Holy Spirit as Chi: Understanding The Holy Spirit in a Global Context

Acts 1:1-21

Pentecost

2 When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. 

Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting.

3 They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them.

4 They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.

5 There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.

6 When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages.

7 They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them?

8 How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language?

9 Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,

10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism),

11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!”

12 They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?”

13 Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”

14 Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words!

15 These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning!

16 Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 In the last days, God says,

I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

    Your sons and daughters will prophesy.

    Your young will see visions.

    Your elders will dream dreams.

18     Even upon my servants, men and women,

        I will pour out my Spirit in those days,

        and they will prophesy.

19 I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above

    and signs on the earth below,

        blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.

20 The sun will be changed into darkness,

    and the moon will be changed into blood,

        before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.

21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.[a]

Let me pray for us. 

Holy and Loving God, we give you thanks for bringing us here today. However we find ourselves this morning, whether we’re worried about something, anxious, excited, or sad or apathetic, we believe that you meet us here, right exactly where we are. And that you meet us with the exact measure of grace and mercy as we need it. So would you help us to know that, to feel that, that you move toward us and surround us with your presence and love right now, as we listen and speak into the word. Reveal to us, through your Holy Spirit. Amen. 

My talk today has a really long title. It’s called, “Holy Spirit as Chi: Understanding the Holy Spirit in a global context” It’s inspired by a book by a Korean-American theologian named Grace Ji-Sun Kim, titled Reimagining Spirit: Wind, Breath, and Vibration. 

The Holy Spirit has always been a little left out of the Trinity throughout history. Christians believe in a Triune God, God the Creator, Jesus the Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit, three in one. It’s really hard to explain. It’s a mystery. Christians are monotheiest, meaning they believe in one God, but this one God has three “persons” that are interdependent and in interplay with one another. Some say the creation came to be out of the overflow of love out of trinity. Some try to describe it by saying it’s like three different forms of water, like God is ice, Jesus is water, and Holy Spirit is vapor. But even when it’s always been kind of tricky to explain this Holy Trinity, Christians time and time again have come back to this language to describe God because it is central to everything we believe. But like I said, Holy Spirit always kind of gets the backseat. It’s easier to explain God and Jesus and Holy Spirit is, it’s like this thing. It doesn’t even get as much airtime in all of Christian podcasts combined I bet. 

They actually struggled with this in the 3rd century. There were heresies like that the trinity was hierarchical, God was here, Jesus middle, and Holy Spirit at the bottom, called the heresy of Subordination. And actually a whole slew of heresies surrounding the trinity came up again and again. And every time they settled, “hey Holy Spirit is a person too!” Why? Why did the early church, in light of God and Jesus always keep the Holy Spirit in the mix, even when it was confusing and even cause for muddling of their beliefs? 

Well, so let’s talk about the Holy Spirit today. What is it? How can we understand it better? How can it help us understand God and how God works in our lives? And you know what’s a good way to talk about the Holy Spirit? Metaphor! Sorry that was a little inside joke for the weekly attenders because last week I mentioned how every time I preach, I’m just like, “hey it’s a metaphor.” But hey, that’s what we’ve got with God-talk things. And Jesus always spoke in parables. Which parables and metaphors are not JUST a symbol of the real thing, but a thing that reveals the “real thing” sometimes in a more accurate manner than simply defining it. 

Jesus spoke in parables because it was truth set in context. Truth about God told in their own languages, about farming, oil candles, and brides. God-talk, religion, is always like this. It’s always set in context. Out of context, nothing makes sense. We understand one another more often than not because of some kind of shared context. Let me give you an example. 

When I first started learning English, learning idioms was the most difficult thing. That and culture. It made no sense to me to hear that, “it’s raining cats and dogs.” There wasn’t a good explanation for that idiom. I just had to keep living and speak English to understand it. And culture. I didn’t understand, growing up, why The Simpsons was such a funny or great show because even though I knew English, I generally didn’t understand the show. Jeopardy intimidated me, not because I wasn’t smart, because I knew I was smart, but I was just simply left out of the inside joke, or inside knowledge.

I didn’t get the references. After learning English at my grade level proficiency, you know what I did to become “more American?” I read and memorized the Trivia Pursuit that we picked up from a garage sale. Q: What painter is most famous for his series of water lilies? Q: Who played Sally Rogers in the Dick Van Dyke Show? Every card I flipped made me feel more American. 

Okay, why am I going on about this? I have a point I swear. I’ll get to what Holy Spirit is soon. 

Here’s why I’m giving you all this context to talk about the Holy Spirit. Dr. Kim in the book I mentioned says this:

“These debates (about trinity and the Holy Spirit) were largely grounded on Greek philosophy, and they relied on these categories to debate, discuss, and learn about God. This continued into the Medieval period and through the Reformation. European influence has dominated all Western discourse about the nature of God and theTrinity for two millennia. Take the phrase, the “absolute dependence on God,” coined by Friedrick Schleiermacher (1768-1834). It makes sense in a Eurocentric theology, but less so for African or Asian theologies. For example, in Asia, where there is heavy influence and practice of Buddhism, one practices ‘emptying’ rather than ‘dependence’. Schleiermacher’s way of thinking does not resonate or appeal to this Asian ideology as effectively as it may for the European mind. Euro-theology has shaped and molded Christian thinking for the past two thousand years. It’s difficult to shake off this kind of thinking or to allow different types of thinking to have any kind of prominence. Christian theology has too often been an  exclusive club for white, male, European theologians, without the necessary inclusion of minority voices and representation.”

When a person of color says things like this I think, it’s not anything against Europeans. I think Euro-centric thinking has contributed so much to christian theology. It’s “yes, and.” Yes, and. 

Conversations like this also unveil the fact that the American Christianity that many if not most of you have heard about or been in and around, is set in a particular context. One of the first things I learned in seminary that really blew my mind is postmodernism. A fancy way of saying bluntly a really harsh truth that: “there is no objective reality.” And not even in christianity.

There is no objective way to say something. Everything we say about God is set in context. There’s another fancy word that’s used in theology, sitz im leben, which is German for “setting in life.” This phrase was so central, I swear, everytime I had a test question that I wasn’t sure about in seminary, when in doubt, I mentioned this phrase and I probably got the test question right. 

It means that we need to distill everything we hear and learn through their sitz im leben, and then contextualize it to our own setting in life. How do we do that? Well, it’s hard. But there is so much that’s revealed in cross-cultural endeavors that many mono-cultured folks can’t help but have a need for backpacking trips through southeast Asia. It means that when you talk to someone from another country, the conversation slows down, not because they are slow, but because you’re in two different contexts.

You have to listen to things being explained like,

“In my country people….”

For me, being bi-cultural, American and Korean, has helped me so much in understanding Christianity and faith, something about the crossing of worlds between the ancient near east world of Jesus’ time and today’s world. That’s why there’s so many different translations of the Bible. And it can be said, they are all right.

So let me get to my translation of the Holy Spirit in my setting in life that has made a difference in my life. And for me to share it, is not a departure from scripture or “traditional” theology of the spirit because it is the spirit who lives and breathes through me that has given me this thinking. To see the Holy Spirit as Chi, which is the Chinese word for a kind of energy that flows through all of life, may feel like a jump to some but it feels like home for me.

I’m not Chinese but Chinese and Korean share a lot of history, they’re right next to each other. The Korean word would be Gi, but I just used Chi because more Americans are more familiar with Chi than Gi. See, I have to over explain. Asian American theologian Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim has helped me widen my theology. She talked about learning about the Holy Spirit through indiginous shamanism and through the understanding of vibration in science. She gave me permission to widen the box that God was in, that seemed to be bulging out at weird places and not working out for me. 

And actually many people of color, and also many white people these days are decolonizing faith. That just means that they are unpacking faith, translating it for themselves, making it their own. Even European missionaries have come to realize this, that when the local indigenous people embrace Christianity with and through their already existing ideologies and cultures, rather than a complete do-over, it tends to “stick” more. I do believe that this is what happened in the Bible text that I read today about Pentecost. That’s what the power of the Holy Spirit does. It speaks to each of us in our own language. 

The Spirit knows no bounds, no language, no culture. It moves in and through it all. And I’d like to point out that it makes it look like you’re doing something crazy. 

Have you felt this way, for some of us who have been beginning to decolonize your faith? Others think you’re crazy. Concerned that you’re moving away from the faith. That you’re drunk on wine at 9am in the morning. What, women can be pastors? Gay people can be pastors? What!? 

Christianity, I have something to say to you. This is how you survive the pluralistic postmodern world. We have to understand God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in the global context. Let the Spirit speak through all different languages just as it did on that FIRST day after Jesus ascended into heaven, Chapter 2 of Acts, the book that accounts the early history of the church. It’s not as much,

“get with the program”

as much as

“Let’s start at the beginning. A very good place to start.”

when the Spirit of God first blew through that room. 

Do you know how good it feels to get the reference? Something that is familiar. That you resonate with. They did this in classical music, which is euro-centric but really a brilliant time period and place of a music genre. Composers will use a formula that worked so well. At the beginning of a song they will introduce a very simple melody line. And then throughout the course of the song Mozart would play variations of that line, faster, slower, in a different key, but the best part is when that melody line comes back in the pure form, and you recognize it, that’s when the audience ears perk up, and they smile, and relax, and enjoy and feel a kind of resolution, and it stays with them, that original line. 

Seeing the Holy Spirit as Chi felt like that for me. The metaphors that worked at one time but failed to hold up at times – Greek philosophy, legal terms (think Calvin/reformation), and so on suddenly settled into my heart, mind, body, and soul like never before.

The Old Testament referred to the Spirit as Ruach, breath of God, and in the New Testament as pneuma, great metaphors of the life force in nature. Yes, And. Here’s what Dr. Kim said,

“An understanding of the association of chi with the Holy Spirit or identification of chi as the Holy Spirit enables us to learn that chi is divine and is the true healer of bodies. Chi has been and is continually being used in healing. Chinese emperors, philosophers, and physicians have understood healing with the movement of chi in the body. Most believed that illnesses occurred when one’s chi is blocked and therefore it was important to redirect the chi to flow within the body. In traditional Korean practice, these beliefs are still held. Hence the understanding of chi is fundamental to healing oneself.”

And what I needed wasn’t understanding but healing.

When I read Afrian-American Theologians like James Cone, in his beautiful beautiful book “The Cross and the Lynching Tree,” it would speak to me that what I needed wasn’t a savior but a liberator. 

Maybe the Holy Spirit as Chi speaks to some of you in your own language. Or maybe some of you are like, Lydia’s drunk on wine and it’s only 10 am in the morning. But that’s why I speak up, as jumbled as my words get sometimes. As illogical, incomprehensible, and nonsensical I feel sometimes. I hope it’s recognizable to at least a few of you. Because I also know how it feels to be the person who never got the reference. 

Whenever someone says anything in our church at Reservoir I hope, we say to ourselves.

“How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? American, Chinese, and Korean; as well as residents of South America, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil, Africa, Mali, Liberia, and Ghana, Haiti and Caribbean Islands, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the regions of Mexico bordering Texas; and visitors from India, and indigenous people, and Millenials, Gen Z, those who are on the autism spectrum, who struggle with anxiety and depression, who are differently abled, rich, poor, barely middle class, different gender identities—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!”

They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other,

“What does this mean?” 

I pray that we continue to get surprised and bewildered, asking again and again,

“What does this mean?”

together. Let me pray for us. 

Healing Spirit, that is always continually moving in and through us, reveal to us the power of your love and peace that surpasses all understanding, one that speaks specifically and uniquely to each of our understanding and being. Thank you for ever present power of the Holy Spirit, that greets us and meets us wherever we are, wherever we’re from, wherever we’re going. You are faithful. You are love. Help us know receive you we pray. Amen. 

 

 

The Kingdom of God Within

Luke 17:20-21

20 Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation;

21 nor will they say, [f]‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is [g]within you.”

Let me pray for us. 

Loving God, give us the grace to be in tune with you now. No matter where our hearts may be, no matter what’s on our minds, whether broken or scattered, or stubborn or indifferent, soften us through the power of your loving grace and mercy. We seek to create an empty space, a humbling space to hear truth, maybe through or maybe despite my words, that in the hearts and minds of each of us, you speak to us more loudly and clearly than anything I can arouse. Infuse in us the Holy Spirit, our teacher, our guide, who leads us and comforts us no matter the perils. Be with us now we pray and reveal to us your kingdom. Amen. 

I recently watched a film called My Octopus Teacher on Netflix. It was on the critically acclaimed list, so it must be good, and lately I am drawn to the sea, the ocean, the nature of all things that makes me feel small. It’s a documentary about a man, amidst a place of crisis and feeling stuck in life, decides to go back to one of his fondest childhood activities, diving underwater. There he encounters an octopus and from then on decides to go back to that same diving spot day after day, every day. He ends up going for more than 300 days, and the film captures that journey. Oh it’s beautifully shot. Just the wondrous and enchanting place that is underwater. And an octopus is a fascinating creature. Did you know that with its eight legs, sometimes on the ocean floor, it lands two of its legs down and walks, looking like a lady in an extravagant ball gown strutting about? 

