Panel on Beloved Community

Hello everyone! Memorial Day weekend often marks the unofficial start of summer and I am incredibly excited about our summer ahead, here at Reservoir!  We will have a few guest preachers here this summer, starting with Taj Smith next week who will be a part of leading our PRIDE service – so be sure to make it if you can. I’m thankful for these guest voices that will be enriching our services over the summer weeks.

It also got me excited to take this opportunity to hear from voices within our Reservoir community. So today our sermon will invite the voices of Maleka Donaldson, Cliff Chuang and Kate Henderson. I’ll let them introduce themselves in a moment – but as a traditional sermon often does, please allow their voices to invite you into deeper learning, to invite and inspire you to consider how loving God and loving others matters in this world.

BELOVED COMMUNITY

Today the conversation that these three will have with one another and with us will hang on the familiar phrase, “beloved community.” Beloved Community is Reservoir’s five year vision – specifically to continue to become the Beloved Community we are called to be, one that is: 

  1. Diverse and anti-racist.
  2. Welcoming, and a place of profound belonging. 
  3. Radically generous.
  4. Empowering wholeness, love, and justice in people and communities, promoting whole life flourishing.
  5. Innovating as a church in a post-Christian world, so that our ministry is less dependent on any one gathering but includes many life-giving new ways to experience and be church.

We preached a whole sermon series on ‘beloved community’ in 2020, and our community group content has centered this vision – but I know that it is a phrase that is hard to digest, hard to put legs on. This is part of the reason I’m excited about Maleka, Cliff and Kate’s voices because they are going to share how they are  living out this vision of Beloved Community in their own contexts and hear some stories in that vein… stories that stir and awaken our own stories. 

The ‘beloved community’ was a phrase popularized by Martin Luther King Jr., as well as other leaders in the civil rights struggle. It referred to a WAY OF BEING IN THE WORLD that was equitable, just, inclusive.  A community they believed God was shaping with our help.   

The beloved community is an interconnected way of being with one another, that I believe is crucial for us today.  Beyond its utopian sound, this phrase –  “beloved community,” is one that asks us to do the intentional work of staying connected to one another, to knowing one another,  listening to one another with all our differences present, so that transformation can occur in us, and in the world around us. Beloved Community is about inclusiveness and belonging, socially, and economically, and it helps us live freer, healthier, happier lives in all aspects of our being.

“Beloved community” is the spiritual call to all of us. One that enlivens us to live this life, reflecting and embodying God’s love, peace and justice – creating the kin-dom of God here on earth – here and now. 

When Jesus taught his students to pray, one of the phrases he encouraged was to pray to God:

“your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

When Jesus taught about God’s ways being done on earth, he usually called it the King-om of God. In Jesus’ King-om of God teaching, we get pictures of dynamic and radical faith, hope, and love expressed in private and public life – a thru-line in all we do, wherever we are… 

And Jesus backs this up as he’s talking to the religious leaders of the day – in the gospel of Luke where the Pharisees ask when the “kin-dom of God would come, Jesus replied,

“The coming of the kin-dom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kin-dom of God is in your midst.” “Is among you” – “is within you” (other translations) 

Luke 17:20 – 21

Late Congressman John Lewis echoed this sentiment by saying,

what if the beloved community were already a reality, the true reality, and we simply have to embody it until everyone else can see and experience it?”

It’s the spirit of this question that I want to invite our panel into conversation around …to put some legs on this really big phrase ‘Beloved Community’ – some tangible pictures of how this plays out in our real lives.

Please welcome – Cliff Chuang, Maleka Donaldson, Kate Henderson.

Panel prompt #1:

  • If the kin-dom of God – the Beloved Community is indeed in our midst – and is within you – how do the values of belonging, listening, inclusion, justice –  inform/inspire/empower YOU and the life you lead?

Panel prompt #2:

For Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others, Beloved Community was a deep prayer, one that safeguarded them from resignation, isolation and disconnection.


2) I can imagine that in the areas of education and public health everything is not running perfectly smooth, or as you would dream it to be – and maybe that’s part of why you went into these areas of work… but after working in these fields for years I also can imagine it gets hard to stay in it…

What keeps you going? What keeps resignation at bay (both internally and in reality)? How do you not give up?

Question for online congregation:  How about you all? I think we are all a part of creating the Beloved Community whether in our households, relationships, neighborhoods or work… What keeps you going?  Where are you experiencing beloved community in your life?

Call Out Cancel Culture

*Thanks to conversation partners Howard Kim & Trecia Reavis and scholarship by Cate Anthony, www.ecfvp.org/vestry-papers/article/1034/call-out-cultures-shadow-side, Reverend Laura Everett, www.wbur.org/cognoscenti/2023/04/21/beyond-boston-strong-equity-laura-everett, and Www.enfleshed.com

I was at a local spot this week writing/rewriting/sitting with this topic of “Loving Our Enemies,” the current sermon series we are in. And I was trying to call forth some wisdom, “good news” that might offer us all some hope in territory that feels hard and often times absolutely impossible. 

And as I was sitting there this young waiter came over, maybe 20 years old, and he asked me, “oh, are you just here working?” I mean maybe he was questioning what I was actually doing (because I had been there for five hours at that point) and I said

oh yeah, I’m trying to write something about ‘loving your enemies

And immediately he said,

oh I have an enemy

and he pointed at this person across the room.

And I was like,

“oh wow – look at that!?”

And he jumped in,

“yah, you know I dated the head barista here for a while…”

And I thought – do I put on my pastoral hat here  – or just stay in customer mode…?

Turns out they are the same thing… because I said…

“Ooooh, tell me more…..”

He said,

“you know – I don’t know – I don’t know I dated this girl – she left for London over a year ago – and we kind of ended things… and I don’t know if this girl got jealous about our relationship? But it’s been a long time  – and she is still making me an enemy –  she’s just really mean, says harmful things about me… but I’ve got to make money to go back to college….. So I just give her space..”

Me:

“Space, huh?” 

So I’m going to talk about the importance of space today in “loving our enemies.”  

The necessity of space –  for us to feel, for God to move, the potential in space – for our enemies to change/grow/repent – space for love to be possible.

We have so much capacity as humans. This wild, wild capacity to love so fiercely and so deeply and also this wild, wild capacity to so fiercely hate and destroy.  

We love, we hate. God calls us to love our enemies, and we love to hate our enemies.  And yet there is a lot of space between those two ends of the spectrum – where a lot of complexity resides, complexity that we often snuff and cancel out.

And I went back to my past self at that cafe, I re-read past sermons I’ve written on this topic of “loving our enemies.” And I was like *dang* those were good sermons… and the stories, the wisdom, the practical invitations still are true….  

Part of me was hoping those past sermons would hit just the same today.  – that I could reprise one for today. But the tenor feels different than even a few years ago – the tenor and state of our nation, the tenor and state of my heart.  The impatience, the eagerness, the rage, the waning energy to keep calling out the evils/the enemies in our day to change our world, to make it better…. All the fundamental components seem to be the same… but it feels different, *amped.*

That was part of the not-so-great feeling of reading my past sermons.  I shared stories that were from years before…

  • 1) where we had major friction with our neighbors – and realizing today it’s the same if not worse.  
  • 2) I shared a story about my brother refusing to marry Scott and I saying “God wouldn’t bless our marriage.” The sting is still there… and the impulse to throw it in his face and say, “Hey! Look at us now – 22 years!! I guess somebody BLESSED us!” that impulse is soooo strong and live it makes my heart pound even now.

