe this is obvious)*

  • a) I wasn’t really deeply listening to the other person and
  • b) I wasn’t listening to this person, because I was not listening to the ‘sound of the genuine’ within me. 

*I could feel that love had gotten broken in this deep part of me, I was hurt.. But I didn’t really know how to pick up that stethoscope and listen to my own heart – and listen to God say,

“I am here. Love is here, all of what you feel matters.”

And it left me feeling really unmoored.

Part of the work of picking up that stethoscope and placing it right square on your heart is that it requires “quiet.”  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve “shushed” my kids  – who were always the loudest right when the nurse or doctor put that stethoscope up to their body…

But to really listen, is to invite quiet.  

I tend to not want to embrace too much quiet.  In this 3-year long conversation I did not want to embrace internal or external quiet – I was mad and angry.  And to be “quiet” in either space felt like inaction to me. .. navel-gazing – a waste of time. (There’s too much at stake – too much to solve, fix).

But I’ve been reading this book called, “The Sovereignty of Quiet: Beyond Resistance in Black Culture,” by Kevin Quashie that suggests how vital “quiet” is for listening to the sound of the genuine and also for moving out in our public life. He points to how FULL of movement “quiet” is – he says,

“quiet is often interchanged with the words silence or stillness – but the notion of quiet is neither motionless nor without sound. Quiet, instead, is a metaphor for the full range of one’s inner life – one’s desires, ambitions, hungers, vulnerabilities and fears.” (6)  

Quiet, some might say in our inner life, is the busiest intersection- where we get to encounter the love of God, recognize the movement of the Spirit, our own voice and others.

So much of what we do, how we interact, and how we act is shaped by this interior space.

We see Jesus with this bleeding woman  move and act from this “quiet” space. It says in the scripture we just read that he

“continues to look carefully”

in the bustle and noise of the crowd, (and that’s after he’s already turned to the crowd and said, “who touched me?”). He continues to “look carefully” and “listen”. And it’s this internal hush – where Jesus detects that God was present and recognizes that someone who was longing for God’s presence – had touched his clothes.  He listens to this internal space of quiet within to guide him to this woman…which ultimately guides this woman to healing. But there’s a bit of a journey in there…

We can’t too quickly link that the “quiet within” can fix all the unjust systems that this woman represents. If we do, we miss the very components that make any potential for public change possible. . . which is relationship, presence, connection. 

It’s why these 1:1 Relational meetings we are encouraging are so powerful and why our community groups are so valued. Because we know, we feel, something moves within us –  when we can just be listened to, not approached as a subject or a project – just as a human being, (with the divine inside).

Jesus walks across the social, cultural, and religious boundaries here. And it is a notable public expression of pushing against the dominant culture – but Jesus crosses those lines to connect with this woman, to be present to this woman and to listen not to address her as if she is a problem to be solved, or fixed.

Part of the reason – I think – that my three- year long conversation has lasted so long, is that neither of us would settle for “quick fixes,” because we realized that it didn’t heal in the long run. There’s a way that a too quick, “I’m sorry” or a “pat logical explanation” to a hurt reaches and communicates more a goal of equilibrium, to resolve and smooth a way forward … rather than listen, and to see what is opened up in that.  And that’s not really “listening” – it doesn’t change, heal. It doesn’t allow my humanity – feelings, concerns, emotions to be in full view.  And here there is no movement, except more distance and disconnection. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer would say this is akin to listening with half an ear – listening that presumes you already know what the other person has to say, you already know their position, and you already know the solution.

But this, he says,

“is an impatient, inattentive listening, that . . . is only waiting for a chance to speak, or to put your agenda forward.” AND here is where we forget that the  person in front of us is always a mystery, holds the image of the Divine within them, and that that’s always worth listening to…when we don’t we start to label (the process or the person), and in that labeling … we limit.” 

“Poor listening diminishes another person, but deep listening invites them to exist and matter.”

The society around this bleeding woman labeled her ‘unclean’, ‘disabled’, ‘poor,’ etc…diminished her to the brink of invisibility.

But Jesus brings this woman back into her full existence. He didn’t lecture her, try to fix her, but instead he listened. He made space for her to tell her “whole truth,” Her STORY! From her own lens, not society’s, or some external authority – but her own thoughts, her own desires and longings…unfiltered/vulnerable without a threat of  judgment or a rush to “fix”.  And this invited her back to herself  – to detect the sound of the genuine within her.