I’ve been on a social media break lately and this journey of the filmmaker Craig Foster, intrigued me. The desire to just go underwater. Away from all the problems of the world, away from the busyness, the stress, and the pressures of life. Just dive down deep, and be completely engulfed in silence. 

I think spirituality can have that draw sometimes. In that deep spiritual presence of God in the inner places of my thoughts. That’s one of the reasons that this text today has always had a special place in my heart and in my theology. Kingdom of God within. The Kingdom of God within me! Oh how I longed to know and experience that. I have been so comforted by the knowledge that the name of God in Hebrew are breath vowels, YWHW, too holy to speak, that the Jewish people used a whole another name, Adonai when speaking of God. This breath that hovered over the waters in creation. The Holy Spirit as breath and wind has always spoken to me 

But can I be real with you? I landed on this text with the desire to share this particular idea, that God is inside you. That you can access God right here in your breath, as you look deeply close to your inner being. I wanted to say,

“See! Even Jesus said, God is within you!”

However the spirit of God had other plans and brought me to another place that I need to share with you. It was humbling, as I read and researched the text, that it wasn’t taking me where I was planning to go with it, but also more wondrous and expansive than my own spiritual longings. 

Just like my own spiritual longings, I think the church has also had this obsession with finding and pinpointing to that thing. That thing, that love, that peace, that kingdom of God, that reign of God when all is well and everything is good. While I was trying to find it here, it’s in here!

(When the text clearly says, 

no one can say, “look the kingdom of God, see right here, it’s here!”), 

the church has often pointed to a literal heaven, specifically the afterlife. This apocalyptic language that has been central to American Christianity didn’t come out of thin air, but yes, it was very rooted in the biblical apocalyptic language that existed to describe and talk about God, or the reign of God. Some called it Kingdom of Heaven, some called it Kingdom of God, interchangeably, and yes it was trying to get at that thing, I believe, that we’re all seeking for. The Jewish tradition sometimes calls it Shalom. That state of peace, but not just nice peace, but justice, harmony, interconnectedness. And so actually the rest of today’s text, Jesus does go on using this similar apocalyptic language, talking about Noah’s flood, and Sodom’s rain of fire.

Jesus says in verse 34-37,

34 I tell you, in that night there will be two [j]men in one bed: the one will be taken and the other will be left.

35 Two women will be grinding together: the one will be taken and the other left.

36 [k]Two men will be in the field: the one will be taken and the other left.”

37 And they answered and said to Him, “Where, Lord?” So He said to them, “Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.””

Apocalyptic language was a genre. But, well,  it was based on reality. Reality that under Roman’s rule, complete destruction from the enemy was absolutely a possibility for them. That was their impending doom.. 

The notable new testament scholar N.T. Wright says this,

“The passage does not refer to an event in which natural or supernatural forces will devastate a town, a region, or the known world; rather like so many of Jesus’ warnings in Luke, it refers to the time when enemy armies will invade and wreak sudden destruction. The word that means ‘vultures’ is the same word as ‘eagles’ (ancient writers thought vultures were a kind of eagle), and there may be a cryptic reference here to the Roman legions, with the eagles as their imperial badge.”

It wasn’t about the “end times” but it was about a real current threat, speaking to the lived fears of the day. Something that they were worried about, a political, military issue of their time. And Jesus was speaking right to it, about it. 

A slice of Christian theology has come to pinpoint the kingdom of God as entering heaven or hell in the afterlife, understandably based on such apocalyptic literature. Many of you, probably most of you are too familiar with this, even if you are new to faith or didn’t grow up in the church. But if you did, maybe even more so, you’ve heard about the importance of being baptized or converting to Christianity so that you may go to heaven after you die.

Somewhere along the line, a helpful metaphor to describe the current issue of the day, became a literal place that drove people into shame or fear to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. I do think the metaphor CAN be helpful, in revealing the truth, but sometimes I feel like… I preach about once a month and every time I preach, I just want to say, “it’s a metaphor!” And metaphors are powerful but it can be unhelpful and sometimes even toxic and dangerous when taken literally. 

I was talking to a friend who’s left the church for a while. They said,

“why should I care? Who really knows what happens after you die? What matters to me is my life right now? Why is my life the state that it’s in right now and what does God think about that? Why isn’t he doing anything about it? He just wants to be worshiped?”

My heart was sad to hear about their life situation, and worse that they thought God didn’t care. I couldn’t just say,

“But God does care!”

because then what about their life, their current real struggles. I didn’t have an answer to that. So I just sat there, wondering too,

“how do we know that God cares about us, right now, our lives?” 

Do you ever wonder that? If God cares about you? If God cares about your specific situation? 

Thomas Merton in his book Contemplation in a World of Action, addresses the concerns of spiritual contemplation versus participation in the world. He critiqued the Catholic church for

“giving up on the world and retreating into the abstract” (Odell)

He says,

““Is it enough to wall the monk off in a little contemplative enclave and there allow him to ignore the problems and crises of the world, should he forget the way other men have struggle for a living and simply let his existence be justified by the fact that punctually recites the hours in choir, attend conventual Mass, strives for interior perfection and makes an honest effort to “live a life of prayer”?””

Merton’s legacy lies in a turning point for him, a turning from traditional monk endeavors, from asceticism to a holy active participation and integration in the world. Apparently this happened in Kentucky, there lays a plaque that marks this,

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”” 

 

This thinking goes against some Christian teachings I’ve heard. We’re only visitors here. This is not our home. Our real home is heaven, where God has prepared a palace for us. In fact, if we’re last here, we’ll be first there. It has pitted people against themselves, only caring about the spiritual realm rather than the place where “God themself became incarnate”. I think that’s compelling. If it was all spiritual, why did Jesus ACTUALLY come to earth, at a specific time and place. Couldn’t things just be fixed or compelled through some kind of magical powers. Why did Jesus care about the social structure of the day and spoke out against it? Why did Jesus embody a body at all? Why did Jesus literally heal people instead of telling them their pain will be no more in heaven when they die? I believe that a God that decided to not just wave their hands high up in the sky but decides to come, join, live in this world is a God that deeply deeply cares for this material world. This physical world. One who cares about the “sorrows and stupidities of the human condition”. 

The warning, “Behold, the kingdom of God is coming” isn’t, wasn’t what we think it means. You see things get lost in translation. Some languages have a much more nuance to things sometimes, that can be captured through a wide varied way of conjugating a verb. I experience this as an English as a Second Language speaker, I know, you probably think, wow her English is really good, and yes I worked hard to learn English because English is really hard. Learning a new language is really difficult because it’s not just speech, it’s ideas, it’s movement, it’s concept you are trying to understand.

For example in Korean, there are many ways to saying, “She’s coming over. You could say, “she’s on her way.” or “She’s about to come” or “She was about to come” which, you know the difference between the two sentences when the only difference is two letters. Or “She was coming” and then it connotes that maybe something else happened. 

When this text was translated,

“the Kingdom of God is within you.”

Turns out there are many different ways to translate this. Listen to variations. 

One could say, “Within you, within your hearts.” Or “Among you, in your midst.” Which is a HUGE difference because one is personal and individual, whereas the latter is PLURAL and COMMUNAL. And even not pinpoint-able but in the movement within you. Like the Kingdom of God is not here(person) or here (person) but here (the in-between them two). 

I have an old critical commentary of the Bible that my dad bought from a book dealer in Korea when he was in seminary. Its first print dates 1901. And it says that it wouldn’t have made sense for Jesus to say that it’s in your heart, because he was talking to the Pharisees, which he was always making the point that they were not getting the point.

Cyril of Alexandria, a writer from the 4th century, makes it mean,

“lies in your power to appropriate it.” 

The kingdom of God lies in your power to appropriate it. REALLY? N.T. Wright puts it similarly,

“The phrase (in your midst) is more active. It doesn’t just tell you where the kingdom is; it tells you that you’ve got to do something about it. It is ‘within your grasp’; it is confronting you with a decision…”

My seminary professor said, “the Kingdom of God is coming” is more like,

“The kingdom of God is right in front of your nose.”

And my translation would be,

“The kingdom of God is about to be all up in your face. What are you gonna do about it?” 

The kingdom of heaven is not up there, or after we die. The kingdom of heaven is right here and the question isn’t where it is but what are you going to do about it? 

The end of the film, My Octopus Teacher says this, and I’m not spoiling it for you, because it’s impossible for me to spoil the visual magnificence of the film by quoting it, but he closes by saying,

“What she taught me was to feel… that you’re part of this place, not a visitor. That’s a huge difference.”

This has implications not only to the social political problems of the day, but also for us these days to our environment, which I don’t have time to get into now. But the spirit of God, the reign of God includes you, your body, our earth, your problems, the octopus, the war, and everything in-between, all in our midst. How could that be? I don’t know. But that seems to be the invitation here, The kingdom of God lies in your power to appropriate it. Is that too close for comfort? Is that too much power in our hands instead of God or Jesus? That’s what Jesus seems to be saying…

I’ll leave you with another quote from Jesus, from John 14:12. He says,

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”

THEY WILL DO EVEN GREATER THINGS THAN THESE. You will do even greater things than Jesus! Do you believe that? I don’t know. Let’s pray about it. I don’t know, that’s the end of my talk. Let’s pray. 

God how can it be. What are humans that you are mindful of them? Human beings that you care for them? You have given us your spirit to be with us, and have charged us with your call. Help us to see and listen, and participate in the great wave of your power blowing over the waters of chaos. Oh Spirit, compel us to realize that we are co-creators, conduits of your kingdom here and now, on earth as we imagine it in “heaven”, may it be, let us be that. WE pray in the strong name of Jesus Christ Amen. 

The Power of Christ. Strength in Weakness.

Good morning. My name is Lydia Shiu, one of the pastors here at Reservoir Church and I’m going to share some words with you for the next 20 minutes or so about how God relates to us when we are feeling weak. 

But first, I want to take a moment to invite ourselves to the here and now and give you a chance to bring yourself fully to this moment. Maybe close your eyes if you’d like, take a few deep breaths.

How are you landing here today? What are you bringing in here with you to this moment? 

Now imagine walking up to a bookcase. Feel free to place some things on the shelves, maybe worries you have, to do lists, relationships or conflict to resolve, for now, whatever you can let go, place it in the empty bookshelf to give yourself the space to be present to now. 

Let me pray for us. 

Holy and Loving God, who is the source of all things, creator of all things, the beginning and the end. We have come into this space today, I think for a reason. Maybe for an encouragement. Maybe for some light to be shined on to some messy things going on in our lives. Maybe for refreshment. Or maybe we’re not sure what or how we’re doing. But however we find ourselves this morning, you know us, you know where each of us are in our hearts. I pray that you will meet us, by the power of your Holy Spirit that gently and firmly holds us exactly how we need to be held today. Would you meet us here and reveal to us the power of your love. That no matter what we may be going through, that you see us and you know us and move toward us with grace and compassion. We pray in Jesus name, Amen. 

Our Scripture reading today comes from 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. This is Paul writing about a thorn on his side, in the midst of his suffering, what Jesus said to him. 

9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

What do you think of when you think of power? Power to do good. Power to do bad. 

I can’t help but wonder, on this Fourth of July weekend celebrating the Independence Day of the United States of America, how much powerless America once was, as a mere  colony of the British gaining independence, and how that young and scrappy country over the centuries have come to annihilate whole people groups that were natives to the land of North America, enslaved various large people groups from Africa, and some South America, and Asia, and wielded military, political, and social power around the globe in various form to influence for both good and bad in many situations throughout the years. 

And so power can be a tricky thing to define. 

It’s like money. Another one many of us have a complicated relationships with, maybe. I’ve heard a Christian say, “You know, it’s like the Bible says, ‘money is the root of all evil’.” To which I didn’t want to come off annoying as a pastor to correct inaccurate Bible quoting and did not respond with, “Actually it says the “LOVE of money is the root of all evil.” Money and power, often so misunderstood. And so how are we to understand this text about power and weakness? I’ll give you a hint. It’s not a dichotomy, one or the other. It’s an oxymoron, seemingly contradictory but perhaps quite true. 

I love these two verses because it’s so hard to understand. It doesn’t make any sense and yet it makes all the sense. 

You see, I have this question that’s been nagging at me. It knocks and knocks as I scroll through stories of politics under the disguise of Christian values, that’s the same religion as mine, enacting laws that oppress women, known to impact more women of color and more women without financial means. It raps harder and harder as I read any history books on the Christian power that have been at the center of colonialism, erasure of indigenous people, slavery and conversion of nations, mass killings of Jews–This is what I struggle with about my own faith, a faith that has given me such hope and life at most difficult times in my life. But my religion, this question NAGS at me when I pray, when I read the Bible, when I think about God and my world. How do I reconcile with the religion that has been the center of power for oppression, violence, and abuse?