And all those old sermons started with the intro,  “and today we are more fractured than ever…  more divided than ever…more polarized…”

And I wonder, “are we getting better?”  Maybe – I should say, “am I getting any better at loving my enemies?”

*Ooof*

Well you are in for a meandering sermon my friends, because I’m still actively living my way into those questions!  But today we’ll take a stab at how to love our enemies…with the help of the prophet Jonah, some consideration of this term “cancel culture,” and the space we all need for, and to love.

PRAYER

Jesus thank you that you are unhinged, reckless, risky in showering us in your love – in finding the soft spot of our hearts… and flooding it with grace and mercy and beauty… when we don’t want to find it… when we can’t feel it. .. .

Cancel Culture/Call Out Culture

Part of the beauty of these days is that we can call out our enemies – their destructive behaviors and words all at our fingertips… from our couch, our cars, our desk – wherever we access social media. 

*and I’m not about to go on a diatribe about how bad social media is – there are pros and cons – both of which I participate in. 

And really we’ve been able to publicly “call out” injustices forever but today the ease by which we can practice this is more accessible, more immediate, and potentially more permanent…. and destructive.

In favorable ways the platforms of social media have allowed more marginalized members of society the ability to ‘call out’ – to seek accountability and change – particularly from people who hold a disproportionate amount of power, wealth, and privilege.  Celebrities, politicians, public figures, etc..

I’ve been helped so much by my wise niece, Cate who is an Episcopal priest and has written publishable thoughts on calling out & cancel culture. She says,

“calling out” has the potential to reclaim and redistribute power in systems previously unbalanced.

In this way, call-out culture is a kind of “cultural boycott” which refuses to amplify enemy-voices of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ableism and more. This practice is central to the growth/creation of a more just, safe, equitable world – and it hangs on the belief, the hope, the prayer (perhaps) of the redeemability of what was previously not o.k.

And yet, in all of its potential – we find that social media also risks a kind of dehumanization of those with whom we interact on such platforms. Rather than calling out in order to improve relationships and society, call-out culture transforms into cancel culture. Intention transforms, too: rather than boycott voices of oppression, cancel culture seeks to cut out real people whose opinions, ideologies or identities are not in line with our own. We turn in some ways – in the opposite direction of the thing we really want – and cancel human beings. Cast them out – as irredeemable. Unchangeable. 

This has a kind of allure and in many cases has become an acceptable/default way that we regard and relate to one another in our actual lives.  And this is where I want to really focus today. “Our initial desire to redeem what is broken –  twists into excising what we deem as broken (flawed, different, wrong, bad) – from relationship and community.” –

Cate Anthony Out of sight, out of my mind, out of my heart.

The functionality of cancel culture uses shame, isolation, zero space as tools. And they are pretty effective punishments. But I’m not sure they bring about the accountability, change, repentance, the redemption we really are seeking.

 I want to invite us to look at the story of Jonah – I hope  a) it can help us feel ok about being human and b) it can help us feel thankful that God is God. And maybe help us navigate where we are at with our own enemies…and how to value space to run, or to sit –  physically, emotionally, spiritually  – might be more effective than canceling our enemies. 

JONAH

We are going to pick up the story here where Jonah is finally going to Nineveh as God had told him to do but it comes after this wild little journey Jonah takes. Where he is pretty clear from the get-go – that he does. Not. want. To. go.  and God is pretty clear about well

‘you do have to go’

and there’s tossing of the seas, and a few nights in the belly of a fish – and then finally Jonah walking about this big city of Nineveh to call them out for their wickedness and deliver a message of God’s impending judgment.  

And wicked the Ninevites were!  Now Jonah and his people were part of ancient Israel and the city of Nineveh was known at the time as the “bloody city,” the capital of Israel’s greatest enemy, Assyria. Assyria was the imperial force of the day, and the Assyrians were horrible, brutal, and they kept their empire together by way of extreme terror, barbaric cruelty.

You would think that maybe Jonah would be up for delivering this message of God’s – declaring judgment and destruction –  to his enemies… but Jonah is like, 

“no – nope, there’s no way I’m doing that!”

I don’t know about you – but if I was directed by God, with God’s backing to go to my enemies and say, “Guess what? The time has come you wicked, bad, horrible people you are all going to pay!”  I don’t know – I would be ALL OVER THAT! It’s kind of what my day-dreams are made of!

But Jonah initially runs in exactly the opposite direction away from Nineveh.

And only semi-reluctantly finally delivers this rousing eight-word message to Nineveh,

“forty days from now Nineveh you’ll be destroyed!”  

And here’s how the rest unfolds:

SCRIPTURE | RUN & SIT

Jonah 3:10 – 4:11

When God saw that they, (the people of Nineveh) had put a stop to their evil ways, God had mercy on them and didn’t carry out the destruction he had threatened.

This change of plans upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the Lord about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you were a gracious and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. I knew how easily you could cancel your plans for destroying these people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive because nothing I predicted is going to happen.”

The Lord replied, “is it right for you to be angry about this?

Then Jonah went out to the east side of the city and made a shelter to sit under as he waited to see if anything would happen to the city. And the Lord God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there and soon it spread its broad leaves over Jonah’s head, shading him from the sun. This eased some of his discomfort, and Jonah was very grateful for the plant.

But God also prepared a worm! The next morning at dawn the worm ate through the stem of the plant, so that it soon died and withered away. And as the sun grew hot, God sent a scorching east wind  to blow on Jonah. The sun beat down on his head until he grew faint and wished to die. “Death is certainly better than this!” he exclaimed.

Then God said to Jonah, “is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?”
“Yes,” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!

Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. And a plant is only, at best, short lived. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”

  • And that is the end of the book of Jonah!

And we see here Jonah run and Jonah sit and I want to talk about those two things – because Jonah is angry.

OOOoooo Jonah is angry! Angry! Angry!

His primary anger is not at the actions of the Assyrians or Ninevites – his enemies – but it is at God.  

And his primary reason for running  – is not to avoid God – but try to make sense of a God who is merciful, gracious and loving to his enemies.

He says,

“I knew it! I knew you would be kind.” AAAAGGGHhh!  I knew that you were a compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.  But why, why, why show that to my enemies?

“GOD – we want “our” people to live – to be safe. NOT THESE PEOPLE –  who have done so much harm, destruction. Come on DESTROY, PUNISH, CANCEL them – before they destroy anything else!”

I mean – “right on, Jonah!” He is in full on anger mode-

“I hate this. I hate you, God. I hate these people.  You should have mercy on me – by killing them. All of them. And everything… except this plant. I like this plant.”

And God leans in, and is like,

“Cool. Cool. Cool, Jonah.  You want to tell me more?…. Do you think it’s right that you’re angry about this?”

It’s an interesting question – kind of an infuriating question to me… 

I remember when I was telling my therapist about “the absolute rage I had about this really hard season with my neighbors… and she said,

“you know Ivy, anger is a secondary emotion..”

And I replied with such shocking maturity,

you know Ivy.. me ehe ah eheh. You know what’s under this anger – more anger, another layer of anger, and anger and anger… I would run to the opposite end of the earth to convince you of how much anger I have….”

– and of course she was lovely and let me run all over the place and all over myself… and the space to do that opened up all these questions I had

  • “What does this mean about me – can I love?”
  • “Did I listen?
  • Should I try again?
  • Should I apologize?
  • And if so, for what?
  • Will they apologize?
  • Will they mean it if they do – will it change anything? 

I think Jonah allows us to see that “running” might just be the way to make some space to sift through yes – emotions – but also the spiritual, ethical and human questions loving our enemies likely brings up for us.  And to see that jumping to quick destruction – or even to jump to quick ‘forgiveness/love/mercy” – might cancel the space we need.. And what we most need to hear within ourselves. 