Thurman would say that at some fundamental human level – this is what we all desire – that we could

“feel that we are so thoroughly and completely understood – listened to, that we could take our guard down and look around us, and not feel that we would be destroyed. To be able to feel completely vulnerable, completely exposed and absolutely secure – to run the risk of radical exposure and know that the (person listening), the eye that beholds our vulnerability would not step on us.” (Spellman address).

A doctor I listened to, Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, backs this. She says that to be in pain is so vulnerable, and over and over again as she trains medical students she helps them understand what it is to “TREAT” those who are suffering and  scared.

She says to her students

“Fixing is too small a strategy to deal with pain and suffering”

but “THE POWER of your PRESENCE” of simply being present and listening – of letting that pain/suffering/wrestling matter  … time and time again is the wisdom that is needed to help heal.

It’s why in studies I’ve been reading about stethoscopes – that they are argued to still be so vital in exams. Even while we have ultrasounds and echocardiograms – because it allows the presence of the patient doctor relationship to exist… and it is to value the medicine of connection.

CONNECTION HEALS

Jesus turned to this woman and said,

“Daughter….”

Her identity, dignity, sense of worth – that sound of the genuine is revived, as Jesus calls her by name. He’s saying,

“THIS IS WHO YOU ARE, a child of God,”

and this gives her a pulse again. 

Now the society around her is still fractured and stacked against her. Injustices are everywhere. But to be listened to – is to be loved. 

And the internal movement that occurs for her holds the potential to disrupt and shake unjust systems. She moves from the absolute fringes of society to the very fringe of Jesus’ cloak. To the source of life and love. 

What’s cultivated here is a sense of belonging. That God is with her in all of life.

This heals where love has been broken…and as Thurman says,

“this restoration – stabilizes our sense of self – with new courage, fearlessness, and power.”   

This woman is seen, known and loved. This is the sound of the genuine.
This is the sound of healing.

I stayed in this three-year conversation in part because  I needed to learn what listening really was – IF IT MATTERED –  for myself, as well as with the other person.  

I realize many of you might not have 3 years to hang with a conversation and/ – for many of you the listening you’ve done has suggested that boundaries are the best way to heal – given the dominant culture dynamics you’ve endured. I want to honor that, but maybe you find yourself in the same “types” of conversations that always feel the same and never really seem to go anywhere.. 

This is  tiring – and it’s tiring  to care and to listen when there’s no identifiable change. In a moment of overwhelm I said to this person,

“tell me the whole story again. Can you start from the beginning?”

(and this was 2.5 years in) It was a weird thing to say, I was there at the beginning of this story – I knew how it went.

But as I listened and heard the familiar recounting, I also heard something new.  I heard what and why I was LISTENING. Unattached to the other person, or to the outcome. I heard the sound of my own belief in myself. In love, in the power of connection, of goodness, of humility, of patience…the belief in “possibility” …

I heard what I was “for” – not just what I was against. And that didn’t change much instantaneously – but it did fuel me to stay in it. To keep moving toward healing… and to listen for the sound of the genuine in this other person. 

As this woman who Jesus calls “daughter” knew – and we know too – there is a lot to oppose in our days. So much that grieves us, harms us, so much we want to act to change,  so much injustice to right.  So much so, that our way of being can become primarily against, or  “anti-” something. *for good reason* 

But listening, cultivating this sound of the genuine – allows us to also keep ‘love’ at the forefront – to remember what we are “FOR” as well.  To remember that love endures in us, and with God.  And to balance our protests in the public sphere – with our inner, vulnerable life as well. 

To remember as Kevin Quashie says, that

“the inner life is not apolitical or without social value, but neither is it determined entirely by publicness.” (Quashie, 6)

There is a richness to our life, that holds beauty and rest – and resistance and protest  – and they are born from the same spot. Where the love of God, and our true selves connect – the foundation of listening and love –  it’s how we impact all the places where we work, live and play.

As Jesus says to this woman,

”go in peace”

Go! Go change the world. Go act. go love – and may you listen to the sound of the genuine as you do – keeping your own humanity and the humanity of another on full display.   May it be so -for us as well. 

And still, you may have questions of – how do I actually cultivate this way of listening? We’ve been offering these Listening workshops first Sunday of every month. Next up –  Feb. 6, 1 pm – 2:30 pm on Zoom. 

Link to RSVP is above so check it out if you’d like.