How do we reconcile with the religion that has been the center of power for oppression, violence, and abuse?

How do I make sense of this when I have seen people, powerful people, use “Christ’s Power” to further insult people, keep people weak, persecute the LGBTQIA community, lock people into poverty and the criminal injustice system, instead of liberating them and raising them up, and loving them and embracing them, including them at the table? 

It doesn’t add up to this 2nd Corinthians chapters 10 verse 9-10. 

I don’t see weakness, and gentleness, and mercy, and grace under the banner of Christianity in America today. I see gun clenched hands that insist, “don’t take away my right and my power to kill if I need to at any time.” 

And I’m sorry but it does not make me feel good to see the sweet face of Jesus, bulked up in muscles and wrapped up in guns and the American flag, because that name Jesus is so sweet and tender to me. The Jesus I know?

Jesus came for the sick

Luke 5:31

Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”

He said that’s why he came, for the sick. 

Feminist theologian Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza reminds us that all the parables speak of this, in her book called, “In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins.” 

She says,

“The parable of the creditor who freely remits the debts of those who cannot pay… Or the gracious goodness of God by stressing that women, even public sinners, can be admitted to the Jesus movement in the conviction that “they will love more”.”

Cause Jesus said in

Luke 7:47

Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.

Jesus came for the sick. The debtor. The sinner. 

Yes, listen to the parable of the Lost Sheep.

Luke 15:3-10

3 Then Jesus told them this parable:

4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?

5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders

6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’

7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

Jesus came for the 1 lost one. 

And Jesus goes on to say in The Parable of the Lost Coin

8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins[a] and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?

9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’

10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Dr. Fiorenza says this,

“Jesus thus images God as a woman searching for one of her ten coins, as a woman looking for her money that is terribly important to her. In telling the parable of the woman desperately searching for her money, Jesus articulates God’s own concern, a concern that determines Jesus’ own praxis for table community with sinners and outcasts. The parable then challenges the hearer: do you agree with the attitude of God expressed in the woman’s search for her lost “capital”?”

Do you? Are we?… Concerned with power, strength, security, prosperity, of our own, or are we boasting, prioritizing, and centering the stories of those who are weak, insulted, facing hardship, persecutions, difficulties? Where do we put our attention? 

You know what’s really powerful? 

In the book Know My Name by Chanel Miller, a memoir of the Stanford rape victim that happened in 2015 talks about power and the courage of rape victims. 

I couldn’t find the quote because the book was on hold for like 25 weeks on the library app. She was the Emily Doe behind the viral Victim Impact Statement that was viewed 15 million times within five days of its publication in 2016. Years later, she wrote a memoir and in it she said that it doesn’t take anything to scoff. It doesn’t take any energy or effort to unleash mean, snarky, sarcastic comments. It’s easier to do that.  It does take so much strength and courage, lots of patience and will power to withhold one ‘s pain and anger, especially when it’s instigated or when you’re cornered.

Miller talks about the unmitigated sneer and anger of men in the courtrooms versus the withholding of emotions of women victims that’s churning a sea of distress just underneath the witness stand’s surface. And how that courage is often not credited but instead questioned as, “see it didn’t impact her at all.” or “why is she talking about this so many years later” rather than seeing the strength it takes to tell the story of her possibly worst moment at all. 

You know when you’re in an argument, not saying the most hurtful thing is the art of peace that I have not mastered. It takes every ounce of me connecting myself to my breath in and breath out to not react out of fangs of my teeth when someone really hurts me. When something really upsets me, I have to try my hardest to not take it out on the people closest to me because it’s not their fault. It’s easier to take it out on them. It’s harder to not react. 

Do you think God was weak to let Jesus die? You think Jesus let them beat him and hang him on the cross because he was a coward? No, many of us who have been won by the love of Christ know the power of the cross already. God was able to do that because of God’s power of love. I think God’s power of love led Jesus to a place of aligning himself with utter vulnerability, one who is pushed out by the people, tried as a criminal by the state, and executed publicly. 

Social researcher, Brene Brown has taught us about the power of vulnerability, she says,

“Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our most accurate measure of courage.”

She also said,

Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

Isn’t it weird? How it works? That to experience difficulties, and to be weak, is when actually we are strong? Paradox is such a funny concept! 

It’s like when you’re white knuckling through life, you’re actually trying too hard to be in control that your body is stiff and you’re just working so hard and trying to get everything in order only to find yourself in the middle of 10,000 plates spinning, and they’re all about to fall apart. Whereas if only, you had taken the time, slowed down to take deep breaths, being mindful of what’s really important and what’s really happening, that the one plate you spin is giving you flow in ease in life that you even begin to relax and rest and smile. 

So I’m starting to get to the age where I’m reading articles in The Atlantic titled, The Two Choices That Keep a Midlife Crisis at Bay. The first choice I didn’t really get but the second, the writer Arthur C. Brooks said this:

The second decision: Choose subtraction, not addition. Early in life, success usually comes from addition: more money, more responsibility, more relationships, more possessions. Life in early adulthood is like filling up an empty canvas. By midlife, however, that canvas is pretty full, and more brushstrokes make the painting worse, not better. This explains why studies find that the most common concerns reported by middle-aged adults involve getting everything done in their busy life, their energy level, job complications, and insufficient sleep.”

Subtraction not addition. Another way to put it, maybe more letting go. More surrendering. Not powering up but maybe taking the backseat, slowing down. And with life, sometimes it forces you to take the back seat with setbacks or hardships or health problems. 

Last week I was driving my daughter to gymnastics. Which apparently is watching Jungle Book together on a bouncy mat. Anyways. I was struggling to get out the door, wanting to feed the little brother as much milk as possible, cause he needs to grow, and wanted to do her hair so it doesn’t get in her face when she’s doing her tumble on the bar, wanting to make sure she had the right outfit so she’s not the only one in a big tshirt and pajama pants when all the other girls had rainbow color leotards. I buckled my seatbelts and pulled out of the driveway and may or may not have breathed out a quiet curse word as I saw my eta on the gps. 

I was on that one street in Belmont, you know the one right at the bridge, after all the shops, omg I hate that intersection. It has no stop signs, no lights, and people are coming from all different directions and turning into the street. 8:30am. Rush hour. We’re bumper to bumper, all inching forward, and I’m gonna turn left at the next street, and I see that that lane, it’s wide open. I’m so swift, I see it, no one else sees it, everyone else is just stuck right here in this lane, and I’m like I’m going for it. I change lanes and I’m free and BAM the car in front of me thought the same thing right after me and hit me. 

We were okay. Just a little side swipe. I ended up being 30 minutes late instead of five. Poor girl Sophia was crying going, “when are we going to gymnastics?” 

Setback. I was so humbled. I thought I was a super mom, trying to get everything and rush. Instead I was a mess. It would’ve been better if I was just a little less in a rush, going a little slower, and not white knuckling my steering wheel the whole drive. 

How can we turn this *white knuckling* into this *open hands* or this *hands on heart*. That Christ’s power may REST, it says REST, not rise up and broadcasted , but Christ’s power may rest on us. Let’s not man up. Let’s be vulnerable. Let’s not be cool, let’s be warm. Let’s not be super moms but late to gymnastics mom driving slowly. Let’s let Christ’s power rest on all of our limitations, shortcomings, struggles, difficulties. Because God’s grace is sufficient for us. God’s grace is enough for you, yes, even you. Will you let God pour into your empty cup and overflow their abundant gracious merciful love? Especially when you’re weak, God will meet you there, and make you strong. For when I am weak. I am strong. For when I am weak. I am strong. May that be true for us my friends, may you be strengthened in your weakness. 

Let me pray for us. 

God, author of our lives. As we stumble through our chapters, would you remind us of the big throughline that runs through it all. Your love. Your grace. Whether in the heights of our career, place in life, love life, influence in community or whatever, or in the depths of our own addiction, struggling in depression and loneliness, battling through a difficult marriage, watching our parents or children in pain of their own lives, whatever may befall, God will you humble us and lifts us up? Will you comfort us and give us strength? We’re such beautiful messes, but through your power, make us perfect. Really? Yeah make us perfect, we ask you this in your precious and holy name, who was crucified and resurrected, Jesus Christ, Amen. 

Love Is…a Confession

Genesis 3:7-21

7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as God was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

9 But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

11 And God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

“Cursed are you above all livestock

    and all wild animals!

You will crawl on your belly

    and you will eat dust

    all the days of your life.

15 And I will put enmity

    between you and the woman,

    and between your offspring[a] and hers;

he will crush[b] your head,

    and you will strike his heel.”

16 To the woman God said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;

    with painful labor you will give birth to children.

Your desire will be for your husband,

    and he will rule over you.”

17 To Adam God said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;

    through painful toil you will eat food from it

    all the days of your life.

18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,

    and you will eat the plants of the field.

19 By the sweat of your brow

    you will eat your food

until you return to the ground,

    since from it you were taken;

for dust you are

    and to dust you will return.”

20 Adam[c] named his wife Eve,[d] because she would become the mother of all the living.

21 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.

 

I sometimes really don’t like the subtitles they put on top of the different sections of the Bible chapters. This one I read just now, some have it titled, “The Fall” or “The First Sin and Its Punishment,” The editors of the Bible are presenting their understanding and theology, or the moral of the story to the reader. Its insistence and presumed authority doesn’t sit well with me, but then again I feel like that with most power and authority exercised this way. 

It’s like when my girl is playing. The other night she put on a variety of things on herself as a costume, a karate belt over one shoulder, my scarf on the other, a cape, one of my husband’s slippers on her leg and the other on her wrist. She twirled and said it was a show. And we sat and clapped saying, what a wonderful show! And I said, Jaga (that’s what I call her) is princess, because that’s what she’s been into, and she said, no! This is a “Jaga wears a weird costume show.” I said okay, Jaga wears a weird costume show wow! She handed me a piece of paper, and I said, oh is this the show notes? And she said, No! It’s a bonus card. Oh okay, thank you for the bonus card.

She hates it when you don’t listen to her directions when we’re playing. And when you listen, you find out what’s important to her. I pay attention to what and how she names, the animal, the activity, to find out how she understands the world. And honestly, it’s usually much more rich, beautiful, and fascinating than my cliches and norms. 

Our Kids Church curriculum uses a method called Godly Play, which names stories from the Bible that’s not only easier to understand for children but also in ways that are theologically appropriate. Godly Play names this Genesis 3 story as not the Fall, but “The Falling Apart: The falling apart and coming back together in a new way.” Now isn’t that a better title than “The First Sin and its Punishment?” I think so!

As a pastor, one of my jobs is translating things into today’s context, for our day to day lives. And the language sin and punishment was one way to explain and capture this relationship we have with God, that may have worked, and even worked well at one time, but I would say for me, today, it needs reworking. The title “The Fall,” this concept of things being right, and then when wronged, you fall from the graces, is trying to explain what’s happening. But what if, what if it wasn’t so hierarchical, where God is here, and you are supposed to be here, and when you sin you fall. What if, like the Godly Play title, it’s less about hierarchy and what’s right and wrong, but about relationship, the element of estrangement and turning away, the falling apart of love, and that it can be put back together in a new way. 

Today I want to talk about this, how to come back together in a new way. We’re in the series of talking about Love is…, and I titled it Love is a Confession. And I’m purposely using the “old” language, confession to try for us to go deeper into the word, get through some of the ways it has been used to coerce or control, and redefine it to find the truth of what it was trying to get at–it was never about just coming clean, but coming back. You don’t have to be clean, you just have to come back in a new way.

Understanding God through sin and confession has often been this way: you sin, you confess, and then you’re forgiven and right with God. There’s something about the act of confession that is true, but over the years, it became a ritual, and then a rule, and then just a thing you had to do. 

I think about the catholic tradition. I don’t know much except from movies and things, where you go into a little box and the priest listens from the other side and absolves you of your sin. And the concept of penance, which feels definitely archaic and foreign, even strange, that you should do something because of your guilt or shame. And at the same time, the process of moving from something wrong to something right, does seem like there needs to be some way to make it up. 

During the Reformation, the 16th century when some folks were trying to reform the catholic church, some of these traditions shifted to align with the ever progressing theology of the times. The sacrament of penance was done away with but there still needed to be some way that people could practice getting honest and real with God. So they came up with the corporate confession of sin, changing the “I confess” to “we confess.” And the underlying theology behind it was, not that you must confess in order to receive forgiveness but it became part of the liturgy, the work of the people, a kind of storytelling through declaration in worship. And this is where we got it right. [picture] Jesus is so lucky to have us.

You don’t come to receive worship, you exercise worship. You are doing the work. You are proclaiming and telling the story together. So an act in worship, like a prayer of confession, is less an act of transaction but a declaration, to say we confess boldly and safely because God’s grace and mercy is enough and abundant. By confessing our sins, we confess that God is safe, loving, and compassionate. 

Because if it is not safe, you should not confess. 