Jonah needs the space to think about all this a kind God, people who destroy… He has to work through what that means. And when we do that it is like walking into a storm – and it is likely we will  be tossed around by the reckless waves of God’s love. Because Jonah’s realizing the complexity of what it is for God’s love to truly be for everyone – enemies and all.  And that reality – if we are honest – is enough to make us sick to our stomach sometimes. 

Sometimes it’s ok to run.

Sometimes it’s ok to not rush towards forgiveness.

Sometimes it’s ok to make space. 

Sometimes we need the space of the belly of the whale – as sticky and messy and dark as it can be – to find out that it’s normal to have no empathy for those who destroy our communities, our people, our safety… To even wish them harm. And to wrestle with that reality in ourselves. 

To realize that doesn’t mean we are hate-filled people – but we are heart-ful people. 

This heart-space is not to be condemned but should be listened to.  

It’s not to be covered up – it’s to be exposed.

It’s why I love God asking not once but twice – this very therapy question,

“tell me about your anger…” 

Anger and pain need space,  an ear, and a “route to re-connecting with  life in the midst.” (enfleshed.com)

It’s where we can wrestle with all that it means about God and us and our enemies – if we love them. God destroying or loving Nineveh raises a lot of questions for Jonah…

“If God destroys Nineveh – then would it mean Israel would be safe forever more?

If the repentance of Nineveh is real – is it enough to turn the whole of Assyria around?

Are the lives of those repenting in Nineveh worth more to God than those who would suffer and be killed under the Assyrian empire?

Is their repentance real – will it last? Will change stick?”  (Www.enfleshed.com).

These are the questions that can surface – and it’s important that we try to wrestle with them.

Here’s the thing about cancel culture… it allows zero space.   There’s no room to run in opposite directions, there’s no shade, no shelter, no grace = there’s no checkpoint of someone asking, “Hmmm .. I wonder why you are angry about that?”  No space for you to wrestle and question  – and no space for the offending person  to figure out if they are capable of more than the sum of their offense…. No room for growth/change, mercy, or forgiveness.

*Now for some of you – it’s not healthy or safe to make that space … and boundaries are essential… or if you are a marginalized person it likely is not your responsibility to make that space…*

.. but somehow, someone has to make that space… 

In part social media removes space because it is an effective vessel for instantaneous – reactionary – the-stakes-are- all-or-nothing-scenarios. And very large, complicated social issues get condensed into truncated sentences, short TikTok videos or a photo  – and reduces the complexity of human nature into quick categories – ones that fall as swiftly as the punishment – ‘you are all good’ – or ‘you are all bad.’  You are to be praised, you are canceled. You are on my team. You are my enemy. The stakes are high – and the space is minimal.

The waiter I had at the cafe the other day – said

“I make space for her.”

And what he meant was physical space –  they actually have different routes that they follow in the restaurant – enough space to – acknowledge that each other has real fundamental needs to work and that to blow up the restaurant might not work in their favor –  a subtle recognition that somehow they are connected – that their life is tied to one another and they both need the space.

SIT
Jonah wanted his enemies to stay his enemies. 

I think I deeply believe that it is important to love your enemies. I think I deeply believe that it matters to live and work in such a way that humility and graciousness allow us to see the image of God in the other person. I think I believe that it matters to have face-to-face conversations even if they are hard.. I think I believe that “listening” to one another can transform.. I think I believe that to love your neighbor – even if they are your enemy should matter.

  • But after living next to our neighbors for 17 years now. I’ve come into a season where all indicators point to,

“Nope. nope. That doesn’t seem to be how it’s playing out here.” 

And let me tell you – this sounds dramatic – (maybe like Jonah) – but it feels like part of me is dying as I wrestle with what it is to no longer want to engage, and feel like it’s impossible to love my neighbor.

I just want to keep them my enemies. 

I just want to cancel them.

And so I have done my share of running and sitting – what does this mean? That this core belief – of my faith – but also just as a human being does not seem to work? 

Where since October I’m literally going in the opposite direction coming and going through my side door because to risk facing people that I feel have been mean to  me and my family over a long stretch of time – makes me feel sick. 

And to face the fact that I know God loves them   – and their kids, and their grandchildren, and their pets – which of course objectively is good – but lived out, sucks the actual life right out of me. 

Jonah goes to the east side of the city and sits. In part I think he waits to see if God would just send a sideways lightning bolt to the city just for him….come on, God!

And we see him sit with the reality that God is gracious. 

We see him sit with the reality that Nineveh is a brutal enemy.

We see him sit because he’s tired…life drained right out of him.

It is so risky and so tiring to extend possibility, nurture, care, to our enemies. Ones that have inflicted harm and oppression and suffering  for a moment , for years, decades, all of history.  What, if anything, is left of our beating hearts is meant to keep us alive – and honestly canceling other things that come against that precious heart-space is very compelling.

Jonah is tired. So weary of violence coming at him and his people every day.
We are tired of  the evil that prowls – tired of the fear of it – the fear of ringing the wrong doorbell – or pulling into the wrong driveway and getting shot.

Tired of hearing as my friend Reverend Laura Everett said,

that we’ve gone through a “racial reckoning” and a “Me Too” movement – when there’s still so much to be resolved.. Tired of being through COVID, nationwide protests over systemic police brutality, collective psychosocial trauma of thousands dead, and an armed assault to overthrow our democracy.”

Our empathy can feel worn out.

Tzvi Abusch (Brandeis professor and scholar of ancient Near Eastern texts) says that,

“Jonah is just no longer in a state where he can empathize with humanity.”

And I think God knows this and embraces his time of sitting. Sends him a plant. A plant that is then killed by a worm. Life and destruction.  And somehow Jonah can see it, and feel it through this plant – more than he can for the people of Nineveh.

Which allows God to teach this object lesson – that

“destruction can not be the only tool for change – because it will  affect us all.” 

This plant is destroyed – and you are so angry about it you want to die – it affects you – there is interconnection everywhere.

God says,

see – Jonah –  “yes” there are 120,000 people that are in spiritual darkness – but there are living animals in this city, there are babies and toddlers walking the streets, there are people who disagree with the oppressive powers, there are people who are resisting building the empire… there are trails of connection everywhere.

We can’t just broad strokes wipe out and give up on humanity  – –cancel culture shames the person into realizing their individual beliefs aren’t always acceptable, but it fails to make the space where the person can learn (if they choose), why those beliefs are problematic and hurtful. Which ultimately allows the hateful ideology behind cancellable offenses to exist unchecked -and amplifies an environment where contempt, disgust and the very ‘wickedness’ we are trying to call out – instead grows wickedly out -of-control. And maybe that affects all of us.

It’s why I think God withholds judgment at the slightest sign of repentance – God creates space.
*God’s call to Jonah and to us is to not destroy too quickly.  

It’s why the only thing that God cancels … is God’s own plans to destroy. 

God cancels plans for destruction. God doesn’t make a habit of canceling people.  It’s a risky, risky move of God’s to give Nineveh this space because the story of Israel and Nineveh is not happily -ever-after. Their repentance was temporary – their wickedness grew. Israel would be destroyed.   

If we step in to do the judging/canceling  what we risk is succeeding at canceling the presence of not only “our enemy” but we cancel the presence of the divine the one that we too, very much rely on to survive.    

God is interested in helping Jonah’s heart remain supple – one that doesn’t abandon the living God.  God is as interested in that as he is interested in offering life to a whole city. God knows that ensuring that Jonah finds his own way back to a life worth living …

is inevitably a life that values other life.” (enfleshed.com) 

So God runs with Jonah, and offers grace in a whale –  and God sits with Jonah, and offers grace in a plant.  And the grace of God meets Jonah in those spaces…. So that we can extend space with grace to our enemies too. 

The book of Jonah ends with God’s mercy. And Jonah’s silence. 

Jonah’s silence to me isn’t a sign of defeat or frustration – or a hardened heart…. it is just more space.

  • And it’s God’s invitation to us today –  what space do you need – to love your enemies?
    Do you need to run? Do you need to sit? Do you need to jump on a plane for a hot second?
    It’s not an unproductive space – it’s where God greets us with grace and love, revives where we are weary – and asks us, “Tell me about your anger?” 
  • It’s where God  asks us, “What will we do?”
  • “How do we aid in preventing empires from unchecked destruction?”
  • “How will we love our enemies?”
  • “How do we keep making space to be nimble in heart – to continue to be bold and free – in a culture that keeps suggesting that our enemies should stay our enemies?” 

 If I could give each of you a plant today, I would my friends.  (one without a worm). 

Instead I’ll say,

“grace to you,” my friends… “grace to you..”

Amen.

The Threat of Hope

Good morning! I’m Ivy.

Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, the last week of Lent.

Palm Sunday commemorates the entrance of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem, where crowds laid the road with cloth and leafy palms and waved them in excitement and praise for the king they were waiting for – one who would ride in on a donkey. It’s an ancient story, where “Hosannas” filled the air. Hosannas as cheers, of prayers, of pleas and of protest  – and it is a present day story, where we are invited today to wonder afresh – what gives shape to our “Hosannas?”  

I have a friend who regularly checks in on me. At any point in the day – they send a two-word text that says, “Vibe check.” It’s an invitation for me to pause for a second, and think about how I’m feeling… how the day’s going… a true pulse on where I’m at…  it often feels like a pretty sacred exchange.  

The vibe of the Palm Sunday we read in scripture (and we will in just a moment), is often regarded by many of us as celebratory –  a scene where audible joy and jubilant energy is manifested by a hopeful crowd.

And we can feel that alive in us today too – how it feels to hope for something for a long time and finally see it come into view. This crowd has been waiting for a Savior, one who could make their hopes and longings – their history and lived experience of oppression – into a new story. To help them believe that a different world, a new world was finally possible – and it comes into view, as Jesus enters those gates of Jerusalem.

Except an actual vibe check of this crowd, would likely reveal more. Palm Sunday while it is the cusp of joy and hope – is also the cusp of watching the world as they knew it crumble. 

And even as the cheers of “Hosanna! Hosanna in the Highest” reached a fever pitch in the crowd – they are quickly eclipsed by the threat of the Roman Empire.  

Palm Sunday holds more than excited palm waving…it is the story of Jesus’ last meal with his disciples, of betrayal, denial – of threat, his arrest, and violence/ crucifixion.  Palm Sunday, with all the excitement and hope, leads directly to Good Friday. And that is part of our story too – and the ongoing story of our faith.

A faith that is riddled with hopes and threats – and hopes and threats – in our everyday lives.

This morning we’ll read this story in scripture and consider what it is we hope for these days? How it is we might live our way into this ancient cry, “Hosanna!” with integrity – with an energy that flips what threatens our hope – into a triumphant story where the threat of hope – keeps us moving along this road of life with Jesus. 

Prayer:
We praise you Jesus. We bless you – for being the One who comes among us – and is still coming. For the one who walks down our streets and enters our neighborhoods – for the one who disrupts the thoughts that threaten our hope – for the one who helps us disrupt the real forces and powers that threaten our hope. This morning hear our prayers – the ones that are beyond words – the prayers that we are hoarse from shouting – -the prayers that are fresh and the ones that feel ancient.  Thank you for being among – between and in us. Amen.

SCRIPTURE | Matthew 21:1-11 (Common English Bible)

Let’s read the story of Palm Sunday together  – we’ll read Matthew’s version in Chapter 21:

“When they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus gave two disciples a task. He said to them, “Go into the village over there. As soon as you enter, you will find a donkey tied up and a colt with it. Untie them and bring them to me.  If anyone says anything to you, say that their master needs them.” He sent them off right away. Now this happened to fulfill what the prophet said, Say to Daughter Zion,Look, your king is coming to you, humble and riding on a donkey, and on a colt the donkey’s offspring.  The disciples went and did just as Jesus had ordered them. They brought the donkey and the colt and laid their clothes on them. Then he sat on them.

Now a large crowd spread their clothes on the road. Others cut palm branches off the trees and spread them on the road.  The crowds in front of him and behind him shouted,
Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”  And when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. “Who is this?” they asked. The crowds answered, “It’s the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Like so much of scripture – there is scripture within scripture here. Right in the middle of this story we have a reference to the Old Testament – to the words of the prophet Zechariah 9:9… who predicts this moment – saying,

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion. Sing aloud, Daughter Jerusalem. Look, your king is coming to you, humble and riding on a donkey …”

And many of those gathered in the crowd likely knew this prophecy. Because the setting here is Passover. And upwards of 200,000 people from all over Athens and Egypt, Babylon, Damascus and Galilee – join Jesus and his followers in Jerusalem to observe and celebrate this most important Jewish holiday.  Passover celebrates the exodus from slavery in Egypt – it is a festival of freedom. Freedom that God intended for everyone… and one they are still longing for.

At this time the Jewish people were under the brutal empire of Rome.

“They were a colony; a subject people – living in a new kind of servitude, a new kind of bondage. Now, not in Egypt, but in their own land.” (Bishop Michael Curry)

So while Rome allows the Jewish pilgrims to gather for the Passover festival – any real action, any real resistance that would push against that power of Rome – call out the oppression –  would not be tolerated. And just to make sure that is communicated – that complete loyalty and submission is obeyed – they send Pontius Pilate and Roman agents into the city with a full entourage – soldiers, horses, calvary, weapons. The Roman Empire puffing out its chest, making its greatness, its power shown through intimidation and threat. 

Jesus enters Jerusalem with a rag-tag bunch, no cavalry – on a donkey – a procession of what many would regard as the  “powerless” and the “explicitly vulnerable.”  Where strength and power are demonstrated through subversive action, humility, nonviolence, and hope. And Jesus invites those in the crowd – some of whom had witnessed his recent healing miracles (and some who hadn’t), some who still hoped for a savior (and some who couldn’t), some who knew who this man on a donkey was (and most who didn’t) but nevertheless Jesus invites them ALL to find their way into this song from exactly where they are at,Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!”  

Jesus’ entrance – riding in on a donkey doesn’t just offer a parallel picture of what a “king” or a “savior” or a “hero” could be –  it is a move to counter everything – the common expressions of authority and intimidation of the emperor’s norm. (enfleshed.org)

Historians tell us that it is likely that, Pilate entered the city from the west and Jesus entered the city from the east.

A meeting of sorts –  a meeting where the power of authoritative threat and the power of indelible hope face off.

Now here’s the thing – the threats for the Jewish people are real… not just empty intimidation. Ever since the time of exile  – the Jewish people have – for most of that time – suffered under some sort of foreign power. Just a few decades earlier the Romans crushed an attempted rebellion of the people  – where 2,000 of those suspected in the resistance movement were crucified. Their lives have been impacted by fear and violence for a long time.