A while ago a person emailed me and the other pastors a confession. I’ve gotten their permission to share. Here’s what it said:

I am asking that you continue to keep me in your prayers as I try and gain control over my need to smoke marijuana as well as binge eating. I’ve turned to these unhealthy behaviors as a way to cope with my fears and anxiety.  

Although I know that God is with me during the good and bad times… I also found comfort with these unhealthy behaviors. It’s been my dirty little secret that I felt too embarrassed to talk about or ask for prayer. In order for me to continue this path of emotional and physical healing, it’s time to address these issues. 

God has been nudging my soul and telling me that it’s time to break away from these behaviors and it’s okay to talk about it to others. During this season of Advent I’ve been praying for full liberation from the things that are holding me back from finding my inner peace. This past Tuesday, I made a promise to myself that I was no longer going to smoke marijuana or binge eat. I’ve had an eating disorder since I was a little girl. In the past I have seeked help for this but when we went on lockdown last year, my eating disorder came back. 

Today was my second day of not smoking… I was really naive in thinking because I am a light smoker that my body would not crave it if I stopped… Well I was wrong. Today was really rough but I refuse to continue to allow this to have control over me. I am and will overcome this need to turn to marijuana. Not smoking has also helped with wanting to binge eat. I know that I can do this… It’s not going to be easy but it must be done! I can honestly say being back at Reservoir Church has definitely helped in SO many ways. So thank you for all your prayers as I continue this path of finding inner peace and a closer connection with God.

It was a big thing for this person to share. When you feel like you have a secret, it feels like that. And really, we humans, all the ways we lie, cheat, steal, gloat in pride, manipulate and so on. And all that we do to cover it because we feel bad about it only makes it worse sometimes. In fact, I would go as far as to say, often it’s not even the act itself that eats us, but the secrecy and the shame from the act.

That’s why I wanted to share Genesis 3 with you today, despite the gender problematic  language in the second creation story, as opposed to the first one, which pastor Ivy read from last week, “let us make humankind in our image.” You see, the Bible is okay with diversity, even two opposing accounts of the creation. And that is what we have. Please if you’ve never heard about this, it makes a world of difference to our faith to know this one fact.

We have two creation stories. And the Jewish texts were okay laying them right next to one another. Genesis 1 is the first creation account. And 2-3 is the second creation account. We know this because the stories are two completely different styles. In fact they have two different names for God. The first one called God Elohim, and the second calls it Yahweh, which is why the biblical scholars distinguish the two to be one from the Elohist tradition and Yahwist tradition: They come from two different traditions! 

And it just so happens that the Elohist captures the creation of human beings born out of a community, let us make humankind in our image, God created them, male and female. Whereas in the Yahwist tradition, man is created first and then the whole story about the rib and Eve, AND it includes this sin and fall story. 

Honestly I think the second creation story honestly is just someone, a man, trying to explain the reason behind patriarchy with things like, God talked to the man first, and how all this came about because he listened to his wife, which he shouldn’t have, which is why after the fall her desire will be for her husband, and he will rule over her. Yes, I agree with Yahwists that this is a result of a broken world and that there is a way toward renewed relationship that is sewn back in a new way. There’s more I can and want to say but I’m running out of time. 

I picked text because I have a different point than we should confess. This text doesn’t even have an apology or a confession. Look at the man and the woman, they both shift blame and make excuses. Can you relate? 

But look at what God is doing. Always look at that, in any Bible story, what is God doing? The first thing God does here is ask,

“Where are you?” 

God says,

“Where are you?” 

God is looking for you. And the things that follow, they can be seen as punishment,  but it has also served as stories that explain how things came to be like why snakes don’t have legs. But after that part, how does the story end? God elevates the man-made fig leaves to garments of skin and clothed them.

God looks for you and covers you. 

Where are you?

What have you done? 

There might be some consequences but more importantly, come here, put this on. Let me cover you. Let me protect you. 

This is the work of confession. Confession is a response to God’s love, not a prerequisite. It’s a proclamation of a God that loves you, cares for you, looks for you, wants to bring you back to make things new, and sews us back together with Godself. This is our confession, not what we have done wrong but who God is regardless. Our Confession is actually, not sin, but Love. 

Let me pray for us. 

God of Love who calls us back again and again. Call us back even now, even if we were to say the things that we’re most ashamed of right now, you lift up our chins with your loving hand and say, welcome home. Lead us back to you, no matter where we’ve been, that is what we confess God… Here I am. Deliver us, back to you we pray. Amen. 

Love is…Mussing Up Someone’s Hair

I’m coming to you from my house, pre recording this sermon because, surprise, I’ve been exposed to Covid. Hope you are all well, and getting through these times with some sustained energy. 

We just started a series called Love is… and all I can think of is, “What is love? Baby don’t hurt me~” Sorry, it’s an old movie reference, called A Night at the Roxbury, if you don’t get it.  

The question is legit though. It is THE question. What is love? 

When I started developing crushes, this was a very important question for me. 

I remember being in the 4th grade, and there was this kid named Robbie, who was just so cute, even gave me a hand written Christmas card, and no we weren’t doing an activity in class where we had to write a card to everyone, it was just to me. 

I got the card and it said, “I stole this card from my sister. Merry Christmas!” 

And I thought, is this love? 

Often when I had questions, I’d go to the library to find answers. And there was this one book that I still remember to this day, that guided me along these heart wrenching times, called ‘Love is… walking hand in hand’ from the Charlie Brown and the Peanut gallery. Each page gave me real examples of what love was, that were clear and defined. One page said that “Love is meeting someone by the pencil sharpener.” And that year I sharpened my pencil a lot.

Today I want to specifically talk about, as pastor Ivy showed us in our Spiritual Practice, Love is Mussing Up Someone’s Hair. 

I saw this kind of thing happen during Christmas, with one of my friend’s kid, a 10-year-old boy who has selective mutism, who didn’t really know how to interact with my son, a 1-year-old baby. And he would just come up and touch his hair, it was so cute. 

I’ve also been watching this reality dating show on Netflix. Don’t judge me, it’s not as trashy as you’d think, being a reality show. It’s called Single’s Inferno, where a bunch of single people are placed on an island, kind of like Survivor show style.

They’re sleeping in a tent and have bare minimum to eat and not much to do except date. They have some games and prompts that if you win, you get to pick your partner to go to “paradise” with, which is literally a hotel and resort called Paradise, and you get to stay in a suite room with room service with the date of your choice for one night. 

And it’s so hilarious and cute how small things matter so greatly when there isn’t much else to do except think about feelings for each other. When someone decides to sit next to someone at the bonfire, when someone takes a walk with this person as opposed to that person, or when someone touches someone’s hair while talking–the drama!

One guy starts falling for a girl because she said to him, “you look nice in pink. Pink is my favorite color.” Or another guy pointed out how cute it was that someone said to him, “hurry hurry go up!” while they were walking behind them on the stairs. But one of the biggest sacrifices one makes for love, or show of affection here is that they would rather stay in the Inferno (the island) rather than go to Paradise with another person. 

You know why I call myself Christian? Because I am enamored by God’s grand gesture of love. Pastor Ivy put it really well recently. She said,

“God comes to the edge of God’s own divinity and knocks on our human hearts and says, ‘May I come in?’ ” 

God decided to leave paradise, all that’s associated with being a divine being, gave it all up to be with us and one of us. 

Philippians 2 says that Jesus “Instead, gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position, was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form.” 

And when God decided to do this, I think God came to mess up our hairs a bit. God came into our space, got in our realm, and began to shake things up a bit. That’s what’s compelling to me about Jesus. Christian theology says,

What does God look like? It looks like Jesus, who came into this world as a helpless baby, born not in a palace but a manger, rode not on a high horse but a humble donkey, and instead of exercising all his might, humbled himself actually to death. 

Who is God? What does God do? Who is Jesus? What did Jesus do? There are many things we can say, that have been said, that Jesus died for our sins, or God saves us, or God protects or Jesus cares  or whatever. But at the end of the day, why, why did God do any of these things? 

1 Corinthians 13 talks about prophecies, fathoming mysteries and knowledge, and faith to move mountains, giving all I possess to the poor or surrendering bodies to the flames, and says all that is nothing, if you don’t have love.

All of theological debates can be ended with, God is love. God did all that because God loves you. Why do we care about justice, welcome the refugees, normalize pronouns to expand our concept of gender binary, include the outcast, why do we confess our sins, why do we gather together as a community, why do we bother to do any of these things, because of love! 

How have you been enamored by God’s love? There are many different kinds of love that can help us understand the love of God and romantic love is definitely a metaphor that’s used even in the Bible. Song of songs is all about love, sensuality, flirting, and even sexuality, and it’s been included in the Bible as a way for us to know God’s love for us.

So think about romantic relationships or love interests in your life. Think about your dating life. I think it’s interesting to think about dating love because love after marriage is one thing, but when you’re dating, things kind of heightened, like the show I was telling you about. Like first walking into their apartment. Or the first time you have a misunderstanding. At every step of the way you’re looking and aware, and asking, could this be love? There are seasons in our faith journey where our relationship with God can feel like that. You’re looking and seeing, God, are you speaking, are you initiating, do you love me?

  • And how have you involved God in your life?
  • How have you been open and vulnerable, inviting God into your messy room or seen you without your makeup?
  • Or have you ghosted God?
  • Have you invited God to parts of your life that you’re not so proud of?

Would you believe it if I said, God sees that insecure, dark, shamed parts of you and still loves you and moves closer to you? And calls you back for the next date? 

Or even if you’re thinking about a long-term relationship, after a long season of unemployment, depression, or physical illness, maybe even years after, they don’t go anywhere, but says I’m here, I love you, no matter what. 

How have you developed lovey dovey relationships with God? How has God messed up your hair and got all up in your space, every nook and cranny of your life? Do you even expect that from God? Or is God far off in a distance, perfect, and you only go near God when things are good? 

1 John 4:16 says that God is love.

Whatever you think love is, or love should be, or the love you hope for, that, that is God. 

And it goes on to say in

verse 19 We love because God first loved us.

20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a sibling is a liar. For whoever does not love their neighbors, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.

Because God loved us first, let us love one another. 

And what does it look like to love one another? Honestly, it’s really hard. 1 John and other New Testament writers wrote a lot about this, loving one another, because they ran into problems of actually not loving each other well! In Ephesians, Paul is writing to a church in Ephesus with some words of encouragement. But they weren’t just words of encouragement, they were pleas and discipline.

Chapter 4 starts with,

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,

You don’t beg someone to do something when they’re already doing it. He was begging because they were acting up. He is petitioning them,

verse 2, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.

I want to spend the rest of our time talking about this 2nd verse and I’ll close. 

These were his tips and advice on how to get along, because this church, they weren’t getting along. The content of Paul’s letter lets us know that there were factions and divisions happening, external influences to the church that were causing problems, there were marital and family problems. He gives this wisdom to, please please you guys, I’m begging you, be humble, gentle, patient and bear one another. 

Now I don’t want to use this verse just to tell you, be more humble. Be more gentle. Always be patient! Because that’s not preaching, that’s nagging. And frankly, churches and systems have used this verse to tell people to know your role, get in line, and obey. Again I’d like to remind you that Paul didn’t write this as an instruction on how to love at all times. He was RESPONDING to conflict with these invitations.

And they are good advice generally. Yes, lead with humility and gentleness. Let’s be patient with each other. And then there are times when we need to be strong, confident, and urge one another. What I’m saying is that when you try to love one another, be a community and be a church, conflict is bound to happen. In fact I’ll go as far as to say, that’s what it means to love, to engage in conflict, to like I’ve been saying, mess up someone’s hair? That’s really vulnerable.

It’s getting entangled with one another. It’s sharing space to show your faults or weaknesses. It’s putting yourself out there and leaving the possibility of getting hurt. It’s caring too much that sometimes you might get disappointed or angry. Cause if you didn’t care? You’d be indifferent. If you didn’t care, it’d be perfect. If you didn’t love, your hair would be perfect and no one would mess it up. The most important thing that I want to point out from this verse actually is, BEAR. Bear one another. 

Bearing is holding up a burden. Bearing is tiring. Bearing means that there’s stress and struggle. It’s not free of difficulties. And you know what else it means? It means, you stay. You show up. You engage. You endure.

You know, showing up to church, even logging onto Youtube, it’s not ideal. It’s not the easiest thing sometimes. Engaging in a relationship, texting someone not knowing how they’ll respond, it’s work. 

I’ve been alluding to the metaphor of dating in talking about love today. Love is… Not breaking up. Even when things get hard. 

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not condemning breakups or divorce. Sometimes there is, when you’ve done all the humble, gentle, patient, and bearing, a time to give up. A time to heal. A time to change. And all that, we do it for love. Love of God, love of others, and love of self. That’s the work of love, trying and being there, showing up, again and again. 

We’re so isolated these days. It’s hard to engage even with church with all these restrictions in place with masks, can’t see any smiles, can’t sing sometimes, can’t even sit next to or hug someone. And well we definitely can’t mess up each other’s hair.  Maybe let’s find our way somehow, to figure out how to do that.