And yet the crowds watch as the words of Zechariah unfold in their streets, and the hope of their spiritual ancestors rises, the cries of “Hosanna!” swell. These voices echoing a proclamation of trust in a different type of power, a different type of LORD and King.

And it’s a gritty – graspy- sort of hope. One that recalls God’s great works – of manna appearing in the wilderness, of the Red Sea parting …and the struggle, death and oppression – it’s a holy remembrance – one that forms an active, courageous cry of “Hosanna” – a resolute present day cry that protests injustice.

And the Roman powers feel this … they are threatened.

Many in the crowds hold on to a faith that is not run by militaristic conquering authority – but on the power of justice – the power of collective hope that has formed over anguish and centuries – through the bones of their ancestors –  that sticks to their spirits as they stand on that dusty road to Jerusalem.

And everything they do  – from  raising their palms to shouting “hosanna!” are subversive acts and messages to the empire. A message of hope that threatens and puts Rome on the alert  – as much as Rome had hoped to do with their war horses.

INDIGO STORY

It’s why celebrating Palm Sunday is worth it – even when we know how Holy week plays out.

It’s why harkening back to our spiritual ancestors matters. Because sometimes we need to re-tell a story, even re-enact a story of our history that reminds us – and tells us again – of how good and faithful God has been  – a source of life-giving hope – even when it isn’t realized in our story yet.

Vernee Wilkinson was up here last week leading us in a participatory service – along with Reverend Laura Everett – that centered around the plant, indigo. Indigo, the source of blue dye that you recognize in your jeans. And she shared that as a descendant of enslaved people – her ancestors were likely forced to plant, tend and harvest the cash crop of indigo.

Their lives likely bought and sold with indigo. Lives that were threatened and terrorized. And yet these ancestors gathered together for hope, for the promise of liberation – they sang songs together – they cried out “Hosanna” in their own ways for a freedom that is still sought  – and fought for today.  And today, Vernee turns to indigo for healing, to make new things as a prayer of protest. – Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!” –  To suggest that we, collectively, can reclaim, redeem, make reparations – return Indigo to its healing properties, honor its potent artistic expression and WORK TO free it from a history of violence and oppression.  

The leaves of the indigo plant are dried, crushed and fermented  – placed in a big vat of liquid-y solution that becomes a live –  living thing.  It speaks of a history and story full of threats and violence – and – hope/beauty and freedom.

PALMS

The palms that were laid in the streets and waved in the air,  by the crowd that surrounded Jesus spoke of the same. Before Roman occupation – there was a time when the Jewish people had been free and self-governed – and they had their own currency. On their largest coin – a palm branch was prominently displayed – a symbol of Jewish rebellion. 

The choice to cut palm branches and lay them ahead of Jesus was an act of defiance and a message to the Roman authorities. “We want to be free – we want liberty.”  And they look to Jesus – Jesus who learned early

“how to resist an unjust system. His entire life plays out in the shadow of empire. All his teaching and storytelling, his healing and preaching, his praying and miracle working – all of it takes place under that same shadow of the occupying power of Rome. (Tim Hart – Anderson)

And so they think – maybe this Jesus can help us, can save us. The scene that day in Jerusalem is not particularly religious. The palm-waving is not part of a worship service – but a welcome for a hoped-for liberator that is meant to stand up to the dehumanizing power of empire and privilege. 

HOSANNA 

And so they shout “HOSANNA! HOSANNA IN THE HIGHEST” as they wave palms, a freedom song. They do not recite the Roman pledge of allegiance which was, “Caesar is Lord” – but instead say Jesus is Lord – “Hosanna”! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  They hail a new king.

A subversive action.  

The word “Hosanna,” is not only a cheer – or only an expression of adoration. It is a political and religious word – made up of two Hebrew words: hōša῾and nā.  Hōša means “help us, save us, deliver us,” and nā which means “we pray” or “now!” “please!” (Tim Suttle, www.patheos.com).

They remember this word “Hosanna” – from their ancestors which we can read in Psalm 118 where they say,

Lord, please save us!  Lord, please let us succeed!”

Words that the pilgrims would sing as they came into Jerusalem, and as Jews would recite on the Passover holiday. And their hope hung that day, on those words as they walked into Jerusalem – as a ritual of faith – a hope woven into their story – unfolding as a direct challenge to Roman authority.

HOSANNA is a risky word.

  • A vulnerable cry.
  • An exhausted plea.
  • A protest prayer.

An ancient word – a modern word – a word that bridges and connects us to a cloud of witnesses, a company of saints, lovers of God and lovers of people. All connected to the life-giving source.


It’s how the past becomes present on Palm Sunday – and our ancestors’ words, our own. (Enfleshed.org)

…… and how they still hold an urgency to them.

This crowd is shouting,

Save us! from Roman occupation, economic struggle, hunger, poverty.. And do it now.”  

It’s desperate, it’s real, it’s the vibe of this crowd. 

And it’s our vibe today. 

We cry –

“Save us! Oh God! Please! We long for freedom from all that destroys life.

God hear our cry.”

And help us hear the cries of others.

THIS WEEK we had another mass school shooting – *firearms, now the leading cause of death among children.*

Trans rights are threatened.

Women’s rights are threatened.

Affordable housing & affordable healthcare is threatened.*SO. MUCH. LIFE. IS. THREATENED.*

We are still on the road to Jerusalem today my friends.

So much to right. So many crowds to push through.

So many of us are anxiety-filled, stressed, tired. . . crest-fallen… 

Held in the bondage of poverty, racism, misogyny, corruption.

And we fumble to gather our words into a “prayer” – our emotions pour out over the top of the bitter cup of sorrow… it’s too much … it’s too much to swallow…. Alone.

Jesus as he entered Jerusalem wept over the city –

he knew he would not immediately fulfill the hopes of these people, and violence would ensue. (Luke 19:41)

We too walk along the road as much as we fall along the road, and we believe and shout in adoration – as much as we weep and grieve in disbelief.  Hope can feel futile – foolish even.

The interesting thing about indigo is how that rich blue color comes to be. It is all about how many times you return to that big – live – fermenting dye vat. How many times you return to dip your cloth into the mix of sugars, bacteria, and plant leaves – is what deepens and enriches the color. 

This is the invitation of Jesus on that Jerusalem road,

Keep returning to the source – it’s where you will be strengthened.”

It might not look like you thought it would… but keep reaching to God, your ancestors, one another … there we can find a vat of love – of courage – of vision – that strengthens and multiplies our capacity to hope in the face of threat.

Last Sunday many of us folded our prayers into these indigo dyed cloths. ((Hopefully if you were here last week – you were able to grab yours on the way in this morning.))  These prayers were left to rest – to breathe this week – to deepen in our spirits –  as they were laid in the company of one another’s prayers. 

It was in preparation for us today  –  for the Hosanna’s we will shape as a community, the body of Christ together. Because as much as “Hosanna! – help us“ is a cry to God … it is also a cry to one another. 

“I need your help, we need each other’s help – to keep walking this well-worn road of life – to fix our gaze upon Jesus and figure out what our Hosanna’s even mean.”

This is how the song of collective hope is sung.

Standing alongside one another – lifting each other up when we can’t see Jesus at all in our days. Sending one another vibe check texts – dipping ourselves elbow-deep in the ferment of God’s love and promise of freedom … So that we can cut through the empires of despair – of oppressive lies…. So we can change the world we live in. And believe that this road to Jerusalem isn’t a forever road to Good Friday – but one that leads to resurrection.

A resurrection that releases unchecked hope into our world which is dying for it.’ (THA)

In a few minutes we will sing the song “Hosanna,” together.  And however you find your way into that word this morning – whether it’s out of defiant joy, or a hoarse whisper…  know that we are naming – above all else – what we love in common – Jesus. A God who has saved. Will save. And does save us today. Reminding one another that Jesus will forever be riding into our lives in the most unexpected ways – and we are here to help each other notice as best we can along the journey. The poet, Ross Gay says

noticing what we love in common is a practice of survival.

It’s how generations that have gone before us – have survived.
Pleading, singing, praying, shouting – together- “Hosanna – Hosanna in the highest.”

It’s how the generations that will come after us – will survive.

Pleading, singing, praying, shouting -together- “Hosanna – Hosanna in the highest.”

 And it’s how today on this Palm Sunday, we form our Hosanna’s  – with pleading, singing, praying and shouting – together… so that our hopes will survive. We know things are not resolved, and far from fixed… we know the days ahead in our holy weeks still hold more work, more sadness, more threats…

But today – we rest and we breathe – we come alongside one another  – with the Spirit of God, with our ancestors and we strengthen.

And we wave our palms today – our indigo cloths – our hopes. 

We cry, “Hosanna, Save us!” with remembrance that the God we cry out to lives within all of us. And that when “Hosanna, Save Us” – departs our lips – it is a calling of truth to power to the imperialistic forces in our day. And it is a call to the power of hope. The power to right injustices – to steady our quaking ground – to revive us again…a power that is not commanded from a king on HIGH – but one that is altogether mighty, as it rises up from deep within us – as we gather here right now –  and in the streets of our neighborhood, our city – our schools – our workplaces… our abiding places and our in between places. Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!

VIBE CHECK: Where are you? Where is Jesus? Where is your hope?  

Prayer: Today God – we offer our “Hosanna’s” just as they are. We ask you to break open our hearts for what breaks yours in this world. To revive in us the imagination, strength, courage, to believe that your steadfast love does endure forever. .that it isn’t foolish to hope . . remind us how much we need it. Remind us how much we need you. Amen.

Puhpowee | Life Force

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

Good morning everyone! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EXCEPT I couldn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LIFE FORCE

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

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

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

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

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

(Genesis 1:2).

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

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

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

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

John 20:11 – 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grief is a force of its own.

An invasive one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“you really have to listen.” (53)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 4-LETTER WORDS OF JESUS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be.

To have breath of life within.

To be the offspring of Creation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do not hold on to me,”

Jesus says to Mary [go breathe – go gasp] 

“go tell my siblings.” 

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

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

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

A single word.

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

 

 

Do You Love Me?

Good morning – I’m Ivy.  So great to be here with you on New Year’s Day!

First off –  Congratulations!  – you have made it to the first day of 2023.  Well done.

 It’s the time of year where there’s a flurry of talk about reflecting and making resolutions…

And likely we all have a variety of opinions and feelings about both. I don’t love resolutions, but I am resolving to drink water in the new year…like more water, more regularly.

Today – I’m going to talk a little bit more about reflection – than resolution – and I’m going to invite us to pause and to entertain a question from Jesus – that feels like a helpful and anchoring one to start the new year. 

The reality of course, is that I don’t know exactly what 2022 held for all of you and maybe some of you underestimate what this year has held for you.  Often I hear, “well – you know, it’s been a year… or hey, look I’m here.” Kind of a protected, or neutral response… Like “nothing to see here.” 

But my guess is that it’s been a FULL year, even fuller than your first pass at reflection might reveal.

I felt this a couple of weeks ago in a staff meeting where our Executive Pastor, Trecia Reavis, led us through a reflection exercise.  Inviting us to name the many things we’ve done through our work as a team… spaces, events, bbqs, classes, baptisms, check-ins, little things, big things, things visible, and things behind the scenes… in some ways to celebrate all that we’ve done – and to *not forget* all that 2022 had held.

And there was something so validating about seeing it ALL in dry-erase marker on a whiteboard. . .  “WOW.  We did do a fair amount of things.”

I expected the next part to be similar to the business-y model of review, “Stop. Start. & Continue” – start categorizing the work we’d done into these funnels – so we can figure out where to prioritize our work and capacity in 2023.  A valid, helpful tool – one though that often gets you moving in a “do-ing mode” pretty quickly… so I was gearing up for that energy…

And there was this slight pause and Trecia turned to us and said, “Now, I want you to think about your personal life over this past year…”

And I froze. I don’t know what the rest of the sentence was  – probably something normal like, “think of your personal life, and all that it held – or all the work in that realm…”  

A couple of people shared stuff – and then our time was up, our meeting was over…

… and I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me…

Was that a “good” wind-knocked out of me feeling – or was that like, deep- pain-wind-knocked out of me feeling?” 

I remember as I went to get up from my chair, I put my hand over my heart. Like I had to hold it in as I moved, to make sure it would still be there for my next breath…  

I’ll unpack some thoughts around this in a minute… but…

This familiar, kind of short- 15 minute exercise that Trecia led us through, was not only an invitation to *reflect & not forget* what we had DONE… it was an invitation to *reflect & not forget* who we are. Our whole human selves that we bring around with us everywhere. With the layers and layers we are comprised of… the layers that make our vocations enriched, the layers that are a mess and weigh us down and the layers we carry and are shaped by –  from years and years gone by… not just 2022.

And it was an invitation to PAUSE, and not forget who God is in all of the layers.

To realize that when we feel like all we have to offer at the start of a new year is a neutral comment like, “well I’m here,” … God celebrates that, GOD LOVES THAT. God goes over the top and reveres our presence as holy, meaningful and sacred.  

For me it’s been an intense year. A hard year, a joyous year, a year with constriction and stretching, of letting go…  And in between my moments to reflect and my moments to make resolutions – There’s always a moment to <pause>. Yes, where any question can come at me, where my feelings can jump before my mind can put the reaction all together – but also where Jesus says,  “I’m so glad you are here. I’m so glad you are here.”

And that pause builds hope. It’s neither a reflection or a resolution – but a truth  – a promise even – that as much as I can lose my breath at the pain and the sorrow and the exhaustion of a year – I can find it again with the love of God.  

So as we start today – and as we stand on this first day of 2023, I’m going to invite you to pause with God as I pray for us. You can close your eyes if you’d like, and  think over the past year – as memories come, let them roll through you – acknowledging, bringing to mind the ones that your heart and body allow.  As they do, suspend any self-judgment or analysis – don’t rush to resolutions… but just pause and take in the full expanse of your whole life over the last year (all the corners of it). As whole people – with all the threads of life (whatever those might be for you); celebratory threads, threads that feel like live-wires and unresolved threads.  Open yourself unto God in this… 

Prayer 

Oh Loving God,

The Sustainer of our soul,

The source of our breath,

The one who resolves to love us endlessly,

The one who reflects back to us our divine beauty,

Thank you for being with us, within us and between us today.

Binding 

Amen.

Trecia in some ways helped us navigate this notion of liminal time.  The roots of this word in Latin mean “threshold”… And so liminal spaces are these threshold places, where we transition from one state or status to another.

Many of us have probably been in liminal times – when we’ve lost a job, or we’ve moved… or entering a new school,  or on the cusp of a new friendship. These are all transitional, liminal spaces AND THEY ALL find commonality – in the fact that we are “not in control” – and there’s nothing “certain” that we can rest on. It’s also why resolutions are so popular. Or goals, or plans – you have something that you can at least put shape to, control to some degree – as you move into the unknown.