Let’s get in each other’s metaphorical spaces. Let’s call them. Let’s face a new person that you don’t know. Let’s Zoom as dreadful as it feels sometimes but it’s a nice tool. Facetime someone. Show up on someone’s porch even if it’s a sad wave from the stairs. One of you did that last week for me, dropped off a covid test and waved and it meant so much. 

I know many of you are tired of this pandemic. And I am too. But you know what, we’re strong. We’re resilient. We must bear through these times, and we can. To live is to endure. Endure one another. We must. 

So I beg you, much like Paul begged the Ephesians, let us bear one another. Let’s get in there, even if it’s easier to just check out. 

Steve’s been telling you about the relational meetings in last week’s email and through the blog in your inboxes. Check it out. Give it a try. Like downloading a dating app and creating your profile for the first time, it’s hard at first. But put love out there. You can fill out this form in the chat and get matched with someone. Maybe you’ll go to paradise together! You never know! May we, reach out, and love one another, because Jesus first loved us, with sweatpants and messy hair don’t care, and hop on a Zoom call. May we love one another, especially right now. 

Let me pray for us. 

Good and gracious God, do you see us right now? Maybe with a messy bun, no shave, maybe not even a shower. Do you see us, kneeling maybe in a pool of our own loneliness and depression tears, or at the top of our arrogance and ego? Do you see us busying about the best we can, as we work from home in this pandemic? Do you see us, afraid to get vaccinated no matter the pressures we feel? Do you see us, waiting on vaccination for our little ones? Do you see us? We cry out to you. 

The God of our friend Jesus, who has shown us that he sits with the outcast, eats with the poor, heals the broken, —be with us now. Sit with us. Heal us, we pray. May we be open to the love that you are pouring into us, open up and maybe even let that love overflow to this dry land we find ourselves in these days. Wash over us we pray these things in your love. Amen. 

So Like, How Do You Pray?

For this week’s Events and Happenings, click “Download PDF.”

Good Morning and Happy New Year. I’m pastor Lydia, my pronouns are she/they. I’m going to talk about prayer today. Let me read our Bible text to engage in this conversation and pray for us to start. 

Matthew 6:9-15

9 “This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

10 your kingdom come,

your will be done,

    on earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us today our daily bread.

12 And forgive us our debts,

    as we also have forgiven our debtors.

13 And lead us not into temptation,[a]

    but deliver us from the evil one.[b]’

Let me pray for us. 

God we humbly come into this space of worship. Some of us longing and waiting for you to show up. Some of us with great hopes and expectations for the new year. Some of us still in the middle of struggles, difficulties, hardships battling addiction, sickness, or trying to take care of loved ones in need. Wherever we are this morning, would you open up the clouds and shine through, that no one could deny the love that you have poured out to us today, lift us up with your word we pray. Amen. 

The first day I started working at Reservoir Church, I came into the office, not knowing exactly what to expect. I had come here after many emails, phone calls, video calls, and a weekend visit, but that was it. I moved from California with my husband to Boston for this job to be a pastor at this church, without knowing a lot. I remember meeting Leah and Christine who worked at the office across from my office, an organization called Theology of Work that one of our members Will Messenger leads.

Leah and Christine were really sweet and kind, asking me how my first day was going. I think I probably told them about adjusting to the move, not sure how I’m going to face the Boston winter and things. And right in the middle of the conversation they quickly said, can we pray for you, and without much grandeur or movement, easily and swiftly said, “so Jesus…” and began praying for me. 

Now I come from a Presbyterian background. Which, if you don’t know, it’s one of many Christian denominations, characterized by more formality and order. Literally, Presbyterians have a thing called the Book of Order which is step by step with articles and amendments to how everything should be run.

And prayers among Presbyterians are a little bit more formal too. I mean these are just broad generalizations I’m making of course, but you’d hear more like, Almighty God, or Good and Gracious God, of sorts. And I heard Leah and Christine so easily moving from a casual office hallway conversation into a prayer struck me, and I thought, “huh, they start prayers with ‘So, Jesus…’ here…” 

To this day, I love this about Reservoir Church. How it really is such a diverse place, where people from all streams of faith, traditions, or even no faith tradition, come to this reservoir ;), and there is this ease and humility about it. It’s hard for me to describe because it’s like a culture thing, but I think it matters even to how we pray. 

Culture is an environment that people are in. And just as a physical environment would determine how you behave and act (like if you were in a museum or a library, or if you were in a playground or a forest, or if you were in a pool or the beach), culture sets the tone for how people behave. 

Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos, an organization known for their positive work culture says,

“For individuals, character is destiny. For organizations, culture is destiny.” 

It made me wonder, what culture do you create for people to have an honest, open, and loving relationship with God and others? 

What would it look like to create a culture of safe environments to explore faith at varying paces? 

Another, when-I-first-started-working-at-Reservoir story. I met a guy here who said, 

“I’m actually an atheist.”

And I was like, “oh!” You know, trying to have that, not too surprised or judgment full of reaction face–I’m cool. I’m cool. And I did ask him, in like the coolest manner possible,

“Huh, that’s interesting. Why do you come to church?”

And he just said,

“I like the stories I hear in the sermons. And I like the people.”

And I thought, “wow, that’s great!” A church where atheists can come. 

And over the years, you have no idea how actually comforting and impactful that’s been. A woman who’s married to someone who doesn’t practice Christianity, that her husband, though isn’t as involved, feels totally cool to come and join anytime. A person with deep love and faith in Jesus, who’s dating someone who’s not Christian doesn’t feel judged and even feels comfortable to ask for couples counseling. 

Or, even someone like me, who is a pastor here, can go through seasons where I can ask, is Christianity even legit? And I do, feel like that sometimes y’all. I have many doubts. Sometimes I don’t know how to pray because it feels like no one is listening or it doesn’t matter whether I pray or not. 

And I come across Bible texts like this and sometimes struggle more rather than be encouraged.

“This is how you should pray.”

And right off the bat it says, our Father. I got a problem with that. Why does God have to be a guy?  Your kingdom come, oh you a king now. High and mighty above us, and what we’re your minions? I mean, in the first few sentences of this very prescriptive prayer, I’m tripping over patriarchy and hierarchy that I already struggle with so much in the world that I experience. 

So yes, it’s hard to know and understand and receive teachings of the Bible sometimes because the Bible was written in its context and we’re getting a glimpse of it, OUT of context. This prayer, Jesus didn’t show it as an example to ME, an Asian-American woman living in 2022. He said it to the Jewish people set in 27AD in the Ancient Near East. 

For them, this was a provocative prayer. Our Father? That was not what you called God. You called God, Lord, Adonai, you couldn’t even utter God’s name, but Jesus called God Abba! You don’t curtsy and kneel to this God, you run up and sit and cuddle on their lap! 

It’s like if I were to stand here today and say, This is how you should pray. “Hey Boo~” You’d be like, hm, that’s different. And yes, I don’t have authority like Jesus. But the comparison point here is, Jesus was often saying some really strange and ridiculous things that people didn’t recognize. Usually when Jesus said something, People were like, “what did he say?” “Why is he talking like that?” “Who does he think he is?” And if that’s what you think after you hear me speak, well then I’ve done my job! I’m kidding. 

And kingdom and heaven. He was using their language and spinning it on its head. They were concepts and metaphors that they were familiar with. It was like saying, God’s realm. God’s space. God’s rules, not the rules of the Romans who were ruthless and oppressive, but God’s rules. Or another metaphor that might speak more closely to some of us, God’s household, let God’s loving care and nurture be present here with us now rather than the whatever other powers that seemingly mattered the most. No, it’s not who we pay our taxes to that controls our lives, but the One who loves us and cares for us, there is a loving power far greater than rulers. 

And heaven, heaven was a particular concept that they had, that’s different from what we know about our world and universe today. At the time the biblical cosmology consisted of understanding of the world called firmament, a dome like structure that was made up of upper and lower portions; heaven and earth.

So this prayer, actually, doesn’t work for us at all knowing what we know about our galaxy, except in the metaphorical way. Let your love press into our love. Let your body infuse into our bodies. Let your universe expand into our way of doing things. 

Because what else do we have beside metaphors to talk about God with? 

And if you say anything about God and claim it not as a metaphor but an objective truth, then you are a liar. 

But what is a metaphor? Is it less true because it’s a metaphor? Sometimes metaphors, stories get at more truth captured in such a way that I could never express in literal ways. Like literature. Haven’t you ever read fiction that made you go, oh yes! They put it better than I could’ve said about exactly what I’ve felt and experienced in this world! 

You know what I think about often when I think about prayer? It’s from a totally random place but I don’t know, it like matters to me. Okay, bear with me. There’s this book series, actually some Christians don’t really like them, by Dan Brown. You might’ve heard of the movie Da Vinci Code with Tom Hanks. Hey I liked the books, like thrilling and adventurous. I think it was in one of the series, called The Lost Symbol.

It talked about noetic science, which apparently is a real area of study, which is, “the study of subjective experience, and to ways that consciousness may influence the physical world.” So the book had this noetic science lab, it had to be enclosed within a huge empty space because it needed to be free from all influences of the external world. And I thought, that’s kind of like prayer, influences of our hearts and thoughts onto a real material world. 

Or like the movie Inception. I love this movie. Leonardo DiCaprio, such a great actor. But the premise that one word, one thought planted in your mind, in your deep deep sleep, is more powerful than any other influence. I mean that’s how marketing works for me, and yes I am very impressionable. One time Pastor Steve talked about eating McDonald’s in a sermon, and later that week I had to go to McDonald’s! Not sponsored. 

Now all of these are silly, but also kind of true you know? Our words matter. Our thoughts matter. Our feelings matter. What we say to children matters. I’ve even seen different kinds of music played to water as it’s becoming ice, making different kinds of patterns. I mean of course it does, each snowflake is different, as I am reminded from a kid’s show called Daniel Tiger these days. I mean, I learned that before, but really isn’t that amazing, that each snowflake is different? That music affects water crystallization? 

I don’t know. I’m not a scientist. But have you heard about the Black Hole? Like what is that? It just sucks everything from matter, sound, and light into, what?!

There’s so much we don’t know. About our world, religion, and ourselves. I don’t even know myself sometimes. When someone really asks you, “how are you?” It’s like, um…

I’ve been so challegened and fascinated by the ministry approaches of our Kids Church pastors Dan and Angel. And the way they approach a child’s faith journey, it made me wonder, isn’t that what we’re all doing. Dan was talking about at a base level, what are we doing with the kids? What are we teaching them? And he said,

“It’s like this, at very young: it’s God loves you. It’s nice to be around other people. As they get older: sometimes it feels like God doesn’t love me, what does that mean.”

And I thought, isn’t that what we’re doing with adults? 

Whether you’ve been a Christian for a long time, or you’re exploring faith, or maybe you were but have left the church a while and not sure how to re engage, here’s what I want us to hear. God loves you. It’s nice to be around other people. 

But then (and I personally spent some time with family over the holidays) and yes it was nice to be around them for a bit …and then it was like, ugh, not so nice to be around them at some point. As time goes on, sometimes it feels like God doesn’t love me, or my family or other people don’t love me, what does that mean? What do we do with that? There is no answer, only the journey. 

There is no answer to how to pray. Only the humble journey of asking questions. That is the faith journey. And church is us trying to do that together. 

Christianity is not a formula, it’s a story to be invited into.

Prayer is not a formula.

It was never meant to be a formula.

More as a prompt, an example. A metaphor to be unpacked and entered into. 

So I’ve said a few things about prayer today, but I really honestly don’t know how it works. I can’t convince you that it works, but just to say, it’s like going out for a walk. I don’t know what it does, but sometimes it’s nice, sometimes it’s not, but it does do something for me. 

So I wanted to give us a chance to bring it back to the basics. It’s a bit elementary and I meant it that way, because I do think that at the end of the day, a childlike faith, a childlike prayer is the best one. 

I’m going to pass out a worksheet for prayer. If this is too cheesy for you, no worries, you don’t have to do it. You can just use the time to just sit and think, or be silent, be present to yourself. But I purposely made it kind of child-like. To bring us to the basics. 

How to Pray: A Guide

Prayer can look many different ways.

Sometimes words. Sometimes not.

Here’s a guide you can use with some words.

Let me give you some time to give prayer a try. 

How do you pray? Pray like a child. 

I’ll give us a few minutes and wrap us up with a prayer. 

Holy and Loving God, give us the humility to be okay not knowing everything. But just walk with us, as we walk with you in prayer. Sometimes stumbling in words, sometimes mumbling in our steps, guide us and be with us we pray, that’s all we ask for and really that’s all you ask of us, to know that you are with us. May we see and know that you are here, right here, talking with us, all the time.

Amen.

 

Waiting For The Heart

For this week’s Events and Happenings, click “Download PDF.”

For this week’s Spiritual Practice, click HERE.

John 14:27

27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

I went to the mall on Black Friday. Don’t judge me. I really like Christmas decoration, Christmas music, that whole mood you get into, and honestly the mall really knows how to capitalize (pun intended) my vibe. The people, the chaos, it was crazy and I wanted to be a part of it! 