I love the “idea” of liminal space… the idea that there’s some entrance/beginning to walk through that could possibly usher in new ways of thinking and seeing the world around me. BUT as I’ve lived through these liminal moments in my life, I’ve realized I don’t really love so much the part about “not being in control or certain”… or how LONG “liminal time” can be.  The week between Christmas and New Years – I can handle that version of liminal time – but think about the pandemic as liminal time and it’s toooo intense.

This is part of what knocked the wind out of me – when Trecia said now think about your personal life this year. There were a couple things in my personal life that earlier in the year left me feeling unmoored – and somewhere inside I had formed a plan. If I do, “ x, y, z over the next couple of months – with a bonus sabbatical month in there – with all the attention, presence, time and intentionality this pain point will be “resolved” by the end of the year.”  And in that moment of reflection in staff meeting, my body felt the grief that it wasn’t – even before I could put together why my body was responding in that way…

Jesus invites us again and again to consider that our lives aren’t linear – from one year past to one year forward… this continuum of sorts. Our lives are multi-dimensional  – they have the capacity to hold a MESS OF LIFE – and also a MESS of wild and crazy love – that is all over the place… and So while Jesus invites us to reflect – I think he invites us to FIRST RESOLVE to fall in love with Him day after day after day…  

And He gets us into this space by asking us a great, piercing question – one that’s kind of akin to what Trecia’s question did for me.

My Story

And it’s a question interestingly enough that my husband, Scott asked me – in our pre-dating history (which now was 25 years ago!).  And this pre-dating period – is important – because it was this liminal space… where no real commitment of relationship had been made….. well, at least not by me.  

For Scott I think in his mind (in his dreams) he was already convinced that we had crossed the threshold into being an official “couple.” Despite the fact that I had told him on multiple occasions that that was definitely not the case.  

Still Scott pursued me. Hard. And in his pursuit he was quite heroic actually in laying out the reasons that he was a good catch… “I play the guitar, I cook  – really well… I’m good-looking, nice, and sensitive and humble, etc…” (I thought … are you humble?)

And deep down I think I knew all these descriptors to be true. And it was obvious he loved me – and cared for me – and extended such tenderness to me, but honestly I didn’t know what to do with it all, with that display and level of love.

I had no container for a guitar-playing, sensitive chef.  My examples of “real men,” in my life up to that point, played football and stuffed all their feelings inside and didn’t extend themselves in vulnerable ways…
And so I was happy to engage with Scott at a surface level – I’d go to see a band or to dinner – but I wouldn’t ever engage at a heart level… that was really too unknown for me… and if that was liminal space, I wanted nothing to do with it… 

But a person can only extend himself so far and REMAIN SANE!  And we would have rhythms of intensity – a few months “on” where Scott would really lean in and engage – and then a couple months off where I think Scott would recover from the fatigue of putting himself out there with me. And then he’d gather up the energy – to go back into the fray of my unresponsive heart…

But ultimately the turning point came one night on the phone – after a series of intense “on” weeks…

When Scott asked me,

“Ivy, do you love me?”


This question, “do you love me?”  turned out to be the most piercing of questions for me… 

A question that seems could illicit only 2 possible responses:   


“Yes, I love you” or

“No, I don’t love you.”  

I think though, there’s some layers in either of those answers – that in my story and in the story of Peter and Jesus that we’ll read in just a moment – add another possible, third compelling answer… if not just more conversation than just a “yes” or a “no.”

So let’s take a look at the story here:
This part of scripture is the 3rd post-resurrection appearance Jesus makes.

And where I’ll pick the story up today, is after a long night  – where Peter and some of the disciples have been trying to catch fish – with nothing to show for it.  And Jesus appears, unrecognizable to them, along the shore, and says,

hi friends, cast your net on the other side”

and then they do and they have this miraculous catch of fish… And then we read this early morning beach scene:

John 21:15-17

15 After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”

“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.

16 Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”

“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.

17 A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said,

“Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

Jesus said,

“Then feed my sheep.”

For three years Peter walked with Jesus in a liminal space, having left his old life of fishing behind, embracing a life with Jesus  -never knowing what exactly the next day would bring – where he would go, what was going to happen. Who Jesus was going to ask him to talk with or eat with or sit with? And all of that time – culminates with Peter denying his friend Jesus – three times.  And then his friend, Jesus died.  And so Peter still sits in a space of not knowing – but it doesn’t seem worth it anymore… 

And like any you who have ever been a witness or participant in a life transition might know at least a bit what this feels like. …whether it’s been loss or birth of something or someone. 

Sometimes in the swirl of all the emotions that such a time can conjure up –  it’s easier to retreat to what we know, the tried and true, to go do something that feels normal again.  And for Peter this is fishing… 

And so, after Jesus’ death – he returns to the old, familiar world of being a fisherman. …

“I know how to do this – I know what to do… I catch fish.  And I know I can live by fishing.”  

And so he fishes….all night…. And catches NOT.ONE. Fish.    

Same boat, same nets, same waters… nothing is working as it once had.
This has got to be a pretty poignant night for Peter. To him he couldn’t get the world with Jesus right – and now – he can’t get a world that he once knew so well right.  

Where does he stand?

Perhaps in the early morning dusk  – tired, defeated Peter looks out to the shore – and asks,

“what do I have to show for my life? Nothing.  All this time with this Jesus – who I have known and believe to be Savior, the comforter, healer, the bread of life, the good shepherd…..  and nothing.”

Except Jesus is standing on the shore – and he answers-

“You got to try something new.” 

What you don’t realize is that in those three years together – despite a sense of day to day uncertainty – we were building something new, something indestructible – that won’t allow you to go back to your ‘old life” the same way.    We built a relationship, we built a flow of love – that is ALIVE and LIVING in YOU.  And it matters – it matters in your life and the church to come and the world to come… 

And as Peter’s OLD world is falling apart –  Jesus shifts his net – and his perspective. To see the abundance of what hanging out in liminal space has brought Him…

And Jesus breaks this open with four simple words over breakfast….. 

“Do you love me?”
Do you love me?

Do you love me?

Now when Scott asked me this question: 

“Ivy, do you love me?”

I quickly answered,

“No, I don’t love you”

… and just for good measure I added a little extra…

“..and I never will.” 

Peter, when posed this question – has a more generous answer,

“Yes Lord, you know I love you.”

Both Peter and I – despite our disparate answers to this same question –  have a deeper, common underlayer…   The underlayer- I think is that we are both fumbling, internally –  with this question, “do you love me”?, because we wish there was a third available answer on the table, that reflects the status of our heart:

“I don’t know HOW to love you”.  

Scott,  I don’t know how to love you in the face of all this tremendous, tender love that you are lavishing on me…. I don’t have a gridwork for this and my love back to you could never match it –

“no, I don’t want to love you – because I don’t know how, and I’ll never get it right.” 

Jesus – I look back at my year – and my thoughts can’t help but hovering over these hard moments. When I feel like I’ve messed up or missed opportunities – or in turn when things have just happened – and I’m left pondering and regretting and angry and annoyed…

Peter says 

“I’ve messed it up too much already, Jesus”

I couldn’t even say I knew you to those authorities – and I thought I loved you???   I think  Peter too, is fumbling with the question and his answer…

“yes, I love you”

But actually I really don’t know how to?  How do I get it right?  

Jesus answers us – he waves at us from the horizon of whatever space we are in… this shoreline on the beach… and says

“Hi friend!”

Hey here’s a great place to start…. start by identifying yourself with a heart of love.  That’s what it’s made for. You’ve got it….  It has great capacity to love actually…

The conversation starts with love,

“Hi friends – I’m so glad you are here.”

Love is not something you can bargain for, plan for – RESOLVE for? It is not something you can attain or work up to—love “is our very structural and essential identity— because we are created in the image of God.” (Rohr)

Jesus – it seems is not that interested in STARTING A CONVERSATION about our past, how far we think we’ve come, what we think should be resolved, all the perfect laid out plans that should work in our relationships, that FAIL – the disappointments, the rejection, the denial – he’s much more interested in a conversation that starts with love….  That helps us open our heart – with all that it holds. 

This kind of conversation allows Peter to reorient, to move his identity from being a fisherman, or a failure, or a person who only disappoints  – to the identity of being love… 

“Do you love me?” 

“Can you find the love in yourself that is and always will be there?”  

This is what will move you into a whole new, big world – where a heart of love matters.

AND Jesus shows Peter what LOVE feels like – right?  He says ‘here’s the new way” – cast your net to the other side.  And Peter doesn’t just catch one fish, right?  It says in the scripture he catches

“153 fish, and the net did not tear.”

That’s the thing about Jesus’ love. It’s going to swing right beside the heaviness of your days and your year – and how you might be feeling about yourself and the HEARTACHE OF life. And you are going to feel the weight and TUG of His love too, right beside you – like a net bursting with fish… but that doesn’t for a second threaten to break.

In our staff meeting – what hit me first – was the feeling of how I might break – if I looked too squarely at the year gone by. Realizing that so much was ALIVE, UNRESOLVED.  I wanted to just move forward – let’s make a plan, let’s get to work – 2023, let’s go!

To pause though, and consider this question from God,

“Do you love me?”

Can open up conversation from exactly where I’m at – right?  To be able to say,

“I’m kind of disappointed God –  this stuff still stings with pain, and it rises right to the top as I think about my personal landscape…” 

And in turn I can sense God raise God’s eyebrows and say,

“YASSS – the host of those memories are going to live with you – in your body, heart, mind  for a very long time.  I get it.”

Validation that so much of life  – so much of being human – and being loved  – is intimate. Vulnerable. Exposing live wires.  Our experiences are often NOT resolved aspects of a year/a past gone by… they are most often unresolved, LIVE parts of us now.

And all of us, over the past year have witnessed chaos – personal,  national, health – you-name-it-chaos,  we have embodied compassion, we have shaken with rage and we have lifted our voices for justice ….we have lived through this year, and this year now lives in us.   

Howard Thurman says,

“We can use our memory of the past with creative discrimination.  We can lift out of the past those things that will give us reinforcement as we face the future, that will give us courage, that will lift the ceiling of our hopes as we look toward tomorrow…..

In this way, ‘we can let the past (our experiences), become something more than history, something that tutors us as we move into the new year. The past is history, but the past is alive, because the past is in us.” (Thurman, 180,181 – The Mood of Christmas)

And when we forget –  as we tend to do –  that part of the aliveness in us is the Spirit of God that  – this red hot fire of love between God and Jesus that is always burning within us.  It’s mysterious.  But Jesus gives us this practical question to tip us back into this flow of love – 

“Do you love me?”

Pause and ask yourself this BECAUSE it activates and TUTORS our hearts – at a deep, opening level. 

Thankfully after I completely shut Scott down by saying

“I don’t love you – and I never will”

Scott paused in silence on the phone – and then being the super logical, practical guy that he is- replied with,

“mmmmmm……Right – well I really don’t believe you’”

And over the next few months, he continued to ask me this question,

“Do you love me?”, “Do you love me?”, “Do you love me?”

IT was a question that I no longer wrapped in his qualifications, “ I’m a “dashing, smart, super chef of a  guy”… it was just a question of the heart.   And it did the mysterious work of opening and transforming  my heart more and more…

So maybe that’s how we stand here on January 1st and look at the New Year ahead

“we lead with Love….”

It’s out of this opening heart space – that things we care about that we want to get better in 2023 –  become flesh and dwell among us – THROUGH us..   It’s how words like mercy and justice and equity and compassion and empathy, don’t waver- with these strong nets of Love to catch us and get us back out there…

Jesus says to Peter – if you love me – or if you are figuring out how to love me – then go feed my sheep, take care of my sheep…BE with other people.  Feed them with this type of Love…it will grow…THIS NEW YEAR have people at your tables, sit with them – eat with them. Call people, text them, send them a note.  Have conversations of the heart, listen. Be present… Tell someone,

“I’m so glad you are here.” 

This love matters. 

Richard Rohr says that ancient cultures call liminal space “crazy time.” And if liminal space is all about sitting with God and falling in love with God – then I totally agree…Falling in love  – is  crazy.  Opening your heart is indeed “crazy” – You open yourself to the unknown, to newness, to pain…unto new depths.

But it’s what motivates us to jump out of our known boats – to trudge through the deep waters of this crazy world….  to get to a fire, where our disappointments and our hopes – find a great big meal with enough sustenance for all of our days found in the simplest question,

“Do you love me?”

So two things for you in this New Year – consider Jesus’ question,

“Do you love me?”   

consider it over breakfast, and whatever your answer is, or whatever conversation this opens up – Sit. eat. Talk with Jesus.  From EXACTLY where you are at. 

In the New Year, consider praying for many people all at once.

Those you know, and those you don’t.

Those you know are suffering and those you’ll never know if that’s true or not.

Those you love to hang out with and those you never will.

Pray for their wellness, their protection, their freedom.

Pray for them – feed them with love.

GOD IN CHRIST | Everywhere & In Everyone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darkness and coldness encroaches and closes in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll take a look at a couple scripture,

A couple of stories from me,

Some wisdom from Father Richard Rohr,

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

Prayer

God of wonder and hope and light and darkness, 

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

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

Kids Church Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God in Christ 

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

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

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

In Colossians 1:15-17 we read:

Christ is the image of the unseen God

And the firstborn of all creation 

for in Christ were created 

All things in heaven and on earth

Everything visible and invisible,

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

Before anything was created, Christ existed,

        and all things are held together in Christ.

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

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

But back at the beginning in Genesis where it says,

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

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

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

There are no lines.

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

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

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

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

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

 It is the universal light – steady throughout time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“All things are held together in Christ.”

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

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

We read in Romans the extent of this promise: 

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

36 As it is written,

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

    We are treated like sheep for slaughter.

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

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

Where God’s people are saying –

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

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

Psalm 44

It says in verse 23 and onward, 

23 Wake up! Why are you sleeping, Lord?

    Get up! Don’t reject us forever!

24 Why are you hiding your face,

    forgetting our suffering and oppression?

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

    our stomachs are flat on the ground!

26 Stand up! Help us!

    Save us for the sake of your faithful love.

WAKE UP! STAND UP! GET UP! HELP US! SAVE US!

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

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

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

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

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

“planted their ancestors – given them roots…” 

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

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

I don’t know.

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

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

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


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

“mommy, mommy you’re here!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then he’d toddle off to the playground.

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

“that’s not your mommy!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Stand up God!”

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

“illuminating light that enlightens all things…. “

Remembering that when Christ calls God’s self the

“Light of the World” (John 8:12),”

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

Is here too.

And is still coming. 

Is still unfolding… in us and WITH US.

And is waiting to be seen everywhere else too.

Prayer to end:
Ephesians 3:14-19

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

Resource:

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

Book by Richard Rohr

BENEDICTION

It was so good to be with you today!

My friends  – Jesus Christ awaits your partnership.

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

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

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

As much as you do in the people nearby.

Enjoy your day

And 

Enjoy what unknowns are awaiting your arrival.

May you be blessed,

Amen.

I look forward to being with you next week, 

Same time, Same place.

Be well.

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.