What’s the word you think of when you think about Advent? Is it peace? Is it joy? Or is it anxiety on how much money you’ll spend on presents? Or trying to figure out how to get all the work done in three weeks to be out for the holidays? Or the hecticness of planning gatherings and travels? I do feel like the world goes a little on crazy mode in this season. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday! 

I’ve noticed that more and more, many people struggle with anxiety and depression. Mental health has come up again and again as something that’s really impacting people…that need more wisdom, science and study, and care from ourselves, friends, and family. And something I’ve personally noticed (not based on a study or anything) but that folks older than me struggle more with depression and the younger generation more with anxiety.

It’s just something I noticed. And I almost get it. Like with all that’s going on in the world, the bombardment of news and information, worries like climate change, and social media, it almost seems to me like anxiety is the most natural response. 

Mental health workers and scientists talk about how the body has this reactionary response that is explainable. It’s the fight or flight. When we’re faced with something that is upsetting or dangerous, that is our body’s natural response. 

I’m actually so good at fight or flight. Well usually it’s flight, denial, ignore, and even numbing and not sure what I’m feeling. But if I know you pretty well and I feel close to you, I fight. My therapist tells me to breathe first, do some other activity, to bring at least my body back to the present moment. But honestly it’s so second nature because the world has trained me and my body to respond a certain way. And to change it, it takes extra effort to create new brain pathways to respond differently. And some extra time. 

In seminary I took a class on a thing called the Clearness Committee. It comes from the Quaker tradition, which could be considered a Christian denomination, (but not all Quakers see themselves as Christians). I thought at first from their name they must quake or shake, but actually their distinctive tradition is how they worship–which is: they sit in silence for an hour. Imagine if we just sat in silence for an hour here!

Sometimes they might say a word or so here and there but mostly they just sit, in silence. Clearness committee is like that, but more specifically a way to discern and get clarity. They do so by sitting in a circle (mostly in silence). It usually involves one person sharing something and then sitting in silence some more and everyone kind of helps bring clarity to the person’s situation.

And one of the things I learned in the clearness committee was that, after you hear the person’s story or dilemma, you can bring up questions, but when you think of a question, first you sit on it. See if it’s just your curiosity or if it’s going to help this person bring clarity. So you don’t ask questions for your own sake, like, if they were talking about doing a grad program, you don’t ask “oh where and what program?” You sit with the question and see and ask if you really really need to ask, not for yourself but for them.  Maybe a question like, “How would it impact you, or would it, if you didn’t do the program?” or something like that. 

And it was funny how many times I would sit with a question, and I don’t say it, and how it just floated away if it didn’t feel important. Or other times, I wouldn’t say it, and another person would ask the exact same question. You gave it time. You waited. You sat in silence. You sat in the unknown, in the dark. And that’s actually how you gained more clear answers. 

One of the themes for the season of Advent our church is focusing on is waiting and hoping. It’s the time that Mary was pregnant with Jesus. Joseph and Mary were figuring out their turbulent relationship with this new surprise child that Joseph apparently knew nothing about at first. Awkward and probably a scary time for this couple. Mary was probably worried as any expecting mother does, how am I going to be a mom?! A mother to a God at that?! What a crazy time! I’ll tell you, an expecting pregnant mom’s mind is crazier than the mall on Black Friday. 

With this theme of waiting, we ask you to give us art to adorn our Dome Gallery right outside of those glass doors. The preachers have been picking one to inspire us to use in our sermons and I want to share with you, Tom O’Toole’s photography work titled, The Hopeful Tree. 

He titled it the Hopeful Tree. 

It makes me tear up just looking at it. I mean look at it. Look how old it is. I don’t know how old it is, but it doesn’t look like a young tree. And without leaves, so many branches reaching out and extended, growing and searching. And what shadow it casts, a big one. I imagine what it’s been through. And I can also imagine what it will become, maybe in the next season, full and vibrant, green. 

But the thing I love the most about this is that Tom titled it the Hopeful Tree. That makes all the difference for me. It shows me his resilience, his faith, his trust in God and imagination, that even in the face of what it apparently looks like an empty stripped down tree, Tom’s showing me his vision of the future, one that’s filled with a rebellious hope. I imagine standing in front of this photo next to Tom, maybe without the title there, I wouldn’t have known he’s the one who took it. And I’d say, “hm, a tree.” And he goes, “no. a hopeful tree.” And just like, everything changes about the way I see this tree. 

And the thing is, that’s more powerful than seeing a vibrant luxurious tree and calling it hope. It’s almost like, that’s easy hope, even a not that big of a deal hope. Like, shrug, I’m hopeful. Like cheap hope. Of course there’s hope, it’s live and well and all good, no worries. But when you’ve been through hell, going through some dire situations, with no evidence or reason or signs of hope, and you cry, “I have hope.” That’s faith. 

One of my friends has been journeying through her dad’s cancer recovery. She shared with me the feelings of sadness seeing her tall strong vibrant Dad, who would often pick up building projects around the house, just a few years ago making a tree house for her kids, seeing him go through chemo and medication, and lately having lost so much weight she described as skin and bones. I got a chance to talk to her during Thanksgiving weekend.

She had just finished an emotional family meeting, a rare one where the husbands had to watch the kids, and she and her sister, mom and dad sat around to talk about his evident deteriorating condition, trying to talk through the hard inevitables, and they started with logistics but somehow it turned into questions about church. You see, her dad had never really been into church although his wife and the girls have been devoted Christians. But he began to ask them,

Why do you believe?

My friend almost didn’t know what to say, saying I don’t know why because churches are full of broken people and we’re all just a mess. She shared with me how strange it was to hear him ask,

Who is God?

And then at the end they prayed together. She said that she heard him pray for the first time in a really long time. He never prayed, it was always the mom. But he prayed, she said, such an honest, baby-like faith prayer, full of questions and theology that strangely seemed so right and even biblical without him knowing anything. And he said in the prayer, this stoic private korean man, never-would-say-this-in front others, but in a prayer, how grateful he was for his wife and his daughters.

The ladies cried of course, and my friend was on a video call with me, as she was snacking saying, “that ended just 20 minutes ago, I’m so emotionally drained, it was crazy.” I felt honored to sit there and get a chance to see into a window of such an intimate and vulnerable moment of someone. It’s a dark time for this family. Her grandma, the mom’s mother, had actually just passed away a few weeks ago and now her dad with this… And yet, what a beautiful moment for this family. 

I think there might be a reason why there is a kind of surrender of a soul when we get faced with things like cancer or death. Because you can’t fight or flight anymore. You just have to be, in that moment, with all the fear and pain. And yet it allows an invitation to dig deeper to what the heart really wants. At times like this, with strange strength, things like hope and gratitude set in…for no good reason except that that’s the only thing that matters. I feel like my friend’s dad probably had every reason, and the whole family has every reason to be worried, troubled, be afraid, and they are, and yet, there was a gift for them in that moment of prayer. Tears, confession, gratitude, surrender, longing and seeking for peace that the world cannot give. 

Have you ever lit a candle in a bright room in the daylight? Have you ever lit a small candle in a dark room? Do you go on Christmas lights drives or tours in the daytime? No! You go at night.

The staff decorated this place a bit with Christmas lights last week. We turned on some 80’s/90’s inspired Christmas playlist, and I made my round to my colleagues while they were decorating to join me in a few merry steps. It was fun. 

And then, after a day of working in the office in the ministry center, I was heading back to my car, and the lights in here drew me in. I came inside to take in the lights as the sun was going down. It was dark. It was quiet. It humbled me, and made me see the twinkling lights differently than earlier that day. 

I think the heart is like a small twinkling Christmas light. Sometimes, it’s not the brightest or the most visible. I mean I think our brain and minds get so much credit. But if you quiet your mind a little, you might notice the heart’s burning hope, longing or desire. Its strength of peace, especially when there’s a cacophony of noise in the world. When you give it some time, some quiet and some silence. Sometimes by invitation of your own, or sometimes by invitation of circumstances where all the noise becomes background noise, when things are dimmed a bit, and darkness sets in, I think it’s then, when the little glow is the most beautiful. 

Darkness is a part of life. Heck it’s half of our lives, and if you don’t do well during those hours, those who struggle with rest or sleep, it’ll impact all of your life. In fact, those are really precious parts of our lives. Negative space makes a photo. When we are bored with “nothing to do” is when our brains get a chance to be creative or even thread together biographical narratives about our past and future. Do you wait for your heart to speak?

I think that’s what prayer is. Or listening to God is. Like the Quakers that worship in silence. Waiting on the Lord means quieting our anxious minds and listening. And I think, especially initially, it takes a really really long time. I think with practice it does get faster, like you hear and recognize God’s voice. 

I’ll end with this illustration. 

I grew up playing the piano. Have you ever been in the room when the piano tuner comes? Tuning a piano takes a really really long time. They go through each note, and turn up or turn down, with each note. I don’t know how anyone could have the patience to do so. Look up piano tuning on YouTube and try to watch it, it’s so boring. But when they are done tuning, you can play beautiful music. Well first you have to learn, and then practice, and then maybe memorize and feel it in your soul and body, and you become one with the piano to play beautiful music.

Maybe our heart is like a piano, sometimes really out of tune from clunking it around to different floors of our house. I hope that you will find some space and time to sit and wait on the Lord, waiting for your heart to tune. That you will find freedom and peace in God knowing that you are so in union with them, God knows you and you know God, that your hearts are one. Let me pray for us. 

Crumbs from the Table

For this week’s Events and Happenings, click “Download PDF.”

Matthew 15:21-28

New International Version

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 

22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

After our family moved to the United States, my mom started writing letters to my grandmother. My mom was the 6th daughter out of 8 children, often lost in the shuffle and – she would say- didn’t get much love. But letters from America was one way she tried to heal her relationship with my grandmother. She would write 5-10 pages of affirmation, encouragement, and forgiveness, to try to mend the relationship.

After my grandmother passed away in 2016, my uncle collected her things, one of which was a collection of all of my mother’s letters to her. He sent it back to my mom. And if I wanted to get a closer understanding of their relationships, my mother- even after she passes- and her mother, these letters would be one of the primary ways I’d do that. 

Reading the Bible is like this. Why do we care to take this story of Jesus from the Bible to read, meditate and reflect on, and attempt to find our own story in it? Because when I get my hands on those letters my mom wrote, I’ll hurl myself over them, with a kleenex in hand, peering into the mind of my mother holding her mother in her heart to see if I could find myself in any of those words. 

The story we just read: where do you see yourself in the story?

Do you find yourself relating to the disciples – who are close to Jesus, have access to Jesus, and yet sometimes find the things that come around and with Jesus bothersome or as a nuisance?

Or do you find yourself relating to Jesus – finding yourself on one path, determined and sure, and for some reason, realizing that you should go another path, out of a prompting of an unexpected person?

Or do you find yourself relating to the woman – begging for crumbs, because you’re desperate for a miracle, even crumbs would do?

Well, let’s go through the characters, and see what we can learn about what God is like and maybe even a bit about ourselves.

So, first the disciples. Many of us here could likely be identified as the disciples. Many of you have been Christians for a long time. And this line they say in this text,

Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

I think it invites us to something that we Christians need to reckon with. Who have we been sending away? Who keeps crying out after us, that we choose to ignore or exclude? 

And what we eventually learn from this text, though it takes a moment before we get there (we’ll get to that in just a minute) is that God’s kin-dom is bigger than you think. Let me say that again. God’s kin-dom is bigger than you think. God’s embrace is larger than you can imagine. Think of someone you think, oh no, not them. I could never go to the same church with them. I could never worship in the same place as them. That person, yes that person, God is saying, hmmmm maybe we could sit next to them at a table. 

I was thinking about this from last week’s sermon Steve preached. We reflected on the text from the beautiful Community Group content that pastor Ivy made in our Mindfulness Community Group (shameless plug: Tuesdays 12pm on Zoom). In that text the Pharisees were asking,

“why do they eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

And it made me think of you know those finance guys, or the bad boys of pharma, or the 1%. You know those privileged, rich folks. Turns out, yo this is Cambridge, we got some of those right here. 

God really challenges me sometimes with God’s expansive love. I’m not talking about forgive and forget. I’m not talking about not having healthy boundaries. I recently was reading a book called Bold Love, by Dan Allender.

One of 5 subtitles got me to pick up this book again,

“how to love an abusive person without opening yourself up to more damage.”

And it’s not wishy-washy love. It’s powerful, strong, confident love that can withstand so much. I experienced some trauma when I was a child, and there was a time, when I was deep in processing all that, I imagined walking into church and having that person who had done me wrong standing there holding the communion plate.

I’m not saying you should. It is a complex, nuanced journey, unique to each person. And please, don’t engage this if this is too soon or tender for you. Take care and zone me out right now. But could it be, that even our greatest enemies, the worst kind, that we say, “no not them”, God says,

“yes, even them”? 

Let me move onto Jesus. Now this is one of the most interesting texts about Jesus because it’s a rare one where he is…. Corrected. Disagreed with. And Jesus changes his mind. So what does that tell us about God? Does God change God’s mind? Isn’t God all powerful, all knowing? Then why didn’t God just do, in the first place, what God was supposed to do?

There are extended scholarly debates in the chambers of academia arguing about this –did Jesus really know he was God? The divinity of Jesus is a mystery, a both/and as common creeds confess, fully human and fully God. And that’s the beauty of it all! With all that God is, should, can be, and could be, God CHOSE to not be all those things in the body of Jesus to be and in relationship with us! If God kept true to all of God’s full nature, we would not have access to God. God wouldn’t need us. We would be robots!

But look at Jesus in this text. He’s kind of rude here. He doesn’t even answer her! Isn’t he like that rabbi who walks by the guy who was hurt on the side of the road in that Samaritan story? Jesus was kind of… stubborn, saying, 

“I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

And then when she wouldn’t let up, he says to her,

“It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

Um, did Jesus just curse? Did he just call her a dog? I think so. I recently read a book called, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, a Vietnamese American writer, where the main character is called “little dog” by his grandmother. Because if you had a beautiful pet name for your little one, like sweetie, or cupcake, then the evil spirits would come and get them, so instead she named him “little dog”. It’s a curse word in Korean too. I think in most languages, dog is considered not a pleasant thing to be called. Fully human and fully God.

And does God change God’s mind? I earnestly believe so. How could it be? Because, God isn’t worried about the perfect end product. God is worried about you. God cares what you think. What you have to say. I always get a bit frustrated with God. Why don’t you just fix all this stuff, if you call yourself God and you’re all good. Then why do you let me stumble, and fall, and bleed. God sometimes gets quiet when I say these kinds of prayers. Quiet and listening, nodding. I see God quietly putting a hand on my knee where it’s bleeding, scraping their hand on the gravel for no reason, as if to clean dirt. Sometimes I even see God showing me how to walk, fall, and showing me how to patch oneself up and get back up. And I hear God say,

“Cause I wanna do it with you.” 

Watching my 2-year old girl climb into her car seat by herself is about the most frustrating thing in the world. If I pick her up and sit her down, we’re ready to go, clip, and off we go. But seeing her climb up in the most leisurely fashion, putting her foot in the most inefficient place, all turned around and struggling, for what! I’m like, gripping my hands, trying not to grab her leg into position, (because then it would be an even longer ordeal where she says I can do it myself! And cries and gets out of position, and hurts herself), so I just have to hold my heart together so she can get in the car seat by herself. I need to leave the house earlier, so that she has time for this. It’s completely inefficient, I just stand there and have to breathe and watch her struggle. That is my job. 

I’m sure God is more patient than me, but I wonder too, if God’s not like, ooh, just don’t do that, don’t do it like that, yikes, just…

But then again, sometimes I let my girl do it all by herself, and she comes up with the most brilliant, creative, hilarious and smart thing ever. Like, when I tell her to go ahead, she knows how, and she grabs my hand and says,

“but I want to do it with you.”

And I’m like, so humbled, and think, she got it right. I had it wrong. She knows what’s important. To do it together. That’s what I think prayer is. For us to do it with God. And that’s why I think, as crazy and mysterious as it is, that prayer works. 

Lastly, the woman. Can you relate with her?

Jesus kind of insults her but she doesn’t even miss a beat. In fact, this is not her first time, and she doesn’t have time to get offended about stuff like that. She’s trying to get her daughter healed and that’s the only thing that matters. 

Have you ever been that desperate? 

Earlier I talked about the privileged folks, welcoming them. The thing is, it just so happens some people choose not to come themselves, because they don’t need it that bad. Or they feel that they don’t need it that bad. Whether it’s community, or healing, or grace, or forgiveness. The reality is that many of us have the luxury and the privilege to drown that out with hobbies, or food, or drinking, or preoccupations and projects that numb us from the reality of what we really need.

Have you ever needed to beg at Jesus’ feet for help? For mercy? Have you ever been that desperate? When everything you’ve used as a crutch or a distraction disappears or fails, what are you left with? When the career you’ve built or the job you’ve given everything to all of sudden fires you. When you’ve poured yourself into your kids, and they’re growing up and don’t need you any more. In a way, we get a taste of things like this when you try a spiritual discipline like fasting. 

Fasting is something I hate to do. 

I used to smoke. Oh and when I read Michelle Obama’s book and found out Barack smoked, I was like see, even he did it! And for anyone who’s in any kind of sobriety journey, big hats to you, because addiction is a dog. I mean, addictions are horrible, and if you can fight that, you have really tapped into a great source of strength and power and you can do anything. Quitting was really hard. And during that time, if I even walked by someone who was smoking, it took every ounce of me to not ask, “can I bum a smoke off of you?”, and instead just get a whiff of their smoke. Crumbs…

In a book called Addiction & Grace by Gerald May, he talks about the desire behind addiction. And in his experience, it wasn’t just about drugs or alcohol, but he experienced people struggling with all kinds of addiction from aspirin, nose drops, to work, to performance, intimacy, being liked, helping others, and more. And he talks about his own experience this way,

Compared to what happens to people who suffer from alcoholism or narcotic addiction, what happened to me may not seem much of a “rock bottom.” But it had the same grace-full effect. To state it quite simply, I had tried to run my life on the basis of my own will power alone. When my supply of success and this egotistic autonomy ran out, I became depressed. And with the depression, by means of grace, came a chance for spiritual openness.

This woman was so desperate that she compelled Jesus to expand his mission and calling. Because a Cannanite woman’s daughter’s life mattered. Prayer works.  

When have you asked God for something with this kind of “chance for spiritual openness”? Has there ever been a time you’ve knelt and said, “help me?” This you, now? 

When we do so, God does not turn away. In fact God expands God’s arms fully to embrace whatever state you might be in to say, “You are healed.” Do you believe that? I don’t know that I always believe that. I mostly don’t when I’m fine and just don’t need God that much. But for the rest of us, do you need help? Do you need Jesus? Do you need the love of God to break through every lesser gods that failed to satisfy you? Do you need God’s healing? Even a crumb of it? 

Dear friends, I hope that you’re not in that place, where a crumb will do. But if you are, may you taste and see, and know that God is good. Even a crumb will do.  Let me pray for us. 

God, throw me a bone will ya? So many of us are holding so much right now. Juggling life, school, health, our bodies, our families, our safety. Our bodies are tired of fears and anxieties that we’re in need of your peace to break through. Will you shine a light on us Jesus. As the psalmists prayed, don’t look away. Answer us!  Shine your face on our face. May you bring healing. May you bring healing. On our land,  in our school, in our workplaces, in our families, and in our bodies. May you bring healing. Amen. 

A Time for Everything

For this week’s Events and Happenings, click “Download PDF.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 

1 There is a time for everything,

    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

2     a time to be born and a time to die,

    a time to plant and a time to uproot,

3     a time to kill and a time to heal,

    a time to tear down and a time to build,

4     a time to weep and a time to laugh,

    a time to mourn and a time to dance,

5     a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

6     a time to search and a time to give up,

    a time to keep and a time to throw away,

7     a time to tear and a time to mend,

    a time to be silent and a time to speak,

8     a time to love and a time to hate,

    a time for war and a time for peace.

Let me pray for us:

God of the beginning and the End, Alpha and Omega, of yin and yang, everything is from you. We come into this place from many varied experiences. Our busy week, our worried minds, our aching bodies. Some of us feeling weak and tender, some of us trekking on cause we’re strong, some of us not sure what we’re doing, numb, or indifferent. Wherever we are this morning, God I pray that you meet us there, in each of our own unique places. For there is no place that is hidden from you. Look upon us with grace and convince us of your love, no matter what we may be going through. Would you do that for us now, and pour down your spirit and cover us we pray, in Jesus name Amen. 

I was at Home Depot the other day. I like to go check out the outdoor garden area, where there’s all different kinds of plants and flowers. When all of a sudden I started hearing a man yelling, “I’m not buying that!” I looked over, a man was following a woman, probably his wife, with a loud voice for the whole garden to hear, “You and your mom look at the internet and get this idea but it’s not going to look like that. I’m not spending more money on something you guys think you can do.”

I could tell she was looking around, looking at her phone, looking at the flowers, and maybe even replying softly, but I couldn’t hear. He goes on, “You don’t know how to do it! It’s not going to turn out like what you think it’s going to turn out!” I was trying not to look, but listening in at the drama unfolding before me. 

And then I was at Costco not too long ago, similar thing. A man points to the toothpaste and says, “It’s a good deal!” The woman walks away in a huff, turns around and says, “I don’t like that one!” The man says, “I like it!” The woman says, “I don’t like it!” The man says, “Well I can’t afford the one you like so I’m getting this one!” I stared at the shampoo on the other side of the aisle, acting like I’m like really looking at it, but I wasn’t looking at it, I was looking and listening to them.

 It’s tough these days. And these people, fighting in Home Depot and Costco, yelling in public for the world to hear. I almost get it. People are angsty these days. I mean, as we should be cause it’s been a really tough last few years. We lost so much control and things happened, scary things happened around us that we couldn’t do anything about. Vacations and celebrations canceled. Can’t see friends. Can’t go to restaurants. You can’t hug. I mean what’s the point of even smiling under your mask!

I recently read a Washington post article titled: “After customers drove staff to tears, a restaurant closed to give employees a ‘day of kindness’”

It says

An “astronomical influx” of customers had been screaming at employees, dangling legal threats and driving team members to tears

the owners wrote on Facebook.

Apt joins a slew of restaurants across the country that have reported more frequent mistreatment in recent weeks. As customers clamor to resume their pre-pandemic lives, some have lashed out at an industry suffering from a shortage of workers, more costly ingredients and supply-chain glitches. Scrambling to stay afloat, overworked staff members often find themselves on the other side of customers’ irritation.”

When I read this text from Ecclesiastes today saying,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing 

Ugh, dude! I’m sorry but I really do not like this time of refraining from embracing. And honestly, I want to act up a bit too, right here for church! Just break down before y’all cause I miss y’all, And I don’t want to elbow bump! I want to hug! 

As I read this text, I was struck by how accepting it was, of all that could be going on and that’s why I want to share it with you today. It says there’s a time for everything. EVERYTHING! Really? No… it must not be true, cause there’s things you should do and things you shouldn’t do. That’s what I learned growing up. There’s good things and there’s bad things. This text was naming line by line, all the things, all the permissible and appropriate things. But it was interesting to me how I reacted to this list. It was almost like a visceral, knee jerk reaction, yes, no, good, bad, of course, oh no no how could this be okay? 

I don’t know how it happened but somewhere along the way we did this with Christian theology and ethics too. This binary thinking. This “moral” thinking, of forever categorizing what is good and what is bad. And so here’s how I read this text:

 a time to be born, good, and a time to die, 

bad

    a time to plant, yes, and a time to uproot,

maybe sometimes

3     a time to kill,

uh really? and

a time to heal,

oh yes always more healing

    a time to tear down,

depends on what you’re tearing down and

a time to build,

yup build up and grow, expand

4     a time to weep,

ok well yes but not too much, and

a time to laugh,

anytime!

    a time to mourn,

yes but not like too long, and

a time to dance,

always

5     a time to scatter stones,

I guess, and

a time to gather them,

yes gather as much stones as possible

    a time to embrace,

oh of course, it’s always good to embrace! and

a time to refrain from embracing,

oh wow, that’s what we just went through with covid and it was so hard!

6     a time to search and a time to give up, 

no you never give up!

    a time to keep and a time to throw away,

no you always keep you don’t throw away things!

7     a time to tear and a time to mend,

no no you don’t tear, you MEND

    a time to be silent and a time to speak,

no don’t be silent SPEAK UP!

8     a time to love and a time to hate,

what you can’t hate, ever!

    a time for war and a time for peace,

oh no…. No war. 

Now you’ve been invited to my inner dialogue as I read the Bible. But it was almost like, so hard for me to accept this very message this text was saying, that there is a time for everything. And I sat there looking at this text thinking, could this really be true? 

I’ve been so used to binary thinking of things as good or bad. Well the reality is life is more complicated than that. The reality is, sometimes something can be good in one context but you do the same thing in another context and it can be bad. 

There’s a show on Netflix called Working Moms, it’s funny. The mommy group has conversations like this. One mom says, “So apparently sharing is not a thing anymore?” Another mom says, “I don’t tell my kid to share. She can share if she wants to, and not share if she doesn’t want to.”

Whaaat? I did NOT grow up hearing that. You ALWAYS share! But I get it, why did we tell kids to always share before? Some things are yours and yours only and they can feel ownership of it. 

Like it’s not always good to share, maybe it’s not always good to be nice. Or embrace, or heal. Maybe there’s time to be silent. Maybe there’s time to speak up and tear things down. 

I think Jesus did this sort of expanding our minds about what’s right and wrong. The things that the religious leaders had taught and set, you can’t do this on the sabbath, you can’t worship with these people, you should only do this, I mean Jesus turned it all upside down and all around. I mean he always raises the bar, don’t commit adultery? Don’t even look at a woman with a lusting heart. You want to be good? Give all your money away. I mean I think it’s how some must feel these days, what there’s no male and female and now it’s a spectrum of gender whaaat? Yeah. Life is not binary. Don’t put people into boxes. 

And I think we’ve done this with our modern day christianity too. We attached certain moral teachings to how you’re supposed to be, nice, and successful, and happy, and good. Like if you believe in Jesus, you’ll always be filled with joy. Honestly, sometimes I think, being a Christian, can be more disruptive to my life than productive.

There’s more mourning than laughter. I don’t always have to mend and keep, but I was thinking the other day, how covid impacted the church, and I thought, well there are some things that we are used to doing in church that might need to die. There are relationships that maybe need to be cut off, and offended, and strained for it to bring justice rather than for the sake of peace and reconciliation. 

The thing is, none of us know and can say which is needed for which at what time. And honestly, we’re not supposed to tell each other what we’re supposed to do, but only create the space to see it through and be there right next to them no matter what they are going through without judgement. Can we lower the expectation of what we’re SUPPOSED to do, because we don’t really know sometimes? 

Sometimes I feel like we’re trying so hard to be “good”, trying so hard to be “okay”, that we dont’ give space to what actually NEEDS to happen, which is maybe, be NOT Okay. Maybe it’s time to “not be okay” and that’s okay. I mean what does it even mean to go back to normal? I don’t know what normal is these days! And if I’m being honest, I don’t even know what time it is for me.

IS it time for me to mourn? Is it time for me to celebrate? Is it time to build or tear down? I don’t even know that! What time is it? Like literally, I hadn’t been in my office so long that when I came back, I kept looking at the wall clock that’s out of battery and frozen in time, and wonder, 8:25… that can’t be right… ugh I don’t have time right now to change that battery. 

What time is it for you? Do you even have a moment to realize what you really need right now? To discern what the time really calls for? Or do you feel guilty or unsure about what you need? Or you’re not sure if God approves. Well, let me remind you, our text tells us today, there is time for everything. God see it, God see you. Do you need time to let things die? To uproot, to kill, to tear down? Do you need time to weep, mourn, and scatter stones? God says okay. I’m here with you. Let’s do it together. 

And our church, we don’t have to have it all together to come together. We come together to do the hard stuff together. To come together to say, “this stuff is hard to believe!” or “I’m confused about my life!” “I don’t know what I’m doing.” “I’m a hot mess.” “I think I’m making a mistake.” Are we willing to make space and time for each other to do that for one another? 

Whatever you may be going through right now, take the time. There is time for everything. Even what you’re going through. Identity crisis, depression, divorce, feeling ungrateful, distancing yourself from your friends, throwing away your career you’ve built… There is time for everything… If we don’t give time to such things, we’ll never really know if our confidence, joy, marriage, gratitude, friendship, career or whatever else is really true either. God is big enough. There is time for everything. 

Let me pray for us. 

Jesus, show the expansive view of life. Teach us to see that your love seeps into everything, everything we’re going through big and small, the tough and easy, the good and the bad. Would you invite us to that space and time to see how big and great and vast your love is for us, we pray, in your name Amen. 

Becoming Joyful

For this week’s Events and Happenings, click “Download PDF.”

Luke 10:21, 23-29

21 At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

23 Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.

24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Let’s pray. 

So yes, Rainbow Jesus, we thank you for the way you showed us the fullness of life through your word and deed. Through you, we know God’s abundant love, extravagant grace, and mercies that are new every morning. This morning we pray that we may know and experience that fullness even now as we sit in prayer in worship, that you will bring rest to our restless souls, peace to our anxious minds, healing in our tired bodies, and joy to our aching hearts. Would you meet us here, we pray in Jesus name. Amen. 

I know we keep talking about this, but it’s because it’s been a tough year! The pandemic, the racial injustice. So, I have been trying to find joy. So when I found this text, I was so happy that Jesus was full of Joy! Not that I doubted that he would be, but he did often rebuke, and fight injustice, and ultimately was targeted and scapegoated and killed, so when I found a text that showed Jesus full of joy, giving thanks and gratitude, I was like YES! 

And then it quickly turned into a very mysterious text. Talking about how things are hidden from the wise and the educated. And that instead it’s revealed to babies. You’re like what’s he talking about? What is this secret he’s alluding to? 

Over the pandemic, I know that many of you tried to find new joys in picking up a new hobby, getting a pet, or baking bread. Me, I got me a baby. And it’s true, this baby, while the world worried in fear, was the happiest baby ever. Literally I’d just look at him, and he’d go *smile smile* and just so joyful that I often asked him, Jesse, how are you so happy?

And maybe that’s true, that as we grow older, get to know the world more, see more news, we can’t help but see all the bad. 

I was surprised, maybe not that surprised, to find out through Reservoir’s Equity Diversity and Inclusion survey we did last year that 80% of the people had graduate degrees. Well with the caveat that about half of the congregation filled out the survey, so maybe who’s more likely to fill out surveys, in any case. It made me wonder, what might be hidden from us?

As I read on the text, I began to realize, that it just might be that simple. The truth that will set us free, maybe even toward joy—maybe it is just that simple: Maybe it’s just love.

So those are my 3 points today – Loving God, Loving others, and Loving yourself. And I believe that these are the secret to joy. And sometimes we get them all wrong, even though they are so simple, almost too simple, so I’d love to talk through some of my own struggles in these areas, and see if we can find ways for us to find love and joy. 

So first, loving God.

Love your God with all your heart, all your soul

is not just a commandment. You shall love your God! It doesn’t just mean you better listen to God. You better submit! As it might’ve been taught in some church circles. You better OBEY God! Loving God, is much more tender than that. Really. Loving God means to be in a loving relationship with God. It means having an open and honest relationship with God. It means you can receive love and learn about love, as you attempt to love and fail and love again. It means you can get mad, or misunderstand. It means you can be vulnerable with God. 

For me, sometimes it’s hard to believe that God really loves the world. Sometimes I look around and there’s so much division, sadness, injustice, and suffering, it doesn’t really look like God’s love is prevailing but just the opposite. There are “proofs” of how much evil seems to be prevailing. And for me that’s one of my biggest obstacles of joy. 

So in my search for joy, I picked up a book called, the Book of Joy, that I’ve mentioned in a sermon before. I was drawn to this because it had two characters, who first hand knew about pain and suffering.

The Dalai Lama, who’s literally exiled, pushed out from his own homeland, facing the erasure of his people the Tibetans. And Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who’s faced injustice and fought for the liberation of black people in South Africa. Look how happy they look. I wanted to hear about joy from those who’s been through injustice. Cause my first question to God and Jesus and love and joy is, but how when, there’s murder, disease, loneliness, sadness, anger, the list goes on. 

Here’s what the archbishop Desmond Tutu said:

“And so I think we shouldn’t think we are superwomen and supermen. To hold down emotions in a controlled environment as it were is not wise. I would say go ahead and even maybe shout out your sadness and pain. This can bring you back to normal. It’s locking them up and pretending that they are not there that causes them to fester and become a wound. I’ve not read this in a book. It’s just how I have handled them.”

He gives permission to sadness. He also talks about righteous anger, in the face of injustice, not as just a reactionary emotion to get rid of, but a tool of justice that is deeply rooted in connection to humanity, which I think gets at the whole love of your neighbor that I’ll talk about in a bit. 

For me, this is what it means to Love God and find joy in this world that sometimes look like a godforsaken place. That we can be honest about sadness. We can be honest about anger. We can be honest about suffering. Loving God doesn’t mean, always just God you’re awesome! But praising God when praise is due, but also going to God when things don’t seem right. That’s trusting God. There you find hope actually. You wouldn’t share how you really feel with someone you don’t care about. But when you love someone, you tell them what’s really bothering you. 

So in that sense, pain and suffering are not obstacles of joy, but an access point for intimacy with God. Love the Lord your God with all your hurts, with all your pains, with all your struggles, with all your sufferings.

This naturally brings me to my second point, loving others. It quickly landed here for the conversation between the Archbishop and Dalai Lama. 

The Archbishop talked about sadness like this,

Sadness is seemingly the most direct challenge to joy

but as the Archbishop argued strongly,

it often leads us most directly to empathy and compassion to recognize our need for one another.

New studies conducted by psychology researcher Joseph Forgas show that mild sadness can actually have a number of benefits that could reflect its value. In his experiments, people who were in a sad mood had better judgement and memory, and were more motivated, more sensitive to social norms, and more generous than the happier control group…

Sadness didn’t make people broken but it made them expand into the fullness of a richer life. As I read it, I found that to be true. My own sadness has given me empathy. And that empathy connected me to others. Which made me less lonely. Which made me more happy. 

The man asked Jesus,

who is my neighbor?

And the next story that follows is the parable of the Samaritan, which essentially tries to explain that in fact your enemy, one who you disagrees with you, that you despise, the Samaritans that Jews often looked down upon, is the one who ends up helping you. 

Sometimes I wonder why we’re so divided. We think we’re right and others are wrong. I wonder if we’re not happy because we know too much. And it’s making us into anxious people. We calculate. We weigh the odds. We get to the facts and debate. And yet sometimes I feel like with all the information out there in the internets, we’re more lost than ever. What is truth even anyway? Sometimes I feel like the guy, asking, “so what do you mean by this “neighbor”?” trying to break it down and understand, when really it is just that simple, love your neighbor. 

One more story from the Book of Joy about loving your neighbor:

In the Book of Joy, the Dalai Lama shares a story about one of his friends, a senior monk, who was imprisoned for 18 years. He says, 

“They had no shoes, even during the very coldest of days. Sometimes it was so cold that when you spit, it would land as ice. They were always hungry. One day he was so hungry that he tried to eat the body of one of the other prisoners that had died, but the flesh of the dead person was frozen and too hard to bite. Throughout the whole time, they tortured the prisoners. There is Soviet-style torture and Japanese-style torture and Chinese-style torture, and at this camp they combined them all into an immensely cruel kind of torture.”

he says,

“When he left the camp, only twenty people had survived. He told me that during those eighteen years he faced some real dangers. I thought of course he was talking about dangers to his life. He told me he was in danger of losing…his compassion for his Chinese guards.” 

The narrator goes onto say,

“I could hear a gasp in the room at this extraordinary statement, that the greatest danger for this man had been the risk of losing his compassion, losing his heart, losing his humanity.” 

The Dalai Lama continues,

“Now he is still alive, age ninety-seven, and his mind is still in very good shape, sharp and healthy. So as you mentioned, his spirituality and his experience reinforced his ability for compassion…”

Which I would go on to say, his empathy, his compassion, his connection to others reinforced his joy, despite of his struggles. And maybe some might call that foolish. Why would you care about someone who tortured you? I don’t know. But maybe that’s how he survived, his stubbornness to not harden his heart but keep it soft, even toward his enemy. It reminds me of Jesus saying,

“love your enemies”

Okay lastly – Loving yourself

What does it mean to love yourself? I think personally, this is the hardest one for me. And I’ve recently gained a new insight that’s been helpful. Another book, called Self-Compassion, this time from the field of psychology. I guess I’m so educated that I need books and studies to help me understand the simplest of things. It lays out the difference between self-esteem and self-compassion. Self-esteem is “I’m the best!” But its pitfall is, if you’re not the best, then you’re a failure. Self-Compassion invites us to consider a more sober mindedness about ourselves. More realistic. 

Loving yourself is not thinking I’m like the coolest hottest thing. Loving yourself is seeing yourself, as who you really are. 

I’ll end with a story from this book. 

“A Native American wisdom story tells of an old Cherokee who is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good–he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “the one you feed.” 

Maybe this might be the reason why the LGBTQIA+ community, with stories of rejection, hiding, shame, and suicide rate, hang on to more than anything, pride and joy and celebration. I think we have a thing or two we can learn about truly loving ourselves from the LGBTQIA+ community. 

Ophelia Hu Kinney – a queer Asian American woman I deeply respect wrote a poem about Pride. She says:

When they ask, “But isn’t pride a sin?” they lack what they too frequently lack: context, context, context.

Image is a solid background with the following text in front:

Pride, not like a lion of its claws or a hunter of its gun

Pride like a rose of its thorns, like a cat of its black, like a flounder of the way it meets the ocean floor, like a spider in the grass of its web lit up by dew

She’s saying pride in just who they are for just being who they are.

And this does remind me of many children’s books I’m reading these days. Books that simply say things like, I love you, not because you’re tall, but because you are just you! 

And that’s it. 

Loving God, Loving others, Loving yourself, are the ways toward joy. In other words I guess, the secret to joy is love. 

God loves you, just because you are just you. Do you believe that? I hope so. May we find our joy in knowing that love, driving it down deep in our hearts and sharing with everyone around us. 

Let me pray for us.